November 4, 2013

Maximize impact from thought-leadership

We've all heard variants of the expression, "you can have it fast, good or cheap; pick two."

I am reminded of this saying every time I read yet another content marketing article telling me to "just" create great content your audience finds relevant. Well, duh. A recent Ragan post termed these generic exhortations "annoying" and I 100% agree.

So if it pleases the content marketing court, I'd like to stipulate that every marketing leader shares the goal of creating content that is both "great" and "relevant" in the eyes of their target audience. This is a never-ending quest, and we will not rest until that magic formula is found.

In general, I find it more actionable to share ideas around distributing, amplifying and repackaging the content you do create. Today, let's explore one idea for getting the most mileage from contributed, thought leadership articles. This needs to be one of the programs in every marketers toolkit, especially all my growth hacker marketers out there trying to build awareness and achieve cost effective scale.

My strategy for maximizing contributed content has three elements: Place it, Family it and Bring it Home.

Place it.
Contributed content can include bylined articles, recurring columns, guest blogs etc. With so many publishers on the lookout for quality content, you are sure to find appropriate outlets for your articles. Even when you do not have an executive or founder whose name can secure top-tier placements out the gate, you can still find ways to contribute content. Getting your messages out there, in any appropriate outlet, will have a positive impact on customer acquisition.

It's important to remember that while you are authoring articles to benefit your product, the articles themselves are not branded. The article needs to be helpful and relevant to the publishers' readers so there is no call to action to visit your website. Your objective with contributed content is to introduce the key thought leadership ideas within your desired themes that help educate and inform your target audience. Thought leadership can stimulate need identification in your audience plus help them understand how to best differentiate among different offerings in the category. Once your content is published, the next two elements can be immediately activated.

Family it.
'Family' in this context is my shorthand for the blogs and social marketing efforts of related products and brands. If you are marketing a product within a large organization, this could include blogs and social personas of other products and services as well as the corporate brand itself. Of course, not every marketer is lucky enough to have this setup. But even if you don't have a ready-made family, you still have the opportunity create your own 'family' of products and brands that can co-operate together and support this content amplification strategy.

First, your 'family' can and should amplify the contributed placement itself. This typically takes the form of a tweet or Facebook post sharing the published article link with their audience. But the impact can be extended when you repackage to make it relevant for the Family blog and social audiences.

When you repackage for Family, bring the themes and ideas introduced in the original, unbranded contributed content one step closer to both products/brands. Relate the features and benefits of the specific products and brands to the broader themes introduced in the contributed content. You want to find relevant ways to talk about both your product and the Family product. Many times this falls into a "better together" story where you can also feature a customer story to help illustrate the benefits. Again, you will link to the contributed article as you reference the themes, but you will also link to relevant conversion pages on your own and/or your Family's sites.

Bring it home.
Finally, you need to bring it home. In this step, you take the thought leadership ideas introduced in the contributed content and draw big, bright lines directly to your product and brand. Like with 'Family it', you first amplify the published contributed article itself through your blog and social channels. And then you can, on an on-going basis, reference the themes in thought leadership and point readers directly to conversion paths for your product and brand that highlight those themes.

Because your thought leadership content was identified from the core positioning and differentiation of your product - and these are fleshed out on your site - there will be many opportunities for your social team to reference the theme (and link to the published article) while also pointing readers to an optimized conversion path on your site.

All together now.
While the strategy may appear simple, its execution is more complex because, generally, different teams are responsible for the different elements. Contributed content often sits in communications and public relations, while Family sits in other organizations all together, often product and corporate marketing. Bring it home comprises website, content and social teams that have to work in concert. Articulating the strategy in this way helps align diverse and dispersed team so each understands their role in maximizing the benefits of contributed content.