content strategy

Five reasons content marketing success requires a first-to-market strategy

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The following is a special guest post from author and content marketing expert, Mark Schaefer

I’ve spent the bulk of my consulting career helping businesses answer one compelling question: “How can we stand out in this noisy world?”

The answer is complex and ever-changing, but one way you can surely help yourself is by focusing on fresh, cutting edge topics – “a first-to-market” content strategy. In five lively sections, I’ll explain the straight-forward business case for this imperative:

  1. The impact on social sharing
  2. Establishing authority
  3. Relationship with engagement
  4. Resonance versus SEO
  5. Audience attraction and retention

1. Impact on social sharing

Most of the best guru advice in the content marketing world today is based on creating a ton of epic content. But here’s an insider secret: The value of content marketing does not come from content. It comes from the transmission of content.

The economic value of content that is not seen and shared is zero. 

Of course we need to create great content and nurture a meaningful audience. But we also need to establish a competency in getting that content to MOVE through our audience and beyond.

That’s why I believe social sharing is the second most important metric in digital marketing – only behind conversions. 

This suggests an important new dimension to the marketing mindset. How do we earn our way into that organic sharing of content? In a world where people distrust companies, brands, and ads, creating content that earns native social advocacy is gold … better than any advertising we could ever pay for!

Part of this equation is getting into the psychology of social sharing. Sharing content is actually a rare and intimate act. It becomes part of a person’s brand. So why do people share content and how do we serve them in this way?

There are many reasons that people share content, but the number one reason is to look cool! People share content so they appear to be smart, connected, funny, and on top of the latest trends.

So, a natural way to feed this sharing urge is to provide content that is right on top of the latest news, ideas, and topics. If you want your content to move, supply people with content and commentary they have never seen before! Help them look cool.

2. Thought leadership

If you are “known” in your industry, you will have a permanent and sustainable advantage over competitors who are lesser-known or not known at all. The person who is known will get more calls returned, more doors opened, and more closed deals. 

Increasingly, the personal brand IS the brand for any business. Focusing on becoming known is essential for most executives today.

There is no quick or easy way to become known. Building a personal brand demands a commitment to creating excellent and consistent content.

To be seen as a leader, you have to truly lead … and that requires content that is fresh and thought-provoking. Nobody will earn the right to be seen as a thought leader by re-hashing the same old ideas.

The personal brand is the brand. The known person wins the business. And that depends on fresh ideas that enable thought leadership.

3. Relationship with engagement

Several years ago, I coined a term, “Content Shock.” I observed content marketing will be less sustainable as a strategy because “content supply is exponentially exploding while content demand (our ability to consume it) is flat.”  

The logical consequence of supply continually outstripping demand is that on average, content articles will get less engagement. This harsh reality was confirmed by an industry analysis of more than a million pieces of content that showed 50 percent of articles get eight shares or less and even fewer links. 

This is consistent with a separate analysis of content from 8,800 brands over 24 months. The output of content per brand increased by 78 percent but average content engagement decreased by 60 percent. The cost-effectiveness of content marketing appears to be declining, in line with my ideas about Content Shock.

What is clear is that producing great content is not enough to drive views and engagement.

One of the common mistakes is rushing into content production without enough research on the topics resonating with your customers at this moment. There’s a lot of pressure on content teams to produce content consistently, so I understand why this happens. However, the battle for content engagement can be won or lost at the research stage, before any content is even created. 

Research also includes understanding what competitors are doing and the content that is working for them. 

You can improve your research by using tools like Cronycle. Most people look at the top content for the last year but honestly, that’s too late. It’s much more useful to undertake an analysis for the last month, week, or even what is hot today. 

Another mistake I see is a lack of monitoring and simply not tracking trends. Research shows that social sharing and engagement typically takes place very quickly. An article can explode in terms of social sharing but then die after a short period of time. New industry announcements, reports, and articles can all create short term peaks of interest. If you act quickly, the trend is your friend. However, if you join the party at the end of things then you may find yourself all alone without a dance partner.

Even creating a post today and publishing later in the week may make you too late to capture the optimal engagement period if people have already moved on from the topic. 

4. Resonance versus SEO

The major innovation with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) over the past few years is that it has largely become a content strategy. Beginning with the “inbound marketing” concept introduced by Hubspot in 2005 and growing into very sophisticated AI-driven techniques today, creating content that can auto-magically bring qualified leads to your site has been a reliable strategy.

But content certainly does not work for SEO like it did a few years ago. The future of SEO is moving in a dramatic new direction:

  • Voice search comprises more search volume today and some believe it might be the majority of all search volume.
  • Google keeps more than half of all search volume in its own internal ecosystem, reducing our access to potential customers.
  • The previously mentioned trend of “Content Shock” means it’s dramatically harder to compete on SEO through content.
  • Only one or two companies will win the top three search terms, forcing SEO to be an impractical strategy for most companies.

I want to emphasize that SEO can still be a critical factor for some businesses. But for most, the promise of search engine success seems elusive, if not impossible. 

This doesn’t mean content no longer works, it just works in a new way. Allow me to provide an example.

I was recently hired as a personal branding consultant for a company in Seattle. I received this opportunity seemingly out of the blue. From an SEO perspective, this seems improbable. If you search for “personal branding consultant,” there are 40 million results. Even if you search for “personal branding consultant Seattle” there are 2.1 million results.

I am not in those top search results. Not even close.

This is not an unusual situation for a small business. I am NEVER going to be in the top search results. It’s an expensive and never-ending battle that I will never win for terms like “digital marketing consultant,” “marketing strategy, “keynote speaker,” or any of the other jobs that I do.

But here I was in Seattle, conducting an awesome workshop. How did my client find me in all this hopeless SEO mess? Through my content. But not through search.

The night before my workshop, I had a wonderful seafood dinner with my client. I asked my friend … “Why did you hire me?”

“Your content resonates with me,” he said without hesitation.

Isn’t that an interesting word … “resonates?”

My content was not at the top of an SEO stack for personal branding. I’m certainly not going to make the Alexa hit parade.

But a person who hired me for this important work chose me because there was an emotional connection that resonated with him on a personal and professional level. This reveals a more practical and realistic value of content in this competitive environment and a value that is almost entirely overlooked by marketers today.

I won the business in Seattle — against all SEO odds — because I ignored SEO. I write for my readers. If I do that well and consistently, I’ll earn subscribers. Eventually, these subscribers will grow to know me, trust me, and hire me. I think that is the future of SEO, which is really not SEO at all!

I’m not creating content to trick you into clicking a link. I am creating content that consistently connects with your hopes and dreams and business needs. I’m building a long-term connection through fresh and timely content that resonates.

5. Audience attraction and retention

I have been teaching and writing about social media and content for a long time. In fact, I taught the first college-level social media course in the country in 2008. Back then, I had a little formula to help my students focus on content that would stand out: RITE.

  • R stood for relevant. Don’t confuse people. Stick to a subject that is meaningful to you audience.
  • I was the first letter in interesting. Never waste your audience’s time. Create something they want to talk about.
  • T is for timely. That’s what this blog post is about! Create something new, something for this moment.
  • And E was for entertaining. This is another key element of earning social shares. People love content that makes them go “wow!”

This formula held up well over the years, but in this era of Content Shock, I added a final letter – S for superior. Even if you’re creating great content, people will abandon you for the competition if you don’t have the best content in your category.

I think the easiest way to hold onto your audience and be superior is to be first with the news. If there is something new breaking on the social media and marketing scene, I will work very hard to interpret this and be the first with timely commentary.

I received a great compliment recently. I had stayed up very late working on a commentary about changes to Facebook policies. After I published, a reader told me, “I was waiting for this. I KNEW I could count on you to help us understand this!”

So I am staying connected and relevant to my audience – remaining superior – through the freshest and newest content ideas. A first-to-market strategy!

The future of content marketing

If you can imagine this, today is the easiest day of content marketing you will ever experience. The world is just becoming more noisy, more crowded, more competitive. In the next two years, the field of marketing will be unrecognizable compared to what it is today.

This is why I need help. I depend on tools like Cronycle to guide me to a success path. I can learn of the hottest ideas, the breaking news, the viral sensations before my competitors and adjust my content plan as needed. That’s how I stand out in this world today.

It’s time to break free of the six-month content plan and focus on content that matters to your audience now. Content marketing success depends on what you create that is relevant, resonant, fresh, and meaningful … in this moment.

Mark Schaefer is a strategy consultant, keynote speaker, college educator, and the bestselling author of nine books including “Cumulative Advantage.”

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