One reality not up for debate: our appetite for content marketing is growing at a rapid pace. With Facebook accounting for 42 million brand pages and 181 million blogs on the web according to Nielsen, it’s clear that our commitment to content – creation, distribution and analysis – will continue to grow and help shape our marketing efforts. A recent survey by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs also showed an increasing enthusiasm for content marketing among B2B professionals, confirming that 9 out of 10 marketers use content—regardless of business size or industry. From Marketo to AMEX Open, B2B organizations are flexing their publishing arms to meet the demands of the social consumer.

Although it’s apparent that content will be a mainstay in any marketers’ toolkit—the jury is still out on whether or not marketers are going about the content creation process in the most effective way. According to the same survey, marketers lean on an average of 12 tactics and push their content out on five or more social channels. Despite their efforts—only 36% of marketers feel confident that their efforts are making an impact.

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We believe that in order to drive change—marketers need to focus on the program flow first, and the stock second. Those who publish in large quantities without strategic guidance risk creating pieces of content that will merely distract and potentially annoy customers, instead of helping them to solve their problems. 

That’s why at the root of every successful content program should be the keen understanding of the target audience. Marketers who use content to celebrate the audience’s passions, concerns, strengths and imperfections will continue to reap benefits from their efforts. “The absence of a consumer content-focused strategy can often result in an overload of irrelevant content, choice avoidance, and layers of confusion for consumers,” said Amy Manus, Director of Marketing Services at Nurun. Brands who are sensitive to this reality—who open their ears before their mouths—are more likely to create something worth reading, sharing and reading again.

Enter Leslie Reiser, Program Director of WW Marking at IBM General Business. She and her team of writers and strategists created the Midsize Insider, a content program tailored to the needs of IT professionals and business owners in small to midsize businesses. By focusing on the issues and trends that would help their readers be successful, IBM gained acceptance into Google News, increased traffic by 207%, attracted readership from 171 countries, and secured a conversion rate to the IBM solutions page double the industry average. 

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Once brands have the an understanding of what kinds of content resonate with prospective customers, they need to distribute that content over paid, owned and earned media channels. As the consumer purchase decision process becomes increasingly fragmented, marketers have to work harder to ensure that the viewer can find the right content at the right moment.  This balance is discussed frequently by Brian Solis, Principal of the Altimeter Group—who argues that content on it’s own is no longer king—but content with context holds the thrown. By carefully integrating content into your target customer’s daily life—through social media posting, search optimization and paid advertisements, brands will capture more qualified leads and strengthen customer relationships. 

Looking ahead to 2013, marketers continue to understand the need to shift their attention from content volume and work to solidify a strategic process for creation, production and distribution.

What parts of the content marketing “flow” present the most challenges for your organization? Which parts have you mastered? Comment below or continue the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn– and stay updated on all things content at The Content Standard.

David Woodrow, SVP of Strategic Services, Skyword Inc

@davidwoodrow