Content marketing has been almost universally embraced across both B2B and B2C companies. And investments of time and effort in producing and promoting brand content will continue to increase in 2016.
Yet many executives remain skeptical of the returns from content marketing, and many marketers find it challenging to demonstrate business results.
One of the key features distinguishing marketers who are confident in the success of their contenting marketing efforts from those who are struggling is the creation and execution of a defined and documented content marketing strategy.
The foundation of any such approach starts with a thoughtful, coherent plan for content development. The ACKTT framework (for Audiences-Competitors-Keywords-Topics-Tactics) is one valuable method to help content marketers produce the right content, for the right audiences, in the right formats.
Content Marketing Success Requires a Strategy
Content marketing has become ubiquitous because it’s essential: Two-thirds of the typical B2B buyer’s decision process now happens digitally, and nine out of 10 B2B buyers say online content has a moderate to major effect on their procurement decisions.
Yet many content marketing practitioners struggle to connect their efforts to measurable business results. According to MarketingSherpa, 93 percent of brand marketers plan to maintain or increase content marketing budgets this year. Yet less than one out of three believe the purpose of the brand’s content is well understood within their organizations. Recent research has also found that:
- Brands spend on average from 25 to 43 percent of their marketing budgets on content development and distribution, yet less than a quarter of CMOs think they’re providing the right information to the right audience, at the right time.
- More than 40 percent of marketing materials aren’t used by sales teams.
- Almost 40 percent of digital marketers call content marketing one of their most effective tactics—but more than 40 percent say it’s among the most difficult.
- Fewer than a third of B2B marketers viewed their organizations as effective at content marketing in 2015, down eight percent from the previous year. However, companies that say they are clear on what success or effectiveness looks like (one key component of a documented content marketing strategy) have a higher effectiveness rate (55 percent).
Research from the Content Marketing Institute has also shown the link between strategy and success. They found that 66 percent of the most effective content marketing teams have a documented strategy, compared to just 11 percent of the least effective groups.
The ACKTT Framework for Content Planning
At the core of a broader content marketing strategy is a content development plan: What content will you be creating, when, and in which formats? The ACKTT framework is one valuable guide to help develop this plan.
Audiences: At the core of any content development strategy is understanding for whom you are writing. This requires crafting consumer or buyer personas. Each persona should include information such as role in the buying decision process, perspective on solutions, and of course the problem(s) that individual wants to solve: What keeps him or her up at night?
An effective persona should go beyond clinical, rational factors to the underlying emotions and personal motivations of the buyer. A purchase that significantly reduces costs for the buyer’s company (a business benefit) may lead to recognition or even a promotion for the buyer (personal/professional benefits) as well as a sense of accomplishment, pride, and confidence (emotional benefits).
Competitors: While no business should ever base its content strategy on what competitors are doing (be a choice, not an echo), it is essential to understand the content marketing tactics competitors are employing.
For example, if a key competitor seems to emphasize one criteria of importance to buyers (such as efficiency), you’ll have to decide whether to counter that head-on (demonstrating a solution that’s more efficient) or emphasize a different key benefit (like durability).
Throughout the funnel, you need content which shows why your overall approach (not just product or service features) provides a superior solution to your buyers’ problems. Demonstrate how the experience of working with your company will be superior to the competition.
Keywords: Your content won’t inform any decision process or compel any action if your prospective buyers can’t find it. Keyword research is vital to assure you are “speaking the language” of your buyers when developing content, using the words and phrases they are most likely to use when conducting research (rather than the internal terminology of your company).
Keyword research tools like Google’s Keyword Planner, Übersuggest, WordStream, SpyFu and SEMrush can help you identify phrases your prospective buyers search more frequently, as well as, in some cases, which terms your competitors are using and which are most challenging for organic search optimization.
Topics: Content doesn’t resonate if it isn’t relevant. To produce relevant content, it’s imperative to address the issues and trends your buyers are focused on. If your audience is healthcare providers, as an example, you’ll likely want to write about topics like the Affordable Care Act, electronic health records, and HIPAA regulation, and what changes are in store for the coming year.
If your target is IT buyers, on the other hand, you’ll likely want to address subjects like cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), shadow IT, and big data.
Setting up a news feed or creating a Twitter list to follow industry publications and influential bloggers helps keep you current on developments and trends. Subscribing to industry newsletters and using Google Alerts for key terms are also valuable.
Tactics: While the first four elements of the ACKTT framework relate to what content you’ll produce, the last one is about how you present that information.
For example, suppose you’ve compiled a number of research findings, statistics and facts about a topic important to your prospective buyers. Should you present these in an article or blog post? As an ebook or white paper? A video? A presentation? An infographic?
To optimize your investment in content development, you’ll likely present the findings initially in one format (an ebook, for example) then share all or some of those results in order formats by repurposing that content. Covering similar material in different formats helps reach buyers with different content preferences (e.g., visual learners over readers), enables you to place that content on different platforms (blog, YouTube, SlideShare, etc.), and increases the exposure of your content in search.
Now to Rise Above the Noise
With more than 90 percent of brand marketers planning to maintain or increase content marketing efforts in 2016, the deluge of information buyers are now faced with will grow even greater.
Savvy content marketers will focus less on creating more content in the coming year and more on developing better content. They will strive to produce content that’s more relevant to buyers, that focuses narrowly on the pain points of specific groups, and that connects with buyers on an emotional as well as intellectual level.
The ACKTT framework provides content strategists and marketers with a practical, effective approach to planning content that will stand apart from the ordinary, resonate with buyers, and inspire action.