3 Ways to Make Your Content Marketing Work Harder for You

Content marketing success requires work before you begin writing, as well as after you’ve hit the publish button. Here are tips to help ensure you’re reaching the right audience with the right message.

To make your content marketing do more, you need to do more with it.

There are any number of reasons you may not be seeing the return you expect on your content marketing. Here are a few, and how you can address the issue to improve your results.

‘Write It and They Will Read It’ Is Wrong

Long gone are the days when anyone sane thinks that building a website will “automagically” win you an audience and convert that audience into paying clients. But there’s less clarity around the idea that simply publishing your content — even if it’s great content — is enough to power marketing properly. We see too many marketers doing just that.

The truth is that once you’ve published your content, you’re about halfway there. You still have the work of getting your content in front of the right audience. We can’t cover here all of the ways in which you can promote your content, but the list certainly includes social media, email marketing, paid digital advertising, and even old stalwarts like direct mail.

The goal is to reach beyond your existing network to attract new prospects. At the same time, you should be sure that what you’re writing encourages engagement. Will your prospects want to share it with their colleagues as they’re considering their options? Does it offer a different perspective than anything else out there?

You Haven’t Done Your Competitive Research

Speaking of which, do you know what kind of content your competitors are publishing? If you’re publishing the same kind of content and they already have a bigger audience, you face an arduous task.

There’s just so much content marketing going on now that if you’re not standing out from the crowd naturally, you’re going to have to work that much harder at the promotion and distribution we talked about above.

You’ll find it much more fruitful to stake a separate ground; either by offering a different perspective, concentrating on a very tightly defined niche, or differentiating yourself in some other way. Forget any ideas you have of doing the same thing better. Except in the rare cases where your competition is truly asleep at the wheel, better is going to be in the eye of the beholder, and you may not be as obviously superior as you think in their eyes.

Relevance Is Not Irrelevant

Finally, there’s the holy grail of knowing that what you write matters to your audience. In the B2B world, nobody is on your website because they have a few hours to kill and they’ve already watched all of the videos on YouTube. They’re on your website because they have a problem to solve.

If your content doesn’t help them solve that problem or give them a greater understanding of what they should be considering as they search for the best-fit solution, it isn’t going to get read. So even if you do everything else right — carve out a niche and promote your content to an expanding audience — you’re not going to see content marketing results, because you’re not going to attract the right audience.

And ultimately, that’s the goal of content marketing: attract the right audience in a way that gains their trust and moves them toward a decision — hopefully, a decision to work with you.

Competitive Research in Content Marketing

While there’s real truth to the idea that if you stay focused on doing content marketing well, there’s no reason to worry about what anyone else is doing. But that overlooks the fact that operating in a vacuum — or an echo chamber — poses its own risks. With that in mind, I’ll offer thoughts on how to use competitive research to keep tabs on your competition and the marketplace.

While there’s real truth to the idea that if you stay focused on doing content marketing well, there’s no reason to worry about what anyone else is doing. But that overlooks the fact that operating in a vacuum — or an echo chamber — poses its own risks. With that in mind, I’ll offer thoughts on how to use competitive research to keep tabs on your competition and the marketplace.

What Kind of Competitive Research Should I Do?

Competitive research is an idea that covers a lot of ground and there are many tactics that fall under the competitive research umbrella. So how do you know whether to examine competitors’ social media presence? Their website? Publications? Tradeshow and webinar activity? The list is as endless as the marketing tactics in your industry and most of us simply don’t have the resources to tackle them all.

Rather than spreading yourself too thin, I recommend that you focus on two things:

  1. The marketing channel or method most important to your business
  2. The marketing channel or method most productive to your competitors

The first is easy enough to define and should guide your tactical decisions. (More on this in the next section.) The second may take some thought, research, and even a bit of guesswork on your part. Even with that uncertainty, the information you can gain is worth the grain of salt with which you’ll need to take it.

The easiest path is to determining where a competitor is most effective is to see where they are most active. If it’s important to their marketing, they’re likely to be participating actively and on a regular schedule.

That said, without solid knowledge of their operation, you can’t know how tight a marketing ship they might run. Activity doesn’t always mean effectiveness. In fact, it can simply be a comfort zone that they’re unwilling or unable to push beyond. Bear that in mind and look a little deeper at the quality of their work in a given channel and not just the quantity.

How Should I Do the Research?

With so many different potential areas to research, there are lots of tactical options. Begin by eavesdropping. Not 1940s-private-eye style, with your ear pressed to the wall, but by subscribing to your competitors’ email newsletters and blog feeds, and by attending webinars and other events.

Follow them on social media and monitor not only the content they produce, but the conversations they engage in with prospects, clients, and others.

Track their publications. Note what they’re writing about, who they seem to be addressing, and what formats they are publishing in.

This is an area where keeping up with the Jones really does matter. You may not be comfortable, say, producing video, but if that’s what your audience has come to expect because that’s what your competitors are producing, you need to either follow along or create a truly compelling alternative.

You can make your task easier by using alert services to help you track a competitor’s activity. Google Alerts, BuzzSumo, and others are excellent for this. (And I’m happy to share more if you want to chat with me about your specific needs.)

There is also the entire world of SEO and PPC advertising, and tools to monitor these markets, that is worth diving into if it’s a primary driver for you or your competition.

What Should I Do With My Research

Once you’ve gathered data on your competitors, it’s time to act. But think, first.

That is, you may not need to do anything. You may already be “best in class,” in which case, you’ll need to look elsewhere for improvements in your marketing effectiveness.

But if there are areas where you’re not as creative, as engaged, or as engaging, you will want to consider your options.

One note of caution here: if you plan on adding more to your marketing mix, but don’t have the resources to do it well, reconsider. Make a case for adding the resources you need, or evaluate whether redeploying existing resources makes sense. Doing something new may get you more attention, but it’s not going to help you move the needle if not knocking it out of the park.

Strategies for Fragmented Industries

One last thought: You may feel that competitive research isn’t worthwhile because you work in a highly fragmented field. Without an easily defined group of competitors, is there any value in looking at a small (and probably not representative) sampling? Yes.

Researching competitors who aren’t necessarily competing against you directly won’t arm you with insights for outbidding them on your next project, but it will provide you with insights into how they differentiate themselves, what they do to appeal to prospects, and even cross-selling opportunities in areas you haven’t considered.

Are You Buying ‘Smart Media?’

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Sadly, with most online advertising experiences, the lagging partner is typically the business owner by no real fault of his or her own … it’s simply from sheer lack of industry knowledge and media savoir-faire.

I’ve been buying online ad space for more than a decade. Here are my personal powerful and money saving tips to buying smart media. These are “must ask” questions that will help you get the most bang for your buck:

1. Competitive analysis—Find out what the typical industry rate is for that particular ad spot and placement in your niche. For instance, if you’re interested in running a 300×250 banner ad, do some research. Call some ad networks and find out what that ad unit costs on the home page and ‘”run of site” within your target niche. What ad units typically get the best clickthrough rates (also known as CTR)? Read some online e-zines or blogs and get an idea on average metrics so you have a benchmark to measure your campaign against.

2. Ad targeting—Find out if the publisher allows day parting (running ad during specific time periods). This can save you money on ad rates, especially using the CPM (cost per thousand) pricing model.

3. Dedicated email—Find out the size of the list you’re thinking of renting, the frequency the list goes out, and the average unit sale (AUS) per subscriber. Ask the publisher who’s mailing for you if there will there be a lift note (an introduction or implied endorsement). Lift notes help “warm up” the list (subscribers) and boost conversions.

4. Out clause—Ask your account executive if the media agreement has an out clause or termination right. This is important as if your campaign is not working, you don’t want to have to ride it out and waste money. You want the ability to end it and cut your losses. Also find out if you can pause your ad during a slow traffic times (i.e. summer, holidays) as not to waste impressions (CPM).

5. Reporting—Ask your account executive if you will be given daily/weekly reporting OR access to the online ad serving system. This will allow you real-time access to clickthrough rates and more to evaluate if creative (banner and landing page) is striking a chord with the target audience.

6. Seasonality—Each industry and niche has its highs and lows. But, generally speaking, it’s typical to see drops in website traffic during summer (June to Aug.) and around certain U.S. holidays. Research your industry and use consumer purchase behavior to your advantage. For instance, in some industries, the days around Thanksgiving are slower than usual. If you’re running a campaign that falls on this timeframe, ask about getting lower rates or pausing your ad during the slowdown. DoubleClick and ClickZ are great sources of information and often release quarterly consumer Web reports on buying patterns and traffic.

7. Exclusivity—Similar to economies of scale (where the more that’s produced, the cheaper the unit price), if your banner ad is sharing space with other advertisers for less “solo” time, you should be paying less. It’s important to ask whether your ad will get 100 percent of the rotations or sharing ad exposure. And if sharing, find out what percentage of exposure you are ultimately getting during your ad run. This is known as being “fixed ad placement” or “shared ad placement.” If you’re told you have shared placement, this is a great bartering tool to get a more competitive rate.

8. Site targeting—You’ve heard in real estate it’s always about location, location, location, right? Well, online real estate is no different. Find out if your ad will be run of site (ROS), run of channel (ROC) or on specific high-traffic pages. Typically, the further you drill down, the more you pay. It’s known as “site targeting.” Similarly, the higher you go up, the less you pay. ROS is the highest (most broad) level, so it’s usually the cheapest ad location. Next is usually ROC, whose ads appear on certain channels or sections of a website. Then there are also specific pages or demographic targeting. Your goals and budget will determine which placement is best for your needs.

9. Remnant space—Often the forgotten about query, remember to ask if remnant space is available. Remnant ads are those ad units that the publisher or ad network is having a difficult time selling for whatever reason. They can also be last-minute specials or units that are now available due to another deal falling through. With more popular, high-traffic websites, you can save a fortune buying remnant media. Just pay close attention to the terms and conditions in the insertion order, as with most special deals, there are usually restrictions and little leeway.

All of these factors will help determine the value of your ad space and, ultimately, the cost you’re willing to pay to access that audience. Good luck!