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Before joining Contently last year, I ran my own consulting business for five years. During my time helping others develop their own content strategies, I worked a lot on setting goals, analyzing competitors, and developing brand voice. But there was one part that I had to learn how to master as I got more experience: the art of the internal sell.
When you’re working in a larger organization that has dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of employees, you can develop a brilliant content marketing strategy that will absolutely delight your customers. But, if you fail to make an internal case for your content, your plan will never get the buy-in or budget it needs to succeed.
A few weeks ago, Contently head of marketing Joe Lazauskas explained why it’s crucial to make the case for content marketing during uncertain times. Using that as a springboard, here are a few steps you can take to sell your content marketing plan with internal support.
To begin, ask yourself two questions: What are we doing now? Where are we falling short?
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to pitch ideas to a number of wiser, business-minded folks. I can tell you from experience, the most cringe-worthy feedback to hear is, “So, what are you solving for?” because it means you failed to expose the problem.
When building the business case for content marketing, start where your current marketing efforts fall short. For example, you may have effective mid-funnel content like case studies, but potential customers don’t find them because there isn’t enough top-funnel content that builds awareness.
While you see the challenges and opportunities of your current marketing program on a daily basis, your boss may not. The best business case starts by illuminating the problem for those who don’t realize they have one.
In a recent article on The Content Strategist, Jay Acunzo explains that in the past, marketing was all about getting attention. Now, that’s not good enough. Today, content marketing is all about holding attention—not just for 3 seconds but for the long haul.
This is where content marketing can play a huge role for your company, deepening relationships with your audience across the customer journey. But first, you have to show your internal stakeholders why they need to put in the time and investment it takes to build a badass content program.
Demonstrating that your interests align with that of the business is all about ROI. But that doesn’t mean you have to predict every single data point you expect to hit before you get started. Instead, you want to focus on a few key results that your internal stakeholders care about.
When thinking through this stage of your content marketing business case, the questions you’ll want to ask are:
Perhaps you work for a B2B tech company and content can improve sales enablement for your business. Or maybe you work for a retail company like Glossier, where content marketing leads the way for a direct-to-consumer business. In 2010, the Into the Gloss blog allowed the company to build credibility and trust with an audience of beauty lovers and consumers. The subscribers and loyal audience members from the blog acted as a built-in market for Glossier’s line of products.
There are a number of different ways to define success, including increasing readers, converting a lead, and improving customer retention.
How you measure it is a bit trickier. Odds are, your boss or department head has shared overall company goals with you (if not, you can always ask). Use that information to frame your approach to ROI. If you don’t have a strategy yet, make the case for why you need to invest in the right partners and team members to help you build one.
Whether your company is super traditional or full of open-minded pioneers, you should provide examples of existing content programs that can offer context. The key is to share both positive and negative examples of content marketing. Many people skip this step when building a business case—especially the negative part.
As far as finding good examples, take a page out of Hollywood’s playbook. When someone wants to pitch a movie, they try to drum up excitement with a concise comparison. For example, Speed, which grossed $350 million, was initially pitched as Die Hard on a bus. How could anyone say no to that?
You may not have Keanu Reeves as an influencer, but there are plenty of roundup posts that list successful content case studies. One of my favorite examples is John Deere, which started a print magazine called The Furrow 124 years ago. It is one of the oldest examples we can look to for insight into how content helps companies build relationships with their customers beyond exchange of product or transaction.
In my opinion, The Furrow is why John Deere is one of the most widely known household brands in the world, despite only a portion of that world being target customers. In 2019, the company showed it will continue to invest in the long game with content marketing by announcing The Furrow would begin using podcasts to share stories with Deere fans through a new series called “On Life & Land.”
There’s far less to say about content marketing that fails since no brand wants to publicize its shortcomings. But there are some examples out there, and they can be instructive to show how you’re going to avoid major mistakes.
I often cite SugarString, a controversial tech news site started by Verizon in 2014. The site shuttered within two months due to a lackluster content strategy that never allowed the site to establish credibility. The corporate promotion and conflicts of interest were too blatant.
When the brand fell under scrutiny for opposing net neutrality while simultaneously being complicit in handing phone records over to the NSA, launching a censored news site did not sit well with the public. The site was criticized by everyone from Gizmodo to David Carr of The New York Times.
When making the case for content marketing internally, you want to focus on all the positives: potential, success, creativity. But it’s still important to be realistic and identify possible risks that you could encounter along the way.
As with anything new, your internal stakeholders know that you are bound to come up against obstacles. Most people make the mistake of building a business case with the absence of error. However, to a C-suite executive or VP, the absence of error may signify naïveté or idealism.
In order to have confidence in you and your content marketing business case, leaders need to see that you’ve thought through all the possible outcomes. That could include slow growth, limited resources, and competition from established companies.
Questions to ask yourself when building this part of your business case:
Depending how big your team is, I suggest finding one or two people in your organization who can help you make the case. This usually works best when the team working on the plan has different roles, positions, and perspectives.
If you’re working with a content strategist, do yourself a favor and practice the pitch with them before putting it in front of your internal stakeholders. Your content strategy will be a key driver of the overall success of your content program, so it is great to have allies on board from day one.
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