Selling content marketing strategy to C-level: Some talking points

“Tell me: why do we need a content marketing strategy (anyway)?”

This question – very familiar to content marketers all over the world – usually comes from the people holding the purse strings, i.e. the C-suite. It’s a totally legitimate question, which deserves a thorough, no-nonsense and well-founded answer. The fact that the question is asked at all is a good sign: it signals a willingness to understand (yes, I’m optimistic) and gives content marketers a chance to build and present their case.

Building that case is crucial. I have argued before (in this blog post for instance) that content marketing can have a tremendous business impact, but only under at least three conditions: it is a strategic choice, it has the C-suite stamp of approval and it’s done consistently and well. In order for those conditions to be fulfilled, you need a solid case and a plan.

In an upcoming series of blog posts, I want to offer content marketers a number of talking points to ponder and maybe use when they prepare to answer the perennial  ‘why’ question. The phrase ‘talking points’ is important here. I don’t intend to write a step-by-step 100%-success-guaranteed guide. What I do want, is to share some insights based on my experiences, in the hopes they will prove useful for you.

But before we kick off for real, let’s discuss a number of important ‘basics’.

Know who you need to convince. Who is doing the asking? Is it the VP of Marketing? The CEO? The management committee? Depending on who you’re presenting your case to, you’ll need to highlight different parts in your presentation (or plan). There is not ‘one story’ to rule them all. Often your audience will be all of these people, but in a certain ‘pecking’ order, which gives you the opportunity to ask feedback (something you should always do) and perfect your case as you move up the chain of command.

Uncover the hidden questions. The ‘why’ question at the beginning of this blog post often implies a number of others, which are not always articulated. It is your task to root them out, and work them into your story (or at least have a spot-on answer ready when you don’t). A question that is usually unvoiced, but often there, is “What is content marketing anyway?” That’s why the feedback loops I just mentioned are important: they alert you to yawning gaps in your case you may not even be aware of, because the assumptions you have about your audience are wrong.

Don’t be the professor. Don’t take the academic approach. The quickest way to lose your audience is by starting off with a bone-dry ‘What is Content Marketing’ introduction (and God forbid, don’t copy/paste Wikipedia definitions). Weave the ‘what is’ – if you need to address it – into your story as you go along, and be bright and brief about. Try to show, instead of just tell. And when you really must use jargon, be sure to have a crystal-clear explanation at hand. Above all, don’t show off: knowing the theory is important, being able to put it into practice successfully is what you need to prove here.

Talk about marketing, not just content marketing. This one is really important. And I mean REALLY important. The last thing you want, is for content marketing to be viewed as an optional add-on to the marketing plan. If writing down a marketing strategy and plan is like knitting a scarf (and it isn’t, it’s an analogy, and not a good one at that, but bear with me for a second), content marketing is not an extra 15 inches you can decide to attach to the ‘main body of work’ (or not as it happens).

If content marketing is part of your marketing strategy, your content marketing plan  must be totally integrated into your marketing plan. It’s not an extra layer to the scarf, it is the scarf. This means that, in my view, you can’t design a content marketing plan if you can’t design a marketing plan. And maybe I’m stepping on a few toes here, but the less you use the word ‘content’, the better. More on this later!

Okay, so these are a number of basic guidelines you need to keep in mind as you build your story. I’ve noticed it does help when you are open and transparent about those right at the beginning, before you present your case (be it in a written document, a presentation or both). It clears the table, sets the tone and shows your C-level you mean business.  

The next blog post in this series will tackle the the risks of content marketing. Stay tuned!

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