Storytelling in the age of content marketing

Has content marketing changed consumers?

My version of the customer decision journey

My colorful version of the customer decision journey. Click to view McKinsey’s version.

The question popped into my mind while reading this blog post on Pamorama. Pam neatly shows two models for the process a customer goes through before (and in the second case, after) they make a purchase.

There’s quite a difference between the two models. But does that difference reflect a change in consumers? If so, did content marketing cause that change?

The pre-content marketing sales funnel

The pre-content marketing sales funnel shows a straightforward process with a beginning and an end. At the end, you’ve bought something. Congratulations! Goodbye – and you never hear from the (web) shop again.

When, if ever, did this sales funnel model match reality? Under what circumstances is there no contact between ‘shopkeeper’ and consumer after the purchase – or, would one map only this part of the process? Continue reading

Blogging impressions: your blog as an online portfolio

Apart from if you’re actually a professional blogger, what’s the use of having a blog?

Why would you want to blog at all?

What is in your blogging portfolio?

Portfolio cover of color plates by Charles S. Graham. Field Museum Library

  • Because you enjoy writing (or making videos, in case you’re into video blogging).
  • Because you don’t mind (or love) the attention.
  • Because you don’t mind the kind of work involved: writing, getting or creating pictures or videos, making sure your content is properly tagged so people who don’t know you will still find you by searching for the topics that are on your blog.
  • Because you need a portfolio. You need to create content for whatever purpose.

Even if you don’t start blogging for that purpose, posting fresh content on your blog will eventually build a portfolio of your content. What would you like to do with it?

Why would you want an online portfolio, and of what?

What goes into your portfolio – that is, onto your blog – shows a couple of things about you as a blogger which may be of interest to a potential client or employer:

  1. That you can write – in a language of your choice. (In my case I might have written in Dutch, but I chose English instead).
  2. That you’re able to create content to a schedule. That may mean posting daily, but it doesn’t have to be that intense. Once a week can be enough. Keeping it up for any length of time and consistently producing good or at least acceptable (although you should aim higher) content costs time and energy. Can you keep it up and still enjoy blogging?
  3. That you’re able to build a community around your blog. You may do so on your blog, or off – I know people who have little interaction on their blog, but much more on Facebook. In my case, readers react on my blog, on Twitter, or on LinkedIn.

Your blogging portfolio as a (first?) step in your career

A potential employer or client may be interested in one aspect of your blogging efforts or all:

  • content creation as a creative process
  • regular content production
  • community management on or off your blog

And of course depending on what you blog about, they’ll get some idea of you as an expert on one or more topics – and as a person.

What kind of portfolio is your blog turning into – and could it support your chosen career?

How a content strategy will help your blogging career

Suppose you want to turn blogging – or let’s call it content creation – into a career. The first thing it means is that you need a business attitude at least where it comes to how much content you’ll create about what topic(s). What you really need is some kind of plan for your content.

A Content Strategy is important for your blogging career. So is Meditation. Relax...

What are the characteristics of a (good) content strategy anyway? I ran into a nice, possibly helpful definition on Business2Community, to which I’ve decided to add my own perspective in this post.

A content strategy for your blogging career

Having a content strategy means you

  • deliberately create content
  • which you have optimized for search. This means that you base your content on keyword phrases that drive ‘organic search traffic’ (and conversions) – this is what the article I mentioned focuses on,
  • that demonstrates an understanding of your potential customer’s knowledge acquisition at various stages in their buying cycle. Don’t worry, I’ll explain later 😉

This means you don’t write whatever you like – a different approach from what you’d do on a personal blog. Instead, you start by finding out what keyword phrases your potential customers are probably using to find the information they need.

What kind of content is your potential customer looking for?

Put yourself into your customers’ shoes for a moment. What information you need depends on several aspects:

  1. Whether you’re already familiar with a type of product or service. Do you need to know what different smartphones do, or do you own one and do you want to compare the latest smartphones with yours?
  2. Whether you’ve already decided which product or service you want, or from which company you’ll buy.
    1. You may want to compare prices to get the best deal regardless of the brand so long as the product meets your demands.
    2. Or you know what product you want. All you need to know is which site or company offers you the best deal.
    3. Or you’re fed up with the lousy service you’ve had from company X and you need to make sure you find a company that does know that “customer service” contains the word “service” for a reason.

Every different situation means you’ll be using different keywords while looking for information.

A content strategy that is optimized for search means you take your potential customers’ search behavior into account even before you start creating content for your blog (or website).

What do you know about your potential customers? Can you ask any of the customers you already have?

Delivering your content to your potential customers

Next: you deliver your “optimized” content to your potential customers in a relevant and compelling way.

What is relevant depends on what your readers and/or your potential customers are looking for, not what you feel is important for you to tell the world.

Compelling is a word I’ve seen too often since I started reading about content marketing, and relevance takes care of a lot. True, it doesn’t help if you analyze quite interesting stuff down to the level of atoms for potential customers who either want you to help them or to entertain them. On the other hand, maybe you’re doing exactly the right thing to attract the people you need for your business. Do you know?

What kinds of content can you deliver on your blog?

A couple of categories of content that could work in the context of your blog are:

  1. Case studies that show how you dealt with a particular kind of issue. This lets people know what to expect from you.
  2. The ‘how to’ posts are familiar and they can be quite popular. However a post doesn’t become popular just because the title starts with “How to…”. Again, relevance to your potential customers matters most.
  3. White papers that give in-depth information to those readers you’ve selected as possibly interested in more than the average blog post.
  4. News about events you attend or organize, so people know where/when to find you.

Final considerations for a blogging career

If you’re serious about a blogging career you also need to consider which format suits your potential customers, and where they hang out for preference.

  • Are they the reading kind or do they prefer video?
  • Do they write lengthy comments on your blog or do they drop a short line on Twitter?

If, like me, you’re writing for the fun of writing, or to help your thinking process along, these considerations are probably not for you. But if you’ve decided to try to make money blogging, you’ll need to cater for your potential customers’ preference rather than stay in your own cosy comfort zone wondering where they went.

Blogging impressions: using images on your blog

It’s been a while since I wrote a ‘Blogging Impressions’ post. Here goes.

You may have noticed I’m a writing blogger… Even so, I like to have an image with every post on my blog.

Blogging Images for your blog

Pros of images on your blog

  1. It’s good for SEO (search engine optimization). Provided you add key words in the ‘alt’ (alternative text) box.
  2. It adds interest.
  3. You may even add your personal twist through the description.

Cons

  1. It takes time to find the right picture(s), unless it’s part of your daily activities anyway, and in business topics, to come up with an original picture which you can still use in a sensible way to enhance your post. Is anyone fed up with pictures of keyboards with a key saying anything from “Sell” to “Engage” yet?
  2. Time. To upload. To fill all the ‘metadata’. To add a description that bridges the gap between text and image in a meaningful way.
  3. Did I mention ‘time’? I’m a bit short right now 😉

Ways to find the right images for your blog

So far I’ve tried several approaches for images (call it “visual content”) on my blog:

  • Making them myself using PowerPoint. The results vary enormously depending on the time I have left when I decide to make an image rather than looking for one.
  • Taking pictures. I’m still learning when it comes to producing my own visual content in any form: whether it’s a cartoon, or a photograph. I keep practising though, but on my last holiday I completely forgot the camera I got last Christmas. The photograph I’ve added is one I made using an iPhone (4, in case you wondered). I halved its size before adding it to my blog.
  • Looking for them on Flickr – either in the “Creative Commons” section or by adding “Creative commons” to my search terms.
  • Looking for them on Flickr, specifically in the photos added by fellow blogger HikingArtist.com – perfect for blogs dealing with business or nature.

How do you get the right images for whatever content you want to share on your blog?

How content management will help your content strategy

How is content management related to content strategy? And how can content management help your content strategy? The answer to the first question differs depending on your professional background.

Before going into the connection between content management and content strategy, here is how I see the two in their respective roles.

What is content management?

Content Management - Content Strategy - Content Planning

A content inventory allows you to find content gaps and planning to fill them

Content management inside an organization is pretty much an administrative role.

Although content management systems (CMS) help you structure the content your organization has, the role of content manager hasn’t gone away – people who have trouble structuring information generally find the cure, or system, worse than the disease.

Not getting your categories, keywords, tags sorted means you and your coworkers will have a hard time finding stuff back. It’s a major reason why many people keep their own little archive – to make sure the information that matters most to them, or even to their coworkers, won’t get lost.

What is content strategy?

Content strategy is a word from the realm of content marketing – just like search engine optimization (SEO). Content marketing is about how and when to bring your message to your audience.

Some basic content marketing questions are:

  • What audiences do you want to attract?
  • What does their customer journey look like?
  • What kind of information do they need at various moments?

Your content strategy is also about more fundamental issues, like defining what you will share at all and why (not). This means structuring what you have and planning what you don’t yet have.

The article “How to build online engagement with health care communities” makes clear that you should realize who you, the organization (or person) providing content to your audiences, are.

  • What types of content you can offer to what audience flows from your organization’s identity – the roles you play in the careers and lives of your various audiences.
  • Then there’s the topics you want to publish about – the services or products your organization offers. Which topics can you share with which audience?

How will content management help your content strategy?

Any decent kind of content management (using tags and the like) will help you take inventory of the content you’re already publishing. The first time you see your content inventory and your content strategy laid out side by side – what you have versus what you should have – you’ll probably find quite a few gaps in your published content. These gaps are the should haves you don’t have yet.

You may also find that your content management is fine in traditional (administrative) terms. Thinking ahead in order for your content to be found later on is part of content management. You may still need to look at your content (tags and all) and wonder: where is my customer? If you can’t find them, make sure you put them in.

Next step: use your new knowledge to fill in the content gaps

You now have a good view of your content landscape. Simply put, what you do next is: fill in the content gaps, add tags that make sense to you and to your audiences, and plan ahead to keep the flow of content going.

Why tools fail: learning curve in knowledge management

Getting to know a tool for knowledge management – or for anything which sounds as if your organization should be doing it – is like receiving a present. It’s gift-wrapped and looks very promising on the outside. But there is an issue.

Big Tools for Knowledge Management?

Using Big Bait for Knowledge Management? – Flickr | HikingArtist.com

Continue reading

Interviews as a time-saving part of your business content strategy

You may have noticed that bloggers like Mark Schaefer (@MarkWSchaefer) and Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology) interview subject matter experts on a regular basis. Interviewing experts has got some advantages to asking them to produce content for your blog:

  • You don’t ask much of their time – catch them at a congress if you want a video. Or ask them a specific question through any medium: e-mail, Twitter, or their own comments section.
  • Visiting your SMEs may give you some opportunities to get video footage. If you don’t have much time, pick up the phone and get a few short questions answered.
  • If there’s any writing to be done, you’re the one doing it. That’s an advantage if your SME is not used to writing for the audience you’re interested in.

Interviews can be a valuable part of your content strategy – if you decide to make the most of them.

Bits For Your Business Content Strategy

Bits of content for your business content strategy

SME interviews as part of your business content strategy

Remember those busy subject matter experts from my post about single versus multiple content creators? What if they’re your colleagues?

You could simply make a few phone calls or pick up your mini-cam and head over to wherever your SME is hanging out and interview them for the business blog or website. When you’re done, you tell them when you intend to publish.

Then publish and let your SME know, so that they can reply to any comments – if they want to. Or you can opt to have your SME post the video themselves in an online community. If you send them the video (or URL) via e-mail:

  1. Make sure your SME knows the procedure (see 2-5).
  2. Add instructions, starting with the publishing date. Inform your SME that if the video isn’t posted by [exact time on specified date] you will go ahead and post it yourself.
  3. Add a copy-paste text for them to use or edit.
  4. Check if it’s posted.
  5. If it’s not posted, post the video yourself and notify your SME. You can even invite them to reply. Add an example like “My personal favorite from this list is actually X.” This isn’t a must-do, but it can help.

How do interviews save you time?

The time-saving won’t work if you spend an entire day on an interview then share the results only once.

You may want to share the original interview soon after it takes place. But every interview can be ‘mined’ for later use. You can structure the content you’ve collected soon after the interview to have bits of content ready which you can integrate into new posts or save for a content emergency.

  • You quote from the interview.
  • Top tips from your SME for achieving a certain goal.
  • Mining the interview to get ideas for related topics.

Getting strategic about your interviews

On the other hand, if you do a series of interviews in which you ask one or more identical questions, you can:

  • collect the answers as you go.
  • share the answers to a specific question in yet another piece of content. Or two. (Or three.)

This means you make collecting data from multiple interviews part of your business content strategy. I’ll admit it sounds like research 😉

This approach will let you (re)share parts of your content much later in a different context following the principles of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

Your content strategy – and the subject matter experts

Of late I’ve found myself thinking that blogging is the easy side of the content story. At least content strategy-wise. In this post I’ll explore a few pros and cons of having a single versus having multiple content creators on your platform (blog, community, website).

Content Strategy And Subject Matter Experts

The lone ranger content strategy model

Check out my blog right here or consider your own blog.

  1. You’re on your own, typing away about anything you like. No meetings, calls, discussions via e-mail to get your content calendar filled.
  2. It’s up to you to come up with ideas and to decide if you need a content strategy – or if having a content strategy would suck all the creative juice out of your blog.
  3. If you don’t come up with new content, there will be no new content. Search engines will lower the frequency with which they scan your blog accordingly.
  4. You’ll need to do research to get the facts right.
  5. You need – well – discipline to go through the entire process every time. Having a content strategy helps you by planning what you do and when. But it doesn’t help you with the other aspects of content creation.

This model is great for people who love to create content. It can also turn into a time-consuming habit.

Team content strategy: the subject matter experts (SME) model

O-kay, here we go. You have multiple players in this model. Anyone can contribute. That adds up, content-wise. In theory.

  1. You’ll need to schedule at first, so that all ‘your’ SMEs get used to posting on a regular basis. And remind them it’s their turn.
  2. Without a schedule, if nothing gets posted, it’s nobody’s fault. They all thought someone else might produce or find some fresh content.
  3. SMEs don’t exist for your convenience. They have their usual tasks that need doing first.
  4. It’s easier for SMEs to share a bit of content that’s already out there than to come up with something new.
  5. How does your content strategy fare? You may have great plans, but if content creation within your team is not part of the picture, you’ll depend upon existing content created by others inside or outside your organization.

With many potential, but few actual content creators, “what to share when” quickly turns into this choice:

  • share now, because it’s fresh or
  • share later, when it fits into our content calendar.

A lot of content goes stale after a while, so it’s often shared at once.

How to ensure a constant stream of content?

I’d opt for a combination of both approaches.

  • By all means get your SMEs involved in your content strategy – only the owners of a (personal) blog can risk running a blog by themselves.
  • Make sure you have plan B prepared – in case your experts forget to show up 😉

Note: If you’re interested in content strategy and related topics, stay tuned for my next post.

Blogging impressions: this is when you stop talking about yourself

A while ago I blogged about the difference between a journal and a blog. This post centers around the question when you should or shouldn’t blog about yourself.

An offline journal is usually written by you, about you and your latest experiences, and for you – and maybe a few others. Old ship’s journals or logs are like that. “Sailed 14 hours straight today, ended up at a new undiscovered patch of ocean in the middle of nowhere, possibly near India.”

Image by Dennis Skley [Flickr]

Easter eggs image by Dennis Skley [Flickr]

In the online version, a lot of readers can read along and enjoy your jokes or sympathize with you on a bad hair day.

Blogging, like I wrote in my earlier post, means you focus on your readers. Ideally you start a conversation with your readers. So how much can you talk about you on your blog – and when should you stop? What are definite don’ts?

Private blog: when do you stop blogging about yourself?

Hey, I’m not telling you what you can’t do in a general sense. It’s your private blog or possibly journal, not mine. However:

  1. If you catch yourself ranting or whining, stop. Don’t whine or rant.
  2. If you do decide to whine or rant, tell your readers why. And then make sure they take away a couple of tips like:
    1. Boiling the Easter eggs before painting them is a good idea.
    2. Appearances can be deceptive. Just a few pitfalls I fell into which you should avoid: 1, 2, 3…. 24… (perfect list post).
    3. How I tried to make money sleeping and was swindled out of my life savings in just under a week. (Surprise: takeaway tips should tell readers how to hold on to their money.)
    4. What blogging might lead to – see my post about my experience with the side-effects of blogging.

The entertaining type of post beats whining by a streetlength. If you know an appropriate street, let me know in a comment 😉

Business blog: when do you stop blogging about your company?

Don’t blog about yourself. You might ask how you’re supposed to do that but seriously, your blog should be as little about you as possible. Focus on taking the picture, not on being in the picture.

A few further tips:

  • Don’t tell me your company and services are unique. Share thoughts and facts based on your personal experience to show the (possibly unique) value you can add, without getting up people’s noses.
  • Don’t lump your readers into a group they don’t identify with just because you see them as a market segment. Whenever you do this, you’re taking yourself as a starting point rather than your readers’ interests or your clients’ needs.

When can you talk about you?

Feel free to share your happy (business) moments:

  • Upload that picture of your kitten after it crawled into dad’s empty pajama’s – you’ll keep people going for a week. (I’m sure my parents still have that photograph in an album from the, what, 1970s?)
  • Let us know you just launched new product X and how hard you worked. Then snap out of it and tell us how that will help us. Blogging is about your readers, remember?

What do you think: so long as you mind how you do it, talking or blogging about yourself or your business isn’t such bad thing – or is it? What are your definite don’ts in blogging?

Perception, art, and the space between meanings

How much do we grow used to interpreting symbols around us? When it comes to understanding traffic rules for example, a red or a green traffic light is relatively easy to understand. Red means “stop”, green means “go”. The tricky bit is when your kid sees a green light but it’s for other road users.

Now arrows… arrows are tricky by default.

Perception: Meanings of an Arrow

Knowledge of specific conventions tell us what an arrow means.
[OCAL image]

  • It’s up to you to gain enough general knowledge about the world and our conventions to recognize the shape of an arrow, and to understand that arrows point in a direction,  that it’s the pointy bit that does the pointing, and that there’s a reason for it to point.
  • Your next hurdle is understanding that you need to look around you to see what the arrow is doing in its context – to find the reason for the arrow. Why is it here, what is it supposed to show you, is it even there for you – or for the car in the lane next to you?

Just to point my own arrow at a minor detail here: you’re an expert in a lot of ways without realizing it. You just read the stuff I wrote about arrows and conventions like traffic rules, and you’re still here. Now let’s move a step further.

The effect of learning in professionals

I’ve taken a quote from an interesting post about learning and its effect on us: “…once we have learned to see design, both good and bad, we cannot un-see.”

It’s easy to point at stuff you’d like to learn – but you can’t point at things you’re trying to forget AND succeed at forgetting them. What if you told someone “Right now I’m trying not to think about those purple bears over there, hanging out on the beach drinking pink-and-green cocktails with fake strawberries on straws in them. And they’re wearing high heels, which is no joke for a purple bear on a beach.” Check out the size of that arrow 😉

The author of the quote goes on to list examples of how designers, artists, and other professionals cope with the gap between their trained professional self, and their untrained clients. Like I stated in an earlier post: un-learning is possible, but it takes a conscious effort. It’s a lot harder to forget or ignore specific bits of knowledge that have become entrenched in the corners of your brain, than to focus on learning them. (The one example I’ve run into of people being unable to step away from what they’ve learned is not so much designers but IT professionals. We’re all guilty of being an expert at something.)

Perception, art, and the space between meanings

Some things mean everything to us, and nothing to the person standing next to us. This is particularly clear when art is concerned. A piece of art is filled with meaning by the artist. Compositions as a rule don’t drop from a handy cloud. Details don’t miraculously pop up in a painting. A work of art is constructed, and its details are where the artist put them for a reason.

The way we perceive any piece of art is defined by our personal experience. Our general knowledge of the world. Our knowledge about other works of art and any convention we have grown used to. If our personal knowledge overlaps to a great extent with that of certain artists, we’ll perceive their art much the way they intended. On the other hand, if there is little to no overlap – say you’re admiring a 16th-century Italian painting and you’re

  1. unfamiliar with classical mythology, and
  2. not a religious person,

it’s going to take some explaining to get even a rough sense of what you’re looking at and what story the artist wanted to tell in that painting. That artist was creating a work of art with a specific audience in mind. I guess it’s safe to assume you’re not the audience he (probably not she) was thinking of at the time.

Read more:

Do you watch (your) kids learn about the meaning or meanings of the things around them? What do you make of perception, art, and the meanings of familiar symbols?