Robert Rose, founder of The Content Advisory and the author of Killing Marketing, is today’s de facto king of content marketing. He lectures and teaches all over the world about how to create content that gets results. Here, he explains what goes into the successful campaigns he helps develop.
You’ve written three books, all chock-full of good advice for marketers. Yet many still rely on consultants to help them get to where they want to be. What do marketers need to do to put your advice to work so they get the results they’re looking for?
Businesses need to re-orient their teams, processes and technologies to be more strategic about the creation, management and optimization of content.
The central theme to all my books and the work we’ve done over the past decade is that all content is communication. It deserves to be treated as strategically as any other function in our business.
Most businesses don’t perceive it that way. Historically, businesses treat content creation as a specialized skill at the management level. The problem is that content is everyone’s job and no one’s strategy.
Content marketing, branded content, and inbound and account-based marketing are all part of a modern marketing approach. So, the need for effective and efficient marketing content is growing.
Your website says that content strategy is a blend of art and science. Do the ratios change depending on the company (i.e., size, type of product or service, individual needs, etc.)? What are some other moving targets and relevant factors?
The ratio of art vs. science that any one company needs at the moment varies. How content is created, managed, optimized and measured in the business also varies. There are internal politics (content can be an extremely sensitive subject) to consider. You also have to figure out which methods have the biggest institutional momentum.
Some companies have developed incredible capabilities for scaling, measuring and publishing content. But they lack the ability to find the right stories. Others are highly creative storytellers who understand the creative process. But they lack the technology, measurement and structure to create at scale. We help with both.
You say you help marketers tell their stories more effectively. What kinds of mistakes are they making that keep their stories from being effective?
Most businesses simply have difficulty making their brand or product the hero of their story. Customer stories can be an amazing way to educate, entertain and inspire. That means introducing tension, challenges and the foundational change that customers will go through with the product or brand.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face when training a marketing team? Are they ever unenthusiastic or reluctant to implement the changes you suggest, slow to change, etc.?
Oh goodness, no, it’s quite the opposite. Today’s modern marketing teams are amazing. I learn as much from them as they’ll ever learn from me. I’m continually inspired by their energy, their openness and their willingness to apply new techniques.
The challenge comes in the institutional momentum and processes that have built up over time. Change is difficult. It’s unsexy. There are so many things that have to happen in large, corporate environments. Over time, manifesting change can become the job itself.
For example, when we map a new content marketing approach for a marketing team, it isn’t uncommon for the team to say that they really can’t even start this change for another six or eight months because of the budget cycle. Once we use that as our starting point, campaign planning will happen leading up to that fourth-quarter budget cycle. So, the team will have to minimize the change to ensure they meet quarterly goals. This cycle continues, and then it becomes clear that true change may take 18-24 months to truly manifest.
Today’s large enterprises have a duel problem of a focus on short-term results versus the institutional momentum of change. In short, they really want to slow the ship so they can turn it quickly. But that would mean risking their existing timeline, and it might not be worth it in the long run.
How much time should marketers spend on continuing education, learning new things, etc., versus working on and implementing what they already know?
I think that the inward, contemplative focus on creating, learning and simply trying new things is a lost art in today’s “always-on” environment. But it’s critical.
A team should spend 10% of its time (individually or as a team) on simply focusing on what’s next. That may mean creating without expectation of output. It may mean learning a new skill, focusing on a change or simply taking time to think. It’s time spent applying your creativity and exploration for the new, rather than executing the now.
You’ve worked with some huge names — Facebook, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others. Do you still need to devote time to promoting and protecting your company’s reputation? Or does having the names of those clients up on your website do most of the job for you?
We’ve certainly been blessed with working with some amazing clients, but we do not take that for granted. We’re a tiny blip in a big sea of other smart people who help companies in similar ways. We’re out there shouting from the rooftops about our approach.
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