Time to pick a better name for content marketing

Why I (Still) Hate the Term “Content Marketing”

A few years back, I made a minor ripple on the internet—okay, make that a very minor ripple—when I dashed off a plaintive lament about the use of the word “content” in content marketing. As I noted at the time, the industry couldn’t have picked a more lifeless word to describe using interesting, informative, persuasive information to educate prospects and turn them into buyers.

Three years later, I feel exactly the same as I did in my original rant, reprinted below:

If there is one profession that should understand above all others that messaging matters, it’s the field of marketing. So why on earth have we all collectively agreed to label our messaging as “content” – which brings to mind nothing more than inert filler, largely there just to take up space?

If you don’t think buying into this phrase won’t have an actual effect on your messaging, just look at some of the advice out there from the “content marketing” experts.

Over and over I see the suggestion that marketers repurpose older web copy and blog posts to use for other “content marketing” pieces like brochures and white papers. Never does this recommendation remind marketers to heed the target audience’s current stage in the buying process, the audience’s level of technical understanding, or for that matter, any other qualifiers.

No, this is standalone advice, often among the first offered, which is giving marketers the impression that as long as they put something out there for prospects to read on a regular basis, the qualified leads will follow.

That’s a perception that just cheapens the value of your marketing message. And if you don’t value your own message, do you honestly think prospects will?

Incidentally, it also makes the deadly mistake of over-estimating the ease of capturing your prospects’ interest.

Here’s another irony: one of the key jobs of a marketing communications professional is to bring clarity to a subject, yet confusion reigns in the field as to what “content” marketing actually means. Really, ask a number of marketers to define the phrase. I assure you, you’re going to get a number of different answers.

The term is just a vague and vapid generality; nothing more. And as a writer, that especially makes me shudder.

My complaint was hardly an original one; as Ryan Skinner from Forrester noted at the time, I wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last to have a gripe with a term. Still, it caught some attention, and even some hearty applause from people like Jeff Molander, who emphatically agreed the term doesn’t do us marketers any favors.

So imagine my dismay when four years later, we’re still using it! Well, like I said, my ripple was just that, a ripple.

But I still hold that “content” marketing is a completely inadequate term. It implies quantity over quality, which is a serious misrepresentation of how this form of marketing works. Yes, the typical B2b prospect intensively researches before buying, and yes, having a widely-distributed library of information to satisfy that research is important.

But it’s not going to get widely read if it’s not actually readable. Quality matters. I don’t just say that as a writer, but as a buyer. I do plenty of research online before I make certain purchases, too….we all do now, for small and big ticket items alike. I’m not too likely to buy from a company that puts out badly explained “content.”

What does content marketing even mean?

It’s also worth noting that confusion still reigns on the right definition of “content” marketing. My colleague Tim Boivin does a nice job explaining it and clearing up some common misconceptions.

However, for a relatively mainstream method, it’s amazing to me that there is still a level of confusion surrounding it all these years later. I lay a good part of the blame on the meaningless name. Think about it. Is there the same widespread confusion about what public relations is? Or branding? Or even social media marketing? No—because their names are insightfully specific.

It’s a shame because content marketing really is an effective means for nurturing interest and trust in a company’s offerings – and generating good leads. It’s also one of our specialties here at Amendola. I love the strategy; it gives me a chance to write meaningful information that helps guide people to making an informed buying decision. But I think that it deserves a better name.

Some proposed replacements for the term “content marketing”

So what should we call this method of marketing instead? After making such a fuss about changing the name, I admit I understand why the word “content” was settled on—it’s a catch-all expression for the articles, infographics, guides, videos and more that are used to catch a prospect’s interest and hold this interest throughout the buying cycle.

“Demand generation” and “inbound marketing” are sometimes used interchangeably for content marketing. But they shouldn’t be – they’re not the same thing. With that, here are some substitute terms I like—but am not in love with:

  • Brand journalism
  • Editorial marketing
  • Company journalism
  • Informational marketing
  • Guided buying/Guide marketing
  • Knowledge marketing

If you have a great idea for a replacement, let me know…I will personally make it my mission to make it stick!

Tips for Social Media Success

For many, social media is a mysterious beast. In part because it’s such a new means of communication, but also because the primary social media platforms we all use and love – Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter – can feel like a sea of noise in which developing best practices to engage human users (as opposed to the spam bots) inherently brings with it some challenges. That said, social media marketing in today’s world is a must if you want to engage potential clients, spread the word about what your company is doing, and support your brand with a robust online presence.

Social media marketing best practices, based on measuring trends from those who have seen success, are only now developing. If you think about it, social media is the only communication medium that everyone reading this blog can remember a world without – yet, now it’s nearly impossible to imagine what news, public relations, branding and marketing would look like without it.

Your business needs a social media presence to stay competitive. But, you want to make sure to do it right, lest you risk becoming one of those accounts people ignore – or worse, block completely. Below are five tips for success on any social media platform, as well as information on all-too-common habits to avoid.

Don’t use social media as a soapbox

I have worked in public relations, marketing and branding for a number of years, and this is the most common mistake organizations make. It’s OK to promote yourself on social media, even directly. But, only about 1/3 of the content you post should ever be obviously self-promotional in nature.

The bulk of what is posted on your social media profiles should be third-party content that covers the gamut of what your organization is all about – the services you offer and the issues you’re intimately involved in – in an effort to solidify a “soft” association without being overtly promotional.

It’s awesome to be proud of your company’s solutions and brand image. But, brazen promotion on social media should be kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, no one who isn’t already supporting the work your organization does is interested solely in your brand. The subtle promotion that comes from linking to a good article, or commenting more generally on a specific topic, is what will lure people to follow your profile on social media and share the content they find, which in turn fuels further interest in your organization.

Remember, the goal of social media is largely to get others to promote your organization, and accomplishing that means posting content that is likely to be read and shared. A tweet that acts as an ad is not likely to have that effect, but a link to a great article from a reputable source is going to see some engagement, especially if you add a meaningful comment to the mix.

Know your brand, maintain your voice

The companies in any industry – including healthcare technology – have a wide variety of “voices” they express through their branding. Maybe your organization has a fun, casual image; or perhaps it is the serious type who wants to focus on education. There are no wrong answers. Unless, of course, there’s an issue with consistency.

It’s OK to join in on trending conversations and talk about current events, but you want to be mindful of the tone present in a social media post to ensure each post is supplementing the brand image you want the public to associate with your organization. If your organization has a professional business image and uses social media to highlight social issues, tweeting “Tom Brady is the GOAT! #SuperBowl” is definitely not a good idea, for a variety of reasons.

Sending out a post about the Super Bowl to join a larger conversation is acceptable for any organization, as it’s always good to remind people there are very real people behind corporate walls. However, this should be done in a way that is in harmony with everything else your organization posts on social media, and joining in on trending topics should be done without being controversial and inflammatory. Most importantly, avoid slang and “Internet speak” whenever possible, as this will be seen as disingenuous by those who follow your profile, especially if most of the content you post is of a serious nature.

Don’t #abuse #the #hashtag

If you can naturally fit a #hashtag into a sentence, do it. But never rewrite a good post just to shove some extra hashtags in there. Not only does this fail to fool the automated algorithms that rank posts for display when a certain hashtag is clicked, but you risk looking like spam.

If you’ve been on Twitter recently, you know it’s overrun with spam bots and fake accounts that exist only to gain impressions. Don’t find your organization wrongly associated with that plague by overdoing the hashtags or adding off-topic hashtags to your posts. It won’t work.

Stick with one or two hashtags per post, and if you can’t put them into a sentence without forcing the issue, simply add them to the end, and separate hashtags from your primary message with a “|” whenever possible. For example, “#Ransomware is getting cleverer, not to mention more frightening. This one turns PCs into evil clowns! (Link) | #Cybersecurity”. The hashtag at the end is relevant to post and fine to include, and we avoid a “cluttered” look by separating it with a vertical line.

As for developing custom hashtags for self-promotion: These are crucial to better understanding what people are saying about your organization on social media and driving your own trends. However, the same rules above still apply – don’t overdo it, and make sure hashtags are relevant and fit cleanly into every post.

Avoid private and direct messages

The real title of this tip should probably read “be a social media user yourself,” because if you use social media, you know that direct messages are almost always spam. And regardless of how a private message is worded to a follower, it will be seen as an annoyance.

The act of opening a message box takes away from the natural flow of social media, where someone scrolls on their phone to read a variety of messages. It’s frustrating to have to have to open a box just to make an alert notification go way, especially since 90 percent of the time doing so is going to result in being subjected to spam.

This is not to be confused with an “@” message or a tagging another profile. These practices are fine. Sending someone a message of “thanks” for a follow, or including a media outlet’s Twitter handle when sharing a link to their content, is a great idea. In fact, it’s often the best way to garner more engagement. But, stay away from private messages completely. Since these can’t be shared with others on social media and are such a nuisance, there are few good arguments for sending them.

Engagement is key

Direct and private messages may be a bad idea, but engaging your followers is crucial to success. You want your organization’s profile to feel as if an actual person is behind the keyboard making the posts, and doing that can be as simple as “liking” a reply from a follower, or acknowledging when someone tags your profile by offering a quick “@(Name) Thank you.”
Honestly, little touches like this go a long way in keeping followers and encouraging people to visit your profile, click links, and engage your posts. It fuels a personal connection between followers and your social media profile, one that contains the human touch necessary to make that connection meaningful.

Your engagement level needs to match or exceed that of your profile’s followers. As mentioned previously, social media is loaded with fake accounts and spam bots (Twitter in particular).
Social media users are numb to superficial engagement, such as a tweet directed at them that contains an ad. Avoid that practice.

When you engage followers, keep promotion out of it. And most important of all, if people are directing questions, comments, and concerns towards your profile – answer them. Social media connects the world in a way that is slowly replacing phone support and written feedback.

People like when your organization responds to them, engages them, and interacts with them on a person-to-person basis. Never doubt the power of a reply or a quick acknowledgment of a message, as they could be the key to separating your organization from all of the noise on social media and building a strong presence on any platform.

Musically infused tips to create great teams

Musically Infused Management. (Headphones On, Please.)

Want a Rockin’ Team?  

Many think that putting together a great team means being clear about roles, setting expectations and providing appropriate incentives. While all that MBA mumbo jumbo is true, it’s not how you Great teams run like a Lotusget teams to purr like a Lotus and move like Greased Lightning.

No, the real secret lies in the people. In the soft skills. Everything you didn’t learn in school. Never fear, your song-fueled cliff notes is here.

  1. Recognize that each team member is different – different strengths, weaknesses and motivations. Sure, you could make them play the game – and perform exactly as you would in any given situation or project. If you want to see high turnover. Or just breathe and do the following…
  1. Have each team member take a talent assessment test like Myers Briggs or StrengthsFinder, and then share the results within the next group meeting. Emphasize how each talent category has its preferred style of interaction with the external and internal world. Act out scenarios. Make it real.
  1. Don’t just rely on the test results. Listen to what each person says – and how they react on a daily basis. What is their personality style? Their work style? Are they an email, phone or text person? Is it best to reach out to them in the morning or in the afternoon?
    Note: Never underestimate the statement “I’m not a morning person.” Let them have their coffee IV and then pose your question or request. In building teams you have to accept people for who they are.
  1. Examine how each team member is motivated. Do they prefer a thank you delivered one-on-one? Or do they glow when appreciation is expressed more publicly, such as during a team or company-wide meeting? Maybe a “Well-done!” email to the appropriate email distribution list supplies the balance of recognition without the in-person spotlight.Some team members may respond best to small tokens of gratitude such as a handwritten card, a lunch with the boss or even a comp day when their performance goes above and beyond all expectations. Get to know your people – and the above should come naturally.
  1. In summary, R-e-s-p-e-c-t each team member’s distinct gifts. Encourage them to come as you are – and even stir it up when needed – and they’ll perform their best for you.

So let your team members know: “I want you to express yourself and if you want to sing out, sing out.”

And that’s how you build a rockin’ band…I mean team.

HIMSS is like Christmas at Amendola

HIMSS Is Over….Now What?

At our agency we think of HIMSS as our “Christmas.” We face similar time pressures and high expectations as those in retail leading up to the holiday, but as one team member says, “HIMSS is the ‘Happiest Time of Year.”

Like the annual family gatherings, we see clients, media, analysts and industry leaders all in one place. We network with old and new colleagues, learn about new offerings and trends and much more. However, it’s not all Christmas carols and eggnog. There’s quite a bit of hard work that occurs months before HIMSS: arranging meetings, creating themes, developing strategies and plans, and then poof – it’s over. Just like Christmas, the rush of opening presents is over in a blink and before you know it, it’s time to take the tree down and do your gift returns.

It’s true, HIMSS is now over, but there is still fun to be had! As you leverage the opportunities you uncovered and follow-up on all of the activities leading up to and at the show, you’ll experience the “gifts” of secured bylined articles, analyst coverage and strengthened relationships.

And even if you still have a HIMSS hangover — and that extra Tylenol and sleep hasn’t yet kicked in – we’ve made it easy for you with the best practices listed below. Follow each step and you’ll magic those leads into tangible results!

  • Do your follow-ups from media interviews, networking events, speakers you enjoyed, potential partners, existing partners with whom you met, etc. In fact, often the best conversations come from those random instances where you bumped into someone on the exhibit hall floor or in the elevator. Never underestimate the impact of unexpected conversations and meetings at HIMSS – those are my favorites. After 20+ years of attending the conference, I love the reunion aspect of it. It’s the perfect way to re-connect with industry colleagues, clients and members of the media. Be sure to follow-up with a note on LinkedIn or an email – you never know what will happen!
  • Great information doesn’t mean actionable information. Translate what you’ve heard/learned into goals and actionable next steps. But don’t get distracted by the shiny new objects that you learned about at HIMSS. Instead, focus on what applies to your organization, your product line and the larger business/industry problems that your company’s solutions address. Don’t try to be all things to all people – it just doesn’t work. Be clear about who you are, your value proposition and unique differentiators, and most importantly, how you solve your client’s real-world problems.
  • Biggest challenge: Prioritization of all those great ideas! HIMSS is over – now don’t waste the investment. Develop a calendar of follow-up marketing initiatives to continue driving interest and momentum, along with an execution strategy. Below are some of my personal secrets to success:
    • Did you launch a new product at HIMSS? Do you have a client user or a pilot running? Did you conduct a Focus Group or survey at the show? Now is a good time to share the results. Leverage post-HIMSS press releases to continue the excitement. Be strategic and space the news out appropriately. Generally, I recommend a cadence of every other week, if news permits.
    • Continue your social media outreach using #HIMSS17 – and even add #HIMSS18 as you look toward the coming year’s trends!
    • Wondering what to do with all the contact information you collected from prospects, potential partners and investors who stopped by your booth? Implement a timely email campaign to continue the conversations and reach them at various stages of the buying funnel. I suggest disseminating a series of targeted e-blasts with a strong call-to-action such as downloading a gated white paper, infographic, ROI calculator or other value-added content.
    • Did you capture client testimonial videos at the show? Embed them into your corporate presentations, highlight them on your website and promote them via social media.
    • Did you or your clients present at HIMSS? Take that content and turn it into one or more thought leader articles, blog posts, ebooks, webinars (which can then be uploaded to SlideShare), podcasts and possibly the inspiration for a thought leadership video series. Content can usually be sliced and diced in multiple ways; leverage what you have rather than creating new materials.
  • Biggest misstep: Not tying your new/updated goals, strategies, and tactics derived from HIMSS’ insights to your organizational KPIs. Remember, if your results don’t track to the CEO’s expectations, they don’t count!

P.S. Don’t forget to tune in for my next post on healthcare IT analysts’ and key influencers’ top takeaways from HIMSS. They’ll set you on the right path for the rest of 2017! Finally, I hope you all had a Merry HIMSS – I know our A-Team did!