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Content Is Not a Vending Machine — Robert Rose on True Content Marketing ROI

content marketing roiRobert Rose is in the business of content marketing.

As Chief Strategy Advisor for Content Marketing Institute (ever heard of it?), he works with top enterprise brands — AT&T, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Petco, ADP, and more – to transform their marketing into meaningful customer experiences.

And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that he leads brand strategy for the company that defined content marketing.

In this interview, he discusses the roots of his love for content, what businesses are doing wrong, and how to prove content marketing ROI once and for all.

You’ve been doing this for more than 20 years — how did your love for content begin?

While I was running ad strategy for an agency, some of my friends started a small enterprise software company that sold content management solutions to marketers. They asked me to join as CMO to run the product and marketing strategy.

In the beginning, we were just seven guys in a basement, selling 300K-400K packages, competing with companies like Oracle and Microsoft.

We were never going to beat our competitors at SEO, ad spend, PR, or brand. So, I told the CEO that we needed to go deeper. We needed to be thought leaders in our space.

I hired journalists and writers to churn out a ton of a content (blog posts, 2 white papers a month, a webinar a month), and basically turned our little startup into a media company.

How did you meet Joe Pulizzi and begin working at Content Marketing Institute?

I was out on the speaking circuit when I met Joe. He was talking about this thing called, “content marketing,” which was something I never heard of, but was apparently already doing at my startup.

Joe Pulizzi Robert Rose

He and I were giving the same exact presentation on marketing, except I was giving it from the practitioner side and he was giving it from the publisher side.

We met, had dinner, and got along famously. He was just starting Content Marketing Institute, and I was just getting ready to leave the startup software world. And that’s when I found my mission: helping brands set up content marketing as a real active function in the business.

This year, you’re speaking at C3 about rebooting content marketing – why does content marketing need to be fixed?

We talk a lot about ROI but there’s very little “I” in getting the “R.”

The problem is: content is often looked at it as an on-demand service, meant to supply the “more strategic” parts of the business. Content creators have become vending machines of PDFs and infographics to support direct marketing tactics, rather than creating them on their own. 

Of course, this tactic works sometimes. But most of the time, content gets lost in history because we don’t ever use the asset again.

The SEO crowd knows this better than anything else: if we’re not actually building a collection of connected assets, then we’re not really building anything of investment value. What we’re building is just individual ad hoc assets that we throw against the wall and hope some stick.

We need to change this perspective and reboot the idea of looking at content marketing as truly owned media.

How can a content marketer make content marketing a business strategy, rather than an alternative marketing strategy? Or to steal Jay Acunzo’s words, how does a content marketer avoid being treated as a line cook?

Content needs to get out of the line cook business – if marketing is the restaurant’s supplier, then content should be the restaurant owner.

Content needs to get out of the line cook business – if marketing is the restaurant’s supplier, then content should be the restaurant owner.

Brands need to look at content as an immediate function in the business to build an audience, not just as marketing collateral production. The audience is what provides the ROI and multiple lines of value that the business can drive from.

Businesses need to start thinking: how do we build a media property that is going to build the audience that will ultimately become our customers?

You talk a lot about delivering a unique POV through the customer experience – what is the best way to stand out in a saturated industry?

You either take a different story to the same audience or you take the same story to a different audience.

For example, I worked with a martech company that naturally targeted marketing practitioners. We told them we needed to change tack. Let’s take our content to a different audience and start targeting CFOs and CEOs, and deliver value to an audience that wouldn’t normally hear our story.

Once you have your audience, how do you make sure your content is aligning to their needs?

You need to truly get to the heart of what the customer actually needs — beyond your product or service. Think about the biggest thing on their mind right now and what’s keeping them up at night.

You need to truly get to the heart of what the customer actually needs — beyond your product or service. Think about the biggest thing on their mind right now and what’s keeping them up at night.

Then, you look at that list and figure out where you want to be helpful. That’s the way that you can start to align a much more differentiated content strategy to an audience that you already have.

What has been the biggest change in marketing in the last few years?

There’s no doubt that marketing has changed. Digital has really evolved the practice of marketing to becoming more of a business strategy than it used to be.content marketing roi

The problem is that most businesses haven’t changed. Most businesses still view marketing as a subservient role to other parts of the business. Marketing is usually one of the smaller departments because we delegate most of the work out to agencies.

We’re starting to see that tide change – people are starting to build in-house content studios and creative teams because marketing is becoming such an important part of the strategy.

To me, there’s never been a more exciting time to be in marketing. It’s never been more challenging, more difficult, and more exciting, because it’s such a strategic part of what we do.

Looking to prove the ROI of your content? Check out our latest research that proves that content makes customers 131% more likely to purchase.

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