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Are You Overselling the Power of Data? [Rose-Colored Glasses]

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My old boss, the CEO of a former employer, was one of the best salespeople I’ve ever known.

He could work a room, listening and knowing just the right thing to say to keep interest piqued and drive value in the conversation. Just as importantly, he knew exactly (and I mean exactly) when to end the meeting and walk out the door. It’s just like show business, “leave them wanting more.”

Anyone who has experienced a bad salesperson has seen the opposite – the classic moment when the rep doesn’t know how to take “yes” for an answer. The customer has usually implied or even overtly said they are interested in the next step, and the rep continues to oversell features, benefits, discounts, and value-added services – all of which are unnecessary.

Two consequences happen when we oversell something. First, we talk the customer out of their decision to purchase. I once witnessed a rep continue to talk and talk and talk after the customer had expressed interest in purchasing. The rep mentioned something about the future development of the product, and it made the customer suddenly question whether that roadmap matched their needs. It killed the sale.

The second effect is almost as bad. The rep wants so badly to ensure there are “no surprises” that they oversell by continuing to offer more and more benefits until the customer finally says, “Stop.” By then, the sales rep has often set such unrealistic expectations that they’re set up to fail.

That’s the situation for marketing and content practitioners selling the use of data to business leadership.

#Content marketers often set unrealistic expectations about the value of data, setting up their programs for failure, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Data driven to the wrong destination

“We’re data-driven!” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that when I ask about the measurement strategy to a larger marketing, brand, or demand generation team, I’d be on a beach somewhere sipping a fancy tequila.

Most of the time, once we dive into what’s behind that statement, we find “data-driven” quite literally means the team is driven by data. They have no insight into how (or if) the data is helping.

They are so awash in metrics, analytics, and numbers that they search and find some data that drives every move that they make. Everything they do is driven by data. Every action is supported in retrospect by finding the data.

What these “data-driven” marketers fail to realize is that by doing this, they also build a wall that prevents attempting anything new.

Whenever purely “data-driven” is the starting place, I know what the next challenge will be when someone wants to innovate and do something new. To do that, a “business case” must be made. Someone – usually the person responsible for making the business case – will inevitably ask, “Well, what does the data say?”

But data doesn’t (and can’t) say anything definitively if the idea is truly innovative. What happens? The business-case maker looks at the data they’ve used to justify all previous decisions. When they can’t find helpful data, they look at external best practices to see if the innovative thing matches up to what other people are doing.

Data doesn’t and can’t say anything definitively if the idea is truly innovative, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Of course, if many best practices that will point to this innovative thing exist, is the thing really all that innovative?

Hmmmm …

Do what the data said, not what I said

For the last 10 years, content and marketing practitioners have been sold the magic of data – a way to increase the efficiency and performance of digital experiences. In turn, many marketing teams desperate to show proof-of-life of anything they do with content oversold the power of data. It now hamstrings them from doing anything that deviates from being incrementally above or below average.

I recently worked with a B2B technology company that wanted to launch a new digital thought leadership magazine. For them, this was an innovative new approach to delivering education to decision-makers in their industry. They spent time developing a solid set of “big ideas.” They decided on a content strategy of cutting-edge ideas rather than pragmatic how-tos. They planned to position their subject matter experts as people who could pull customers into the future. The team was excited.

The vice president spearheading this initiative made the rounds to get buy-in from the product, brand, public relations, and C-suite teams.

It didn’t go very well.

In each conversation, the vice president got a lot of resistance with questions about what the data said. In an ironic twist, the data referenced by these other teams was what the marketing team had used to demonstrate the success of previous campaigns. The vice president heard:

  • “This sounds like it runs counter to what our SEO data says.”
  • “Data says that the end buyer isn’t senior leadership – shouldn’t we be solely targeting the buyer?”
  • “Where is the data that shows that senior leaders need this information?”
  • “What is your forecast for the number of leads we will get from this?”
  • “Do we have data on whether these topics are popular?”

In the end, the magazine project was put on hold.

The lesson isn’t that the company didn’t get to launch a new digital magazine. The lesson is why they didn’t get to launch it.

The team had oversold their use of data to justify every single thing that they did. They had established that they were “data-driven.” Their colleagues simply responded based on what they had been sold: “Why did the data drive you to this conclusion?”


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Data should ride shotgun, not drive

Measuring content and experience is difficult. It always has been and always will be. As I’ve written, our objectives matter more than the accuracy of the data. Ask what is the most important insight to get – that the blog post or white paper was found, it was read, or it changed a behavior? Often, we want insight from the latter, but we use data and make decisions based on the former.

One of my favorite books about data and measurement is The Haystack Syndrome: Sifting Information Out of the Data Ocean by Eliyahu Goldratt. I always reflect on this quote:

Tell me how you will measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave. If you measure me in an illogical way, don’t complain about illogical behavior.

In our selling of data’s capabilities, we must acknowledge occasions will arise when we’ll need to go against the data or proceed without it. Otherwise, we’ll be data-driven to mediocrity.

Data informs the answer to questions. We should drive the car. Data should ride shotgun.

Content marketers should drive the car. Data should ride shotgun, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

To have the flexibility to try innovative things, we must reframe how we sell data as a value to our content and marketing strategy. These two ideas can help:

  • Stop treating data as proof of life: You should cease using and selling the value of data to justify decisions already made. Data-driven value determined retrospectively, as in “Did this campaign work?” is helpful. But if you let data drive your entire strategy, you will put future content marketing ideas into a box – every decision becomes about “beating” the last decision. You’ll never try anything that isn’t trying to “fix” the last decision.
  • Content and marketing strategy is not Jeopardy: Get beyond scanning mountains of data to come up with an answer in the form of a question, which shapes your strategy. First, form a purpose, an objective to reach, and then assemble a list of key business questions to help form a plan to reach that objective.Remember, in business, it’s much better to know what you don’t know than to not know what you don’t know. When faced with the latter, the tendency is to dive into the data and find an answer that matches a question you could have.

If you start with an objective, develop the key questions to meet it. Then design what data is needed to answer those key questions. Only then are you using data to inform a decision, not to justify one. Indeed, a key question might be, “Should we do this?” But then, if it’s a new thing, you can acknowledge that answer may not be known before the project begins.

Learning to succeed

Sometimes it’s better to learn than succeed.

Here is an experiment that you can run with your teams. On your next Zoom call (or in your office as the new normal may be), ask everyone three questions. The first is “Should companies like ours be innovative?” I’d bet a fancy cocktail that 90% will nod their heads.

Then, immediately ask the next question: “Is our company (or team) innovative?” This query will almost assuredly result in questions: “Do you mean, like, ever?” or “ Do you mean, now? Are we innovative now?”

Clarify as necessary: “Yes. Ever. Have we ever been innovative?”

Depending on the type, age, and size of your company, your mileage will vary. But for those yes responses, I would bet another fancy cocktail on the answer to the third and final question: “When was that?”

With, I dare say, with few exceptions, everyone will cite something that ended up successful.

You see. Everybody LOVES and remembers innovation, just so long as it worked.

In a business only driven by data, nobody wants to be the dope who said yes to the new strategy that had no data to support the decision and failed.

In a “data-driven” business, you can become incapacitated by the feeling that data should always be the driving force. You’re unable or unwilling to embark on any activity that you can’t ensure will nudge your stats in the right direction.

If you reframe the use of data and measurement, get agreement on the objective, then ask better questions to enable you and your team to make more things that might succeed spectacularly or fail with a thud. As Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr once said, “An expert is someone who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.”

So, let’s go use data to empower the decisions that free us up to make some of the best mistakes.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just three minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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A Digital Practioner’s Guide to Starting the New Year Right

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A Digital Practioner’s Guide to Starting the New Year Right



It’s that time of year again – the holiday excitement has faded as we fall back into the workweek. With a year’s worth of work stretched in front of us, there can be both a sense of opportunity and overwhelmedness 

Because transitioning back into the swing of things can be daunting, We’ve gathered key takeaways from the previous year, global Opticon Tour, and how we can successfully apply those learnings in 2023.  

1. “Work about work” is holding teams back. Take this chance to declutter.  

Consider the reality of what most digital teams are up against. When it comes to managing the content lifecycle, draft documents that are stored in separate places and disparate tools that don’t work together are the norm for many. With no centralized point of communication and cumbersome workflows, it can take forever for teams to create and approve content, and work is often duplicated or unused.  

After work is completed, it can be easy to dismiss the headaches caused by inefficient, siloed workflows and processes. But the long-term effects of inefficient and bulky collaboration can be detrimental to a brand’s digital experience – and bottom line. (Those who joined us in San Diego at Opticon might recall this concept played out via ). 

Digital teams with unwieldy content lifecycles can take back control using , saving countless hours and frustration over the year.  

2. Change is constant. Set your team up to be adaptive. 

We all know how difficult it is to create amazing customer experiences these days. The world is moving faster than ever, and change is constant and chaotic with uncertainty on nearly every level: economic upheaval, rapid cultural change, ever-escalating customer expectations (thanks, Amazon), and a tight talent market.  

To not only stay the course but to also grow in this unpredictable environment, it’s important that teams constantly stay on the lookout for new ways to drive more sales and increase loyalty. In other words, consistently deliver modern, relevant, and personalized commerce experiences.  

But keeping pace doesn’t necessarily mean working harder. Optimizely’s Monetize solutions, teams can drive sales and loyalty with fewer costs and efforts.  

3. Data fuels a great customer experience. Test and optimize every touchpoint. 

As practitioners, we all know that the best customer experience wins.  

When teams don’t clearly understand what’s happening and when, they miss the mark. With little patience and high expectations, today’s customers will simply switch to a competitor that better understands them and provides a more personalized experience.  

But when teams work together to inject data across silos, they have the insight needed to make the right decisions and create with confidence.  

For instance, take the marketing team: with access to a slew of customer touchpoints and experimentation data, marketers should be a critical resource for understanding customers’ wants and needs. Developers, product teams, and beyond should utilize this data to remove the guesswork and inform strategies, priorities, roadmaps, and decisions.  

With customer-centricity at the heart of any great digital experience, the best experiences are fueled by data uncovered by high-velocity experimentation. Consider the power that Optimizely’s Experimentation products can have on your entire team’s ability to unlock personalized insights and better connect with customers.  

Hopefully, your new year is off to a great start – but if you’re feeling a little off track, contact Optimizely today to learn more about our DXP can impact your business and set you up for a successful and productive year.  

A special thanks to our sponsors at Opticon London – Microsoft, Google Cloud, Valtech, and Siteimprove – and Opticon Stockholm – Microsoft, Google Cloud, Valtech, and Contentsquare. 


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Top 6 SEO Tips for Bloggers that Will Skyrocket Google Rankings

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Top 6 SEO Tips for Bloggers that Will Skyrocket Google Rankings

The majority of blogs rely heavily on search engines to drive traffic. On the other hand, there is a misunderstanding that creating “SEO-optimized content” entails stuffing keywords into paragraphs and headers, which leads to barely readable blog articles.

But that’s not what SEO is all about. In this article, you’ll discover the top 6 SEO strategies and how crucial they are for improving your blog posts rank in Google search results.

How Important Are Google Rankings For Your Blog?

Search engine traffic is essential if you’re blogging in hopes of growing your business. After all, what’s the point in writing content if no one is going to see it? The higher your blog post ranks in Google search results, the more likely people will find and read it.

And the more people who read your blog post, the more likely someone will take the desired action, whether signing up for your email list, buying one of your products, or hiring you as a coach or consultant. So, it is essential to have SEO optimized blog.

How To Incorporate SEO Into Your Blogs?

It would help if you started putting these six pieces of constructive SEO advice for bloggers into practice immediately:

1. Write For Your Readers

The standard of blog writing started significantly declining when “SEO content” became a buzzword. Instead of writing for people, they began to write mainly for robots in search engines. Unfortunately, some bloggers still express themselves in this way nowadays.  

But luckily, things have greatly improved, especially since the Hummingbird update and the rise of voice searches. The Hummingbird update was developed to assist Google in comprehending the purpose of searches.  

For instance, Google would understand that you are seeking nearby restaurants if you Googled “places to buy burgers.” It influences SEO because search engines are now more geared toward providing answers to queries and supporting semantic search rather than merely focusing on keywords.

You typically utilize Google, Bing, YouTube, or even Siri to find answers to questions. Take that idea and use it to improve your blog. Your writing should address the concerns of your intended audience in detail.

Your blog shouldn’t exist solely to help you rank for a particular keyword. Instead of concentrating on keywords, shift your attention to creating content that addresses the issues of your target audience.

2. Link to High-Authority websites

Don’t be scared to use external links when you construct your blog content. In addition to giving blog visitors more resources to read and learn from, linking to reputable websites demonstrates to search engines that you have done your research.

Research-based statistics from reputable websites are the best way to support blog content. Using compelling statistics will help you create a stronger, more specific argument that will help you win your readers’ trust.

3. Design a link building Strategy

Your search ranking is significantly impacted by link building. Why? Consider search results a contest where the people who receive the most votes win.

Google considers every website that links back to you as a vote for your website, elevating your content’s credibility. You will move up in ranking as a result. Here are some starter ideas for your link-building:

  • Communicate to other bloggers in your niche and offer to guest post on their website. Include a link back to your blog in your guest post.
  • Participate in online and offline community events related to your niche. For example, if you blog about fitness, you could attend a trade show related to fitness or health.
  • Create helpful resources that other bloggers in your niche find valuable, such as an eBook, cheat sheet or template. Include a link back to your blog on these resources.
  • Leverage social media to get your content in front of as many people as possible.

4. Learn About Google Webmaster Tools

Do you remember getting a warning from your teacher when you did anything incorrectly in elementary school? Your opportunity to clean up your act and get back on track to avoid punishment was given to you with that warning. In a way, Google Webmaster Tools serves that purpose for your blog.

Google Webmaster Tools will warn you when something suspicious is happening with your blog by giving you diagnostics, tools, and data to keep your site in good condition.

What you can observe in the Webmaster Tools Search Console is:

  • The percentage of your pages that Google has indexed
  • If your website is having issues with Google’s bots indexing it
  • If your website was hacked
  • How search engine bots see your website
  • Links to your site
  • If Google penalized your website manually

The great thing about Webmaster Tools is that it informs you what’s wrong with your website and how to fix it. To resolve any difficulties Google discovers with your blog, you can utilize a vast knowledge base of articles and a forum.

5. Include Keywords in your Meta Description

Does your post include meta descriptions? If not, you’re probably not providing your content with the best chance of being seen. Google also analyzes meta-descriptions to determine search results. The one- to three-sentence summaries beneath a result’s title is known as meta descriptions.

Use meta descriptions to briefly summarize the subject of your post, and keep in mind to:

  1. Make it brief.
  2. Use between one and two keywords.
  3. Since there will likely be other postings that are identical to yours, you should make your description stand out from the competition.

6. Establish Linkable Assets

A linkable asset is a unique, instrumental piece of content that’s so valuable people can’t resist linking to it. It’s similar to dining at a fantastic restaurant and a merely adequate one. You’ll go out of your way to tell everyone about the excellent restaurant, but if someone asks if you’ve been there, you’ll probably only mention the merely adequate one.

The ProBlogger job board is an excellent example of a linkable asset. For independent bloggers looking for compensated writing opportunities, it’s a terrific resource. The page is constantly linked in blog posts on monetizing your blog or websites that pay you to write for them. Why? Because it is rare and costly.

You can build the following linkable assets for your blog:

  • Free software or apps
  • Ultimate guide posts
  • Huge lists
  • Infographics
  • Online guide
  • Influencer tally reports
  • Quizzes
  • A case studies
  • Industry studies or surveys

Final Thoughts

By following these six SEO tips for bloggers, you’ll be well on your journey to improving your blog’s Google ranking. Remember that SEO is an ongoing process, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results immediately. The key is to be patient and consistent in your efforts, and soon you’ll start reaping the rewards of your hard work!

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B2C Marketers Treat Content Marketing as a Project; That’s a Mistake [New Research]

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B2C Marketers Treat Content Marketing as a Project; That’s a Mistake [New Research]

In The End of Competitive Advantage, Rita Gunther McGrath illustrates all competitive advantages are transient. She contends everybody understands that. So why hasn’t basic strategy practice changed?

As Rita writes:

Most executives, even when they realize that competitive advantages are going to be ephemeral, are still using strategy frameworks and tools designed for achieving a sustainable competitive advantage, not for quickly exploiting and moving in and out of advantages.

That last part resonates after working with hundreds of enterprise brands over the last 10 years. Most businesses think about how they can change content to fit marketing’s purpose, not how they might change marketing to fit content’s purpose.

Guess what? Your content will never be a sustainable competitive advantage or differentiator – all content assets are easily replicable and, at best, only transient in differentiated value.

In the newly released Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs B2C Content Marketing Benchmark, Budgets, and Trends – Insights for 2023, I see it’s time to feed the content giant that awakened last year. But be careful not to get so distracted by the food you fail to cook consistently over time. All too often, content marketers get wrapped up in content creation rather than in the ability to lead the capabilities to create consistently.

Content should be a strategic activity

Look at content operations as the catalyst that can change everything for your content marketing challenges. You should recognize the activities you perform are a competitive advantage. Success hinges on the ability of a team (of one or 100) to be dynamic and fluid – moving in and out of “arenas” (as Rita calls them in her book) of content and creating temporary advantages.

Here’s the real takeaway: Ask everyone in your business – including your CEO – if they believe compelling, engaging, useful, and dynamic content-driven experiences will move the business forward.

If the answer is yes, then the strategic value lies in your ability to evolve and coordinate all the activities to create those content-driven experiences repeatedly. It does not lie in the content or the distribution plans. Your team’s job is not to be good at content; your job is to enable the business to be good at content.

#ContentMarketing’s strategic value lies in the ability to repeatedly deliver content-driven experiences, not the content itself, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Consider some highlights from this year’s research.

Struggle is real for content marketing strategy

Content marketing remains important.

Seventy percent of B2C marketers told us that content marketing has become more important to their organization over the last year. (Only 4% say it’s less important.)

Importance of B2C Content Marketing in the Last Year

With an increase in importance comes a need for more resources. When asked what they would change about content marketing in their organization, they say they want more staff, more budget, and better access to subject matter experts.

70% of #B2C marketers say #ContentMarketing is more important in their organization than last year according to @CMIContent #research via @Robert_Rose. Click To Tweet

Yes, content marketing is more important, but content marketers struggle to keep up with the demand.

Why?

Because so many businesses treat content marketing as a campaign-, project-focused effort that requires different “assets.” Content marketers are so busy churning out projects of content that they haven’t figured out how to make it a repeatable, consistent, and scalable process.

As far as their biggest challenges in content marketing, 57% of B2C marketers say creating content that appeals to different target audiences. Rounding out the top three: developing consistency with measurement (44%) and differentiating our products/services from the competition (40%).

B2C Organizations' Current Content Marketing Challenges

57% of #B2C marketers say they are challenged to create #content that appeals to different target audiences according to @CMIContent #research via @Robert_Rose. Click To Tweet

Solving all three of these challenges centers around strategic content operations – setting a consistent long-term strategy to differentiate, developing a measurement plan that stands the test of time, and scaling to meet the needs of different audiences. But most marketers aren’t planning to acquire the help to tackle those challenges. Among the resources they plan to hire or contract in the coming year, almost half (45%) say they will look to grow writers, designers, photographers, and videographers.

It’s like trying to design a bigger house by simply adding more bricks.

45% of #B2C marketers plan to hire content creators in the coming year. @Robert_Rose says that’s like designing a bigger house by adding more bricks via @CMIContent #research. Click To Tweet

But B2C content marketing is working

Despite their challenges, talented practitioners find success. Overall, 81% of B2C marketers rate their success as either moderately, very, or extremely successful. Only 2% say they were “not at all” successful.

How B2C Marketers Rate Their Organization's Overall Level of Content Marketing Success in Last 12 Months

And 86% say content marketing provides a “meaningful/purposeful career path.”

These results align with the research discovered in CMI’s Content Marketing Career & Salary 2023 Outlook (registration required). We found though content marketers are generally happy in their current roles, they would be happier if their organizations prioritized content marketing, backed it with strategies and resources, and invested in technologies to help them do their jobs faster and more efficiently.

The final bit of good news? Almost three-quarters (73%) of content marketers expect their organization’s investment in the practice will increase or remain the same this year. Only 3% believe it will decrease.

Different activities, not more efficient ones

The B2C research presents some interesting insights into the priorities for 2023:

  • Businesses must increasingly stop organizing and scaling new marketing teams based on platforms, technologies, or inside-looking-out views of the customer journey. The format and placement of those experiences on multiple channels will always be temporal. Success happens when the business becomes skilled and integrated at operating and managing all manners of content-driven experiences.
  • Businesses must stop looking at content from a container-first perspective – designed solely to support marketing tactics or initiatives. Success happens when the business recognizes content operations as a function, supporting the fluid use of content to fuel better customer experiences.
  • Businesses must not say, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” when one experience no longer works. Success happens when the business can healthily disengage and dismantle experiences that aren’t working. They can constantly reconfigure their activities and manage portfolios of content-driven experiences.

Starting with the wrong premise

Often the first sign of trouble in any content marketing approach is when you hear, “How do we get more efficient at content?”

Efficiency involves changes to a process to remove friction. The question often assumes a working, standard operation providing value already exists. But if there is no repeatable standard operation, efficiency ends up meaning producing the same or more content with the same resources.

That rarely works out to be better for the business.

The more difficult task for content marketers is to determine the different activities necessary to create or augment the processes and identify the activities to undertake differently.

The content you create provides no sustainable competitive business advantage. But a strategic content operation just might.

Get the latest Content Marketing Institute research reports while they’re hot – subscribe to the newsletter. 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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