This is a guest post by Andrea Edwards, Director of Content Marketing & Training at Novus Asia – a leading content and brand publishing agency with headquarters in Singapore.
I’ve had the great privilege to do a few speaking spots recently, and it’s given me an opportunity to really hone my thinking around how I present about content marketing, as well as to hear perspectives from other professionals in the field.
Content marketing is actually a massive topic, with lots of different angles to consider – personal branding, social selling, storytelling, the brand editor, etc. are – so it’s not a simple discussion, and the deeper you go, the more complex it appears. The good news is we’re having the discussion in Asia and that’s terrific.
If I summed up content marketing, I’d say it’s the art of communicating with customers and prospects without selling anything to them directly. It is continuous marketing, and should be non-interruptive. Today, you should no longer pitch or sell a customer and instead focus on delivering information to make your buyer more intelligent, successful or both. The organizing principle is that if you deliver valuable information to your customers, they will reward you with business and loyalty.
In the last couple of weeks, one of the topics I’ve been focused on is what I believe to be holding businesses back from embracing content marketing as a primary discipline sitting at the heart of business.
I thought it was worth writing down to share it more broadly. The sooner we address all of these issues, the sooner we can get cracking and deliver world-class content marketing that makes our customers adore our brands.
*image credits: Novus Asia
So what is holding businesses back from content marketing?
1. Not understanding what it is and how it’s fundamentally different to what is already being done. Content marketing is moving the story from “look at what we’ve got to sell you” to “how can I help you succeed?” It’s about talking to the whole customer and helping them be successful. It’s about understanding the customer and addressing your information to their needs, as opposed to what you want out of the relationship. It’s long term, fundamentally different, and as a discipline, it speaks to me, because it’s authentic, meaningful, and it is a marketing philosophy to get people to fall in love with your brand.
2. Measurement – probably the hottest topic of all is measurement and ROI. Today, the vast majority of businesses are structured to measure success short-term. You create a product/service, define the messaging, launch, measure and do it all over again next week, next month, or next quarter. Content marketing is a long-term relationship, so measuring success is fundamentally different.
Someone said it’s like a one-night-stand versus a marriage, and I thought that was a perfect analogy. Businesses structured to measure short-term success today must rethink how they measure the longer term investment required of content marketing, and it’s a complete flip for businesses that are structured monthly or quarterly. I’ll give you a quick personal example.
Hubspot is the brand I give the most credit for taking me on my content marketing journey from an education perspective. I’ve been reading its blog since the end of the last decade and right now I have the opportunity to become their customer. It’s the first time I’ve had this opportunity to buy their solution, and I’m very keen to make this happen because they have given me so much. I am completely loyal to them, but how do you measure that?
And let’s look at that sales cycle – at least six years! Content marketing is continuous marketing, and therefore, a big change is required to move into this space
3. Selling & Telling – because many businesses don’t understand content marketing as a philosophy, they may be creating more content, but it’s the same message they’ve always sold, getting pumped into new social channels. This does not endear customers to a brand, and if it keeps happening, the customers will go elsewhere for their information… and if they turn to your competitors, you lose.
We’re competing for eye-balls and people’s time, on-the-go, so what we share has to really engage, thrill and excite a customer. You want your customers to feel something; getting them to feel grateful is a great goal to have. We’re all selling to people fundamentally, so if we’re creating content with emotion at heart, we have a much greater chance to be successful today – even for B2B, because, yes, people work in those businesses too.
4. Hierarchy & Egos – unfortunately, this is a big challenge in a number of corporate cultures, where working professionals believe they should focus on pleasing their superiors rather than pleasing their customers.
If you work in a culture of ‘do as you’re told,’ you will find it challenging to succeed in content marketing. To shift that mindset, executives must “see the light” and find inspiration in content marketing because they are responsible for leading this change – especially in Asia. In all that a business does today, the CEO must challenge the marketing and sales operation with the question: how are we delighting our customers here?
5. C-level Buy-In – an extension of #4: in order to move your organisation in the direction of content marketing, you must get senior leaders to buy into the philosophy and become champions of it for your business. They need to be role models of the behaviour required by your organisation to make your customers love you. It starts at the top. If they only want it to be about them/the organisation, you can’t succeed, because your message to the market will be confusing, diluted and well, uninspiring. Get their buy-in, unleash the creative forces in your organisation and move your customers to a place of loyalty to your brand so you can ultimately increase sales.
6. Global, Regional, Local – this is a big challenge in Asia. Global companies may be executing great content marketing, but is it finding its way into the field, and is the field then free to create its own relevant local content? Are the field offices so overwhelmed they just don’t have the bandwidth to create local content and win hearts? Are they so overwhelmed they don’t have time to even think about this, as many have to wear so many hats? Or are you part of a regional or local company that just does not have the budget or talent to embrace this new way of marketing, and don’t even know where to start?
We see plenty of amazing content published all the time – especially from the US – but bringing it into the region, with all of the different language, cultural and etiquette barriers is a challenge.
One recommendation is to start with curation and feed your sales and business development teams with great content that already exists; serve it up to them on a plate. Build a need and design your content marketing strategy from this place
7. Social Media & Social Selling Sophistication – unfortunately, this is a huge weakness in the region, and while research indicates people in Asia read content, distributing, sharing, commenting and engaging it on a more active level is not an area of strength.
The community that has embraced social media in Asia is very small, and executives, sales and business development professionals need to be inspired (not just trained) to use social media tools to build their personal brand, engage with customers, share their knowledge, and embrace the concept that social media is about giving. Content marketing is the fuel for giving; it helps individuals build professional credibility, and by default, the brands they work for benefit.
Companies don’t speak, people do. Ensuring your team is sophisticated in using social tools is critical to content marketing success. None of these facets exist separately.
8. The Current Agency Model Being Disrupted – when digital agencies exploded onto the scene, they rocked the agency world. Today, content agencies have that honour.
The challenge is that many agencies say they can do content and are vying to own it, but they are not content marketing agencies. They are marketing agencies; the output is very different.
Novus Asia has a team of experienced journalists (15-20 years of experience) and for their entire careers they have written for the customer. Traditional marketing/advertising/digital agencies are writing for the client. Big difference, and everyone needs to take a step back and admit it.
Content creators also need to sit at the big table – at the beginning of planning – as opposed to bringing them in once all has been decided.
Image courtesy of eliot. via Flickr
I talk a lot about heart and love when speaking or writing about content marketing, but here’s the essence of what I believe it’s about it”
Content needs to become the heart of business, because doing amazing content creates conversations and that is how you get your customers to love you and buy from you.
B2B, B2C, B2G or whatever your audience, that’s the crux of it. Write, create and curate content that touches your customers’ hearts and makes them more successful or improves their lives, and then you will have the conversations that lead to business growth. Continue down the same path of talking about yourself and well… let’s just hope your competition isn’t getting more savvy about content marketing.
What do you think are the biggest barriers to content marketing success for brands in Asia? What have I missed? Would love to hear your thoughts.