Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why Instructional Design Can Help You Plan Better Content Marketing

If you're in marketing, you've probably heard of "content marketing." It's the latest marketing trend, but it's also sort of a culmination of a number of other trends (social media marketing, SEO optimization, inbound marketing, online marketing, etc.) that have been growing and changing since the internet really look off in the late 90's.

Put simply, content marketing is the idea that rather than spend your time flooding your user with messages (which used to work back in the 60's and 70's), you create great informational pieces that users then find through search or as the "carrot" at the end of some outbound marketing campaign. Stats back up this approach, because just in the past few years, users went from reviewing 5 pieces of marketing content to 10 pieces of content before making a decision. In fact, B2B customers are usually 60% of the way through the buying process before they ever contact a sales person. B2C customers are, no doubt even farther through the process before ever walking into a store or logging onto Amazon. So, if you create great informative pieces that may or may not be about your product, users do that research where the content reflects your message and goals.

Now, when this trend started to flair up some time in 2012, a lot of people said, "Hey, I've been doing that for years! I know how to write white papers and create blog posts!" And so, these people became experts, helping out everyone else who hadn't been on the content train for quite as long. However, as great as all the resources are (a couple good places are the Content Marketing Institute and the Resonance Content Marketing blog), there isn't a lot of information out there on how to actually CREATE the content. The idea has been more of "...and then you create great content. Now, once you've done that, here's how you distribute it..."

Unfortunately, creating content isn't that simple. Sure, you can find lots of hints on how to develop a blog post, and there's information on how to get ideas for content topics, but what about content strategy? How do you make sure your overall approach ties together, rather than going forward with a shotgun approach to content? It's hard to be strategic with a splatter-gun.

Now, to be fair, in the past, we haven't needed to be as strategic with marketing content. Users didn't do as much research before, remember? But now, we need to have more top-level planning, and the marketing field just doesn't have the history to really show what does and doesn't work in that area. So what do you do? Well, that's where you can look to an unlikely source. There is a field that has, for a number of years, categorically studied the art of creating and organizing information that informs the user. That field is instructional design.

Are you this purposeful with your content development?
Believe it or not, training and marketing are actually very similar. Both fields develop content that informs users. And if you look at client training (which I did for 5 years), they're even more similar, because the ultimate goal of client training is to drive sales. So, if we look at the tactics honed by the instructional design field through years and years of research, we can develop better content. By focusing on goals that are sub-divided into actionable objectives for the user, we can develop really informative, helpful content that will keep people coming back and diving in. You can use task analysis to align content to users in every stage in your sales funnel, helping you convert users to MQLs to customers.

Stay tuned to the blog to find out more!
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