This may seem like a self-explanatory statement, make sure your stakeholders know what your content mission is, but I am surprised by the amount of folks who skip this step. Content Marketing is a long term move, playing chess with the world and making several correct moves consistently to set yourself apart, build an audience, and attract new customers.
The efforts are not for the faint of heart and you need stakeholders who know the end game and the path behind you. Skipping this step will cause the infamous meeting of the minds to ask, “Why aren’t you driving new business?”
I am a firm believer in holding meetings only when you have a concrete purpose. Let’s face it, a stakeholder meeting is expensive. Before you bring everyone to the table to present your content strategy and mission statement, you might want to consider what message you want to deliver.
We know the ultimate goal is to get everyone on the same page of what content marketing is and how we plan to succeed using the strategy, but there are a few other milestones that need to take place. The following items are some suggestions of topics you will want to cover in your stakeholder meeting before you kick off your marketing efforts.
Set Expectations for Content Effectiveness
We all want to have our first set of articles become so popular they break the internet and get more shares than we have current hits to the website, but this is not reality. Marketing teams are notorious for drinking their own Kool-Aid and believing they have struck gold in the latest book they read. I love the enthusiasm to win and I fall for these rush of emotions often myself.
When going into a meeting where we will talk about cost, return on investment, time, and resourcing for content, it is important that we have our feet planted on the ground and our heads out of the clouds at this point. Our new efforts are going to be exhausting and we will most likely see little return through the first months, quarters, and maybe years depending on your industry. Just like when we launch a new product line or service offering, we don’t have customers begging for our offerings right away. Content is the same way.
Viewing your content as an asset to the organization and needing to build an audience base to receive value will bring you out of the “if you build it, they will come” mindset and get you focused on building marketing efforts around your new asset. The notion of viewing yourself as a media company instead of a marketing team may help because media companies produce assets and tangible items that have value. This is not typically attributed to our marketing teams where we are viewed as a cost center.
Show Your Personas
Did we get our target customers right? Do we know what is in the works at the top of the organization? Building an audience takes a lot of time and if there is unknown at this point, we could be setting ourselves up to build the wrong audience.
We should walk our stakeholders through each persona we have developed and talk about the customer journey we believe they take with our company. Our sales departments should be able to add light to any questions we might have about their goals and provide a list of existing leads and accounts we can use to verify our plans effectiveness. Our customer service team can let us know what questions our customers are asking to help generate new content for our customer portals and other engagement systems. Product development and/or service teams can show us what they are currently working on and have in the pipeline for the coming up year. Having the heads of state in a room centered on the persona will spark far more conversation that just discussing initiatives.
Explain the Channels of Distribution
Part of a formal content strategy is the understanding of what channels we plan to use to distribute content and the type of content we will create for each channel. The best part of writing this down and explaining it to others, is the grounding of a “good idea.”
I have been guilty of listening to a podcast, reading an article, or seeing another brand use a channel effectively and say, “We need to do that too!” I will go to that system, register our company, and start to build a following. The problem is my following is very small and will remain that way because I haven’t taken the time to measure the impact of the channel, build a plan to nurture the feed, and consider the care and feeding of the audience.
In our meeting, we should walk through the content types we are creating and align them to distribution channels and plans. Your plans should include the personas you intend to reach, content examples, any specific brand guidelines, frequency of release, and verbiage approval plans. If we plan to use the channel in a real-time manner, we should make sure we list what is appropriate and the branding voice we want to have. We have all seen far too many bad marketing efforts on Twitter that have made brands famous for their failures.
Introduce the Basics of Agile and the Roles of the Team
I believe each marketing team should consider agile techniques for planning content if they are taking a content marketing approach with several channels and content types. If you have a magazine and the workflow is solid, then continue with what works. But if your day is full of chaos and you move from one type of content to another, dig into agile.
When you go with an agile planning technique like Scrum, there are roles that people play and rules to the game. Be sure that you explain how content is produced and the core tenants of agile. Talk through the time boxing strategies you will use and how work gets added to your backlog. Let the members of the stakeholders group understand their roles and who on your team is responsible for the priority of the content backlog.
For the members of the Content Owner’s advisory committee, let them know what they are expected to do and the frequency of your regular grooming meetings. Getting a good backlog started is just half the battle, keeping it clean and focused is an activity that requires planning.
Set Quarterly Goals for the Next Two Years
Return on Investment is on everyone’s mind at this point. You have just told several individuals you want to get away from the reactive marketing techniques of the past and start being proactive by building an audience who “might” do business with you. There is no easy wins in Content Marketing and the efforts are hard work with few short term rewards. This isn’t about mining for gold, it is about establishing a new asset for your company to use, to build a larger customer base.
With all that in mind, set expectations based on your understanding of the approach and leverage the network of other marketers and influencers who have taken this path and what their ROI looks like.
Beware of case studies in books because we tend to pick the ones that are the outliers. We could all write a book on how easy it is to win the lottery and interview those folks who have hit it big with the Powerball. Our book would probably make it look real easy and all you have to do is buy five tickets a week. Well the reality is, it’s not easy. Most authors look for brands that are known or individuals who are unicorns that can cut through the lines of red, produce Hollywood quality video with an iPhone, and are on the New York Times Bestsellers list for a book on dog grooming. Find case studies of companies that are like yours and that had success based on endurance and perseverance. These teams found a repeatable pattern that you can model to get similar results.
Identify Content Ambassadors for Each Department
Getting great content out of outside members of the organization is not something of fiction, but there is a process to make it happen. Each department that is customer facing has the need for delivery of consistent content to the customers in their leg of the Customer Journey. So key departments like Sales, Customer Service, Project Management, and Shipping are just the start. Your billing and legal teams all play a part in telling the story of your organization. Some of the experiences may be dull or difficult so we should set the expectations accordingly and deliver content to the user through the journey.
Look at Chipotle for example. Most fast food restaurants use their cups for slapping a logo on them and treating them as the disposable resource they are. Chipotle is different. They commissioned writers to tell stories on the cups to give their customers a new experience when sitting down for their lunch break. Each cup tells a different story in the series, so customers are enticed to buy another drink next time they’re in the store. When you are thinking of your customer’s experience with the organization, are you considering the team that sets out the supplies?
In each department, you need to find someone who is an advocate for the customer that understands what you are trying to do with your content strategy that you can use as an ambassador for your marketing efforts. This is not someone who thinks in the department silo mentality, but an individual who loves the company and the customer. These individuals might not be the best writers, but they do need to excel at customer service. Have regular meetings every month or quarter with your ambassadors and make sure you cover what is working and what needs work.
Did you know some of your customers love to give feedback? In fact, if you are doing a great job, they will even give you ideas on how you can deliver more content to them. This will open the flood gates for your personas and content backlog and help you fill in the lack of content in different areas of the Customer Journey.
Don’t forget to talk to customers in the early stages and those who have departed from your customer base. If you did something wrong and never made a connection, that information would have been valuable on how you might be able to help next time. What if a customer left because you didn’t have enough information during the project delivery, but no one asked the right questions? What about a customer who filled out a contact form that no one responded to? As our roles shift beyond just marketing what the company does, and more into customer experience, we will have to watch the interactions our customers have with the company closer. Even if the system or responsibility does not sit in our department, the interaction with the customer is something that does, so gathering information is critical.
Once you have the information, you need to come to the understanding of what we are trying to do. I have been a part of so many cross-department meetings that look more like the end of Reservoir Dogs with everyone having a gun pointed at someone else. Empathy is your new favorite word walking into these feedback follow-up meetings. Your teams all have their own budgets and their view of what is important. Sharing responsibility on the feedback given and providing solutions that are not invasive to their team will be very much appreciated. Remember providing high impact on the company’s success is our mission. Tread lightly.
Setup the Next Meeting
After delivering your “Show me the money” speech to the department heads, you might forget this last step. You will have taken some hits by this point and people will ask why things have to change over and over. You will also get the “this is my territory” talks from people and you will be able to cut the doubt with a butter knife. Remember, someone has to fight for the customer.
Set up the next meeting and have the agenda ready for review. Show what information you would like them to bring and what information you will provide. You are not trying to close the deal, you are sharing initiatives with a group of individuals you need to be your biggest fans. If these strategies work and customers start lining up to work with you, everyone needs to be prepared to continue the efforts that got us to this point.
You may read this and come to the conclusion you don’t want to face the confrontation at this stage because you have your own doubts. If that is true, keep on testing your strategy and ask for outside advice on how to prepare for the next step. If your content agency can’t or won’t have a 15 to 30 minute conversation about your concerns, find a new agency. And remember that those firms who have a strategy find more success with their Content Marketing efforts and one key aspect of that strategy is the inclusion of company stakeholders.