How To Make a Better Case for Content Marketing in 2021

It feels like we’ve been here before.

[Quickly checks archive.]

Ah, yes. We have.  We’ve built the business case for content marketing here.  Here. And here.

But here’s an interesting anecdotal tidbit for you. As we reach the third quarter of 2021, the main purpose behind creating a content marketing strategy has changed.

So, first, let’s just call 2020 the “weirdness” – and go to 2019 for comparison to 2021.  My consulting group helped 30-ish of my clients to develop a business case for content and a strategy for it as a business function. Minimum 25 (83%) of the consultants were focused on improving lead-generation engines. Fourteen percent (13%) were devoted to brand and purpose-driven strategy. The remaining 4 percent was focused on customer loyalty and improved customer experiences after-sales.

This year, we’ve worked with 20 companies so far. Fifteen (75%) have been focused on how content marketing can help enhance an overall brand strategy or assist with awareness programs to help strengthen the earliest parts of the customer’s journey. The other five (25%) were focused on improving digital sales enablement.

Also, and this is a very satisfying turn, significant progress seems finally to have been made around instituting content. FunktionIt is an operation and not a series of single campaigns.  There was still a lot of pressure to optimize content marketing in 2019, even though it was a series or discrete campaigns.

More brands in 2021 see #content as an operations function, not just a series of one-off campaigns, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

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Answering a different question

In 2021, the strategy/challenge will be focused on two key (and distinct) questions

  1. How can we successfully build (or merge, depending on the case) the teams of content strategist (governance processes, structured data, data and technology) with content market (creating value-driven content experiences)?
  2. How can we scale up this new operation so it is efficient, measurable, and easily manageable?

The business case has changed. It’s no longer selling content marketing as a concept. If your business case is to prove the concept of showing the C-suite how competitor X has an amazing blog, competitor Y won an award for their white paper program, or competitor Z is driving better awareness with their print magazine, you’ll mostly get shrugged shoulders and a lifted eyebrow.

You see, many marketers are still answering “why should we do content marketing,” believing the C-suite is skeptical. They aren’t. They’re wondering why it’s taken so long for us to get there.

Put simply: We’re asking for a new model car and the CEO is saying, “What the hell have you been doing with all the parts that we’ve been buying?”

Today’s CEOs want to know what #ContentMarketing has been doing with all the “parts” they’ve been buying over the years, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

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Strategic content operations: Business case

Make no bones about it – this pushback hits every aspect of any content strategy we want to stand up. Just as an example, our last two advisory engagement inquiries weren’t about why they should launch a content marketing approach. In both cases, the CMO had given a directive. launch Strategic content marketing. To make that happen, they had to fix the entire content as a strategic function.

“Beware,” one of them said. “Our CEO now doesn’t believe we have the ability to do this. She believes we already have too much content.” But the thing is, once we dig in, it’s not that the CEO doesn’t believe in content marketing.  Nor is it that she doesn’t understand what content marketing is. She’s skeptical about why no one has bothered to think strategically about all this stuff in the first place.

Let’s look at the common pushbacks to implementing content – and specifically content marketing – as a strategic function that we’re hearing in 2021 and address them one by one.

Let me count the ways

In CMI’s 2021 research across thousands of marketers, we examined which factors marketers attributed to a minimal or lack of content marketing success. By a huge margin, the top two factors were “content creation challenges” and “strategy issues.”

Just to the point made earlier, this is where the “we-already-suck-at-it” pushback comes from senior management. Why? should they invest MORE in content, when your brand struggles at the content you’re already creating?

This is a part that no one says out loud. Business leaders couch their concerns in much more “business appropriate” language for this. We hear the following:

  • “There is already too much content. Shouldn’t we reduce the amount of content we are creating?”
  • “Content marketing costs too much. Isn’t advertising/paid media more efficient?”
  • “How can we compete? I don’t know if we’re capable of creating differentiated”
  • “We can’t tie the content marketing approach to revenue. Where’s the data? How will we measure this?”

Let’s acknowledge every single one of these concerns is or has been true at different times. Now, let’s address each one and figure out how to make the business case.

There’s already too much content

There is no doubt that our content production is excessive. There is also no doubt that we don’t use it to its fullest extent.  Sales often ignore a lot of our marketing content.  Many of the pieces that we create are never repackaged or reused. We blog a lot of content, but we don’t promote it or pay for media.

What’s the answer? What’s the answer?

These are all symptoms of not having a content operating model.  Yes, we can build a smart “factory” of content, but unless there’s a specific purpose behind what we put on the assembly line, the widgets won’t ever be valuable and we won’t know when we’re making too many.

We can build a “factory” of #content, but the widgets won’t be valuable unless there’s a specific purpose behind it, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The answer to the “there’s already too much content” objection is to acknowledge it and respond that is the primary business case for putting a strategy behind it.  One of my favorite questions to ask a CFO to make a business case for content is, “How much did you spend on content last year?” The answer (if it can be answered at all) is that it’s almost certainly the biggest expense that’s not actually tracked by the company.

This is something we must understand. This is crucial to our ability not only to track how much we spend but also for the planning, activation and measurement of all the content that we produce. To know how much content is enough because that little voice in the brain that asks – Are we actually creating too much content? – is correct. It’s rarely not that we are making too much DifferentContent. We are stuck in a loop of repeating the same thing over and over again.

What does this look like? It was something I described in one of my recent episodes Marketing Makers. This brings us to our second objection.

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Content marketing costs more

Somewhere in the collective conscious of marketing – especially digital marketing – “paid media” became the de facto standard for how much things should cost. Every new approach is subject to the same filter: Are they cheaper or more expensive? If it’s cheaper, it must be worth doing, and if it’s more expensive it’s not.

The troubling thing about the question is that it assumes two things: (1) “Advertising” and the costs associated with it are as good as it’s going to get and won’t degrade further, and (2) We are pitching content marketing as a replacement for paid media.

This means that content marketing may be more expensive than advertising today. But what if advertising completely fails one day, and we haven’t invested in an alternative form of marketing? Or what if, and this is just a moment, advertising itself actually costs more than we realize.

That brings us to the second erroneous assumption – we are proposing it as a replacement for advertising. This isn’t true. Content marketing has multiple ways to generate value. All of these are interdependent on paid media, public relations and sales.

Content marketing is a must. As part of the integrated Marketing Mix – not separate from it. Content marketing should not be seen as a set or series of campaigns meant to replace (or be less expensive) paid media advertisements.  Actually, the content marketing approach focuses on the development of the Product of contentWe will integrate all types of marketing, including paid media, with the help of.

#ContentMarketing is a part of the integrated marketing mix – not separate from it, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

A great content marketing program is fundamentally a content product operation. (Do you sense a theme? This creates, activates, & promotes our content experience which ultimately benefits the sale and promotion of our other products. This is why the great content marketing experiences that you’re showing the C-suite are almost always publishing platforms like blogs, resource centers, events, or print magazines. They are intended to be part of your content operation and should be measured in the same way.

The third objection is then raised.

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We can’t compete with content

If our business was hurting, and the head of product management came to the CEO and said, “We can’t create great products,” how might the CEO react?

What if this situation was reversed. In either case, the product manager may be looking to find a job. The ability to create amazing products and services is key to our business.

If we’re treating content seriously, why would we expect anything less? The only reason this assertion will be true is if we don’t try hard or care.

This is something that no one has mastered. You are not late.  You are not too late. Edelman PR and LinkedIn recently conducted research to determine the potential for thought leadership in B2B Marketing. 48 percent of decision-makers spend at least one hour per week engaged with thought leadership. Only 15% of those same decision-makers rated the quality of the thought leadership as “excellent.”  Further, only 29% of them said they gain valuable insights more than half the time.

The current standard for thought leadership is very low. If we’re not providing the thought leadership for our industry, the real question is who is? Are we going to rely on our competitors to set the bar for what “smart” looks like in our business?

This brings us to the last objection I will address here.

We can’t tie content marketing to revenue

The short answer here is: Then don’t.

There are many ways to tie content marketing to business value. Revenue is just one example. If you can link any aspect of your advertising or marketing to revenue, you can also tie content marketing and revenue.

But, if we dig deeper, the real assertion here is that content marketing is “too fuzzy” to associate with a sale – and thus it’s hard to draw a straight line to revenue. Now, this may be true, but it’s not an argument for not doing content marketing. This is simply a challenge to how we design our measurement program – and ensuring we apply the proper goals to our content operation. Show me a company that struggles to measure content marketing, and I’ll show you a company that struggles to measure marketing.

Simply put, a blog that is intended to increase brand awareness should not be measured on how many leads it generates. Similar to assets stored in a fully secured resource center to drive lead, it should not be based on how much it boosts awareness through SEO.

Each content operating model will have different measurement goals. This is why it’s so critical to understand that operating model. I’ve talked before about some of the details of this approach.

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You’re in good company

Here’s something thing that will either comfort you or keep you up at night. Are you ready?

You’re not alone. This is something that no one has yet figured out. Nobody. OK, Cleveland Clinic might have this figured out. But honestly, when it comes to content strategy, they’re operating at an entirely different level than most businesses.

We’ve spilled gallons of digital ink over the years talking about how content marketing isn’t a new thing for businesses.  It’s been around for hundreds of years. We point to the Michelin Guide, John Deere’s The Furrow magazine, and even LEGO as prime examples.  But I can tell you, over the years I’ve talked with and/or consulted with every one of those companies, as well as so many others that serve as “case stud” fodder at conferences. They are all the same, and they all have the same goals: to feel their way, explore, and make the business case. Every. Every. Day.  As the leader at one of the most frequently mentioned content marketing case studies said to me in 2019, “I wish my boss could see all the times we’re mentioned as a case study. I’m still fighting for budget every single quarter.”

But, guess what? This struggle is not a sign that content marketing isn’t working. It’s a sign that it’s just become a normal part of marketing.

The big rock we have to get over – the 2021 business case – is that the classic content marketing adage – we need to act like a media company – is mostly misunderstood.  It’s not that we need to create stuff that helps us We can market ourselves Like a media company.  No. No. Operate as a media company.

We need to operate as a media company does, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

That’s what we’re building a business case for – a scalable operational model of content that’s as important as any product or service we offer in the market, an operation that helps power everything in modern marketing.

Remember that content is not going to make the business more successful. However, a new approach to marketing could be the catalyst for business transformation.

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Hear what Robert Rose has to say to inspire and inform your content marketing operations at this fall’s Content Marketing World in person or virtually. Register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute