It’s high time the strategic thinking that’s commonplace in brand strategy should start to drive content marketing too. This week we discuss why content marketing needs to grow up strategically./

Recently we’ve noticed just how ingrained a bottom-up strategy led by a desire to drive SEO signals seems to run. Overcoming this is one of the biggest challenges brands face. Many are struggling to come to terms with the fact that digital now is not just a sales channel but a place where brand strategy and traditional brand marketing metrics, awareness and engagement can take place to great effect.

Above the line and brand marketers have long known the importance of awareness and engagement. However, they’ve rarely been able to offer the depth of engagement that digital offers; its combination of owned media (websites and social media) with strong awareness campaigns (earned media) is the essence of content marketing and what’s more a consumer can stay in the same place to make a purchase, truly end to end. However many marketers and agencies in this space are only interested in the sale and being in the right place at the right time. That’s fine and works, but how do you grow beyond this?

Until very recently, the need to address search optimisation has prevented direct response digital marketers from thinking about real human customers in any real depth. What’s more there’s been a failure to focus their campaigns on really engaging with the people who will buy their products and services, i.e. who they really should be speaking to.

That said, so many people still dogmatically sticking to strategies that completely disregard customer and brand strategy creates opportunities for those marketers that realise they can begin a relationship with a potential customer much earlier in their journey. Google defined this particularly well in their Zero Moment of truth study.

If the engagement begins earlier in the cycle you are dramatically improving the chances someone will click on your link in search results when they’re ready to buy.

The content strategies DVO creates are based on meeting these consumer needs, aligned to business objectives telling deep brand stories and creating relationships. Done well it makes promotion much easier. If you’ve got something unique aimed at a specific audience, it’s easier to leverage the influencers’ and the audiences’ propensity to share and spread your message. We want consumers to circle around the content building a relationship with the brand until they are ready to move into the deeper sales funnel, and we want to make it easy for them to do so.

However I perceive a bigger problem for brands. We’re beginning to see silos break down as search teams work with social teams, with content marketing as the driver. Now, you can sit an SEO specialist next to a brand guru and get them working together, but how can you get your SEO specialist to start thinking like a brand guru?

The new problem is around strategic thinking. For me this is the next big hurdle to be addressed. As marketing departments have split into more specialised teams, certain elements have moved far away from traditional marketing practice and the customer has been lost along the way. I’d even go so far as to say that for a lot of people in digital, the customer has almost become an annoyance who gets in the way of doing something really cool or clever.

The smart brands, and certainly the ones we work with, have understood that for content marketing to really work they must keep the customer front of mind at all times. And this means everything, from planning the year’s editorial calendar, drafting a blog post or creating an awareness campaign.

In short, we should always optimise our marketing for our customers. Not the other way round.

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