Stay ahead of your competition by being willing to take more creative risks. Learn how to do it here like the pros without breaking your budget.
It seems like General Electric, Red Bull, and other leading brands always have an innovative marketing campaign they are working on, content focused or otherwise.
In many ways this is true because they are aren’t afraid to test new types of content, cover surprising topics, and break best practices whenever possible.
They are constantly experimenting to see what works because the high-performing content that stands out amongst all the noise is exciting and delivers a unique experience to a specific audience.
Yet, it’s widely known that these companies have massive marketing teams and a huge budget dedicated to all their advertising initiatives.
That shouldn’t discourage your brand though as any organization can mirror this approach for their own niche, even without a giant marketing budget.
Here’s the process for being more risky with content marketing to drive results and not carelessly waste your budget and resources.
Safe Business Models Aren’t Reliable
Getting your company’s content to resonate amongst all the content shared online today isn’t easy and will continue to become more difficult in coming years.
“Companies must be riskier in their use and exploration of content marketing because customers aren’t paying attention any longer to the ‘safe’ marketing we’re comfortable with, especially online,” says Christopher Barger, communications professional and founding partner at Brain+Trust Partners.
According to Barger, there are a few reasons why businesses should be riskier with their use of content marketing:
- The sheer deluge of content people are inundated with (The brain can only process so much, so we tune out anything that isn’t immediately relevant.)
- The fact that most people are online or on social networks not to interact with brands but to have personal interactions and get the information they want (meaning that we as brands are intruders on the experience people are having on social media, and we have to be savvier about not being unwelcome guests)
- B2B customers go online to get smarter and get help with their jobs, not to be sold to (meaning our content has to be tailored toward making us a go-to resource, not pushing why our product or service is better than the competition)
- Increasing cynicism and widespread mistrust of institutions from government to the media to “big business” (meaning that audiences are increasingly disinclined to believe or trust traditional marketing messaging)
- The rise of ad-blockers and the increasing ease with which audiences can prevent delivery of any ad content they don’t want to see
This is why the content marketing most marketers and leadership are comfortable with isn’t going to drive results anymore as everyone is doing similar things when they act safe.
“We need to be more relevant, more empathetic, and take more chances with what we publish,” says Barger. These chances your brand is taking to truly connect with your audience don’t have to be risky to the point that they’ll make your company bankrupt, but instead reimagine the content served to customers.
“Clinging to ‘safe’ business models in the face of major changes in the environment hasn’t worked for anyone from Borders to RadioShack to Blockbuster — and it will not work for companies reluctant to experiment and be riskier in their content marketing,” adds Barger.
Design Smart Experiments
Create a smart experiment that is focused on breaking the norms with content, but uses your resources and expertise in a strategic way.
Start by outlining experiments with content that your organization can successfully execute with your existing resources like instead of writing the three short blog posts this week, allocate the time and staff it takes to create those articles to a different content venture.
“Trying to be edgy, funny, or different is not the solution for every brand,” says C.C. Chapman, freelance writer, photographer, and creative marketing consultant.
Too many organizations try to be risky with their content by forcibly acting witty, snarky, or even using modern slang to humanize their messaging, which often backfires since it’s not a match for their particular brand.
“If it feels wrong, then it probably is,” says Chapman. “Yes, you need to do something different with the content you are creating, but always make sure that it ties back to a well-thought-out and long-term strategy. If you are going to try something new, be smart about it and think it through before pushing the ‘publish’ button.”
To avoid hurting your brand but to still see results from experimentation, create smart experiments with content marketing that keep your existing resources in mind, have a specific goal, are aligned with your brand’s values, and that have a defined start and end date.
By clarifying a specific timeline for an experiment, you’re setting a defined date for when it’ll end and when your team will review the results to see if it worth duplicating in the future.
Here are a few examples of smart content experiments to consider testing:
- Be an early adopter of a new content channel or format of content as there’s less competition and more opportunities to reach people in new and interesting ways.
- Beyond focusing on unexplored topics with content, dive deeper into a topic that’s already been widely covered and add more value to the resource than others have.
- Cover a controversial topic to drive widespread discussion of the content, but tread lightly by planning exactly how you’ll cover it and position the company appropriately. Abodo, an apartment listing company, did this well in their “most prejudice places” campaign as described at the bottom of this piece.
- Create and distribute content using a feature of a particular marketing channel in an unexpected way, which could be something out-of-the-box like posting job listings on Pinterest to showcase your unique approach to hiring and company culture or something as simple as alternating a consistent color scheme used across your Instagram images like Kat Von D Beauty did for months.
Hire the Right Talent
Recruit employees that have a strong understanding of the foundations of storytelling because they’ll be more equipped to know when it makes sense to bend or break the rules.
“The biggest mistake I see small companies make regarding their content is that they have no clear understanding of what people might actually want to read, watch, listen to, and — this is critical — share,” says author and marketer Ann Handley in her Entrepreneur piece.
Hire staff with editorial experience or train your existing staff to get them up-to-date, which will improve their ability to create content people are actually interested in consuming.
Whether members of your staff are former journalists, producers, illustrators, editors, or otherwise, they should understand how to identify, document, and tell a story of interest to your particular customers.
A staff with a storytelling expertise should grasp the resources and budget required for creating content, but must also know how to incorporate the bigger story into every content item.
“Here’s a paradox about content marketing: Your story is not about you; it’s what you do for others,” suggests Ann Handley.
Handley argues that the bigger message included in your content should be distinctly customer focused, not about the company itself, to make your content feel less like marketing and more memorable and human.
Each content creator on your team should be viewing the process through the lens of the bigger story to ensure everything you’re doing, experiments included, stands out for the right reasons.
Commit to a Shift
Certain risks with content are less about using a channel in brand-new way or diving into a topic for the first time and instead, more about committing significantly to a complete shift in your approach.
Marketer and founder of CoCommercial Tara Gentile, recalled this example of a company shifting its approach to content significantly, but without abandoning its roots:
“The company that comes to mind immediately for taking risks is Rainmaker Digital. Back in the day, my friend Brian Clark started a little blog called Copyblogger and it grew into one of the leading sources of information on content marketing.
But a couple of years ago, Brian noticed a shift in how people were consuming information. They launched Rainmaker FM as a podcast network, with shows like Copyblogger FM, The Showrunner, Unemployable, and The Digital Entrepreneur.
For a company that was best known at the time for being a major influencer in written content marketing, launching a podcast network was a big risk.
But Rainmaker Digital is stronger than ever and their podcasts are some of my favorites. They’ve leveraged the network as content marketing and iTunes as a distribution channel to promote their software, The Rainmaker Platform, and Studiopress.
A savvy marketer is always looking for what’s next, without bailing on what’s working. Brian knew that they could continue to run the blog and also utilize their incredible subject-level knowledge to take on a hot new trend.”
Learning from what Rainmaker Digital has done to stand out in the B2B marketing space, fully commit to a shift you’re planning to make with content. To ensure that a full commitment to a shift in tactics isn’t an over-commitment that puts your organization out of a business, make a plan.
Rainmaker Digital succeeded with adding podcasting to the mix because they had a system in place to maintain their authority with blogging and written content. They didn’t scale too quickly or haphazardly, but instead made sure their staff and systems could upkeep their existing blogging cadence while they also moved into podcasting.
By maintaining their previous content marketing efforts, they were able to commit to a shift in strategy while reducing the consequences of anything potentially going wrong with their new investment.
What risks has your brand taken with its investment in content marketing? Which companies do you look to as marketing innovators and risk takers? Let us know on Twitter @DigitalCurrent.