The Wow, How and Now Foundation of Content Marketing

Great Content Marketing requires three things to succeed. Wow, How and Now.

  1. People have to know about it. They need to "look up" and notice your content. They need to click on the email or pick up your brochure at the tradeshow. They need to walk into your tent because you "Wow" them.
  2. Once engaged, your content needs to provide value. People need to stay in your tent, finish reading your email or watch your video. This is the "How" part.
  3. Finally, Marketing is about getting your audience to do something. This is the "Now" part, often called the "Call-to-Action". This can be a share, a signup, a purchase or a review. As long as it's something.

Unfortunately, Content Marketing efforts still often get only 1 or 2 of the above right. And that means Content Marketing often does not reach its potential. 

Don't fall into any of the following traps:

  1. Creating great quality content that nobody knows about (the great book by the unknown author that never makes it out of the back of the bookstore).
  2. Getting noticed by your audience, and then have everyone bounce off your content at first contact if it's not engaging.
  3. You got people to notice your content, and they really like it, but you've failed to suggest the next thing for them to do.
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Wow – Do you stand out?

Marketing Leaders need to strike the right balance between the art and science of marketing. While most have the science part down (through data analysis, dashboards, metrics and funnel optimization), most struggle with making a stellar first impression.

A modern marketer needs to think like a Publisher. It’s no longer just about producing a beautiful advertising campaign by hiring a creative agency; the art of marketing is about grabbing the attention of a potential buyer. For that, CMOs have to be comfortable exploring the fringes of what their customer personas predict.

Just like a magazine publisher, your content has to stand out. It’s not just a sea of sameness out there, but a sea of hundreds who are all trying to get noticed. If we take a closer look at the defining traits of publishers and learn the Wow, How, and Now of content marketing, we can intrigue and entice our target audience.

The “Wow” of Content Marketing is about getting people’s attention.

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You can shout all you want. Unless you can get the audience you care about to notice your message, it’s nothing but noise.  This is where thought leadership and creativity come in. It’s hard work. You have to figure out how to surprise your audience with interesting and new insights, or an existing topic. Otherwise, you will stay hidden in the background between digital and real-life distractions. Your audience won’t notice you. You’ll never have the opportunity to engage them in the “How” and “Now.” You need a purple cow.

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Publishers have this dialed in. If you pick up a magazine or newspaper and look at the way the front page is laid out or how the articles are placed, you begin to see them working the “Wow” effect.  The publisher sometimes tries to “challenge” the customer’s persona in the “Wow” phase.  The content isn’t always going to be predictable or clearly aligned with your audience expectations – save that for the How and Now phases, when you need your prospects to stay engaged. If you focus too much on the literal insights of your audience persona in the Wow stage, you run the risk of missing an opportunity to surprise them.

Think of the use of audience personas in the Wow stage as a way to balance the challenges, causes and opportunities that interest your specific audience, while stretching the content to the fringes of your customer research. Make it interesting and different enough so people will look up and take notice.

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The recipe for “Wow” will be different for various audiences and communication channels. Headlines are important for magazines and emails, while for graphic advertising color combinations in contrast to the environment and the emotional triggers of the imagery are key.

How: Keep them interested

Your customer’s time and attention span are finite, and you have to figure out how to use that time in the most relevant and engaging way.

Once you’ve got someone’s attention, it’s your responsibility to put on a good show. They paid the cover charge to come into your tent, donating to you their precious time. Now you need to educate, entertain or inform your audience and engage with them. You want them to walk out of your tent at the end and tell their friends about your show, what they learned, and why they would come back. If they bought your magazine you want them to sign their friends up for a guest subscription.  If they came to your website, you want them to share it.

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That’s the essence of the “How” phase in content marketing. This phase is about optimizing for your customer personas. Relevance rules in this content marketing phase.

So how do you do this? Again, think like a publisher. This is your chance to really address  your customers’ needs, to give them solutions to their pain points. It’s about answering questions, adding value by educating them, and informing them of new things they are not aware of and may have a need for – this is where you can prove your relevance.

While relevance isn’t as important in the Wow stage, in the How stage it’s all that counts; the How of content marketing really has to be grounded in knowing your audience and your personas, because that’s where you’ll understand how to add value to their lives. You can blow your reputation to pieces by wasting people’s time after they entered the How phase. They will now hold you accountable to add value.

And you really don’t want your audience to experience a shaky recommendation engine like the one shown on the picture below.

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Once your customer asks you to follow them home, the CMO has the obligation to think of that as a publishing relationship. If they sign up for your newsletter, what are the next 12 months going to look like? What is the editorial calendar going to look like? How are you going to keep people on edge, wondering what you’re going to publish next?

Ok, so we have engaged with our audience and they like what they see. But we don’t do content marketing for the sake of content marketing – so how do we ask them to take the next step toward our goals? What’s the next step we’d like them to take? Let’s move on to the “Now” stage.

Now- what’s next?

The Now phase is all about driving conversions from content. Once they’re listening, watching your video, reading your blog or subscribing to your newsletter, you’ve done the How part right. They did not yet “bounce off” your landing page. “Now” content marketing is all about what comes next.  Maybe it’s a call to action, or an insight you want them to have; it doesn’t always have to be a click on a button. Whatever it is has to be compelling, and more importantly – easy. Now is about turning your reputation and relevance into results.

Every marketing investment needs to be paid for out of the company’s revenue. Sales pays for the marketing rainmaking, so to speak, including content marketing. This is not very different from the advertising paying for the editorial side of a newspaper or magazine publication. This is the “Now” part. This is where the interest (Wow) and engagement with your audience (How) get translated into concrete outcomes, ideally the type that yields tangible revenue streams. These could be measured as “conversions” to whatever outcome is desirable (think of attendees to an event, paid subscribers, sign-ups for a trial, or sales of your product or services). Or it can just be someone who has given you their contact details to “follow them home.”

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The Now part is also the easiest to measure.  Surprisingly though, most marketing teams don’t do this really well. Most content marketers don’t have their Google Analytics accounts set up to track goal completions. And most marketing teams still have a hard time getting the data back from sales about actual conversions of leads (and with that, insights into what constitutes good leads).

Google Analytics conversion tracking makes it very easy to track events like the completion of a form, the watching of a video or the time spent on your website.  There are many good guides to show you how easy this is to set up. Get it done, and you’re on your way to improving the “Now” part of your content marketing funnel.

Reducing friction beats promising incentives every time.

It’s unbelievable how hard some businesses make it for you give them your money. When a great product or service grabs your attention, purchasing should be the easy part. You did your due diligence, you educated yourself about the product, and now you are ready to buy. When you go to complete your purchase, if there are numerous forms to fill out, or you have to wait in line for someone to help you, or the phone is not being picked up when you call, you’re now entering the friction zone.

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If something is too hard, too confusing, takes too long or is too expensive, we risk losing our customer. We can use a breadcrumb trail with incentives to make sure people want to take the next step, but it has to be easy as well. Make it seamless. Reduce the friction.

In marketing, we’re trying to influence people’s behavior, and we have to abide by these concepts; we have to make the incentive high enough, and the obstacle low enough to reach low friction conversion. How much is someone compelled to do something because they will be rewarded, whether it’s a specific tangible reward, the reward of attention, or the instant gratification of gaining access to something? That incentive is what you build with the How and the Now.

So pick up the phone. Mystery shop your own company and find the friction points. A/B test the forms on your website and see if you can make them easier to complete. Ask for feedback while you’re at it, both online and with your customer service and sales reps.

These are all things a publisher does really well, but not a lot of CMOs have experience with. Smaller companies sometimes aren’t able to be consistent, given resource scarcity. Agencies are really good at the “Wow” part, the creative part or the advertising part (and are getting better at data such as funnel optimization and analytics). Being a publisher is at the core of where art and science meet. By thinking like a publisher, and applying the concepts of Wow, How, and Now, you can build a long-term, sustainable marketing program.