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It’s not new ideas we need, it’s new thinking to make sure that we’re applying the ideas we already know will work. Here’s my take on what content marketers should be paying attention to in 2016. If your content marketing isn’t working, remember the old definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The biggest shift most marketers need to make is realizing that creating nifty, neat-o content isn’t the end of the process, and shouldn’t be the beginning. Research and preparation matter; so do promotion and evaluation. If you want good results, you have to pay attention to the process. Here are a few major pieces to that puzzle.

Understand Your Customer
This isn’t a content marketing rule, it’s a marketing rule. Actually it’s not just a marketing rule: it’s a sales rule and it’s a product development rule. It’s the “I want to stay in business” rule. So do whatever you have to in order to understand your customers and your customers’ needs. Create persona, interview clients, capture the questions your customers ask and the objections your prospects raise, monitor the content that is consumed most avidly by your followers. Know. Your. Customer. Without that knowledge nothing else matters, because nothing else will work.

Quality, Not Quantity
This has become something of a dead horse, but it’s one worth, uh, beating. The cruelty of that image aside, you’re not going to get very far flinging everything at the wall to see what sticks. In fact, that’s a surefire way to lose your audience. They simply aren’t good with sifting through the mediocre stuff in hopes of finding the occasional gem.

Note that this isn’t just a conversation about “quality,” it’s a conversation about relevance. You have to hit the target and you have to be interesting and informative while you’re doing it.

Own a Niche
This brings us to our next not-so-new idea: specialization. With the oceans of content being produced these days, getting noticed is hard, even if you’re focused on high-quality content. You can minimize your competition by focusing tightly on one area of expertise. It’s much easier to get noticed when you corner one area of the market and become known as “the [insert your niche here] guy (or gal).”

Promote Your Marketing
70% of the B2B buying process is over before a salesperson is ever involved, according to Andy Markowitz of the Lead Performance Marketing Lab at GE. People are hungry for pertinent, valuable information because they want to buy rather than be sold. So getting your information isn’t optional. It’s critical to your marketing success. That means getting the word out via traditional and digital means: press releases, pavement pounding, social media, and email marketing, to name just a few. In short, getting the word out about your content is not optional.

Measure, Measure, Measure
In talking about quality over quantity above, I mentioned that a whole lotta mediocre is a great way to lose your audience. Pshaw, you say. I’m not losing any subscribers or followers. In fact, I’m gaining them. Look more closely, my friend. Your reach numbers need some context. Without some reasonable level of engagement, your reach isn’t really reach. It’s an unread email sitting in someone’s inbox waiting for the delete key to be pressed. It’s a social media post that is scrolled past and seen only as a blur. Inertia is a real force in marketing, and some of your followers/subscribers haven’t read what you’ve written in ages. They’re simply too busy to drop you.

So, measure and interpret. The raw numbers aren’t going to tell you everything you need to know. And be sure what you’re measuring are metrics that either track business goals or at least move you toward business goals. (Quick rule of thumb: if the C-suite executive you answer to isn’t interested in a metric, that metric is only an interim step toward the metrics that matter. Not that likes and follows and subscribers aren’t worth measuring, but if you can’t relate them to some sort of positive return on investment – typically more leads, better leads, closed sales, or cost savings – well, you’d better keep your resume polished.)

Understand Your Sales Team
Understanding your sales team is nearly as important as understanding your customer. You need to understand who they are talking to and what they really need from you to communicate with their prospects.

I mentioned above that 70% of the buying process is behind a prospect before he or she will talk to sales and yet, perhaps a quarter of B2B leads are generated by marketing. That means we, as marketers, are doing something wrong. 2016 is the year we should fix it: work more closely with sales to understand not only who customers are and what they want, but what the sales team needs to make the case that your solution is the right solution. And that requires a lot more than producing a really great piece of content once a week.

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About Andrew Schulkind

Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: what does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured? A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms encourage profitable engagement with their audience. He holds a degree in Philosophy from Bucknell University in one hand and, frequently, a glass of scotch in the other.

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