At NewsCred’s ThinkContent New York 2018, 400 senior-level marketers gathered for a day of networking, learning, and sharing their hard-earned content marketing wisdom.
The event’s theme was “ThinkContent: Transform Business,” a nod to how content is now at the core of every marketing activity and has the potential to drive incredible results that impact all areas of a company.
“Content marketing has taken a long time to emerge and mature, but it’s here now,” said Shafqat Islam, NewsCred CEO and Co-founder, in his opening keynote. “As an industry, we’re pretty good, but we can be great.”
What’s holding us back from greatness? The tendency for marketers to work in silos, the challenge of running unified global programs that are customized for local markets, and the ongoing struggle to prove the complete ROI of content marketing.
Yet, marketers are finding solutions. Many shared them with us at ThinkContent New York 2018. Read on for the top takeaways from today’s leading marketers.
Rethink the way we work
Content marketing is not a solo pursuit. In order to be successful, you must work cross-functionally with other teams and partners – design, creative, engineering, social media, email, paid, and PR, just to name a few – in order for your content to reach and engage your audience.
Islam believes marketing organizations would be more effective if they were organized into “teams of teams,” a framework developed by retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal. Rather than operating in hierarchical, top-down, siloed organizations, marketers would organize themselves into small teams; people with different specialties would work together to take an integrated approach to content marketing where every strategic aspect is mapped out and agreed upon from the start.
Shafqat Islam, CEO and Co-founder, NewsCred
“The world is changing at a fast clip, and it’s important for marketers to be able to adapt with speed,” said Islam. “There’s a need to orchestrate content across silos and teams.”
Where to start? A first step could be winning over supporters in different functions and getting them invested in content marketing.
Jenn Eldin, SVP, Global Head of Content, Citi, suggested appealing to colleagues’ emotional and rational sides when rallying them around content.
“Draw on the art and science,” she said.
For the emotional side, emphasize the brand impact of content and share inspiring examples from publishers and other brands. For the rational side, show how content marketing can improve operational efficiency and help achieve the goals they have to meet.
Jenn Eldin, SVP, Global Head of Content, Citi
Harness the power of ROI data
Many ThinkContent speakers agreed that there’s power in knowing the ROI of your content marketing – even if it’s a struggle to obtain that data.
“The more you understand the metrics, the more buy-in and resources you can get,” said Cara Friedman, Director of Content and Community, ClassPass.
Ray Pryor, Content Marketer, Grainger, and Liam Moroney, VP of Analytics and Insights, NewsCred
Ray Pryor, Content Marketer, Grainger, and Liam Moroney, VP of Analytics and Insights, NewsCred, recommend laying a strong foundation for proving ROI by creating a content marketing strategy that outlines your goals, KPIs, and measurement framework, and then ensuring your analytics system is set up to track those metrics.
But don’t let the focus on ROI paralyze you.
Karen Eisenbach, CMO, Retirement, Voya, and Doug Straton, Chief Digital Commerce Officer, the Hershey Company, candidly admitted that at large companies, there’s a fixation on being perfect: having a flawless dashboard, massive results, and answers to every question. Yet, that mindset can be detrimental.
“Just start talking about your results and get feedback. Then, they’ll continue to get better. You get stuck in your own way wanting to demonstrate a big value,” said Eisenbach.
Doug Straton, Chief Digital Commerce Officer, the Hershey Company; Karen Eisenbach, CMO, Retirement, Voya; and Lisa Kalscheur, SVP Marketing, NewsCred
Always have your customers in mind
Though proving content marketing ROI is important, the focus on metrics can’t eclipse your commitment to your audience.
“One of the core values of Away is ‘customer-obsessed,'” said Brooke Sinclair, Head of Media at Away, the travel lifestyle startup that raised $31 million in funding and sold more than 300,000 suitcases by driving deep customer engagement through social media and content marketing.
Dusty DiMercurio, Director, Content Marketing and Social Media, Autodesk, agreed.
Dusty DiMercurio, Director, Content Marketing and Social Media, Autodesk
“At Autodesk, we killed the funnel and we did it for a reason,” said DiMercurio. “The funnel continued to keep marketers and sales so focused on the transaction. There’s an opportunity for us to reframe the interactions we have with customers and what their needs are and use that as the framework for what content we should be making.”
Now, DiMercurio is implementing a new customer framework at Autodesk that looks like an infinite loop, taking customers’ needs into account at every step of the way.
Vice is another brand that’s seen immense success in becoming the media company for Gen Z.
“Every time we saw white space, we tried to address our audience’s obsession,” said Dominique Delport, Président International and Global Chief Revenue Officer, Vice Media. “We listen to our audience and value their voices.”
Dominique Delport, Président International and Global Chief Revenue Officer, Vice Media
He summed up Vice’s Gen Z strategy as staying smart, positive, and honest; being where they are; and giving them a megaphone.
Build a strong community
Similarly, Rafat Ali, CEO and Founder of Skift, noted that marketers can also redefine what success means for their brands.
Rafat Ali, CEO and Founder, Skift
“The internet came and it all became about scale,” he said. “Scale became a proxy to how you build a business. However, scale for us means how big a part of their lives are we, for our audience.”
Rather than trying to reach as many people as possible, Ali sees value in cultivating a small but strong community of loyal readers who are invested in your successes and failures. Those people are “yours for life,” says Ali.
Lead with purpose
Perhaps the best way to get people to rally around your brand is by standing for something
“It’s never been more important to have a purpose,” said Stacy Minero, Head of Brand Strategy, Fuel, Twitter. Right now, issues have become more divisive, the weather has become more catastrophic, and social activism is on the rise. People are now looking to brands to fill that void. That’s why brands who take stands on issues, like REI urging people to #OptOutside, or Verizon sharing #AllOurThanks to first responders, they win hearts and minds.
Mousa Ackall, Vice President, Marketing, WorkMarket, agreed. “Authenticity and consistency are key. Be yourself as a brand and in the way you produce content, as often as you can.”
Jennifer Vande Zande, Managing Editor, SAP, offered advice for brands looking to take a stand on an issue: “Know your audience and be prepared to say [to your company] it might not work, and be responsible for it.” If you can take a passion of yours, like diversity and inclusion, for example, and it makes sense for your brand, you may have a win.
There’s no denying that our world is always changing – and that, as marketers, we need to anticipate how those changes will affect the way we work.
Ken Auletta, Writer, Journalist, Media Critic, The New Yorker
Ken Auletta, longtime Media Critic for The New Yorker and author of “Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else)” offered a few words of inspiration:
“I’m always amazed at people who see a digital revolution as a problem and not an opportunity, as opposed to people leaning forward and saying, ‘We gotta do something different.’ Throw things against the wall and see what sticks.”
Heather Eng is NewsCred’s Executive Editor.