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Talking Content Marketing – With Bert van Loon

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Talking Content Marketing welcomes Bert van Loon, a publisher turned Independent MarCom Strategist. He works across Europe from his office based on the former passenger flagship of the Holland America Line, the steam ship Rotterdam in The Netherlands.

As a media veteran, Bert has been developing Content Marketing strategies and concepts from before the days when the term was ‘officially’ coined. You may find him around, speaking at conferences, evangelising the core thought of Content Marketing boiled down into his motto: “Content Marketing is to today, what advertising was to the 60s! Mad Men become Meaningful (Wo)Men.”. In 2015, Bert is one of the judges for the CMI (Content Marketing Institute) Content Marketing Awards.

During Content Marketing World 2014 in Cleveland, Bert introduced the Content Marketing Roadmap on stage. Lets talk content with him, in particular about this strategy canvas for Content Marketing teams.

Can you explain the principals behind the Content Marketing Roadmap? How does it work?

As Content Marketing rapidly becomes a leading theme for business innovation, there is a growing need to make it intelligible and manageable. The Content Marketing Roadmap essentially serves two key objectives: to situate Content Marketing in the context of regular business planning and to offer a step-by-step blueprint to develop and execute a Content Marketing strategy in which creative and analytical thinking collaborate for the best results.

The Content Marketing Roadmap started its life as a rough drawing to facilitate the process of developing a Content Marketing strategy in team projects. It outlines six key stages of Content Marketing planning, with a separate focus on process, organisation and technology in each stage. Those six key stages are: Goals, Analyses, (Content Marketing) Strategy, Concept, Implementation and Monitoring for improvement.

In order to make the Roadmap an inviting work tool for any team member, regardless his or her professional background or experience, it has recently been visualised into a drawing board for team exercises.

 

How can the Content Marketing Roadmap make our working lives easier/more structured/more planned/better directed?

The primary motivation for the on-going development of this methodology has always been to empower marketing teams with a lean and agile approach for their Content Marketing strategy and execution plan. Over time I learnt that it has also become a great conversation piece for discussions with C-level management. Again, it takes the dialogue beyond the buzzword and helps us to have a clear look at the full picture.

The overall advantage of using the Content Marketing Roadmap as a process blueprint, is that it accelerates the forward progression of a Content Marketing project because of a number of reasons:

  • Shared understanding: when the process stages are visualised in a roadmap, they become a common language for everyone involved. It turns the abstract in something tangible and concrete, covering everything from setting goals to measuring results and improving the plan.
  • Agility: Building blocks of the project can easily be mapped and omissions become clearly visible. It enables teams to guide the iterative process, where one can think big and act small at the same time.
  • Documented process: As the process is physical mapped, it creates a structured overview where random thoughts and ideas are easily aligned towards completion of the plan.
  • Balance between creativity and analysis: Marketing planning requires both creative and analytical skills. Although I firmly believe that creativity, ultimately, is the key business differentiator and defines long-term success, I also believe that creativity can be at its best with a bold briefing based on thorough analysis of external and internal elements. Creativity without direction is often just nice, while well-directed creativity is functional and precise.

While the Roadmap on paper is already a practical tool, I plan to have a digital interactive version by the end of 2015. This will enable teams to be even more flexible in their collaboration, linking existing digital resources to the process. The Content Marketing Roadmap is published under Creative Common license (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0) and can be downloaded for free (click the image below).

Content_Marketing_Roadmap

 

Do companies make the mistake of jumping right in with a content commitment without having a structured plan of who they are and why they’re doing it?

In the daily business I see many companies do not have a documented strategy. A 2014 survey by the Content Marketing Institute confirmed this impression. Only 35% of B2B companies participating in this survey have a documented strategy, while companies with a documented strategy rate their efforts as more successful than average. I hear Robert Rose often phrasing it clearly as “Not every company will have a content marketing strategy, but every successful company will.” I cannot agree more.

As long as we look at the buzzword only and not at the big picture, we are tempted to just ‘produce’ content to ‘play along’, without really understanding its role in branding or lead generation or building customer relationships. I am afraid that the realistic answer to the question is that many organisations are still in the stage of jumping in without a clear, and documented, view of where they want to go. The risk is that the efforts will not produce results and that in an early stage the organisation will loose its motivation to discover the path to successful Content Marketing.

A documented strategy does not have to be a ‘30 pages and over 10,000 words’ document. I’d rather see a flexible Power Point document, easily browseable and shareable, concise and visual where possible, that can easily be updated to a next release of the strategy. As soon as the to-be-improved-version 1.0. of your strategy is available, it is exactly the right moment to celebrate that moment within your organisation and let everybody in on the great news: choices have been made, and all the energy available can now be focussed on how to make the best of those choices, Fast Forward towards the first results and towards version 1.x of your strategy.

 

Are the companies who are agile and adapt to change the ones who will succeed?

One would say: “Asking the question, is answering it.” I just came across an inspiring article about Barbara Beskind, a 90-year young lady who wrote to IDEO to be hired by the leading design and innovation agency to help them design solutions for an ageing society. Her advice: “Embrace change and design for it.” Wisdom comes with age they say, don’t they?

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With technology changing the way we build and develop (business) relationships, we have to re-engineer our marketing activities. Professor Philip Kotler published a book’Marketing Insights from A to Z’ in 2003, in which he wrote in 2003 already: “The good news is that marketing will be around forever. The bad news: It won’t be the way you learned it. In the coming decade, marketing will be reengineered from A to Z.”. The only minor error in his bold and visionary statement (probably a mere typo) is that only one decade proves to be too short. Today, 12 years later, we are only at the beginning of that process of re-engineering our marketing approach. Many companies still haven’t processed that thought mentally and are still desperately hanging on to habit for survival.

I disagree with those saying that changes are coming faster. I think we have to realise that we are currently living and working in a state of permanent change. This means that we have to develop skills, culture and attitude to be agile while maintaining a steady course at the same time. The Roadmap aims to help to do exactly that. Define that course, document your knowledge, steps and choices and improve with new insights to become better every day.

 

Is it a big shift for businesses to move from a campaign mind set and adjust to a continuous commitment to an audience?

As humans beings we love to develop habits. It gives us certainty and helps us to speed up. Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter Charles Duhigg, explains this process in his book The Power of Habit. The habit loop consists of three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward.

Over decades, as marketers, we have developed the campaign habit. If we wanted to build a brand or sell more, we developed campaigns to realise that objective and the reward was either measurable results or the visible result of the campaign in itself. And maybe, just maybe, for some people the reward was: ‘box checked, task done’! As a result, not only our way of thinking is campaign focussed but our rules of reporting, our organisational charts and even our trade jargon is defined through the campaign habit of the past mass media century.

As I grew up in publishing I have been conditioned to think in a permanent process of content planning, creation and distribution, building audiences one set of eyeballs at the time. I have learned to understand that this is not the natural habit of campaign-structured organisations. My challenge is to show the need for content concepts and continuous content-based dialogue first and only then show the solution how to develop a continuous culture of content. The best way to trigger that change of habit is to show the many potential rewards: the regular, consistent and recognisable delivery of content for your audiences results often rapidly in tangible results; internally you loose the stress of chasing colleagues with: “Who has something to publish in tomorrow’s newsletter? Please???”; last but not least, you will build audiences and I am happy to share my trump card when talking to C-level management. I offer them the insight on how earned and owned audiences are assets and will be part of company appraisals in the future, just as if we’d value the assets of a publishing company. It really helps them understand better why we should build relationships with our customers through valuable content.

 

You are speaking at the Content Marketing >> Fast Forward event in Amsterdam, with 23.2 kg of marketing books on stage? What is that all about?

Actually it’s a joined initiative with Andrew Davis and AJ Huisman. Talking over dinner with both of them about innovative event concepts last November, AJ came up with the content marketing book club idea. We decided to give it a go: AJ speaks about where we come from and why we should take Content Marketing very seriously, Andrew concentrates on what brand story is all about and my part focuses on how to turn ideas into action. Covering Why, What and How and building our presentations around a full library of around 40 international known and less well known books on or close to the subject of Content Marketing. It’s great to see the connection between all these books gearing up to the big Content Marketing wave and it also works well to include books on psychology, storytelling and business in general to put some context around this theme.

A number of authors supported the event and recorded a dedicated video contribution, to be included in the presentations. Having Ann Handley, Joe Pulizzi, Jay Baer, David Meerman Scott, Andy Crestodina and Paul Roetzer with us ‘on stage’, making it a probably the largest small event in the western Hemisphere 😉

We are exploring the possibility of expanding the Fast Forward concept, with online activities and similar events in Holland and abroad if possible. We are open to ideas to include anyone who can help Content Marketing go Fast Forward.


 

Huge thanks to Bert for his time and insight. For more info from Bert’s world have a look:

Bert on Twitter: click here

Content Marketing Roadmap on Twitter: click here

Download Content Marketing Roadmap: click here

Bert on the web for speaking engagements: click here

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