There’s so much choice available that customers can pick and choose who they buy from and where, when, and how it happens. They want to discover, research, evaluate, and purchase on their preferred channel. Give them that option, and they’re more likely to choose you. That’s the whole point behind the multi-channel approach.
Content marketing isn’t just about crafting a clever yarn or funny video for your website. It requires a strategic approach to the type and amount of content you plan to produce, as well as a clear distribution path and metrics to understand the success of your efforts.
A host of marketing technology tools have arisen to help marketers tackle content in a more methodical, data-driven way, and to gauge their results. Here, we ask marketers and agencies to share the types of applications helping to deliver their content marketing ambitions, where they’re planning to invest dollars to improve their capabilities, and how the IT team fits (or doesn’t fit) in their content picture.
For CPA Australia’s executive general manager of communications, content and publishing, Lisa Carroll, top content marketing technology solutions are those that help document content strategy and editorial plans.
“This actually doesn’t need to be sophisticated technology, but it’s essential to organise and share a content calendar that spans all publishing channels, and also have tools for scheduling and publishing content via social media, such as Hootsuite,”she tells CMO.
A good Web CMS is also vital for building hosted content sites including video platforms, and for this CPA uses Sitecore and Ooyala, Carroll says.
“We also are increasingly deep diving into analytics to really understand how our content is performing and what results we are delivering, so analytics is a key focus across our websites, social and video,” she says.
The next priority is multi-channel campaign management and better integration across Web and email content to build off the success of CPA’s personalisation efforts over the past year.
“We serve a very broad mix of audiences so this is vital for targeting messages or content to audiences, as well as measuring customer journeys and business results,” Carroll says. “I also expect automation to play an increasing role for us across content marketing and more traditional marketing campaigns.
“The holy grail is a 360-degree, total view of the customer across all interactions and I’m not sure that’s achievable yet.”
Carroll also sees some issues arising with marketing platforms consolidating and striving to become all things to all customers. She argues that it blurs the line from best-of-breed specialist tools that integrate with each other, to, for example, Web CMS offering email tools, social management tools and reporting.
We also are increasingly deep diving into analytics to really understand how our content is performing and what results we are delivering
“I’m not sure the ideal solution exists just yet,” she adds.
At CPA, the content marketing team boasts its own digital skillset, with strong social media, user experience expertise and analytics capabilities. This has lessened the team’s day-to-day reliance on IT, although Carroll expects that to change as the professional accounting association further invests in its customer-led marketing efforts.
“As we scale up our activities, we’ll be looking for advancements in the technology tools that we use, and better integration across multiple channels, so the relationship with IT will remain critical,” she says.
“As content marketing is a longer game than short-term campaigning, there’s a need to bring IT leaders along and help them understand what the business is looking to achieve. Our approach is to start small and get a track record behind us, before we seek technology input. Ideally, IT and marketing are partners in exploring the possibilities technology opens up, and in jointly planning the IT investment.”
At Atlassian, content marketing activities bringing its brand to life stretch from blogging and social channel community building to videos. The software company’s head of marketing operations for Atlassian, John Rote, says a host of technology supports these efforts.
“First, you need to create and broadcast content, so you need content management platforms like WordPress for hosting content on the Web, but you also need platforms for reaching out to people to engage them with your content,” he says.
Good examples are email marketing platforms like ExactTarget, MailChimp and Pardot, he says. “It's not limited to email though, and the second best example might be social marketing tools like HootSuite and TweetDeck.
“You want all of these platforms to be easy to use for whoever is creating your content. Then you need to measure what your content's doing.”
While a lot of these platforms help organisations see who is viewing content, Atlassian relies on Google Analytics and similar programs to understand the effect once an individual has engaged with a piece of content, and what they do after that, Rote says.
“We’re looking to see if they are they trying out products, signing up for mailing lists, or looking at other content, for example, after their first content engagement,” he explains. Of course, there’s still a human side to content marketing, too.
“Ultimately, the people behind creating the content and figuring out how to get the most out of it are going to be more important than any single tool,” Rote says.
You want all of these platforms to be easy to use for whoever is creating your content. Then you need to measure what your content's doing
When it comes to his wishlist of tools to improve Atlassian’s content marketing, two things come to mind for Rote. The first isthe challenge of measuring the impact content marketing has on the business.
“There’s often a less direct immediate or obvious impact than there is with something like an acquisition ad,” he comments. “Figuring out how to tie together our different efforts to know which efforts are having the biggest impact on the most important of a variety of metrics is tough, and it’s something we constantly try to refine. Connecting the dots, aggregating the data and trying to find the most meaningful impacts is really tough.”
Second on Rote’s list is the challenge of showing the right content to the right user at the right time.
“A brand may have a great piece of content about pair programming, but a visitor is an IT analyst not a developer. Or you’ve got a great guide about getting started with your product, but this visitor is already a power user,” he says.
“It’s already hard to know who the different users of your product are and what different content might interest each of them. But it’s harder still to match the best content to the right user.”
Atlassian has been testing a variety of systems, including a home-grown ad-serving network in its own products, to share helpful tips and information.
Given its software heritage, it’s no surprise the company’s marketers see IT as an incredibly important function to work with, but what’s a little more forward-thinking is that its primary IT liaison sits with the marketing team.
“A lot of the feature development happening on the most popular relevant platforms is about making it easier for non-technical users to efficiently operate the tool,” Rote claims. “But you still have to figure out how to share data and connect the dots between systems, and you still have to figure out to operate inside the current system landscape you have now, and how to build the ideal ecosystem for the future.
“That’s hard, and requires a very close partnership with IT, especially if you want to use the best most powerful systems available and if you want to really dig into the hardest problems, like measuring impact and personalising the experience for customers.”
ANZ launched its Blue Notes online media publication in April as the latest step towards produce relevant content for customers. Five months on, the site already expects to beat initial targets of 80,000 unique visitors in its first year, and has attracted 1800 newsletter subscribers.
The banking group’s group head of strategic content and digital media, Amanda Gome, who is a respected journalist and publisher, said the team is using the open source Umbraco CMS platform as the back-end for Blue Notes.
The question now is how to scale the platform as the types of content ANZ produces diversifies, and more internal stakeholders look to utilise it. The group is looking to have cross-publishing capabilities while also providing employees with the ability to use content to deepen relationships with customers.
“Across all content, the biggest challenge is looking for a platform that will scale as we grow, and a platform that can accommodate different publications at the same time,” Gome says.
While Blue Notes is ANZ’s thought leadership offering, she suggests the bank could launch another site for customers around how-to content. As a result, the content management platform needs to have extensive search facilities.
“For example, the banking teams might come and search our content library to then send stories to customers; we also need to store pictures, graphs and track changes. That’s an important ability for corporate that hasn’t mattered as much to publishers,” Gome claims.
“We want staff to dip into all of these sites and share content with their customers.”
Across all content, the biggest challenge is looking for a platform that will scale as we grow, and a platform that can accommodate different publications at the same time
Tracking is also important because of the stringent regulatory environment ANZ operates in. “Tracking these changes is new to publishing in corporate and is part of our accountability needs,” Gome says.
Alongside management capabilities, Gome says her team is increasingly interested in analytics and understanding what people read and how. She hopes to tie that in with better ways to personalise content for customers and staff.
“A small business might be interested in mortgages and need content around that,” she says. “We also want staff to be using content to track and deepen these relationships.”
With so much dependence on technology for success, Gome says the relationship between IT and marketing is vital.
“Everyone is now a technology company; technology is at the heart of everything,” she says. “I worship IT; they are our best friends. A relationship between IT and business shows us the different ways of doing things.”
For director of marketing and PR at Robert Half Asia-Pacific, Lauren Green Downing, having a content marketing agency that understands both search and social has been an important part of its strategy.
“We have a collaborative model where our search agency and content/social agency work hand-in-hand, allowing us to use data from both agencies to determine what content we produce and how it is syndicated to the market,” she explains.
“In terms of the development of our content site, it was important that we selected a tool that focused on useability, creativity and shareability, so that we can make it easier for our customers and staff to use and share our content, as well as upgrading the site to keep up with the ever-changing social and content marketing landscape.”
Like her peers, Green Downing sees tracking the results of an organisation’s content as vital, and says the focus for the coming year is on how to connect customer systems with the content system to better show how content leads to business growth.
“We’re looking to make the link between this marketing spend and how it affects the wider business,” she says.
“Also important is the control systems for content produced. We are working with our content agency to enhance functionality around faster briefing, approvals and delivery, so that content can be delivered quickly and efficiently to our customers.”
It was important that we selected a tool that focused on useability, creativity and shareability
With all the work going on around content, particularly when developing a blog or new site, it’s crucial to involve the IT team early in the process, Green Downing says.
“They will be able to assist in providing what functionality is currently available and what will need to be upgraded to ensure your site is first class, and has all of the functionality required to keep up with the ever-changing social sharing landscape,” she claims.
Having a technical expert within the IT team who understands content marketing can be extremely beneficial. “They can assist in suggesting additional functionality/upgrades that you may not be aware of,” Green Downing adds.
The agency view: Edge
In order to respond to the fast moving environment of digital content and social media marketing, content turnaround needs to be quick. According to Edge senior strategic planner, Sasha Cunningham, having an editorial calendar system that has end-to-end workflow, internal collaboration and external/client approvals is therefore an essential.
“The most effective platforms are those which simplify the process,” she says. “Any valuable platform should allow you to publish directly from it, or easily integrate with your current publishing platform – automating or streamlining these processes and removing time-consuming and human-error manual processes, are always highly desirable.”
Cunningham admits there are still plenty of gaps in end-to-end solutions. As an example, she notes most technology platforms specialise in a particular segment of the marketing funnel and rarely deliver the same high standard across the system.
“Other platforms require the use of multiple systems – all of which adds up in terms of time and costs,” she says.
IT can provide the best evaluation of integration with other systems and downstream processes, data storage and other technical or IT procurement requirements
“There is a definite gap in the market for a cost-effective SME and small agency end-to-end solution. Most of the technology platforms available in the market that do handle the full funnel/workflow are very expensive for SMEs, and are better suited for large enterprise publishers, global agencies and global corporate organisations.
“As a result, smaller companies often use multiple platforms to address their content marketing needs and often rely on free social media tools, which can result in decreasing returns on streamlined processes and missed opportunities for data capture."
Although the required level of interaction content marketing teams need to have with their IT department varies based on how involved IT is with business process and strategy, Cunningham does advise all clients to include IT at shortlist stage when evaluating technology vendors for the marketing function.
“IT can provide the best evaluation of integration with other systems and downstream processes, data storage and other technical or IT procurement requirements,” she says.
The agency view: King Content
At King Content, any technology investment is judged on two factors: Streamlining the content production, approval and distribution process and connecting the content strategy with actual performance and ROI, says its technology director, Charles Jacobson.
“There is no one single platform out there that currently does all of this, which is why we’re building our own solution; Communiqué,” he comments.
“King Content is very interested in new methods for measuring content performance and credibly proving ROI. More traditional forms of digital marketing have long since been able to provide this data, content marketing is not there yet.”
If a marketing department does not work with IT for technology adoption, the result will very often be a mess of different tools and platforms
Jacobson agrees the marketing/IT relationship is more important than ever even as marketing has been able to sidestep their technology counterparts thanks to more accessible and cost-effective cloud-based solutions.
“However IT is still a vital partner to ensure there is a clear strategy with regards to technology adoption, and with regards to ensuring that adopted technologies are used properly,” he says.
"If a marketing department does not work with IT for technology adoption, the result will very often be a mess of different tools and platforms that are not being used to their full potential. In the end this will mean a company is not in the best position possible to execute on a content strategy.”
Forrester’s tips on content marketing technology selection
Forrester Research analyst, Tracy Stokes, offers her guidance to marketers on how to weigh up content marketing technologies and services:
- Start with the marketing objectives first, technology second. For example, if you are looking to drive influence across earned media, look for vendors who specialise in advocacy marketing.
- Consider your own internal resources and capabilities. If you have well developed in-house expertise and capabilities, then a software solution vendor will be a good fit to scale your needs. But if you are a novice, a full service agency or publishing partner will better fit your needs.
- When assessing content technology needs, bring your IT partners in early, to ensure that you can effectively connect to existing systems.
- The overall biggest content marketing technology trend is a shift towards more integrated solutions, vs. piecemeal point solutions.
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