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Step-by-Step: Make an impact with content marketing

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Content Marketing: A Definitionibm_howto_sidebar_pulloutquote_The strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action.1


Content marketing creates customer value through personalized information and tailored insights. Those insights, presented in easy-to-access, often interactive formats, allow brands to move the customer relationship focus beyond the point of sale to that of trusted advisor along each stage of the customer decision journey.

Effective content facilitates knowledge acquisition and leads to a desired action. The content can be created, curated, or socially driven. And it can be experienced through paid, owned, and earned channels of distribution. It can take the form of anything from a whitepaper to a video or a web page, and everything in between.

But while effective content marketing feels looser and more organic than traditional marketing, leading practitioners know structure and strategy matter. Here are five ways to get the most from your content marketing program.

Step 1: Create a strong steering team

Many leading content marketing companies establish a content strategy steering group at the enterprise level, led by a chief marketing or operating officer, a senior vice president of content, a digital experience officer or equivalent. To ensure integrated campaigns, working teams feature a mix of skills, from freelance writers and creatives to line-of-business expertise. That mix helps with the visioning and planning as well as execution. In addition to setting the overall content marketing strategy and priorities, having a centralized task force can help organizations shift gears more quickly when opportunities or challenges arise that require a rapid response.

Step 2: Lay out your strategy

Content marketing should be driven by a clear content strategy—ideally three to five priorities that stem from and are aligned with the company’s business and marketing objectives. Content strategy involves a deep understanding of the audiences, or consumers of content, that you aspire to influence. It articulates their content needs, and preferred delivery mechanisms. And it provides governance on pacing, tone, and appropriate uses of content, so that the effort can be scaled. Adrienne Matt, director of content strategy in IBM’s Interactive Experience group, says, “Take time to lay out the guardrails and structure.” Matt says organizations sometimes want to skip past the strategy and governance stage, “because it seems tedious, gnarly and slow,” but she stresses that framework is essential to helping brands get the most from their content marketing investment. “Let employees know the ground rules—that Instagram will only be used for products that are already in the market, for example, or Twitter is only going to be used for live events.” With those guardrails in place, content marketing can let more storytellers into the mix — from senior business leaders down through front-line employees — in a way that personalizes and humanizes the brand and the values it represents.

Step 3: Tailor content by channel and segment

While posting the same piece of content on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook may seem like a great way to stretch the value of one’s marketing dollar, the approach often diffuses the impact. Trevor Sanford is a digital marketing consultant for IBM Switzerland and part of IBM’s Interactive Experience team. He advises marketers to tailor content insights to the specific user experience each channel offers. “When content messaging aligns with the tone, voice and style of the medium, the insights feel more authentic and original. And that is ultimately more credible.”

Step 4: Have authentic conversations

Paolo Bonsignore, director of marketing at Illycaffè, says, “In digital, you never want to give the perception that you are trying really hard to sell something.2” At its best, content marketing feels like a conversation. Knowing what to say and when to say it (and when to say nothing at all) requires tuning into those around you and taking cues. Social listening tools and audience and behavioral analytics can be powerful aids in helping organizations understand where key segments “hang out” online, how much time they spend on various channels, and how they engage with those communities. Neil Bedwell, global group director of strategy and content at Coca-Cola, says “I always liken marketing to being a guest at a dinner party. If you can be interesting, you’ll get invited to a lot of dinner parties and as a marketer you’ll get invited to a lot of social channels and conversations.3

Focus instead on creating an environment where people feel comfortable enough to share what they like about a brand. “That’s a key distinction,” says Bonsignore, “People are tuning out all but the most authentic marketing messages. That means marketers need to build an open and frank conversation to generate consumer engagement. By connecting with an audience, you create a flow of conversation that conveys the values of the brand to a broader reach of people.” In that way, organizations allow their values to do the selling.

Step 5: Test, measure, and iterate

By concentrating resources on one or two platforms initially, content marketing teams can learn the ropes then scale that knowledge to other channels. Use relevant metrics and include calls-to-action such as a ‘share’ or ‘buy now’ button to track leads. “Many people new to content marketing focus on accruing ‘likes’ and ‘follows,’” says Sanford, “when what they really should be tracking are long-tail metrics like comments, retweets and shares which build audience and let a company know if its point of view is resonating.” It’s also important to continually test and iterate campaigns to see what sticks. “Don’t be afraid to pull the plug,” says Sanford. “If something is not working, get rid of it. It can be hard to let go of a carefully crafted six-month content calendar, but if by the third or fourth month, you see the campaign bombing, stop, reassess and refine.”


1The Content Marketing Institute
2TDitching the hard sell in favor of engaging content, IBM THINK Leaders
3How effective conversation is like good dinner conversation, IBM THINK Leaders

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