Marketing

The Content Strategy Hangout: My 4 Take Aways

I’m yet to attend a live Hangout and circumstances prevailed so that I missed another, the Content Strategy Hangout by Velocity partners. Anyhow, I caught up with it last week.  The goal of the hangout was to discuss how to make content standout. The panel was made up of those with the smarts and the chops:

  • Bryony Thomas, Principal, Clear Thought Consulting
  • John Watton, Senior Director, Marketing, Silverpop
  • Kieran Flanagan, Marketing Director (EMEA), Hubspot,
  • Michele Linn, Executive Editor, Content Marketing Institute
  • Kieran Flanagan, Marketing Director (EMEA), Hubspot,
  • Stan Woods, Managing Director, Velocity Partners

The running time was just shy of 60 minutes and I have to applaud the team at Velocity, the panel, and in particular the host Ryan Skinner for delivering a professional yet relaxed forum on a hangout. (and hey, great content generates great content).

It opened up with a viewpoint piece, asking each of the panelists questions ranging from the current state of content marketing to what the great examples are and what are the things that they have learnt through their own experiences. It then moved on to an open discussion covering best practice, the role (or otherwise) of dull content and a temperature check on the appetite for creating standout content.  Here is the hangout in full:

There was a lot to take from the Content Strategy Hangout, however, here are my 4 takeaways :

1. Consistency and confidence

The growth of inbound marketing reminds me of that saying of yore ‘build it and they will come’, though the discipline of inbound marketing (SEO, PPC, whitepapers, blogs etc) is not as simple nor as arrogant as that expression suggests. With content marketing forming the backbone of good inbound marketing, and with the modern self-educating audience we have today, good content has to be consistent and confident. 

It’s worth pointing out that whilst they maybe the driving force behind its adoption, content marketing is not the sole preserve of the marketing department. Therefore for content to standout and prove successful it is important that organisations have confidence in who they are, what they stand for and how they can educate, entertain and inform consumers. John Watton alluded to this when he said that the best content campaigns he’s seen are those that are based on ‘Consistency and repeating a message over time’. Any target audience can spot a ‘ooohh Cloud technology” moment.

All the panelists touched on the importance consistency and confidence. However, three quotes stand out for me. Kieran Flanaghan said that ‘as marketers we are here to provide better experiences for customers”. Sometimes it’s easy for marketers to forget this. We see content marketing as the next big thing and jump on the bandwagon. However, what I took from this is that your content will stand out if it is true to you as a business and reflects the experience your audience will have when they interact with you.

Stan Woods identified 6 principles for good content, the fifth of which is ‘Confidence is seductive.” How true that is. If I look at the likes of Salesforce, Marketo, and SAP amongst others, I think ‘one day I want to work with this lot’. I know when it comes to selecting a marketing automation platform, I know immediately who’s on my shortlist. The seductive power of confidence.

Finally, Bryony Thomas hit the nail on the head “Commercial karma; Do it right and it will come back to you.”

2. Iteration, Iteration, Iteration. 

A consistent theme of the hangout was the sheer volume of ‘crap’ content that is currently floating around. It’s a natural output of jumping on the next big thing. As marketers we have to be disciplined.  Testing was another one of Stan’s aforementioned 6 principles when he said that we have to ‘pick the right issue’. So, as marketers we should be listening more. This will help us create the standout content that not only fills an information gap but also educates, entertains and gets shared.

So, stop creating crap content, there’s enough of that already. Before you jump in, stop, think, listen and test. Test some more, absorb data, learn, amend, grow. Ad nauseum.

3. There is no such thing as best practice.

For me, this was one of the most interesting parts of the discussion. So what is the best practice advice?

Put simply, there isn’t. The sentiment from the panel was that content marketing as a discipline is still in an experimental phase and as such established best practice doesn’t exist.  Nevertheless, the advice of the panel is learn from others but don’t copy, for the simple reason that you aren’t ‘them’ and you never will be. However, as Bryony pointed out there will always a requirement for the basics such as FAQs, it’s whatever meets your audience needs be it a blog, ebook or video. In essence, get the basics right before getting clever. Kieran added that you must produce content that is best for customers and he recommended that you create a swipe file for inspiration purposes. This is a great idea.

So, take best practice advice with a pinch of salt. Instead focus on  understanding your audience. Ryan Skinner summised this by explaining that great content is really about telling a good story that the audience finds useful.

4. Great content creates great content.

By talking about content they have created great content. Best practice was a moot point on the call, however, I think this Hangout, and the subsequent recording, is itself a good benchmark for making content standout. It can then of course be sliced and diced as meets the needs of a given audience segment. I’ll be interested how this will be repurposed.

Finally, as a hangout there was a really nice openness. There was a good mix of advice and humility through acknowledging past failures. Hey, it’s early days. Often lots of these sessions are too evangelical, too perfect in a ‘failure is not an option’ way. But as marketers (not marketeers) what are we if we are not learners? We are constantly evolving to customer needs and technological changes. We, as marketers, have to evolve, test, evolve, test.

What did you take from it?

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Things I love

My new favourite website: Longform.org

At the start of 2013, I set myself the goal of reading at least 24 books this year. January got off to a good start, I read 2 and a half books. Then I discovered Longform.org.

Focussing specifically on pieces longer than 2000 words, Longform “recommends new and classic non-fiction from around the web” with articles being submitted by writers and magazines such as GQ and The New Yorker.

I came across the site when it was recommended as part of the The Atlantic Wire‘s best 25 long reads of 2012.

There are three things I really like about the site:

1. Curation. The purpose of Longform.org is simple: to act as the location for quality storytelling. So whilst all the featured articles are freely available online, you know that only the very best are recommended. I’m yet to be disappointed.

2. Design. It’s clean and simple. I don’t have an iPad, but if I did, this app would be one of the first I’d download.

3. Integration with reading platforms.

Longform

It’s highly unlikely that I will read a 2000+ word article on my laptop, so one of the killer features for me is a drop down menu that lets you select how you read the articles away from the site. Its options include Readiblity, Instapaper, Pocket and Kindle. By selecting one of these from the menu each article synopsis contains a button that immediately lets you share it with your platform of choice. Love that.

There is so much good stuff on here. Sign up to the RSS feed. Also visit their Best of 2012 list and 2011 and 2010, which I’m working my way through.

Hope you all get as much from it as I am and will continue to.

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Things I love

Things I liked in January 2013

Quite simply, a list of stuff I enjoyed in January 2013. Things I like Jan 2013

Marketing: Crap. The single biggest threat to content threat to B2B marketing.

The team at Velocity are good at getting stuff off their chests. This particular rant is about how, regardless of your industry, the rush to adopt and implement content marketing will make it harder and harder for your content to rise above the noise. The only solution is to cut the crap and produce truly great content. As ever with Velocity this is a call to arms. It’s got the plaudits and quite rightly too.

Book: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Following a global disaster, Hig spends his days protecting his ranch and flying his Cessna to check for marauding bandits. One day he picks up a message from another pilot.

This is probably the most enjoyable book I’ve read in a while. It’s got a really interesting use of  punctuation, grammar and sentence structure and it’s all the better for it. I really enjoyed The Road by Cormac Mcarthy, The Dog Stars, however, is laced with more hope and optimism.

Long form posts

I read a hell of a lot of 500 word marketing posts and the occasional 10 “things” lists. For balance, and sanity, I make a point of reading outside my industry. Several of the articles below have been haunting my instapaper for a couple of months. A couple of which are over a year old. However, a 6 hour train journey to Scotland gave me the time to clear out my overflowing backlog. These three article from the New Yorker really struck a chord with me.

Craft beer: Drinking from the Mikkeller Cellar

A nice insight into the culture and ethos of everyone’s current favourite gypsy brewery, Mikkeller.

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