Voices

Storytelling Is Not a Strategy

At the start of 2017, I made the shift from ad tech to martech. In the last decade, I had helped build and steward the brands of two successful ad tech firms recognized for their innovation and amazing cultures, but it was increasingly difficult to ignore the headwinds facing the old media model. The consumers had spoken, and they didn’t want interruptive advertising experiences anymore.

Today, those headwinds are inescapable. Ad blockers have flourished. Audiences find their news on social networks. And native advertising has taken off. Instead of pursuing tired tactics, brands pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to content studios at esteemed destinations like The New York Times, Time Inc., and The Atlantic, in exchange for ambitious, interactive storytelling. But when those one-off projects run their course, what happens next? Typically, marketers ramp up production on company blogs, even if they don’t have a strategy to guide them.

It’s clear that audiences crave organic interactions, but as brands try to accommodate them, the struggles are real. Creating content at scale is hard. Knowing how to measure its efficacy is even harder.

Shortly after joining Contently, I attended a B2B content marketing forum hosted by the research firm SiriusDecisions. As marketing executives went around the room asking questions and talking about our biggest challenges, the topics mentioned most were measurement, benchmarks, and ROI. That’s not surprising, because according to SiriusDecisions’ benchmarking data, B2B organizations “spend roughly the equivalent of 50 percent of the marketing budget on content, and 83 percent plan to increase that investment.” Yet, despite the increased investment, zero percent of these brands feel they are effectively tracking content ROI. That’s right, zero.

Creating content at scale is hard. Knowing how to measure its efficacy is even harder.

I felt equal measures of shock and excitement. The biggest challenge facing content marketing is also its greatest opportunity. How do we connect each piece of content to a specific business outcome?

There’s a timeless aspect to what we’re doing. Stories are as old as the human race; they’re how we make meaning. Audiences gravitate toward content that has meaning and relevance. But as marketers adopt this approach, we also need to bring it into the modern age. Budgets are too big for brands to invest in a marketing strategy that relies on intuition and creative guesswork. Technology exists to automate and streamline the process of content creation. It also has the power to make us smarter creatives. Software can track style over time, across content creators, and against competitors. It can also identify the most important topics in our industry and analyze the value of distribution channels.

I like to think of content as the atomic unit. Ideally, our stories serve a specific function for the business. Every blog post, infographic, and video has a purpose. Brands are ready to embrace the power of storytelling. In the past few months alone, our founders and editorial directors keynoted at marketing events for powerhouse brands like Pepsi and NBC. There are over 4,000 open content marketing jobs on LinkedIn. And one Forrester analyst estimated that global content spend topped $40 billion last year.

The growth is promising, but it’s important to note that storytelling is not a strategy. Brands have to refine how they think about content objectives and measurement before they can get the most out of their investments.

I like to think of content as the atomic unit.

As marketers become more data-driven, knowing how content affects these metrics through every stage of the funnel will be essential. Over the past decade, we saw a similar trajectory in display advertising and even social media. Vanity metrics like clicks and likes gave way to more insightful measures that emphasized engagement and acquisition—metrics that link to actual business outcomes. Through Contently’s analytics platform, our clients can measure how their stories influence and generate leads, and keep track of how much each lead costs.

All of this data comes back to purpose. What is your brand trying to accomplish? And if you’re moving the needle, how are you going to ensure that your content success ultimately impacts the bottom line?

Content marketing is still a nascent space, so it’s understandable that brands are still trying to figure out its potential impact. However, I’m hopeful the industry will take big strides in 2017, putting more thought into setting proper goals and telling the best stories that will serve a specific business outcome. And the more technology can guide the way marketers think about content, the better off they’ll be.

Image by Pascal Perich
Tags: , , , , , , ,