A lot of thought has gone into your marketing and marketing communications plans, but now – only a few months into the new year – you begin to wonder… Are you really equipped for the challenges ahead?

Recent activity on the U.S. and international stock markets, extreme weather patterns, the upcoming elections – all are causing caution and pessimism regarding future purchases.

Moreover, today’s marketplace is radically different from the one we’ve been used to. Today’s buyers have become proactive, searching for information before they buy. This buyer-driven environment has given rise to an overwhelming number of new (and often confusing) media strategies.

One of them, content marketing, has taken center stage among B2C, B2B and nonprofit marketers. But, despite its current popularity, questions remain – What content formats should be used? What should the message be? And, for that matter, does content marketing actually work?

Content Marketing Goals, Usage and Challenges

The most recent study by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs indicates that marketers’ primary goals for using content marketing are to improve:

  • Lead generation
  • Sales
  • Brand awareness
  • Lead nurturing
  • Customer engagement and loyalty
  • Marketers see content marketing as being useful for a variety of purposes, which might indicate a lack of focus.

Confirming this, the study showed that many different formats were employed for content marketing efforts, with different types of marketers using different formats.

For example, among both B2C and B2B marketers the following content marketing formats were employed by nearly all (eighty to ninety percent):

  • Social media, other than blogs.
  • Photos/illustrations.
  • Enewsletters.
  • Videos.
  • Articles on website.
  • In-person events, blogs and Infographics were also used by both groups, although to a lesser extent (sixty to eighty percent).

Both groups were also likely to use webinars/webcasts and online presentations, but in this case they were more popular among B2B marketers. And, case studies and white papers were far more likely to be used by B2B marketers than by B2C marketers.

Not surprisingly, given the broadness of the goals for content marketing and the variety of formats employed to achieve these goals, marketers feel they are ill equipped to operate in this new environment. Their most pressing challenges are ‘producing engaging content’, ‘measuring content effectiveness’, ‘producing content consistently’, and ‘measuring the ROI of content marketing plans’. About one-third also mention ‘lack of budget’ and ‘producing a variety of content’.

Beyond the challenges of content marketing itself, we can’t escape the fact that the second half of this year will be filled with an unprecedented amount of political advertising and, if the past is any predictor, it will most probably be negative and raising even more the issue of ‘trust’. What can you, as a marketer, do to offset this increased pessimism and doubt being felt by your customers and prospects?

You must have content, new or traditional, that builds trust in something… like your brand. Give them reasons to believe in you and communicate these reasons be it through ‘old’ or ‘new’ media, in a sincere manner.

So, how can you do that?

How to Improve Marketing Communications ROI

The art and science of effectively communicating with customers and prospects is nothing new, but it has never been more important. And while the volume and diversity of content marketing is exploding, it is, after all, just ‘another’ marketing tactic. So perhaps this is the time to take a step back and recognize that traditional media still dominates marketing communications spending and the basic principles of how to market still apply.

So, while the need to clarify messaging, as well as to create meaningful and on-going content poses a significant challenge, relying on the tried and true marketing tactics can help you through this maze and, hopefully, even improve your ROI.

Real knowledge of your target audience through market research always trumps opinion. Most small and midsized companies believe they fully understand the wants and needs of their customers and hope they understand their prospects. This just doesn’t work anymore.

Consider employing market research to determine if your audience knows your brand, how they compare it to the competition, and what’s the most important thing they want to know about you. Doesn’t this approach make a lot of sense, especially on a limited budget?

A marketing communications audit can provide meaningful direction. If you haven’t recently (or ever) conducted a marketing communications audit, now is the ideal time to consider one. It will provide you with an actionable and coordinated analysis of your current messaging, message delivery, media mix and spending allocation. And, like a financial audit, it’s a significant tool for improving your profitability.

Be media neutral when evaluating content delivery. Don’t get caught up with all of the excitement surrounding the latest content format. If you’re gotten a handle on points #1 and #2 above, you should be in a pretty good position to evaluate Facebook versus Instagram or LinkedIn; videos versus in-person events; articles (like this one) versus case studies or white papers; etc. The dramatic growth of digital tactics has created many unique opportunities but it’s also created a lot of clutter.

Real value from marketing communications consultants is available. Having the professional skill set (must less the time) to evaluate and develop the various aspects of a content marketing program, or marketing communications in general, may not be your organization’s strong suit. If not, you should seriously consider tapping into established, experienced and media neutral consultants.

Look for consultants with broad industry and brand experience, who also focus on analytics to measure ROI, and are willing to promote candor throughout your organization. Don’t limit your search to just your industry as someone with experience across many brands – B2C, B2B or nonprofit – will often have the insight to see what you’re missing.

Content marketing may not be the silver bullet in the short term, but it can go a long way toward improving your marketing communications ROI. Embrace the opportunity, and be honest with your communications. But, with the uncertainties ahead and limited resources, remember what Mark Twain said: «The secret of getting ahead is getting started.»

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