Here’s the thing: We can’t deny that there is more content out there than ever before. But I don’t think the challenge this creates for marketers is any more unique than it was 3 years ago or 3 decades ago.
Some say that we are in the midst of the content shock era — but I’m convinced that after the shock wears off, we’ll adapt. Because that’s what we do to survive, as humans and as marketers.
My definition of “adapting,” revolves around observation, testing and non-stop iteration to find new ways to reach a desired audience and drive business results. And one way to do that involves something I learned from Lee Odden called “participation marketing.”
Marketing needs to be accountable for content’s ability to attract, engage, and convert consumers.
We’ve all experienced marketing tactics and strategies that were once super effective but then lost their mojo for one reason or another — think banner ads in the mid 90s, or post Y2K, when SEO in the form of keyword-stuffing and black-hat tactics was the strategy du jour for getting your website and blog to dominate in the world of search. Now, though, that kind of one dimensional marketing effort just doesn’t cut it. The market is demanding that we think out-of-the-box and create well-mapped out, comprehensive “marketing strategies” to make our marketing not only gain the attention of the search engines but more importantly, connect with our target audience through the entire consumer journey. Think marketing chess as opposed to promotional checkers.
And as TopRank Online Marketing CEO Lee Odden says, “If you can’t tell the difference between a simple tactic and a robust strategy, you need some help with your digital marketing.” It’s become very clear that there is no free lunch.
That’s why Participation Marketing is so exciting. It’s a little bit beyond the comfort zone of most marketers looking for quick hits. It’s the next iteration of Content and Influencer marketing which has been written about in almost every marketing publication in the western hemisphere, and any marketer who hasn’t been living under a rock or a management dictatorship has seen it’s effectiveness first hand.
The formula is simple:
You + Brand Partner + Influencers + Co-Created Content = Participation to Reach Newly Expanded Audience
Lee has employed this strategy successfully over the last few years and the name “participation marketing” seems to be sticking. It may be a foreign one to many marketers out there today, but it’s definitely a strategy that can yield results for both brands and influencers.
Brands get the opportunity to leverage an influencer’s knowledge and network, while the influencer gets to share their expertise with an expanded audience, using brands as their medium — a win-win situation that takes little effort to initiate and some effort to orchestrate and follow-through to make sure that everyone participates to the end.
Here are some of the specifics that you should steal from Lee’s playbook. Don’t wait to be the last one to adopt this:
1) Pick the Right Brand to Participate in Your Content Co-Creation.
Who has your next customer as their current customer? That’s a question my friend Andrew Davis asks in his book, titled Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnerships. The upshot here is that there are lots of potential brand collaborators out there that have an existing audience that would be perfect as your next customer. These are your target brand partners.
Some things to note: This seems to work best when you choose a brand partner that has an event where promotion is already built in and there is some urgency to the promotion. But don’t make the mistake of creating dated content. Evergreen content will pay the biggest dividends for all involved.
In this example, Lee and the Top Rank Marketing crew worked with Brian Clark of Copy Blogger to create and ebook and infographic with the goal of building buzz and attendance for his Authority Rainmaker conference and ultimately driving sales for the authority platform. A win-win-win for everyone. The perfect fit for Lee as many potential clients get to see his expertise displayed with a fantastic piece of content and Brian reaps many benefits here as well; exposure, execution, audience and the social proof of the influencer network. More on that later.
Engaging with your audience is one thing, working alongside them can really drive results
2) Pick a Content Theme that Is A Win For All Involved.
For content co-creation to be successful, the content needs to compelling to the creators, because otherwise, why on earth would they be inspired to do their best work? This is something that many fail to grasp. Creators need motivation to do great work, you need to find out what that is and make sure it’s taken into account when choosing a topic. Next, the content itself needs to be of high value to the target audience. Remember: You + brand + influencer co-creator + audience = success. You need to consider everyones “why.” Why would they participate? What do they have to gain? Why should they care?
You can’t just talk about what you offer — we’re in the midst of the 7th generation of marketing where experiences matter as much as what you sell. As marketing strategist Robert Rose puts it, “Successful content creates a bond with an audience separate from a brand’s products and services.”
You can’t just talk about what you offer, experiences matter as much as what you sell
Here is an example of an influencer marketing 1.0 piece that we did at my company Placester. I refer to it as 1.0 because I hadn’t included the brand that hosted the conference and that the ebook was slated to capitalize on. The piece was titled “Agent Intelligence 2015: Real Estate Marketing Secrets from The Pro’s.” The formula here is you + influencer + audience = broader reach, which is still quite a powerful strategy as you can see from the over 90k views on SlideShare.
Remember to think about the lifespan of the content. We created this in June of 2014 but titled it “Agent Intelligence 2015″ knowing that we could leverage it for search and sharing in the following 24 months.
3) Identify The Right Influencers and Help Them Shine.
Influencer marketing isn’t new — in fact, Dale Carnegie wrote about it in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” more than 75 years ago. Today’s version is none too different. There are people in the sphere of your customers world that hold great sway on their decision making process. Those “influencers” have the ability to convey trust to anyone that associates with them. Think of all of the famous authors that have their endorsements on the back of other peoples books. That’s a simplified version in action. You don’t need the influencer to be famous, though that may help in some cases. You just need them to move the needle for the customers and prospects that matter to you. Check out Barry Feldman‘s post “30 Action Items to Get Serious About Influencer Marketing” for more actionable ideas.
Influencer marketing works, the key is identify the right influencers and helping them shine
In the meantime, here’s a few tools to make the process of finding influencers a simple one.
- I like ContentMarketer.io for identifying influencers and facilitating outreach
- BuzzSumo for trends and alerts
- Traackr for influencer management
Part of helping the influencer shine is understanding the sweet spot of their expertise. Don’t ask them to participate in ways that are outside of their comfort zone. That will only lead to delays in content production time and quite frankly, will probably get you less than optimal results. Here’s an ebook that Lee did with Ann Handley at Marketing Prof’s for the B2BMarketing Forum. It’s packed with great insight and quotes from a wide variety of B2B marketing influencers.
4) Content Promotion is Critical for Success
Your co-created content efforts are barely worth the time if they’re only for creating assets on your website. There needs to be a fully fledged content promotion effort across multiple channels with your co-creators and influencers. What’s the point of producing a 5,000-word ebook for your audience if they can only find it in one format or on one platform. The goal here is to coordinate your efforts with your collaborators. Create easy to share images and as my friend and marketer Jay Acunzo says, “Atomize your content” create multiple posts, SlideShares, infographics, podcast, interviews and guest posts to get the highest and best use from your content efforts.
Not everything you create will be aimed to acquire customers, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important to spread awareness and access to that content as far as you can across the web. – Lee Odden
The email outreach feature of ContentMarketer.io is gold for both promotion and influencer outreach.
5) Co-Created Content Requires Implementing The Entire Strategy.
Your co-creators and the brand that you choose to work with can’t execute this in a silo. If one makes a sizable change to the plan, the other needs to be entirely in the know with what alterations were made and given the time to adapt to the adjustments. Without this ability, chaos can ensue: from miscommunication internally, to poor branding and messaging externally.
“The co-created content strategy requires an integrated approach,” Odden notes, “so that all these different participants and different channels deliver a cohesive message and create a valuable experience for everyone involved.”
Consumer experience in terms of information discovery and consumption is more sophisticated than ever
6) Set Goals & Measure the Results.
Being results-driven isn’t just something a brand’s executive team needs to be concerned with. Everyone participating in the co-created content is a stakeholder in its success, and with that responsibility, each team member needs to have a part to play in ensuring things go smoothly and that, when they don’t, issues are resolved, poor-performing tactics and techniques are removed or improved, new ones are put into place, and part of the process is audited, assessed, and amplified as needed.
7) Steal From Lee Odden.
To me this is the highest compliment. When a marketer is doing something worth copying, something that makes you take notice, that’s worthy of diving deeper in an interview. When I suggest that you steal, I mean steal the strategy and the tactics. Don’t violate IP, copyright, or general good manners. If you don’t know Lee Odden, he is gentleman, an experienced content marketer who’s been in the marketing game for the past dozen years. His Minneapolis-based agency, which helps clients like Dell, LinkedIn, and CMI with their content campaigns and customer acquisition, may not be the biggest in the industry, but it’s undoubtedly clear TopRank is on the forefront of leveraging content, SEO, influencer marketing, and digital PR to create marketing strategies that are multidimensional and more like a game of go than a game of checkers.
Content is the chief reason search engines began in the first place
There’s much more to take into account when initiating a participation marketing strategy, as Odden notes in his Craft of Marketing interview. Listen to the podcast for an honest account of what marketing is all about. The tips, hacks and strategies that professionals share with each other but rarely talk about in public.
- Prevent disparate, un-unified marketing assets and decisions from being created and made within your organization
- Each co-creator needs to be aligned to create a joint vision and overall experience
- If you write a book and want it to be “accepted” (in other words, bought), you need the right partnerships to help bring it to market
- Content is the chief reason search engines began in the first place, so it has to be optimized well or it won’t earn you online leads