What Comes Before Content?

What Comes Before Content?

With the marketing world abuzz around content – 90% of companies report that they have some kind of content marketing initiative in place – how does one company differentiate itself from the rest?  The answer may be more interesting than you imagined, have less to do with content than you’d suspect, and is often overlooked.

The key to content success falls into a category I like to refer to as Content Science. While Content Science is a broad term and encompasses way more than I can cover in one blog post, I’d like to offer a framework for which to think about the Content Scientist role in your organization.

The Content Scientist is an expert in the customer.  They know their audience like the back of their hand and, because of this, are able to drive more success with their marketing strategies, thus pulling ahead of the competition.  While content is a key component to their strategies’ success, they are also acutely aware of the other facets of marketing and know how to integrate them to achieve the results they expect.

So what is a Content Scientist focused on?  Below are three key elements of the science of content that can help move the dial and should be a major part of every content marketing strategy, if not specific to a Content Scientist role:

  1. Be definitive as well as predictive.  Get as much definitive data as possible about your targets, which means collecting and analyzing information about contacts, companies, their buying centers and cycles, and the behaviors of the people who work for them around topics relevant to your solutions, both individually and rolled up to the account level.  And, where you can’t be definitive, get predictive.  Propensity to buy and other predictive models can be of significant help in your targeting of content.  For example, if you market a software product that requires a certain hardware environment, knowing what companies and locations are equipped with this hardware and allows you to message to them accordingly.  The message to people who don’t have this environment should be completely different, but unless you can differentiate these segments from one another, you’re at risk of exposing them to a message that will fall flat. In today’s world of big data, definitive and predictive information is readily available from vendors who gather it from public sources and do considerable analytical modelling work on it.
  2. Hang out in the “place to be”.  Perhaps you’ve read my blog post, Why Good Content Marketing Can Improve Your Skin. It tells the story about how I was awakened to a need to be in market for skincare products that I was not originally in market for, simply by putting the right information in front of me at the right time.  I’ve heard folks refer to these places as “watering holes;” the places buyers go for their information as their “go to” sources, even before they are in market for a product.   To get ahead in today’s top of funnel content marketing environment, you need to know this for your buyers and be in these places with content that compels, way before buyers know they need a solution.  This requires reconciling yourself to the fact that people don’t spend their days perusing your website for your carefully crafted content.  On the contrary, chances are that at top of funnel, they don’t trust your content (yet) and, worse, they may not even know who your company is.  And, their travels online may not be linear, or even logical.  You need to find them first, and then serve up information they’ll consume that opens their eyes to their need.  This means building data that can be a combination of information sources they frequent, social networks, etc. Of course, knowing all the places they go is only part of the equation.  Once they’re engaged with your brand, perhaps on your site, it is a very different story and the “content of your content” (a saying of persona guru, Adele Revella aka @buyerpersona) becomes that much more important.
  3. Know how they consume it.  When it comes to the types of content you create, understand what your buyers respond to BEFORE they are in market and WHEN they are in market.  This means knowing what information they need and when, as well as all the details about how they consume it.  For example, knowing definitively that a person reads almost entirely on their cellphone may change your content strategy. Or perhaps your buyer is much more responsive to interactive content than to whitepapers.  You’ll need to know the precise inflection point where it is okay for you to transition the content about their problems to content about your solution.  The information contained in your content, especially once your buyer is in market, is critical because your buyer has expectations and knows what they need to know to make a decision.  These insights can be collected in persona interviews and there are many technologies available today that complement this information with content consumption habits, for both online and social, which can help shape the types of content you create, the segments you target that content at, and allow you to pivot if you are not getting the results you need.

The world of content is getting more complicated, but not in a bad way.  With everyone onboard “the Content Express”, the only way to rise above the rest is by evolving your content efforts from an art to a science.  Content marketing is raising the game… so which came first, the content or the Content Scientist?

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About the author

SVP of Marketing at Monetate, and veteran B2B marketer. On Twitter @MaribethRoss. Read more at www.maribethross.com

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