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Is an Unbranded Content Site Worth It? All Signs Point to Yes

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Is an Unbranded Content Site Worth It? All Signs Point to Yes

What’s the future for unbranded content sites? SAP runs an unbranded content site whose future’s so bright, that the team behind it had better wear shades (to paraphrase that old Timbuk 3 song).

The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience earned the tech brand a finalist nod for Best Content Strategy and Best Multi-Author Blog in the 2021 Content Marketing Awards (CMAs).

And it’s easy to see why. Total page views for the blog hit the high six figures (767,190 in 2020 and 1,177,123 in 2021). Top-performing content generates between 5,000 and 10,000 views a month.

And those aren’t even the most impressive stats.

Visitors spend an average of eight minutes on the site. Almost all (99%) of its archives get views every month. And its bounce rate has never been over 5%, as SAP explained in their CMA nomination.

Seventy percent of traffic comes from organic search. The other 30% arrives from direct or bookmarked links, with social shares and an email newsletter rounding out the traffic sources.

“We never spent any money on advertising, campaigns, or promoted content,” says Jenn VandeZande, the site’s editor-in-chief.

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We never spent any money on advertising, campaigns, or promoted #content, says @jennvzande of @SAP_CX impressively successful #ContentMarketing hub via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

So how did the site become such a success? Jenn shared some principles and practices behind the content marketing strategy.

Downplay the brand to play up trust

The robust content hub operates under a non-branded URL. The (barely noticeable) SAP connection comes through employees, customers, partners, and industry experts they’ve onboarded as freelance writers.

SAP created the site based on two basic principles, and it’s never swayed from these:

  • To become an authoritative source and community for all things commerce and business related by focusing on great content that answers business challenges in an unbiased way
  • To use journalistic standards with an SEO-first, evergreen content strategy

Jenn says the site’s independence is “sacred” because return readers and subscribers expect it and because of the critical role of trust in business relationships: “You can lose a customer in an instant by breaking that trust.

“Nobody wants to be sold when they’re trying to research a problem – at least in the beginning stages. SAP is keeping their eyes on the future, focusing on the importance of unbranded content to lead into the next step of the journey.”

The site draws interest from searchers and a faithful readership of C-suite executives and other leaders with decision-making responsibilities. SAP has found readers come back to places they trust when it’s time to purchase.

@SAP_CX has found people return to the places they trust when it’s time to purchase, says @jennvzande via @AnnGynn and @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

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Use data to please readers and leaders

The initial buy-in was simple. SAP likes forward-thinking, Jenn says, and the site represented a new concept. As the site grew and content competition increased, data led to continued support from SAP leadership.

“It turns out that doing this day after day, year after year, earns loyalty, which then earns sales deals, which has also helped earn executive buy-in,” Jenn says. “It’s a long game with big dividends.”

Data drives content decisions, too. “Most of us on the team are data nerds, and we live by it,” Jenn says.

The hardest decisions she’s had to make involved ideas that sounded great in concept but didn’t resonate with readers. “While it bummed me out to pull the plug on these things, the data made the decision easy.”

To arrive at content decisions, the data nerds looked beyond the general (though impressive) metrics like visits, views, time on site, etc. They wanted a collection of data that would help them better understand their audience’s behavior, such as:

  • Which posts get the most clicks?
  • Where exactly on the site do most people click?
  • What content leads people to the next step on their SAP journey?
  • What parts of the site do they engage with and which ones do they not?

The content team’s developer Aaron Graham created a custom plugin to track those metrics.

Now, they can drill down and identify the typical paths visitors follow on the site and what works and what doesn’t. “It’s been a big game-changer for us and helps us to stay focused on what readers want,” Jenn says.

That doesn’t mean their data game is perfect. Attribution remains the unicorn the team continues to chase. Ultimately, they’d love to be able to show that a reader started on X post and then purchased a product at some point in their journey.

But Jenn prizes the anecdotal evidence from readers who forward that day’s newsletter to her with a comment about loving the subject, the content, etc. “I save those emails in a folder because they’re a great reminder of the purpose of what we do,” she says.

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It’s also immediate feedback that can prompt a change. “We’re always tweaking copy, reoptimizing, testing, so when we get feedback that folks love what we’ve written, we use it,” Jenn says.

And the feedback isn’t always positive. One reader complained about the subject line “Not new, not normal” and explained why. Jenn thanked the engaged reader for sharing her opinion. The team assumed others might feel the same. “It can be easy to lose perspective when you’re on the inside looking out,” Jenn says.

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Act big, even if you’re small

SAP is a global company with over 100,000 employees, but The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience site doesn’t involve a big team. Executive Editor Marcia Savage manages the calendar, day-to-day content scheduling, and editing and contributes some writing. She’s the other full-time employee besides Jenn and Aaron (the team developer). Contractors help with site images, and the team relies on TAG Communication Services for freelancers.

Ideas come from anywhere – the content team, the contractors, customers, employees, and even competitors. Freelancers craft the content, then Marcia and Jenn edit it for SEO, tone, etc. They also reoptimize and update content every day.

Jenn also keeps an eye out for potential writers on social media. If she reads something interesting, she reaches out to invite the author to contribute. “We’ve gotten some fantastic bylines this way,” she says.

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Grow the platform

A couple of years ago, The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience added more specific sections at the top of the navigation bar based on the topics most critical to their audience:

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  • Commerce
  • Customer experience
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Service
  • Purpose

“Those sections have turned out really well and been useful for our readers … They’ve proven to be a simple way for the user to find what they’re looking for and to discover content they didn’t know they were looking for,” Jenn says. “We also discuss the topics that are important to our audience, focusing on purpose and the whole self. In doing so, our authentic tone has won over our subscribers and advocates.

But that isn’t the only growth for the original content hub. The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience team launched a podcast that features guests discussing the site’s most engaging content.

Given a prompt from contributor Jesús Hoyos, who wondered about content in languages other than English, the team is now working on updating its content into regions.

Without a big budget for translation, Jenn uses Google Translate for the content on the site, then sends it to a peer in a region with that language to review before she publishes it.

Inclusion is really important to us, so getting it right has taken time and is constantly evolving, but it’s made a difference for our readers,” Jenn says.

And that’s just one more reason why The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience shines so bright.

All tools mentioned in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please feel free to add it in the comments.

Learn more from Jenn VandeZande at Content Marketing World this fall, where she’s presenting the session CTR, ROI, KPI, Cry: Breaking Through Jargon to Deliver Kick-Ass Results. Use code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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MARKETING

How To Create a Content Marketing Strategy for Your Personal Brand

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How To Create a Content Marketing Strategy for Your Personal Brand

Updated August 17, 2022

Anyone who didn’t win the billion-dollar Mega Millions jackpot this year needs to read this article.

With the talk about the Great Resignation (or Great Reshuffle), I bet you’ve pondered the future of your money-making work. Even if you’re completely satisfied with your current employment, it’s smart to plan for future promotions and pivots (especially unexpected ones).

And that requires doing something today that should feel very familiar: creating a content marketing strategy.

This time, though, you’ll create it for your personal brand.

Not sure you need to invest the time?

Consider these wise words from a CMWorld Twitter chat a couple of years ago that still ring true today:

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“Careers in marketing make personal branding even more important. If you can’t develop your own brand, people might not have the confidence that you can help them develop a company’s/product’s/agency’s brand,” Mike Myers tweeted.

The chat’s guest speaker, Anh Nguyen, agreed: “All the knowledge and experience gained for your personal brand can be scaled for content marketing for a client or an employer.”

The knowledge and experience you gain from marketing your #PersonalBrand can be scaled for employer or client #ContentMarketing, says @AnhTNguyen via @AnnGynn @CMIContent.

What is a personal brand?

Before you can craft your personal content marketing strategy, it’s important to understand what a personal brand is.

“Think of it as your reputation and calling card to the world,” Anh said in the Twitter chat. “Your personal brand helps you connect with prospective employers, clients, customers, collaborators, and so on.”

Gabriela Cardoza explained in the chat that a personal brand helps you:

  • Differentiate yourself
  • Build thought leadership
  • Grow trust and credibility
  • Build a network

You have a personal brand already. Every time you engage with people, you create perceptions of who you are in their minds.

When you craft a content marketing strategy for your personal brand, you’ll set yourself on a path toward shaping those perceptions to help you achieve your goals.

Craft a #ContentMarketing strategy for your personal brand and get on an intentional path to achieving your goals, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

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Use these seven steps to create a documented content marketing strategy for your own brand.

1. Craft a brand mission statement

All good content marketing strategies start with understanding the mission and goals. Thus, the first step in your personal content marketing strategy is to create a mission statement.

Here’s how Gabriela broke down the components of a personal brand mission statement:

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • What you stand for
  • What your unique value is

I’ll add one more – What do you want to achieve with your brand?

Here’s a personal brand mission statement that might work for a content marketing writer:

I use my creativity and sense of business to help B2B brands engage with their audiences through compelling content. I work to ensure my content is equitable and inclusive. I want to grow my recognition as a go-to resource in the content marketing industry.

TIP: You can’t develop your personal brand without considering your employer’s brand because you’re tied together publicly. Tweak or supplement your personal mission statement accordingly.

You can’t develop your #PersonalBrand without considering your employer’s brand. You’re tied together publicly, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

2. Write an editorial mission statement

Put together your personal editorial mission statement, which connects to your brand mission.

CMI’s Jodi Harris writes that a great content mission statement details three elements (I’ll go into more depth on each later):

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  • Core audience – who you aim to help (serve) with your audience
  • What you’ll deliver – the kind of information you provide
  • Outcome or benefit – the things your audience can do (or will know) because of your content

A content mission statement answers the why, who, and what of your #content, says @joderama via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. #ContentMarketing #PersonalBrand Click To Tweet

You don’t need an elaborate statement. Just give a brief overview in a sentence or two.

With your personal brand and editorial mission statements complete, you now have the required footing to develop a content marketing strategy.

3. Detail your brand’s content marketing goals

Your personal content marketing can help you achieve your professional goals (to get a raise, a new job, more clients, etc.), but those aren’t your content marketing goals.

Content marketing involves creating and distributing content to attract and retain your audience and, ultimately, drive profitable action.

Here are some personal content marketing goals to consider:

  • Build brand awareness: Get your name out there.
  • Earn brand trust: Help people see you as a valuable, reputable resource.
  • Deepen brand loyalty: Connect with people on a deeper level (e.g., get them to sign up for your newsletter or share your content).
  • Attract strategic partners: Get people to want to help you (e.g., guest blogging and conference speaking).

Once you define your content marketing goals, you can zero in on the right audience.

4. Detail your target audience

You know what you want, but what does your audience want?

First, describe who your audience members are. What industries do they work in? What roles or titles do they have?

Then detail their interests and behaviors. What do they want to know? What are their pain points? Where do they live (online or geographically)?

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Let’s say you’re a content marketing specialist for a financial services company. Your goal is to build awareness of your name and skills. Your audience members are managers and directors of content marketing, communications, and marketing in the finance industry. They want to know more about how to get buy-in and budget support from their firm’s leaders. They check LinkedIn every few days but never use Facebook.

5. Identify your content sweet spot

Think of a Venn diagram. In one circle are your content marketing interests. In the other circle are your audience’s interests and needs. Where the two circles overlap is your content sweet spot.

These are the primary topics that your personal content marketing should cover.

You can also determine preferred content formats and distribution vehicles. For example, if your audience prefers podcasts over videos and you’re looking to build a subscriber database, you would want to create a podcast rather than start a YouTube channel. Or, if your audience usually attends an industry conference, you could submit a proposal to speak at the event. If your goal is brand awareness, you could offer guest blogs on sites your audience visits.

6. Build your content calendar

Now that you have identified your topics, formats, and distribution platforms, it’s time to build an editorial calendar. But remember, you’re just one person – and you probably already have a day job. This is not the time to be ambitious.

I recommend creating a minimum viable calendar – the least you know you can create and publish regularly. If that’s just one blog post a month or a quarterly LinkedIn profile review, that’s fine. If you attempt to do too much and fail to hit on every cylinder, you’re more likely to give up entirely. By setting realistic expectations, you’re more likely to keep going.

Create an editorial calendar for your personal #ContentMarketing. But don’t attempt to do too much, or you’ll give up, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #PersonalBrand Click To Tweet

7. Set measurable goals

Now that you have documented your purpose, audience, content formats, and frequency, you should add numbers and dates to the personal content marketing goals established in Step 3.

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For example, if your content marketing goal is to earn brand trust, your metric might be to gain 50 subscribers to your newsletter in the next three months.

It’s important to connect measurable goals to all your tactics – it’s key to understanding how well your content works.

TIP: You might struggle to come up with realistic numeric goals in the beginning. Don’t let that prevent you from setting them. If you find your numbers were unrealistic in your review, change them. That’s one of the perks of developing your brand – no clients or bosses to complain about the shift.

Connect measurable goals to all your tactics so you’ll know if your #Content is working, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Make yourself accountable

The hardest part of your personal content marketing strategy may be that you’re doing it alone. Without a boss or client expecting your content, it’s easier to push off the work.

Set deadlines for every step in the content production and distribution process. Mark them on your calendar. If you get overloaded and know you won’t meet one, move it out, but don’t remove it from the calendar, or you’ll never get it done.

Want to add one more layer to your accountability? Get an accountability partner. Share your production calendar with that person. Treat this partner as you would a client or boss – let them know when the step is done or tell them about the revised date for completion. (You can do this simply by using the calendar’s notification system.) Even better, become the accountability partner for them too.

Let’s get started. On what date will you complete your personal brand content marketing strategy? Note it in the comments, and I’ll reach out that day to see if you’re done.

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Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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