What content marketers could learn from higher education – but won’t …

shutterstock_133881953I hate it when writers/bloggers describe content marketing as communicating without selling. A commercial company wouldn’t engage in content marketing unless it helped sell their products or services. Then comes the line… It’s really not about selling; it’s used to help build strong brands. Well, again… Commercial, or at least smart commercial companies wouldn’t spend time on branding if they didn’t think it would help them sell more.

The movement towards a relationship building culture within firms (market orientation, value based selling) is still measured on how they affect performance. The effect of such initiatives is just not so immediate as the old concept of “hard” selling.

Why this emphasis on selling? Because if we delude ourselves to believe it’s something else, we just get lost. But if we focus on why we do it, we might actually make it work, and it will be easier to measure the success of our effort. So yes, you’re content marketing activity should be aligned with your strategy, should help build your brand, but in the end, what you CEO will ask (and rightly so) is, how much does this activity contribute to our sales?

 Challenges in content marketing

One of the biggest challenges in content marketing, today, is to create enough content. When you build and start using a content strategy, you have to create relevant and high quality content you’re current or potential customer base regards as valuable to them. Those who best can provide this in your organization is the ones that are viewed as an expert in various fields of what you are doing. But they do not have the time.

This is one reason there has been an exploding number of different surveys presented through company blogs with various quality, and a lot of guest bloggers.

So what can academia teach businesses about content marketing?

Dedication and precision

Most researchers are committed to a certain field, as sales management, marketing (or more narrow, consumer behavior), strategy, leadership, etc. where they build their competence. And they have a very clear perception about their audience. The target audience is other researchers and dedicated journals in particular fields. This makes it much easier to understand how and what you should write.

Business relevance:

If you want to succeed in content marketing, you need your own experts (R&D people, researchers, developers, etc.) who see the value of building a strong competence within their field. And if you want them to write for you, you have to provide them with a clear understanding of the audience. When providing a precise and narrow audience (target market(s)) it gets a lot easier to find something to write about and easier providing value to this group.

Neutrality – Building trust in the person

Researchers write to get acknowledgement among their peers (and to keep their jobs…). Most have no ulterior motives. When the objectivity of research is questioned, most of the time it’s not because one believes that the researcher has a direct personal economic gain of the research, but more about if the findings in the study. And in general people view academic researchers as trustworthy and objective.

Business relevance:

And here it’s where it gets a little bit confusing when arguing for my opening of this blog post: If your writing clearly is about selling a product, you miss. A lot of blog posts from “sales experts” fail regarding this; there is just too much selling in the blog post. But the thing is, a content strategy has a mediating (indirect) effect on sales, not a direct one (if done right). Which, of course, makes it harder when you are measuring the impact of content marketing. But through you expert blog post you provide value to you target market, which then increases their trust in you (and you firm) as an expert within your field, and thereby increases the probability for a selling opportunity.

Measurement and incentives

Academic researcher is (most of the time) measured on only one thing; How much do you publish and in what kind of journals. Their job depends on this; their pay depends on it, and their acknowledgement depends on it. Academic researchers do not get acknowledgment for teaching, which often is just seen as a duty they have to fulfill.

Business relevance:

Measurements drive action. Research shows that people focus on those objectives they are measured on, even if they know that these objectives are wrong. And since incentives are most often based on what you are measured on, the relationship gets even stronger. So if you don’t create a structure for creating content, and do not attach measures and incentives to content production you won’t get any.

A final comment with reference to the heading of this post: Why won’t businesses learn from this?

Because they are not willing to pay the price in commitment building a strong content marketing strategy. And this willingness is connected to the fact that it is difficult to measure the effect of content strategy, especially when it comes to sales. And since most content marketers out there argue that content marketing is not about selling, it makes it even more difficult.

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