If you’re new to content marketing, or if your content marketing just doesn’t deliver, you’ll really get a lot out of this interview. We speak to Cameron Conaway, a content marketing expert, Top 50 Content Influencer, and journalist. In this conversation, Cameron covers the basics and more as we talk about content writing, strategy, finding good content writers, and what to expect after you’ve been publishing for a while.
Content marketing defined
Can you define content marketing, and explain why businesses and organizations that aren’t yet using it should begin to?
Content marketing is the practice and process of consistently creating, distributing, analyzing, and optimizing valuable content for an audience defined by its potential to become a customer or otherwise engage in actions beneficial to a company.
There’s a rather pervasive idea out there that companies either are or are not engaging in content marketing. That’s a typical either/or mindset of the West. I believe most companies, whether they know it or not, are engaging in content marketing—some are just doing it better than others.
Most companies are creating content, and most companies are taking some effort to market that content. The companies doing so using the sound processes that have been established through industry best practices are simply more likely to get a bigger return for their investment.
I often frame it in two ways:
First: John Deere’s print magazine titled The Furrow launched in 1895. The magazine rarely mentioned the brand’s name, but for generations provided the most valuable content for farmers. Now, when it comes time for those farmers to purchase a tractor, who are they most likely to turn to? The brand they’ve trusted for advice or some other brand?
Second: More than ever before, customers at once loathe pushy, direct, and interruptive advertisements and prefer conducting their own investigative research on products or services before making a purchase.
They do this through searching online, and they rarely make it to the second page of their search. This often means that, in order to be trusted for advice as The Furrow was and still is, a potential customer must be able to find your valuable content in the course of their search. This is why content marketing is both a practice and a process.
First Steps in content marketing
Organizations new to content marketing often don’t know where to start. Some businesses may insist on taking a heavy sales approach, while others leave content marketing to a hastily selected writer. Can you give readers an overview of the ideal approach to the first steps towards using content marketing?
That’s very true, and a great question. I often see the first steps as questions the marketing department and/or the lead content marketing manager must ask and then answer:
- What niche are we going after, and who else is creating content in a similar space?
- When will we expect results and what will those results be?
- Are we willing to do something unique, and what are we scared of?
- How much time are we willing to commit to this effort?
At this point the team can then conduct market research, allocate resources to, and develop processes for how they’ll create, distribute, analyze and optimize the kind of content they’ve deemed most valuable for the audience they’ve selected.
Don’t proceed without a content strategy
How important is a content strategy, and who should be involved in developing it?
It’s critical. I’m a believer in the idea that your content strategy must have a content strategy. In other words, for your overall content marketing strategy to be sustainably effective your team must have a strategy in place for how all of the various elements of it come together.
This is where simple project management comes in. It’s one thing to have a great content strategy on paper; it’s quite another to know precisely how that strategy is executed on a regular basis.
I believe, at the very least, the entire marketing department should be involved in development. I think, more and more, we’re going to increasingly see CMOs need to be leaders capable of blending traditional marketing economics with modern content marketing practices.
What should you write about?
It’s not uncommon to hear businesses say: “What can I write? I don’t have anything to say.” How should they tackle being so close to their own little stories or successes that they can’t see them?
Creating distance, especially for busy leaders, is critical. One way to do that is to help them reframe their thoughts, going from “I don’t have anything to say” to “What questions and pain points do my potential customers have?”
Framing it like a question guarantees the leader will have something to say, and those questions are almost always the greatest way to start thinking about what you want to do with content marketing.
Can you outline some of the key characteristics of great content?
This varies greatly by type of content and by where in the marketing funnel that content fits. As just one example, take a look at this piece of content about key performance indicators. It’s immensely valuable both as a basic definition of the term, and for a variety of audiences who may have searched that term.
The Klipfolio clickable panel provides context for various departments about which key performance indicators they should be tracking. And based on what we know about how customers search for their own answers, this piece is more likely than any piece on the internet to be where a potential customer ends up when they search for “key performance indicators.” Here’s what a Google search of the term reveals:
So what our team has done here is created a piece of content that is at once valuable for a large swathe of audiences and easy to find. And consider this: Google’s Keyword Planner tool reveals that “key performance indicator” is searched anywhere from 100,000 to 1 million times each month. Think about how many people are finding value in that single piece of content.
Lastly, that content isn’t just valuable for value’s sake. Klipfolio, provides a product that allows people to easily and beautifully visualize their key performance indicators in real-time. Based on our content marketing definition above, I would deem this an example of “great content.”
Finding good writers
What’s the best way of finding a good content writer?
I’m biased, of course, but I believe liberal arts departments and journalism schools are creating students perfect for becoming the content marketing industry’s best content writers. This is especially true when you consider, sadly, that many of these students are unable to find opportunities in the fields they’ve studied.
Within 12 to 18 months, what kinds of results should organizations be looking for, or expecting, from solid content marketing?
That’s a great question, and incredibly difficult to answer because this of course depends on the size of the potential audience, the amount of resources the company can put toward content marketing strategies, etc.
Broadly speaking, companies should expect more and higher-quality traffic coming to their site, a growing list of SQLs (sales-qualified leads), higher search engine rankings on terms related to the company, and greater visibility through some of the unexpected opportunities that can come through solid content marketing—such as opportunities to be featured in articles and on podcasts.
Who have been the biggest influences on your thinking, and your approach to your work?
So many! I’ll just name a few here. My approach to work in general is inspired by a fusion of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, my wife Maggie Chestney, and Cal Newport. Regarding content marketing, Joe Pulizzi and Mark Schaefer helped lay the groundwork for my understanding of the field, and today I often find myself turning to Andy Crestodina, Rand Fishkin, Robert Rose, and my colleague Jonathan Taylor.
Content marketer Cameron Conaway
Cameron is a prominent content marketer, journalist, and social justice poet. He is ranked as one of the top 50 content marketing influencers, is certified through Content Marketing University.
Cameron also has experience as a local journalist. He reported on the time nurses in Pennsylvania went on strike in the freezing cold for better patient care. He also did a piece on when survivors of modern slavery convened at Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, to share their stories at a Congressional Hearing during Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
Cameron has a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona.
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