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Building a culture of Content Marketing

Downers Grove, September 29th, 2016

brad-shorr-contentWith more than 25 years of experience in sales and marketing, Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, an Internet marketing company that offers businesses SEO, PPC and website design services. Shorr has written for and been featured in top digital publications including Entrepreneur, Moz and Forbes.

With a full-time staff of more than 60 marketing specialists, Straight North creates a lot of informative marketing content — white papers, video, e-books, etc. Probably their most successful piece of content to date is an infographic called “The Lead Generation Ecosystem.” A visual representation of the entire terrain of an online lead generation marketing campaign, the infographic has been featured on close to 100 marketing and business websites, helping marketers all over the world figure out where the holes are in their campaign.

If you’re involved with creating content, you already know how difficult it is to score a win. So we ask Brad to give us some insights.

Can you describe your agency in three words?

Lead generation marketing.

What is your definition of Content Marketing?

I have yet to find or formulate a satisfactory definition. Content is used in many forms of marketing in pursuit of many objectives, from “hard” objectives like sales conversions to “soft” ones like building brand affinity.

Which aspects of Content Marketing are the most important?

It depends on the purpose of the content. For sales conversions, persuasiveness is obviously important. For building brand affinity, voice and relevance are key. Etc. In all cases, content used in marketing must be tested and measured.

What makes for a remarkable piece of content?

Impossible to generalize, or sometimes even to know what quality in the content makes it remarkable. So I would say a remarkable piece of content is that which produces the best result — the most conversions, the most retweets, the most of whatever it is the marketer is trying to accomplish.

How the Ecosystem infographic came to life in your company?

The main lesson here: always keep your mind open. Don’t rely on a process. Instead, rely on your people and keep the lines of communication open at all times.

How the Infographic Evolved

• The infographic started as an internal training tool. Our COO, Aaron Wittersheim, was trying to create a diagram the agency could use to help our growing staff better understand the complexity and scope of lead generation marketing.

• At one point, he asked me to take a look at a rough draft and asked for suggestions. As usual, his information was spot-on, but I told him it was too good for just internal use and would make a great blog post.

• We then got Tim Olrich, our Senior SEO Manager, involved. He improved on the idea further by suggesting we make it an infographic, add a bit of branding information, and then submit it to industry blogs and websites.

• The design process delivered more than the usual number of tweaks and refinements, mainly because we deviated from our usual procedure with Aaron, Tim and me involved in the creative review. Among the refinements:
Creation of a downloadable PDF version.
Addition of embeddable code to make it easy for off-site publishers to reproduce the infographic.
Extensive editing on hexagon labels and introductory text.

• We made further refinements (mainly with labels and hexagon positioning) by reviewing questions we received from publishers that were interested in in the infographic but didn’t understand it completely. It always pays to listen to your audience.

Building on the Infographic Foundation

Once we saw how well the infographic was being received, we took it a step further by using it as the structure for a more ambitious project, our Internet Marketing Encyclopedia of Lead Generation.

Because the hexagons of the infographic make a comprehensive taxonomy for lead generation, we’ve started collecting articles on each infographic element and offer them on our website for marketers to study. So far, the Encyclopedia has gotten a lot of attention.


3 Valuable Takeaways

Here’s what I learned going through this:

• Great ideas can come from people who are not knee-deep in content marketing. We have a refined process for developing content topics and then producing them — but are we always able to see the forest for the trees? By listening to people who are actually grappling with business issues, you may stumble onto ideas you’d never come up with yourself.

• Being open to ideas from any source does not mean you should abandon your creative processes. Having an efficient, collaborative creative process enables you to bring ideas to market quickly and with a high level of quality.

• Go for it! Prior to the Ecosystem infographic, we had not been tremendously successful with infographics, and this one covered a topic that was pretty ambitious. However, if you believe in the concept, don’t be afraid to try. You may be in for a pleasant surprise!

In your opinion, what are the key ingredients to create a successful digital campaign.

Strategy based on meticulous research, proper KPIs in place, adequate budgeting, talented and experienced people doing the execution, a documented tactical campaign process, ongoing testing, ongoing review.

What are the key qualities to look for in a Content Manager?

Content managers work closely with creatives and the content production team. They need to be organized; clear in their communication; attentive to deadlines and procedures and yet willing to take risks and experiment with new approaches to creative development and campaign execution. They must also be good at abstract thinking; that is, being able to see the big picture of the brand, the product/service, the audience and what underlying message characteristics are needed to achieve a particular result.

Where do you see the future of the industry?

For B2B, more emphasis on valuable content, user engagement and mobile marketing. Less emphasis on social media.


Thanks Brad!

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