Three content marketing rulesContent marketing requires a thorough analysis of what people need that goes far beyond their content needs. Three elements to consider before deploying a content marketing strategy.

Content marketing is an umbrella term covering a broad set of techniques and tactics for marketing purposes. However, it’s also a process that it is very connected – and thus should be aligned – with several marketing goals, business processes and customer touchpoints. The definition of content marketing as a technique should not make you focus too much on the content itself. The term doesn’t matter, the role of content in marketing and for customers does. And let’s not put content in a marketing silo, we have enough of those already. To succeed, and I am and will always be repeating this, content marketing, probably even more than many other marketing techniques, is all about customer-centricity (and obviously, your business goals).

Content marketing is about much more than producing content. In my view, the following three “rules” (or conditions) have to be met in order to have a valuable content marketing approach.

1. Know what your customers, prospects and other people want from you

I suppose this isn’t a shocking statement. However, before you start asking people what content they need and want, you have to start asking what they want from you to realize their goals, IN GENERAL, first.

This way, you are sure you know what content, they (and thus you) need. Asking is very easy. You can also ‘monitor’ and ‘detect’ with several technologies but asking is so much more valuable because it involves people. If you only use all kinds of tools (and, please, do use them) people don’t notice you’re actually interested in their needs, right?

Asking people what content they need is OK, but it’s not enough. People don’t always express what they want, they overlook things, and they give answers they know. If you understand their needs in general, you can certainly come up with other customer-centric and buyer-centric content marketing ideas that serve these needs and your goals.

To know if they are appreciated and work, just ask again and/or simply test. Finally, and this is often forgotten, don’t only focus on ‘rational’ needs. Most of people’s actions are emotional and content needs to appeal. It’s not only about information needs (even if these needs really serve emotional purposes as well), it is first about values-based needs.

2. Define your content marketing business goals

Again not a shocking statement. However, at the same time it’s an important reminder. If you don’t know what you want to achieve with your content, it makes no sense to produce it. If you do know what you want to achieve, you need to define metrics. An important word of advice here: since we are in a ‘content’ environment you might get seduced to focus on metrics regarding the number of visits, reads, downloads, views, shares, likes and so on. These are not business objectives. They are simple, tactical metrics that give you an indication and are needed to make an analysis of the ROI of your content marketing strategy. However, the other parts of the ROI formulas, that are financial in nature, are more important. If you don’t measure properly, you can’t sell it to the C-suite.

There are several ways of expressing your business goals. However, to achieve them, you need intermediary steps and metrics. You can, depending on the nature of your business, for instance, look at the various online conversion steps, the traditional lead nurturing funnel or customer life cycle stages (CRM, CLV), the AIDAS model, shifts in brand perception or other brand parameters and more models (enough of those).

Another reason to do this, is that it allows you to make some sort of map or grid to plot the various forms of content and channels you need in order to serve your goals and the needs of people as you have found them (not defined them) by asking. Also, don’t forget your branding goals: a brand needs to make a stand in any content marketing program.

3. Have a connected and holistic approach

There is no marketing technique that works properly if it isn’t integrated with business processes and other marketing techniques. Customer-centricity, the data-driven must and the multi-channel reality simply requires integration.

Moreover, content is not a channel but a social object. The way it is used, found, communicated, shared and deployed depends on the various channels people use, when they use them and what content, they need at what time. This highly personal and contextual nature, along with the fact that content is really everywhere, requires a connected approach.

Individual content objects fit in a larger story that is consistent and content marketing goes way beyond divisional silos and isolated channel-centric approaches. Content aims to convert from a need- and values-based perspective and thrives on cross-channel and connected marketing efforts with the customer at the center. As Jay Baer says, content marketing is not the same as using content for marketing as we did in the past.

To me, these are three fundamental issues to tackle, before even inventorizing existing content, setting up teams, defining lead nurturing processes or marketing automation flows, starting word of mouth activities, etc.

Feel free to add your thoughts.