“Really? Start with strategy, not technology.”
That was the epiphany from an attendee I overheard during a conference on CRM technology a few years ago. With a heavy sigh of relief, he added, “That makes so much sense.”
Not much has changed. Flashy new technologies catch our eye—as they should—but sometimes they become the proverbial cart pulling the horse. This situation applies to all types of technologies, including those that help to create, host, and distribute branded content, as well as those that help to measure its impact.
So, although the easy answer to “What’s the one thing you need to choose the right content technology?” is “Strategy,” you’re not getting off that easy. Along with that branded content strategy, you need to be clear on the goal it supports, establish the objectives and metrics you’ll use to plan for and measure success, and set the tactics to carry it out. And be just as firm about what you shouldn’t be doing. Of course, you’ll also have to set a realistic budget.
Only then will you know what tools will best support your plan.
But it doesn’t end there. You should conduct a technology audit to determine whether you need new tools or can use existing technologies. For example, if you use marketing automation, does it include functionality for tracking engagement with content you’re using for inbound marketing?
And, then, before you should commit to purchasing a new technology to support your branded content strategy, you’ll need to determine whether your staff has the time and skill to use it. If they lack the latter, will the level of training needed to use the new tools be worth the investment?
You also want to ensure that the technology will be able to support potential changes as your strategy evolves.
What’s the point?
Sure, content marketing is hot, hot, hotter than ever before. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 76% of B2C companies and 88% of B2B companies use content marketing. But only 38% of B2C and 30% of B2B executives polled consider their organizations to be effective at content marketing. Even so, about half plan to increase their content marketing budgets in 2017. Certainly, some of that budget will be earmarked for supporting technologies.
Ensuring that your technology investments pay off starts with purchasing the right tools from the outset. So, it bears repeating: Don’t rush into a technology purchase unless you have a strategy in place that it’s intended to support. As the adage goes: Start with the end in mind.
Here’s an outline to guide your planning:
Goal: Why use branded content? Perhaps it’s to position your staff as thought leaders in the market, to keep customers engaged between purchases, to educate them so they think of you as a trusted resource. Any or all these goals are likely tied to “selling more stuff,” which is where the metrics will come in.
Cite what you aim to achieve: ____________________________________________
Strategy: What is your master plan for achieving that goal? Your strategy might be, “Use a humorous and highly visual approach to engaging customers across channels” to support a goal of expanding your reach by using shareable content that also communicates your brand image. This might translate into using videos and memes on your website, social channels, and in email.
Cite your master plan: _________________________________________________
Objectives: What steps will you take to reach your goal? Here’s where you need to get specific. You may decide to use branded content to move prospects into and through the funnel. There should be an objective for each phase of that journey that all tie together.
List the measurable steps to reach your goal: ________________________________
Tactics: What actions will allow me to achieve my objectives? If the strategy is the “how,” then tactics are the “what” that work in tandem with it to reach your goals and achieve the supporting objectives. Tactics for branded content might include, “Create a five-part interview series” or “Collaborate with an influencer on a YouTube program.”
List the tactics that will turn your strategy into action: _________________________
Metrics: What does success look like? Each objective should be measurable. If one objective is to improve engagement with branded content on partner website, then there should be specific metrics that define “successful” engagement—not just measures such as conversions, shares, and time spent, but X percent conversions, X shares in Y timeframe, and X time spent.
List the metrics you’ll use to track and measure success: ________________________
Resources: What do I need to make my plan a reality? Branded content is an investment. Even tweets aren’t “free.” Someone has to spend time crafting those 140-character communications, and that someone draws a salary. List the budget, staff, and the like that you currently have for creating and distributing branded content; then list the expected budget, staff requirements, and training needed for any tools you’d like to add.
List the resources you’ll need to achieve your goal: ____________________________
Technology: What tools support my plan? Once you’ve set your goal and strategy and created lists from the other items above, you’ll have a guideline that can help you select the technologies for content creation, distribution, and measurement that fit your branded content needs. If, for example, your strategy calls for a content-heavy website, you may need an enterprise content management system. If your approach includes only a weekly blog and posting the rest of your content on partner sites and social, then you may need a simple blogging tool and sophisticated content distribution technology. If you’re focusing on just one or two channels, a basic analytics tool might suffice. But if your plan is omnichannel, you may need an advanced analytics technology. Be sure to conduct a technology audit to see what tools you already have that you can use to support your branded content efforts.
List all the technologies you could use to support your strategy: ___________________
List technologies that interest you, but don’t support your current strategy: __________
(Keep the second list for reference. As your strategy evolves there may be a reason to implement these tools.)
Branded content can help engage, convert, and retain customers. But without a strategy guiding you, that content may be haphazard and ineffective—and the technologies you select may not support your real needs. Worse, they may add work for your team, lead to a poor customer experience, or hold you back from achieving your branded content goals.
So, before you rush to implement that “must-have” technology, make sure you really must have it. The only way to do that is to have a solid strategy in place. Then, when the CFO asks you why you need to make the investment, you’ll have a winning argument. And, most important, a winning game plan.