Why CMOs Should Not Focus Only On Content Marketing

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Tony Zambito

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Soon, two thousand plus marketing directors, managers, coordinators, and marketing specialists will descend on the content marketing Mecca event called Content Marketing World.  The largest content marketing oriented conference of its kind.  These teams flushed with CMO approval in hand to attend eighty plus available sessions in the hope it will result in improved effectiveness.

Effectiveness.  This is the dilemma and conundrum facing many senior marketing executives on the role of content marketing.  While we have seen a rise in spending on content marketing, we have seen a correlating rise in conferences and services designed to improve effectiveness.  Despite this correlation, the needle on effectiveness has not moved, according to several surveys, and may be regressing.

Only 2% Very Effective

A recent CMO Council survey concluded that only two-percent (2%) of two-hundred senior marketers surveyed believed their content strategies were “very effective”; with only forty-four percent indicating they were “moderately effective.”  Quite sobering results in terms of spending versus effectiveness.

A problem may, in fact, be associated with how effectiveness is being defined.  The pressure to see immediate “effectiveness” in terms of sales leads can be a source of what lies lurking underneath this dilemma.  Content marketing is still overwhelming dealing with a misguided purpose of being almost entirely measured on sales leads.

A recent survey of five-hundred global B2B business executives by the Economist Group indicates that 71% of those surveyed perceived content as a sales pitch.  Thus, we can fairly guesstimate that more than seventy-percent of buying executives are finding content to be a turn-off.

Narrow Framing Hurting CMOs

With these types of less than ideal results and also the continued hype surrounding content marketing, it is hard to resist devoting a large portion of time on this ongoing problem.

This, though, may be the problem itself.

The pitfall for CMOs can be narrowly framing the problem.  Zooming in on content marketing ineffectiveness as if it were the only problem in marketing.  The issue with narrowly framing on content marketing is it impacts decisions made on strategic direction and resources going forward.

For example, much time and resources can be given to tweaking content-oriented campaigns with a very narrow focus of generating sales leads.  While the tweaking may result in an incremental uptick in emails collected and more leads, time and resources devoted to addressing broader issues and strategies may have resulted in much more significant dividends.

In a recent interview with a senior marketing executive of a Fortune 500 firm, this is how she put it:

“We kind of lost sight of what we really needed to do.  We had a lot of resources devoted to making content marketing a big part of what we do.  In the end, though, we wound up doing too much. It did not go over well with our customer base.  Once we stepped back and took a broader view of how we should approach the market, that’s when things began to go better for us.”

Vice President, Marketing

The Broader View

Better decision-making for CMOs happens when they are able to take a broader view of the market and customer challenges they face.  The broader view means looking at overall brand and customer engagement strategies.  Letting go of the drip and drop focus of content marketing campaigning.  It means understanding the broad strokes of marketing where content marketing is but one color of several contributing to an overall strategy.

The tendency created with content marketing is to look at each campaign like a ledger of gains and losses.  The gains and losses being a tally of sales leads or emails collected.  Thus, an overcompensating focus on content marketing can cause efforts to spiral out of control where every quarter this game of tallying gains and losses goes on.

Where CMOs can struggle is whether to view content marketing as a mutually exclusive strategy or as a plan serving as one aspect of an overall strategy.   Those who have been successful are taking the broader view whereas content marketing is seen as a spoke in the wheel of an overall strategy.  It may be a big spoke, but it is one of several contributing to an informed marketing and customer strategy.  For instance here is how one CMO of a $1.5 billion organization recently put it to me:

“I would say content marketing is only about twenty percent of our marketing spend.  The main thing though has been in presenting a clear representation of our brand consistently.  It takes a strategy of many different parts in concert. And, of course, all based on our efforts to continuously learn as much as we can about our customers.”

Global Vice President, Marketing

Applied To Buyer Personas

This same perspective of adopting a broader view is important to buyer persona development as well.  Caught in the web of narrowly framing content marketing is also the narrow framing of buyer persona development.  Unfortunately, this narrow framing results in informational buyer profiling instead of authentic goal-directed buyer personas.

When this happens, organizations end up with ill-defined buyer personas in which marketers and their competitors are messaging to buyers in a very redundant fashion.  In other word, buyer profiles, improperly defined as buyer personas, are basically designed to help support the narrowly defined campaigns of content marketing as opposed to a true understanding of customer goals and their goal-directed buying behaviors.

Customer Focus Instead Of Content Marketing Focus

In the end, CMOs must avoid getting stuck focusing only on content marketing.  You see if CMOs focused on content marketing in an unhealthy way, they could actually lose sight of the customer.  Ending up with a narrowly framed view of the customer.  Which results in narrow marketing missing the broader story in the world of customers.

If the broader story is missed, content according to the Economist Group survey mentioned above, is perceived to lack substance by more than three-fourths of the five-hundred business executives surveyed.  The connection to draw here is content lacks substance for it cannot connect to the broader view of understanding the multi-layered goals of buyers.  Without this understanding, content is left to resort to static product information and criteria-based messaging with neon lights flashing “you can become a sales lead now!”

The CMO then must be the guiding North Star keeping the broader focus on customers with a broader view of how to best meet the goals of customers.  Properly fitting in the planning of content marketing into overall efforts to communicate and engage with customers, which are tied to the deeper understanding of customers goals and their goal-directed behaviors.

The path of attaining elusive effectiveness with content marketing lies in making the broader view of customers the center of CMO focus versus making content the center of CMO focus.

(Here is an excellent video on strategic focus featuring the highly regarded Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Professor at Harvard Business School.  A strategic skill is having the ability to zoom in and zoom out to see the big picture.  It provides a perfect metaphor.  CMOs must have the ability to zoom in on content marketing in the proper context of understanding customers.  Yet have the ability to zoom out and have the broader view of customer goals and their goal-directed behaviors.  Listen, learn, and enjoy.)