More Rules and Regulations for Content Marketers

So, content marketers, let’s talk about the regulatory environment more broadly, because one thing is for certain: the web, as wild and woolly as online discourse may be, is no longer the Wild West. Online marketing is now being held to a much higher standard.

Privacy protection, accessibility, and copyright —  oh, my!

Last time around, we talked about data privacy regulations as they apply to non-transactional sites. As confusing a landscape as those regulations currently present, they’re not the only regulations with which you need to be aware and compliant.

So, let’s talk about the regulatory environment more broadly, because one thing is for certain: the web, as wild and woolly as online discourse may be, is no longer the Wild West. Online marketing is now being held to a much higher standard than it has been, so you’ll want to be sure you have a plan in place to build your site by the book and to remain compliant. Otherwise, you risk spending more time talking to lawyers than to prospects.

Accessibility

If you built your website without accessibility in mind, chances are you’re not going to be happy when your website developers tell you what it’s going to cost to make it compliant. In many cases, it can make more sense to start from scratch, given the investment involved.

On the plus side, the cost to design and build a new website with compliance in mind is only incrementally greater than building that same site without WCAG Level AA compliance as your goal.

There is some extra work to be done, but for the most part, compliance requires a change in mindset for designers and some slightly different coding tactics for the dev team. Once that’s in place, it’s really only a matter of making sure new content additions are made in a compliant manner. (Image alt tags must be included, for example.)

You’ll want to include an accessibility statement on your site that includes a way for visitors who are having trouble consuming your content to contact you and seek remediation.

Privacy and Data Protection

As we’ve discussed, you need a privacy policy and you need to abide by it. If you haven’t told people that you’re planning on selling their email addresses to the highest bidder, you probably can’t. (Regulations differ by jurisdiction and industry; check with a lawyer.)

Once you have a collection of data, you need to take steps to keep that data safe, both in storage and in any transmittal or other use. Again, your industry may have specific compliance standards that you have to meet, and you may need to document the protections you’ve put in place.

Copyright

If you don’t own it, don’t publish it. This should be obvious, but often marketers make mistakes that can be costly.

Images are the most common area where errors occur. Doing a web search and then publishing any old image you find is a recipe for disaster. Going through a respected stock image library and paying for the images you use is the safest approach.

If you’d prefer not to go that route, you can use the Google Advanced Image Search tool. It is an excellent way to search for images to use in your digital marketing if you filter to include only those that are “free to use, share, or modify, even commercially.”

Don’t even think about trying to use an image from a stock image library without licensing it. They can and will find you. They can and will demand payment, usually well beyond what the initial license would have cost. (Also worth noting is that technically, for most stock image libraries, any image you use should be licensed under your firm’s name rather than by your design agency. That approach is also just smart business, because you may not always be working with that design team.)

When copy is purloined, it’s even easier to track down. Even if you get away with it, the search engines may very well penalize you for publishing duplicate content. There are other ways to get on the search engines’ bad sides, so be careful if you’re republishing content from other sources, even if it’s content that you have the right to republish.

Finally, think twice before stealing code. It’s an open source world, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to take and use anything you find in your travels. At the very least, attribution may be required. Most code libraries, snippets, etc., may require license fees — regardless of how they’re used. Some require payment only if you want updates or support. This can be harder for marketers to police, so be sure to have a regularly scheduled review with your dev team.

Spend Time on This

These regulations — and whatever may be coming down the pike in the future — make investing in digital expertise ever more important. Your team needs the time and mandate to stay on top of what regulations apply to your business and best practices for remaining compliant.

3 Sustainable Ways to Build a Customer-Focused Content Strategy

Learn how to create a branded content strategy that not only produces quality content, but also takes into account what your customers really want.

We’ve all seen umpteen studies proving (correlating) that the more content you publish on your blog, the more visits and leads you get. Marketers take this finding at face value and race to publish more (and more visible) content, with “experts” and “thought leaders” spewing advice on the latest tools and technology that will purportedly have your audience consuming your brand content with tears in their eyes.

The result is that every day, over 3 million blog posts are published, not to mention the countless social media updates posted. While there’s a lot of well-researched content in this haystack, much of it is conjecture and outright replication.

In order to stand out from the overflowing stream of new content, marketing teams often fall into the trap of chasing every tactic that comes their way or “borrowing” from the content created by famous brands or industry experts, and “adapting” (read, rehashing) it to fit their own content strategy. Instead, they should be gleaning lessons from big brands’ innovative content strategies and keep looking for ideas — from the most commonplace to the most implausible sources.

Let’s discuss a few ideas to ensure your content strategy never goes out of style, while matching the pace of your content production with your audience’s propensity to consume it.

Collate Industry Data and Visualize It

From a used car salesman to an apparel website, everyone has to resort to statistics and facts once a while. This was earlier done with presentations, charts, and tables. However, we’ve long needed respite from these boring and confusing ways to present numerical data.

Thanks to Edward Tufte and his four classic books on data visualization, data and visualization came together like two long-lost brothers uniting after a long time. Tufte had faced many problems in his career, because of poor data representation tools. So he revamped data presentation by adding images to data. The New York Times called him the “Leonardo da Vinci of data” while Business Insider referred to him as the “Galileo of graphics.”

Interestingly, research by Nielsen concluded that readers will pay closer attention to relevant pictures included on the page, as our eyes are naturally drawn to images. However, they will ignore visuals included just for the sake of imagery.

But it wasn’t until the availability of infographic-making tools that this method became mainstream. Today, visualization is the basis of content marketing, and not going away any time soon. Whether it is social media posts or blog articles, the simplest way to catch your customer’s eye is with pictures and videos, which get far more engagement than text-heavy content. This holds true across all digital and traditional platforms and channels.

A survey by Venngage built upon this, with empirical evidence that engagement depends on the type of visuals used in the content. Infographics and original illustrations perform the best, followed by charts and video. “Trendy” formats, stock photos, and memes actually receive the lowest amount of engagement.

content strategy graphic
Credit: Venngage.com

The lesson here is that numbers are boring, but you can’t avoid them forever. Content marketers must take a cue from Edward Tufte’s data visualization strategy and revamp their content to include lots of graphics — even better if they are animated or interactive.

Share Success Stories

The best lessons are learned from other people’s experiences. Strangely, many marketers ignore this fact, even though every customer knows it.

Very few companies package their successes into case studies that they can easily use to appeal to a wider audience and acquire more customers.

Don’t make this mistake. Always be on the lookout for case studies — they don’t necessarily need to be yours, if you don’t have enough or relevant experience. Analyze industry examples thoroughly to gauge your potential customers’ intent, challenges in targeting them or doing business, and how these challenges can be overcome. Don’t frown upon any content format — be they detailed whitepapers, listicles, or good old FAQs. Make sure your content marketing plan provides solutions to all of your customers’ woes with actionable advice.

E-commerce platform BigCommerce has dedicated a whole section of its website to showcasing retailers’ (in both the enterprise and SMB sectors) success stories, as well as case studies. The best of the best get their own feature pages, but the showcasing doesn’t end there. (Hey, this is the best in digital merchandising we’re talking about!) BigCommerce even hands out its own annual awards to the merchants who provide a great user experience and innovative eecommerce solutions to their customers.

content strategy screen shot
Credit: BigCommerce.com

These case studies are sorted by industry or topic, and include advice on entrepreneurship, retailing, advertising, media, and pretty much anything related to doing business online. This content has no obvious CTA or tangible conversion value that you might expect. But, despite that, it is worth its weight in gold, due to the brand credibility it portrays and information it delivers to the audience.

Just as in B2C, 65% of B2B marketers believe in the effectiveness of case studies as a content marketing tactic (after in-person events and webinars). People trust real examples more than branded content. Most people (and by extension, organizations) will look at what others are doing and how they are doing it before they make a final decision. Use this psychological tendency as a base on which to build heaps of helpful content.

Combine your case studies with visual testimonials to drive home the value of your product. Video is a great way to deliver a memorable message about the joy your product brings to the lives of real users, while demonstrating to others how it can help them make pressing problems go away. Video conferencing tool Zoom used this strategy to feature one of its largest clients, Zendesk:

Instead of using a quote from the top management, like most testimonials do, this clip features sound bites from people across the organization. It shows the product in actual use by people in different roles and how every one of them is happy to do so.

Focus on Educational Content

CMI’s “Content Marketing Benchmarks” report for 2019 revealed that 77% of the most successful B2B content marketers nurture their audiences with educational content. An overwhelming 96% believe that that building trust and credibility is what qualifies them as thought leaders in their industry. Therefore, delivering useful information to your audience, leads, and customers is easily one of the most effective ways to succeed with content.

Google Analytics is so ubiquitous with website analytics that you’d think it didn’t have to care about acquiring or retaining customers. After all, we all live and swear by GA, right? But Google does not take its position as the market leader in web analytics for granted. With a dedicated Google Analytics Academy that offers how-to guides, training courses, and even certifications to existing Google Analytics users, Google holds its users in an iron grip.

content strategy from Google
Credit: Google.com

The biggest advantage of customer education is retention (which again drives sales at the lowest costs). Another market leader that takes customer education (and retention) seriously is IKEA. From alternate uses for its products to showcasing how customers have creatively used IKEA products to take their lifestyles to the next level, IKEA’s Inspiration section is a design buff’s delight.

content strategy from IKEA
Credit: Ikea.com

Over to You

Drawing and keeping your customers’ attention in this fast-paced marketing age is difficult. Whether it’s your product or marketing that is great, there is someone out there who is doing it better than you and vying for your share of the market. You must constantly attempt to stand out and remain relevant, by relentlessly improving the usability, quality, and effectiveness of your content.

Riding current trends could get your content some short-lived buzz, but it is important to stay focused on pursuing long-term relationships with your customers by creating and publishing content that speaks directly to them.