Leadership

Content Marketing Pro to Associations: It’s Time to Get Strategic

By / Jun 18, 2014 Joe Pulizzi speaking at the ASAE 2014 Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference. (Photo by Sabrina Kidwai/ASAE)

Associations have embraced the business of content marketing, but there have been growing pains along the way. According to content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi, speaking at ASAE’s 2014 Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference, it’s because they aren’t being strategic enough.

Nonprofit organizations are all in on content marketing. A recent study by the Content Marketing Institute proved that. But are they going about it the right way?

If there’s a holy grail metric to content marketing, it’s creating opt-in subscribers. You’re building an opt-in audience just like if you were a publisher in a media company.

CMI founder Joe Pulizzi, author of Epic Content Marketing, would argue that they have some work to do, and his organization’s study backs him up: Only 26 percent of the nonprofits surveyed rated themselves as effective content marketers.

So what seems to be the problem?

“We’re all creating all of this content—you’re on Facebook, you’re on Twitter, you’re doing blogs, you’ve got your print magazine and print newsletters—but we don’t have any type of strategic vision for why we’re doing it,” Pulizzi said Wednesday in the closing general session at ASAE’s 2014 Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference.

When he asked how many attendees have a documented content marketing strategy at their organization, only a handful of arms went up.

“That right there is the problem,” he said. “Before you start any initiative or look at your current initiatives, you’ve got to ask yourself why you’re doing it, and develop a strategy for how you’re going to accomplish that goal.”

Pulizzi gave three tips for developing a content marketing strategy.

Ask yourself “why?” Associations do content marketing for three reasons, according to Pulizzi: to drive sales, to save on costs, and to create happier customers and attract more members (in his shorthand: sales, savings, sunshine). But the “why?” question goes beyond that. Associations have to know why they are in every content-distribution channel that they’re in, from Facebook to Twitter to their magazine.

“On a scratch piece of paper, list every channel that you’re in, and then try to answer that question,” he said. “You might not know, and that’s OK, but … you might end up saying, ‘Oh, we don’t need to be in that [channel] anymore, so let’s put our focus elsewhere.”

Create a mission statement. Content marketers are in the publishing business, said Pulizzi. But what associations haven’t done—something publishers typically do early on—is create a mission statement for their content. The statement helps identify who the target audience is and what you’re trying to help them accomplish.

Pulizzi’s advice? Be specific. “As associations, we tend to go broad with our content because we have members in all different parts of the business, but as soon as you take that broad statement to your content marketing mission statement you’re going to become irrelevant—there’s just too many choices today,” he said. “You might end up having one or three or five mission statements, depending on the channel, but that’s all right. You have to start, and you have to identify that key audience that you’re targeting.”

Know where to build audience. “If there’s a holy grail metric to content marketing, it’s creating opt-in subscribers. You’re building an opt-in audience just like if you were a publisher in a media company,” said Pulizzi. The number of people who choose to receive your content directly from you holds greater meaning than, say, Facebook likes or Twitter followers. “At the end of the day, you don’t own those lists, Facebook owns them, and we’re giving them way too much power,” he said.

“We can’t go any further with the conversation if we don’t understand these things,” Pulizzi said. “You can figure it out, but it all starts by being more strategic around content marketing.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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