6 ways to make the case for content marketing

Emphasize these six points when trying to get executive buy-in for this approach to getting your message out while enhancing media relations.

Savvy PR pros have embraced content marketing, because when it’s tied to an overarching theme it can be an enormous boost for media and blogger relations.

Just like anyone else, influential writers and producers use search functions to research stories and observe trendy links that are passed around the social Web. Content marketing is an essential alternative path to breaking the threshold of clutter in a reporter’s inbox or voicemail.

However, knowing we need to champion a new way of thinking and making it happen are two different things. Here are six key points to address when lobbying senior managers for a content marketing program.

1. Build the foundation with facts. Risk-averse managers hesitate to embrace new ideas. Although content marketing is more than 100 years old, for many it’s a new way of thinking about marketing and PR. To prove this isn’t just the buzzword of the week, start your case with facts. For example, according to the 2013 B2B Content Marketing benchmark study:

  • In 2012, content marketing accounted for one-third of marketing budgets.
  • Roughly 50 percent of marketers plan to increase their content marketing budgets in 2013.
  • Ninety-one percent of marketers say they use content marketing.

Good sources of vetted statistics to build your case can be found on sites such as Content Marketing Institute, eMarketer, and Marketing Charts.

2. Create allies in other functions. People in PR know the value of a third-party voice. To make the content marketing case, look for other allies to be that voice. You’ll find them in many functions:

  • Sales. Salespeople love great content, because it’s an opportunity to reach out to customers and offer them something of value without asking for something in return. Content is a great relationship builder and sales enablement tool. I’ve often observed that the posts that earn the most traffic on a blog aren’t getting that traffic from social sharing—but from salespeople emailing a link to prospective clients.
  • SEO: Your SEO person loves content, because every piece of content is like a big, inviting door to customers who are window shopping in online marketplaces. Just like us, Google is addicted to content; its business model depends on fresh and high-quality content for paid search ads, so content marketing is a sure path to improving search results.
  • Direct Marketing. Direct marketers need content for their email messages and newsletters. If we select the highest-performing content and include that in an email newsletter, we’re both repurposing content and giving customers and prospects a reason to stay engaged with us online. Ragan.com and PR Daily employ this very tactic every Saturday.

Brand, e-commerce, and customer service are also likely allies, which leads to the next point.

3. Address the needs of the customer. Solving problems for customers is why business exists-and leading up to a sale, prospective customers always have questions. There’s no better way to attract customers than proactively answering their questions as part of the content marketing program. For example, the cost of a product or service is a likely question. Many companies avoid listing pricing, because they hope it will prompt an inbound phone call, but listing pricing in content can be an enormous draw for the right kind of traffic: those interested in buying your product or service. Marcus Sheridan, who has earned a lot of respect in content marketing circles, literally saved his pool company from bankruptcy, in large part by answering questions in content marketing.

4. Benchmark the competition. There’s a benefit to being first—by definition, that’s leadership. However, making bets on new ideas can seem like an impossible case to make until the competition begins. Nothing gets senior management’s attention like the competition. As you monitor the competition, make notes about what they are doing to help build your case for these points:

  • What type of content does the competition produce?
  • Which category of content drives the most engagement?
  • What content is gaining back links?
  • What content has lead to earned media placements?

An especially helpful tool in analyzing competitive domains, like blogs or websites, is Open Site Explorer by SEOmoz. It will give you the measures to build your case like the domain authority, back links, top-ranking pages, and anchor text. Anchor text is a good indication of keywords the competition is targeting. The basic tool is free, and it gives PR pros everything they need to build a strong case based on what the competition is doing.

5. Develop use cases. By this point in your case, you’ve got senior managers’ attention. The next step is to provide a tactical plan for how you will implement a content marketing program. In other words, we need to help them see the vision.

  • Build a strong list of content ideas. Some content marketers recommend an editorial calendar, but this is simply a structured format for eliciting themes for content. It’s a list of ideas—much like the creative headlines a PR firm might use on a new business proposal. If you really want to spice it up the look and feel, mock up a blog post with social sharing counters in PowerPoint.
  • Demonstrate how content can be repurposed. Take one piece of content that your business already uses, and splice it up to show how you’ll use that content for PR purposes. For example, post the results of a survey on SlideShare, embed the presentation on your blog, and issue a press release that points back to the blog post. Include a link to your blog post in your media pitches, because more often than not, any reporter or blogger that covers the story will link back to the original source—and your SEO person will love you for it. Of course, the life of the content can be extended and shared in other channels, such as Pinterest, and each pin can be used for updates to Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, among others.
  • Show them how you will measure results. One of the most compelling points in making the case for content marketing is the ability to measure results with a tool such as Google Analytics. You’ll easily be able to calibrate traffic, referral sources, back links, and conversions. Another metric that will get a boost will come from your social media monitoring software, and that’s share of voice. In my experience, I’ve found that prospects that were drawn in through content marketing were twice as likely to convert. This doubles as a way to prove how PR drives sales.

6. Manage expectations. Content marketing takes time, hard work, and dedication to see results. Developing a reputation for expertise in the physical world takes time-that’s also true for building authority online. Blending content marketing with traditional PR can certainly speed success, and it will go a long way toward building the awareness so many PR professional are charged with providing.

What about you? What methods or means have you used to build a business case for content marketing?

Frank Strong is a PR professional with savvy in content marketing and new media. Find him on Twitter or Google+, or read more on his blog: Sword and the Script.

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