Category: Content Strategy

Infographic: Content Marketing Maturity Report

Content marketers love benchmarks. Late President Theodore Roosevelt warned that “comparison is the thief of joy,” but he was an indomitable larger-than-life persona who resided in a class by himself. The rest of us aren’t always sure we’re doing a good job, especially in a discipline that has only recently become more measurable. Comparison as way of establishing an accurate baseline for our content marketing efforts is the only way to understand what’s working, where we can improve, and how to justify a bigger budget next year.

To that end, we invited marketers to take our interactive content marketing maturity assessment, produced with the Aberdeen Group, and see how they stacked up against their peers. We asked 111 marketers to report on their practices around content strategy and purpose, content planning, content creation, promotion, and measurement. Each answer was correlated to one of five maturity levels:

  • Beginning — Organizations that are still new to content marketing, and have not yet made it a priority. This is reflected in overall content output and quality, as well as time given to planning and limited resource allocation.
  • Emerging — This group has figured out that content marketing deserves a dedicated staff and might even have some budget for content creation, but is still competing with other marketing priorities for resources.
  • Variable — This group feels confident about the increasing sophistication of their content marketing program, but still have some challenges around budgeting, demonstrating ROI, or knowing how to reach the next level.
  • Formalized — Efficient, strategic, and proactive content marketers who have made content the cornerstone of marketing and demand generation. They’re very effective, but still struggle to accurately measure the business value of their content.
  • Optimal — Best-in-class content gurus who might have a few lessons to teach everyone else. They have a robust content marketing operation driven by a larger marketing strategy and business goals, and understand how to connect content to revenue.

Based on their answers, we also gave each respondent an overall maturity rating along with recommendations for reaching the next level. Although none of the respondents got an Optimal overall score, and just under 20% fit into the Beginning category, with the vast majority falling somewhere in the middle—pretty close to a typical Bell curve distribution.

While 40-45% of respondents consistently placed into the Emerging and Variable categories across all questions, they answered most confidently to questions regarding content planning (26.13% rated as optimal), while creation questions yielded the lowest number of best-in-class answers (7.21%). More than half of marketers fell into the Beginning and Emerging categories in regards to content promotion, suggesting that signal boosting and content promotion still challenge many content creators. Over 70% of the participants rated in the top three maturity levels when it came to understanding the role content marketing should play in their overall strategy, and a little more than half rated equally well in terms of measuring marketing effectiveness and ROI.

Surprisingly, the most evenly split answers were given to a question about which sources the respondent used for generating content, ranging from a single internal resource for the Beginning group to a robust mix of internally and externally created content, as well as curated, user-generated, and influencer-created content for the Optimal group. This tells us not only that there is a true spectrum of content generation approaches, but that there isn’t a clear dominant paradigm that has been adopted by a majority—leaving plenty of room for evolution.

Less surprisingly, we learned that even sophisticated, effective marketers who have mastered most aspects of content marketing are most likely to get stuck at finding meaningful metrics for their work. Demonstrating clear business impact continues to present a challenge, which is a finding we have seen documented in other reports on the content marketing industry.

If you’re investing in content marketing I’m sure you’ve heard or read about the importance of sales and marketing alignment. I want to talk about how that looks from the sales side.

All too often marketing and sales alignment is looked at as a one-way street with marketing pushing sales to use more of their content. I’ve experienced the impact of content on salesfirsthand, so I completely agree as salespeople we need to leverage content. But real alignment means much more than that.

Sales can use content in three major ways:

  1. We can offer prospects good information and thought leadership, and use the content as an icebreaker to start a conversation
  2. We can help align content to prospect needs to empower them in the buying process
  3. And if someone isn’t ready to buy, add them to a nurturing campaign

Sales teams need to take time to seriously understand the content your marketing team is creating. This will help you understand your prospect and build a relationship with value. If done correctly your relationship can be built on trust and establishing yourself as a resource.

The other aspect of alignment lies in the hands of sales. Your sales team can be the “eyes and ears” for marketing. With a direct line to prospects, sales can help uncover need and express what content is missing or may be needed. They can also provide feedback as to what’s working so you can better strategize and focus on content that your readers want.

Knowing how to leverage content marketing can help make a good salesperson great. But to truly have sales and marketing alignment you need to listen and learn from your sales team to better understand need and close the loop with marketing to produce better content in the future.

Creating an Editorial Calendar for Content Marketing

The most effective content marketers learned long ago that an ad hoc approach to content creation doesn’t cut it anymore. Those who have learned to “think like a publisher” have found that a documented content strategy and regularly discussing content plans are essential to getting valuable results.

Regularly published, high quality, on-brand content that boosts SEO and credibility and grows your audience and customer pipeline takes a lot of planning and a lot of effort. An editorial calendar is essential for content marketing teams focused on maximizing content ROI.

Do You Actually Need an Editorial Calendar?

If you create content for your business, the short answer is yes.

As long as your content is expected to drive measurable results, whether it’s web traffic or revenue, an organized framework is the best way to ensure your time and money are wisely spent. An editorial calendar helps you and your team manage the ongoing flow of content planning and creation and enables transparency around your content marketing efforts.

Operations remain highly tactical even in mature content marketing organizations, with urgent projects materializing and demanding immediate attention. Having a clear view of your calendar allows you to make changes and sacrifices where necessary, and prioritize the most critical items over those that can be deferred.

What Makes a Good Editorial Calendar?

A good content calendar is like a good budget—they key is to be honest with yourself and plan for your actual behavior (or in this case, publishing capacity) than an ideal situation and superior future you. Also like a good budget, an editorial calendar asks you to consider all available resources and each piece of content as part of a bigger picture, and one beat in an ongoing publishing cadence you’ve committed to.

Whether you use complex software or sticky notes on a wall, your editorial calendar should allow you to do most of the following:

  • Organize content according to themes and topics that represent your expertise
  • Address personas and buying stages connected to your business goals
  • Make deadlines, assignments, and responsibilities crystal clear
  • Flag upcoming and missed deadlines
  • Show the relationships among various pieces of content, and between content and campaigns
  • Retain flexibility—changing and rearranging items should be easy
  • Filter and sort content according to whatever factors you consider most important: author, channel, topic, formant, etc.
  • Provide visibility for other stakeholders within your organization
  • Make you look good—because look at all the stuff you’re getting done!

What Kind of Editorial Calendar Is Best for Your Team?

There are almost as many ways to manage your content calendar as there are content marketers. I’ve seen various tools employed: dedicated Moleskine notebooks, legal notepads, spreadsheets in Excel, Google Sheets where sharing is critical, simple apps like Trello and robust project management tools like Basecamp. There also numerous stand-alone editorial calendar apps and plugins that work with a specific content management system or publishing engine. Lastly, there those that are built into content marketing platformsdesigned to serve as a hub for creating content as well as managing the editorial process around it.

The larger and more sophisticated your content marketing team, the greater the likelihood that you’ll need something more robust than a notebook or spreadsheet.

With a team of one or two contributors, analog methods can work, and something like Trello that offers both a card-based board and a calendar view is probably sufficient.

Once you have three or more content creators in the mix, or if you regularly source content from outside your organization, the complexity of your editorial process increases exponentially. The calendar method or software you use needs to be smart enough to reduce friction in the editorial process. Remember, and repeat after me: email is not an editorial process.

Just like developing your first content strategy, crafting a content calendar and finding the right tools to manage your editorial flow takes some up-front effort. The result is a smoother process that yields the kind of output and outcomes you can brag about to all your content marketing peers.

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