Wed, February 02 2011

If content is king, how do you become king of content?

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

All week, I’ve been talking about how much content matters.  Here’s a guest post by the wonderful, savvy nonprofit marketing mind of Jono Smith on why - and how - to create content worth sharing.


Credit: Social Signal.

Marketing has done it again—we’ve created another catch-phrase. It’s alternately called content marketing, idea marketing, or thought leadership marketing. But hold on: marketing has always created content, and good marketing has always been about good content, so what’s so special about content marketing?

In the spirit of Robin Hood Marketing, content marketing is a concept borrowed from the corporate world and now being utilized by nonprofit marketers. In a nutshell, content marketing is the art of understanding exactly what your target audience wants to know about your issue area and delivering it to them in a relevant and compelling way to.  In its simplest form, it involves developing great content, making the content easy to find and engage with, using these engagement opportunities to demonstrate to your target audience that you are the thought leader in your issue area, and ultimately capturing, cultivating and converting prospects to donors.

In the world of B2B and B2C marketing, it’s an article of research that bringing quality “thought leadership” ideas to prospects early in the buying process helps win business.  For example, Whole Foods Market regularly publishes content (through its website, blog, Facebook Page, Twitter feed, print magazine, etc.) about natural and organic foods, presumably to position the Whole Foods brand as the world’s though leader in natural and organic foods.

Is it working?  In spite of a difficult economy, Whole Foods has experienced identical store sales growth of 6.4% over the past two years, and they are continuing to gain market share at a faster rate than most public food retailers.  When asked why, their co-founder John Mackey said, “We attribute much of our success to ... our initiatives in areas such as healthy eating, animal welfare and sustainable seafood. These initiatives are aligned with our core customer base and reinforce our position as the authentic retailer of natural and organic foods, further differentiating the Whole Foods Market shopping experience and making us the preferred choice for customers aspiring to a healthier lifestyle.”

Now Whole Foods didn’t just decide they wanted to be a thought leader and talk it into existence with mediocre content marketing. They realized that they must have mind share before they could have market share. In other words, it’s not enough simply to identify a global (childhood obesity) or regional (conservation in Michigan) issue that your constituents are facing and develop content that explains it. You need to take a strong point of view on why it is an issue, what is going to happen, and how to deal with the ramifications. In addition, your point of view should be differentiated from competitors’ views, original, and perhaps even somewhat counter-intuitive.
We can see from the Whole Foods example that there are two important components to operationalizing thought leadership: first, creating compelling ideas that map to your mission and case, and second, packaging those ideas into consumable content. So how do you formalize this?

First, you need a single, focused goal to provide direction, motivation, and operational guidance. Here’s an example.

Let’s say your thought leadership goal is to become a recognized leader in the area of Childhood Obesity, and the key results you are going to measure against are content consumption, keywords in Google’s top 10 rankings, earned media, house list growth, and new donor lead generation.

To get started, you need to think like an editor and establish a publishing process. This process involves seven steps:

1. Identify (or validate) your target audience (for example: Mothers ages 35-54 of children ages 3-12).
2. Create a thoughtful and memorable theme (for example: Healthier Kids, Brighter Futures) and point of view (“Some say it takes a village to raise a child. We say: it takes a backyard, a playground, a park.”).
3. Research and validate your theme and point of view with your target audience (this can vary from simple telephone interviews to sophisticated qualitative and quantitative analysis).
4. Validate your point of view with secondary research. For example, “Research connects the lack of outdoor time to increased obesity, depression, stress, diabetes, ADD and poor performance in the classroom.”
5. Determine which marketing channels your target audience is most activate in.
6. Create an editorial calendar to keep your content consistent and relevant.
7. Deliver targeted, relevant content.

Managing marketing as a content creation engine isn’t easy. Operating like a publisher requires a totally different mindset, skill-set and roles. For example, it means hiring copywriters with journalism and research skills. But given how increasingly difficult it is for organizations to stand out from the crowd, launching content marketing campaigns that demonstrate your mission and vision and breakthrough ideas may be your best opportunity to differentiate yourself from your peers. Are you ready to test a content marketing campaign for your organization?

Jono Smith is Vice President of Marketing & Sales at Event 360. He writes for the Event Fundraising Blog.

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