Content Collections 2015, a virtual conference on content marketing, provided some very useful ideas that leading companies in the SAMPS space, such as Quintiles and Life Technologies, have embraced in today's digital age, and as Pharmacia Fine Chemicals did in the 1970s and 1980s. Interest in content marketing continues to grow as seen in the Google Trends chart.
Figure 1. Growth in Content Marketing With Time.
Interest in planning and doing it successfully, not so much. According to the annual survey from the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, 55% of content marketers have no idea what success looks like. They don't have clearly defined goals. That's a problem.
What content marketers do recognize are some other key challenges. The top challenge among B2B marketers surveyed is creating engaging content, followed closely by measuring it effectively, and producing content consistently. I recently attended a virtual conference called Content Connections 2015, sponsored by Acrolinx. It was a chance to take off my shoes at my desk instead of the airport and listen to some of my favorite content marketers. I'll share 3 key takeaways.
The first is good news for busy content marketers: You don't have to be publishing content through every possible channel. What great content companies have in common is a narrower focus.
Second, while you are narrowing your focus, you should reinvest some of the effort you save into differentiating your business with a story and a voice.
And third, rather than sharing your content in one simultaneous digital dump, a timed-release sequence (Sounds like good medicine, doesn't it?) to different channels can maximize your reach and exposure.
A simple formula for success
The first two speakers at Content Connections 2015, Joe Pulizzi and Ann Handley, produced the report I mentioned above. All the presentations are worth viewing, but first, I want to focus on Joe's presentation, 5 Essentials for Epic Content Marketing, which to me seemed most valuable for businesses that are serious about content marketing.
The formula for success is simple, but takes commitment to execute. The best content marketers focus on one type of content. They master a single platform for delivery and they do that on a consistent basis (regular schedule) over a long period of time (at least 1 year.) This idea should be welcome relief for anyone who's trying to create truckloads of content to fill multiple channels.
Does that still seem like a lot of work? Look at it this way. One year from now, another year will have passed. (Genius, right?) How will you describe it when it arrives? Are you in the same place doing the same things? Or are you ahead of everyone else who didn't commit to take a bold action that required some effort?
Joe said, "You can try to do more, but I haven't seen it work." That made me smile.
Where should you start? To paraphrase Joe, "There is one thing every media company has that you haven't got — an editorial mission statement." And yes, when we're talking about content marketing, we're talking about producing media for the purpose of building an audience. That's how it works. Build the audience, then monetize it.
What goes into the mission statement?
- The audience. Who is it for?
- What kind of information will be delivered?
- What will be the outcome (for the person consuming the content — not your business)? That should follow if you do a good job. Otherwise you'll probably turn people away.
Joe's favorite examples are Jyskabank and John Deere. The Danish bank didn't want to spend more money on soccer sponsorships so they created Jyskabank TV. Their tagline is "the only media company with its own bank."
John Deere has been producing a (print!) magazine for farmers called The Furrow for 120 years, which has 1.4 million subscribers. How many times has a John Deere product been mentioned in that period? About 15. Instead, they planted seeds of information useful to farmers (without promoting products) that grew into loyal customers.
Don't think this can work in life sciences? What do your customers care about (that isn't about your products)? What content would make their jobs easier, more interesting, or solve their problems?
Quintiles understands the idea of useful, non-promotional content. The Quintiles blog features articles aimed at the clinical trials space and covers topics of interest to a broad range of the health care and life science community. And they are posting at a blistering pace, having published 7 articles this past December.
Scientists are always interested in what other scientists are doing. Check out a podcast called People Behind the Science. These folks have been going strong for 322 episodes as of this writing.
You create products to serve your customers. Why can't your marketing do the same? I like to think of it as the product before the product. Content is the gateway drug of marketing. The field of life science is rich with stories to be told for the company that is willing to look for and share them. It just takes a little courage.
Stop playing it safe
Speaking of courage, that's exactly what The New York Times best-selling author Ann Handley thinks all marketers need more of. She claims the biggest missed opportunity in content marketing is playing it too safe.
How do we fix that?
Ann says that we need bigger stories, braver marketing, and a bolder tone of voice.What does she mean by a bigger story? Think about this. What's the story that your customer would be inspired to be a part of? Ann presented the story of Blue Bottle Coffee. This consumer example provides a tasty lesson for B2B marketers. Blue Bottle Coffee turns learning how to brew a great cup of coffee into an experience on SkillShare.
When you watch it, three things will happen: You'll learn the details that go into a fantastic cup of joe. You'll understand the science of coffee extraction, how it works and what matters. (These coffee aficionados take sample prep seriously!) And you'll be inspired to achieve excellence in an everyday task. I'm no foodie. I proudly start my day with instant coffee, but I appreciate smart marketing — watch the videos and be inspired to achieve excellence in creating a customer experience.
In the life sciences, Life Technologies offers a similar example, although it sits further down the funnel. They created a video selection guide for selecting immunoprecipitation reagents. It is a series of linked videos hosted on YouTube that comprise a decision tree. Users make selections based on choices shown as embedded links in each video. Watch the first one below to get a sense of how it works.
After making choices based on your needs, the last video tells you which product to purchase and provides a short URL link directly to the purchasing page. As a bonus, the text description below the final video gives a summary of the product and the choices you made to get there. This confirmation of your process ensures you didn't make the wrong selection somewhere along the line. What you get is an engaging interaction and an experience of doing business with people who are there to help.
If you're looking for an analog example of customer-centric life science content marketing, consider the extensive collection of chromatography books first published in the 1970's and 1980's from what was then Pharmacia Fine Chemicals, now GE Healthcare Life Sciences. All helpful information, no selling, but they opened the door wide for very large sales.
Somewhere you have a bigger story that touches an emotional trigger for your customers. How do you make them smarter? How do you make the world a better place? Tell your story well and gather your tribe.
Marketers are addicts. And not just to coffee.
Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping, declared that marketers are addicts, because we're always chasing the next high based on the success of the latest campaign. His strategy isn't so much about what content to create or where to distribute it, but rather how to distribute it. To get the maximum return on a piece of content, he suggests that you need to build momentum off of people's desire to share.
A typical viral video like WestJet's Christmas Miracle causes a huge bump in interest, but then quickly fades away. An alternative is to strategically distribute your content to one channel at a time.
TripAdvisor creates one piece of marquis content every year but plans the distribution very carefully. Andrew gives each stage a name. The first distribution is "One to One" – your email list. This is your closest circle of followers. When that consumption begins to plateau and slow, social media spreads it more broadly ("One to Few"). This leads to a second phase of growth.
Paid advertising of the content takes it from "Few to New" consumers after it has been seen by your core audience. Presumably, new consumers see that it has already been shared numerous times, adding social proof.
Public relations follows paid in the "New to News" phase. Having proved significant interest in the previous stages, news organizations are more likely to pick up your story. Eventually, interest for that content peaks and it's time to launch the next one.
What marquis content you can create on a regular basis? Thermo has begun doing this with Sequencing Moments That Mattered. Check out their videos from 2014 and 2015. Here's an option for your organization to consider — take a more historical view, eg, Innovations that changed how we do science, or 7 Scientists we thought were wrong, but turned out to be right.
There's no shortage of advice on how to improve your content marketing. Which one of these ideas will you make a priority for 2016? Are you focused on something else? Let us know by leaving a comment below.