I can't believe it's been a year since my last post. I should be flogging myself, atoning for my sins against content creation. Or should I?
I've been incredibly busy developing content and content marketing strategy for a couple of great B2B startups in the Silicon Valley. I'd like to share some of the insights I've gleaned from an intensive year of learning, leading, and skills-honing.
1. Content creation is not content marketing
When I started my current role, I must admit I was a little overwhelmed at the rapid pace at which our team was turning out content. We were publishing left and right — white papers, analyst reports, blog posts, infographics, videos — everything was on an unrealistically tight editorial schedule and carried with it a sense of urgency. It was hard to tell which projects took priority, and it was my job to make sure they all got out the door on time and with quality. It sounds like an insurmountable task, but what you might not know about me is that I live for a deadline.
My first marketing job was as an intern at a newspaper. I cut my teeth on deadlines every 24 hours. If something wasn't ready on time, it didn't get printed. Period. And if it didn't get printed, heads rolled. Stressful? You betcha. But I loved it.
When I finally got a chance to catch my breath, I asked my new boss why we were creating all this content so frantically. She explained that we'd agreed to complete certain projects within that quarter, so we needed to get them done. But, I wanted to know why we'd agreed to do those particular projects. What was the rationale behind choosing to do a white paper on a particular topic, or commission a study on another? I asked her to explain the team's process for deciding what content to create and when to create it. Moreover, what did we plan to do with this content once it was done? She said to me, "You're asking all the right questions."
I think that we, as content creators, can easily get bogged down with all the moving parts — researching, writing, designing and procuring the graphics, editing, perfecting, publishing — and we can forget the strategic reasons behind what we're creating. That's why content marketing leaders need to have a seat at the strategic planning table. We need to know the business case for each piece of content we're being asked to develop, which persona we're targeting, how we're distributing the content, and what the goals are for each item. Are we creating a gated asset that's designed to drive leads, or a helpful infographic highlighting industry trends and statistics? Whose attention are we trying to get, and what do we want to tell them once we have it?
It takes time to answer these questions and develop a plan for each piece of content, but it's time well spent. It may mean that you're creating less content, or publishing less frequently, but you'll be creating better quality content. And with content marketing, quality matters more than quantity (although I know a couple of CMOs and sales leaders who would argue with me on that).
2. Square pegs don't fit in round holes (and forcing the issue is not pretty)
It's important to communicate to your content creators, early on, the intended purpose of the piece they're being asked to create. When they begin with the end in mind, they'll be able to develop something that seamlessly fits into its medium and aligns with business goals.
I recently had an experience where a writing team composed a very well-researched, well-written blog post geared toward the techie audience of Slashdot, Spiceworks, and DZone. Unfortunately, what we needed was a post written for the business audience of Forbes and InformationWeek. They'd spent weeks writing their post, only to be told two days prior to the publication date that it needed to be reworked.
We tried editing it so that it spoke to a broader audience, but it still wasn't quite right. I told the writers that perhaps we were trying to meet too many needs with this one article — appeal to two different audiences. They saw that the changes we were asking them to make would have made it an entirely different article, which they weren't willing to turn out on such short notice. We decided to publish the post as-is and work on the other article separately, because trying to get one piece to do too many things would have resulted in an article with a muddied message that probably wouldn't have gotten picked up by anyone. (The article did indeed get picked up by Slashdot et al, and is performing very well, proving that this was the right call to make.)
3. Demand generation and lead generation are two different things
This goes back to my point about not trying to make something into something it's not. Demand generation is about creating demand in the marketplace for what your business is selling. Lead generation is about drumming up leads for the sales team. These two functions are commonly confused; many marketing and sales leaders I know mistakenly use "demand gen" as an umbrella term to refer to all of these activities.
It's an important difference. Content teams should be able to write copy that converts for landing pages, SEM banners, and outbound emails, as well as compose in-depth thought leadership content for inbound marketing. They're different skill sets, and the best content marketers will be able to develop both types of copy. But it would be a mistake to think that lead gen and demand gen copy should be written the same way. It takes a bit of left brain/right brain switching, but if you can figure out how to be that nimble, you'll be invaluable to your team.
4. Great content takes a village
Startups are scrappy, and the less VC that's been raised, the scrappier they are. Those working on lean and agile teams sometimes compromise quality for just getting something done. But you do what you can with what you've got.
I've worked mostly on very small teams — usually only two or three people, including me. It was a great way to develop a wide variety of skills: writer, editor, graphic designer, photographer, videographer, strategist. But when I joined my current team, which is much larger than I'm accustomed to, it was a little hard for me to let go of the reins at first. I quickly learned that the collaboration of several people on a project resulted in a much better piece of content than I ever could have created on my own. Having an expert designer and copyeditor at my disposal freed me up to be more strategic in my thinking, give better creative direction, develop a more thoughtful content promotion plan, and ultimately execute a killer asset.
5. Being an introvert can be a good thing
Most startups embrace the modern open office floor plan: no offices, no cubicle walls — just long tables, maybe some couches and beanbag chairs, where people park themselves to work on their laptops. Conversations happen at full volume right out in the open, and there's usually a ping pong table, bar, café, or some other corner where people gather to loudly blow off steam.
Personally, I can't stand it. I do my best work at home, where I can write and strategize in a peaceful environment with a cup of tea and a kitty by my side. But, since I have to be in the office most days, I've found ways to create quiet spaces for myself where I can think. I'll squat in an empty conference room, find an isolated corner, and, when there's nowhere else to go, I'll sit at my desk with my earbuds in, trying to drown out the noise with the likes of VNV Nation, Assemblage 23, and Infected Mushroom.
My introversion has been taken for withdrawal, shyness, antisocial behavior, or a dull mind. None of that is true; I'm just in my head a lot, processing and analyzing things. But, I've learned the importance of perception management. I used to apologize for my introversion, but I've come to embrace it and, ironically, wear it on my sleeve. I've become, in a sense, extroverted about my introverted nature. I keep this infographic posted at my desk, and I let people know, "Hey, it's not that I don't like you, I just require a different kind of environment to do stellar work."
I also know when to put on my extrovert hat — usually in meetings, which is why meetings drain me of my essential life energy. I'm a principled person, someone with a deep sense of ethics (hence the journalism degree instead of the MBA), and a defender of justice. When I feel that something is going in the wrong direction, I speak up. And when that happens for the first time in a new-to-me company, people are invariably surprised that I have a voice. I've found that there's room — no, a need — for that kind of voice in a marketing organization, to keep our activities from skewing to the evil and unethical.
Journalists are joining marketing teams in droves, for the betterment of business, in my opinion. We provide balance to the sales-driven decisions about what content to create, and our contributions result in companies creating content that is valuable and helpful to customers and prospects, rather than just being gimmicky and "salesy". Those of us who are both journalists and introverts can be a powerful force on our teams; we just have to remember to be vocal about what we need in regards to a work environment, and speak up when necessary to keep our content marketing activities honest.