Posted by Adria Saracino
This article consists of part selling content marketing, and part how to actually create a content campaign. However, at a more Meta level, it's also about the idea of "how to be good at getting what you want." If you want your boss to care about content marketing, you need to know how to pitch it right.
Like everything in business, from sales to link building, "selling an idea" is all about persuasive speech and delivery. However, if persuasion doesn't come naturally to you, how do you formulate a pitch that will be sticky and affect change?
I'm not here to give vague, unhelpful advice like "be persuasive," "give solid delivery," or some other abstract concept that is difficult to act upon. Rather, I will do my best to give you an actionable, step-by-step formula to constructing an effective pitch and convincing your boss that content marketing is the answer to your online business woes.
Whether you're selling content marketing to the C-Suite, your manager, a client, or even trying to convince yourself, here is everything you need to make a compelling argument and be on your way to content marketing success.
Step 1: Paint a story
Think of some of the best advertising campaigns you can recall. I get chills every time the Kellogg's Special-K commercials come on and they end it with the simple phrase, "What will you gain when you lose?" Genius in one simple question.
Just like Kellogg's stays top of mind by getting viewers to think about the flip side of weight loss, you need to paint a story and deliver an overarching vision in which the decision makers can relate if you want them to support you throughout the process.
Tom Critchlow once told me to "voice a vision" and I literally walked away baffled because it was so non-actionable that I wanted to rampage. However, now being on the other side, I'm going to say this "story painting" part is the most abstract piece of the "making-your-boss-care" puzzle because at the end of the day, each story will differ depending on the company. Since you have more intimate knowledge of the brand than I ever will, this story-painting task lies in your creative ability to succinctly develop a vision for your company.
All this being said, I can provide some tricks for developing your story:
- What is the brand message? If there is a PR team, ask. No sense painting a new vision that doesn't align. If not, start thinking about what you know about your customers and brainstorming why they chose your brand over another. What is your brand's USP? Sales and FAQ pages could be invaluable here. You could even bribe the social media manager to throw a question out on Facebook and see what responses you get.
PRO TIP: Send out an email asking all (or a group) of employees to put into an Excel doc words that come to mind when they think of your brand. Throw it into Wordle to create a word cloud to help with brainstorming. You could also add words from the Facebook responses from customers if you ended up bribing your social manager.
- Can you re-position the conversation? Just like Kellogg's, Taco Bell re-positioned the conversation in its market with the tagline "Think Outside the Bun." It was in the market of burger joint vs. burger joint, but instead of comparing itself to the competition by creating more noise about "fast food" and "sandwich-like" options, Taco Bell re-positioned the conversation to "us vs. them."
Can you focus the conversation on another angle in your market? Think about your competition and what all of the marketing noise sounds like. How can you differentiate your message?
- If you're not a natural storyteller, find someone who is. I personally am hit or miss with storytelling, so I often go to Lexi Mills or Ron Garrett for this skill. The bonus to getting someone else invested in the vision is that it becomes an opportunity to recruit more advocates of content marketing. Think of it as a mini coup, as there is strength in numbers.
- Google it. Hey, if you're not a great storyteller look to see what other people are saying. I just did to make sure I wasn't missing anything and found some great resources on storytelling for marketing.
Remember: decision makers need to see, understand, and be on board with your vision if you want to truly get their buy in. Sell the vision and you're on your way to getting the resources you need to get there.
Step 2: Match it with specific goals
I'll make it easy for you. There's only one real goal: conversions. All other "goals" are really just means to this one end. You're in business, so all goals should end in the monies. Any other goal you think of (links, rankings, domain authority, etc.) will be a short-term checkpoint to reaching the end of the race and improving conversions.
Your long-term goal should be the first thing you pitch: "I want to make us more money." Perfect; you got their attention and are speaking in their terms. Now, how do you get specific and create a road map of short-term-goal measurement "checkpoints" to show you are coming to the pitch with solutions and not just fanciful stories?
Remember, it's about painting a story. You want to go all Memento on them. Start with the end of the story (end goal = more money) and then flash back to the beginning – give them a high-level snapshot of your company's current performance.
For current performance: Usually a few key graphs and specific metrics in areas where the company is under-performing will be enough. If you can pair it with some competitive research, such as "so-and-so is dominating the search results," that will most likely help. The key is to not get caught up in minutia and to talk big picture. Don't say, "We are getting a high bounce rate on this one page and I think it's important to build content to improve it." You want the conversation to sound more like, "I audited our site and saw there are over 30 pages in which we're getting X-significant-amount-of-traffic and it has a 100% bounce rate, which is costing us approximately $ X a year."
For future goals: Again, you want to think bigger picture and not get caught up in the minutia. You definitely don't want to say, "I'm going to make a piece of linkbait that's going to get us a lot of links." Business leaders don't think in links, they think in money so start leveling up your language.
Content marketing isn't a string of piecemeal linkbait. It is aligning content with a company's customer funnel to make sure the brand is at top-of-mind throughout the purchasing path. Thus, your pitch should sound more like this, "To improve our organic traffic by X% and bring in $ X more a year, we need to dominate the SERPs for keywords relevant to our customers' purchasing behavior. To get here, we need to do X, Y, and Z."
Below, we'll talk more about the recipe for developing a content strategy which, depending on your company's specific performance, you can most likely plug into this part of the pitch for the X, Y, and Z variables. Also, I really loved Jay Baer's presentation at Content Marketing World on the four different types of metrics.
Step 3: Pair the vision + goals with the benefits
"Tangential/viral campaigns have to be justified to the client like this:
'Well, viral may results in links/social, which may result in domain authority and may result in ranking improvements across the domain, but if it fails then we don't have much to show for it.'
That can be too much of a stretch for a client to get on board with. Aligning the content you produce with the client's sales funnel sidestep that. The discussion turns into this:
'Well, if it goes viral, then we win the internet, but if it doesn't go viral then it's still great for X, Y, & Z business goals, and you can continue promoting it long in to the future.'"
If you have inquisitive management, they are going to start coming at you with questions and rebuttals trying to say what your team is currently doing is enough. Kane's reasoning will be enough explanation for most, but counteract any serious dubiousness with a list of reasons why content marketing is beneficial. You know your boss best, so you can read whether or not you'll need to dive into this in detail or just have it ready, but it's always good to pepper some of these into your pitch.
I wrote an article on aligning content marketing with the customer funnel that had some of these benefits, but here is an expanded list:
It's safer and actually strategic
Frankly, if a piece of content doesn't go viral, you have a backup plan if you align content to the broader marketing goal and message.
As Kane mentioned, "viral" content pieces on tangential topics put a lot of strain on the outreachers to deliver links and shares. However, creating sharable content that is also relevant to the top of your company's funnel can make sure you're not putting all your eggs in one basket. If it doesn't go "viral," it could still have other benefits, such as ranking for a relevant term, being used by the sales team, and so on. This is called diversifying your link building plan.
In addition, if you build content around broader PR or social media efforts, you are now integrating campaigns – economies of scale for content marketing. This makes sure you are leaving no stone unturned and capitalizing on all the potential business wins possible.
EXAMPLE: If the social team is hosting a huge contest, is there an opportunity to create relevant content onsite that has the opportunity to rank for keywords relevant to your funnel?
Creates a flywheel
Content marketing is a COO's operational dream. Over time, it creates a flywheel for efficient content creation. No endless cycle of "think of epic idea, build it, outreach it, repeat." Instead, you are front loading the research and planning to create a long term road map that follows a strategic set of creative parameters.
In addition to the internal flywheel, content following a strategic plan can also market itself over time, eliminating the need to keep promoting it manually. For example, if the content targets a low-competition keyword that has decent volume, it can start ranking well on its own. If it's a topic a lot of other authors write about, when they are researching they could use your content. Furthermore, since users are search heavy during decision making, it's bringing new potential customers to your site all by itself. If you create content regularly enough, people can come to expect it and start coming to your site to see what you will launch next. All of these are examples of how content can become a snowball effect of wins with little to no redundant work.
Provides consistent user experience
This is the benefit I am personally most passionate about because, at the end of the day, your customers are who matter most. If you are creating inconsistent, tangential content to target who I call the gatekeepers, you run the risk of confusing your customers and irreparably damaging your brand's trust factor. Here's an easy rule to follow: all content you create should make sense as coming from your brand. No zombie infographics if you are an insurance company. No cat memes if you are a travel company. Keep it relevant and consistent. I have another version of #RCS: Relevant, Consistent Shit.
Captures long-term traffic
I used this image in my last post and I'm going to use it again because it's so relevant: content that is relevant to your customer funnel builds traffic over time. Unless they are searching for zombie apocalypse equipment, no one is searching for keywords around your zombie infographic. It will not gain long-term traffic unless you keep pushing it.
However, if you create content that you know targets a topic heavily searched, you could see results like this:
Step 4: Demonstrate potential results with examples
Keep up the storytelling theme by ideally having both good and bad examples to represent the hero and the villain. We are hardwired to connect with storytelling, so it can be difficult for decision makers to resist rooting for the good guys. You want to subtly paint this good vs. bad picture by choosing the right examples. The best "bad" examples usually hit home when they are your own company's work, but just remember to be tactful when talking about the negatives.
Here are some good examples for you to use. Note, I am showing these because I have access to how the campaigns did and the results are what you need to show your boss this stuff works. There's a lot of really, really cool content marketing going on out there, and I encourage you to follow up with the companies that are doing them to see if you can get some case studies on the results.
"The Small Business Champions"
Mackenzie Fogelson just talked about them in her building community value post. They even wrote a post explaining their campaign and the results. They might be all over the place, but I'm going to say it again because it has such clear results you can show your boss (remember: show, don't tell) – the team over at Simply Business is onto something with this whole content marketing thing.
I'll let you read the post over at CMI that goes into more depth, but essentially SB developed a brand message to become "the small business champion." As such, it decided to create content around common roadblocks businesses face – successfully navigating all the backend mumbo jumbo around operations. Things like being more efficient, installing and using Google Analytics, hiring your first employee…anything and everything that frustrates business owners.
- Moved to 1st or 2nd position in SERPs for head key terms
- Ranking for top-of-funnel keywords
- 6% higher first-visit-to-buy conversions
- Improved customer retention by 30%
* Pulled from Simply Business' CMI post linked above
Platform for #SocialSuccess
Kieran Flanagan revealed the results to Salesforce's #SocialSuccess content marketing campaign on Moz last year. Similar to Simply Business above, Salesforce identified its brand message, "Get Found," and embarked on a journey to pull new potential customers into its funnel by creating content around social media issues its tools address.
- Traffic for launch month up 80% YoY
- Traffic from social sites up 2500%
- 6500 newsletter signups
- 10,000 eBook downloads (and thus 10K leads)
- An ongoing platform for content marketing – Salesforce is still killing it today with #SocialSuccess-themed content
* Pulled from Kieran's SEOmoz post linked above
Step 5: Outline a "bird's eye view" plan
Don't plague them with the minutia. It's generally a fixed plan with concrete steps no matter the business. It's only four real steps with some mini actions in between: research, compile, execute, analyze (RCEA – management loves acronyms, right?).
Note: I am going into more detail for each of these sections so you know what it is and have a starting point for when you get to the execution part. You don't need to include all this detail in your pitch!
Before you begin: Talk to other teams. You would not believe how many companies silo their teams and waste time, money, and efficiency repeating processes. One of these processes is understanding the customer. Someone in your company might already be an expert, so don't duplicate the work to find out yourself!
If you don't have anyone to talk to or a team that did one of the below steps, here is an overview of the type of functions you will need to perform to create a content marketing plan from the ground up.
Look through all of the company's back-end analytics to get a clear picture of its current performance. You want to find out the answers to questions like:
- What is traffic pattern like? Any seasonality?
- What pages were visited most?
- What is the typical visitor flow?
- What pages get the most conversions?
- Where do visitors spend the most time?
- What are the bounce rates, particularly for high volume pages?
- How long goes the visitor typically stay on the site?
- How did they get to the site?
- What are the predominant referring keywords?
- Any interesting mobile vs. web data?
I call this a "benchmark" audit because you should also be taking out key metrics as the baseline you will compare all future performance to in order to determine ROI of your efforts. While you are doing this, keep in the back of your mind that you will need to develop a way to track all future content goals you develop.
Talk to your customers
From the benchmark audit, you will probably start seeing visitor patterns in which you can draw conclusions around customer behavior. However, you cannot go solely off this data because it's usually muddled with a large number of potential and failed customers.
Instead, pair these metric-driven insights with more thorough market research: talking to your customers. I wrote an article on how to develop personas, so I won't dive into it in detail here, but this is arguably the most important piece to making #RCS content: you need to know who you are creating it for! Conduct surveys, hold focus groups, do in-depth interviews, etc.; the more info you can gather, the better you will be able to develop clear customer stories.
This is so, so important because if you want to earn those long-term traffic benefits, you need to make sure your content aligns with phrase people are actually using as they search. The key here though is to focus on keywords THROUGHOUT the funnel. This is the number one task I see all SEOs struggle with – they are hardwired to only focus on the conversion, bottom-of-the-funnel-terms. If you are planning for a content piece around "buy X online" and think it will go viral or is even worth outreach time, you are sorely mistaken.
The key here is to dive into research by asking yourself questions as if you were searching yourself. You need to understand the search intent to be epic at more top-of-funnel keyword research. This is a pretty good article on the topic, and there are plenty of tools out there to aid creativity. Also, Kieran Flanagan gets it. Just remember, a winning content strategy is aimed at getting new customers into the funnel at all levels; don't miss the opportunity to get people in at the top.
PRO TIP: Like above when brainstorming your brand message, when you get a pretty good keyword list, throw it into Wordle after cutting out the redundant terms to get a word cloud that shows the most dominantly searched topic for your funnel. This will help get the content creative juices flowing later.
This is essentially taking inventory of all the content on your site so you can conduct a content gap analysis. I wrote an article on conducting a content audit, but the specifics might change a bit depending on your needs. For example, you might stick to just the quantitative parts (pulling metrics) and only assessing qualitatively the content that has gregariously inconsistent metrics (such as tons of traffic, high bounce rate).
Bring all the pieces together and define goals
I'll keep this part short and sweet. Once you have all the above pieces:
- Create your customer personas
- Address any outlandish technical woes you found during benchmark audit
- Identify key areas on your site that you need to repurpose content based off findings from benchmark audit
- Figure out what content you are missing based off your content gap analysis and keyword research
- Prioritize keywords
- Start prioritizing areas to focus your content
- Clearly define measurable short and long-term goals
Create an editorial calendar
Once you are done prioritizing your areas to focus on, start brainstorming and filling in the editorial calendar (aka long-term project plan). Depending on factors like whether or not you have a blog, you might need to create a more detailed editorial calendar to keep your daily content creators focused. The key is to plan out all your content so you only have to focus on execution – this is the starting point of that flywheel.
Make sure you have the brand message, standards, and tracking in place
Remember the importance of a consistent user experience? You want to keep it consistent not only through the topics you cover but also the style in which you write. Remember that brand message you developed? All content should definitely align with that. Remember those personas? All of your content should definitely target one persona each.
In addition, make sure you are aligned with your brand/editorial standards that the wider company uses. If there isn't one, make one. This covers things like grammar, voice, on-page SEO considerations, blog theme style, etc.
PRO TIP: You also need governance standards – trust me, the bigger the organization, the crazier it can get. You want to clearly define dependencies early. This includes answers to questions like what is the editorial review workflow, who owns getting it through each stage, and what are the engagement standards?
Lastly, remember I mentioned during the benchmark audit to start thinking about how you can track goals? By now, you should have goals clearly defined. Make sure you implement any necessary backend tracking so you can start measuring and comparing to those benchmarks right away.
Easy – get 'er done. Start creating the content and launching.
After each larger content piece, you should be assessing how it did. However, you should also plan on assessing long term and conducting a content inventory of this new content (just like the content audit, just smaller scale and more outcomes focused). This is where you will really see the ROI of all your efforts. Check out this great article on measuring content marketing.
Step 6: Manage those expectations
Just like with everything else, you need to give due diligence to managing your boss' expectations. There are a ton of resources out there around effectively managing expectations, which takes practice. However, some key components include:
- Be honest – content marketing is front loaded, long term, but smart business
- Give clear deadlines – and meet them
- Involve the right people from the start
Step 7: Demand greatness
You're almost done. One key component to a successful content marketing program is to ensure everyone is on board and the key decision makers are all in. If they aren't, it will cause unnecessary roadblocks down the road, like cross-team conflict and lack of required resources.
Thus, before beginning, you need to demand greatness. This may be a conversation for after the initial pitch, but it is important. You can't let your decision makers half-ass their commitment to the program; they are either all in, or you're not proceeding. In addition, you need to clearly and consistently voice that there is a right way to do content marketing. Remember, this isn't a plan for putting together a string of irrelevant linkbait pieces.
Step 8: Deliver
If you had to sell the idea in the first place – you better deliver. If you make mistakes, own up to them and devise a solution for how to fix them.
Whew! There is your eight-step program to selling and delivering a content marketing plan. Hopefully you walk away with your boss caring, but if not, keep at it and consider shipping a smaller version of it anyway. Sometimes you need to show those results to get buy in because it puts them in terms they definitely understand: their own business success.
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