Tag Archives: content marketing

Bring on the Robots

I suppose it’s time to comment on Content Commoditization.

Several prospective clients have commented recently that they urgently “need lots of content.” This isn’t surprising as Content Marketing matures as a discipline. It’s now broadly accepted that marketers can attract a lot of promising leads by dangling Thought Leadership content for prospects to download from gated sites.

robot3A lot of CMOs evidently are feeling that they’re getting a late start in the inbound marketing game. Our conversation may begin with a very specific need for an eBook or case study, but lately it’s often ended with a rueful admission: “We’ve got a lot of holes to fill in our content – we’ve got nothing.”

That’s both gratifying and troubling to hear. When multiple marketing execs express a need to populate a content library in a hurry, it’s natural to worry about the quality of the material and what’s likely to pass muster these days.

Machined Content

What started me thinking about this was Ann Rockley’s post from a year ago on “machined content,” which resurfaced this morning in an email from the Content Marketing Institute. I’ve been seeing a variety of references lately to robotically-constructed content – articles concatenated from raw data by algorithms. Wise guy friends who know I make a living as a writer share these things with me – they can’t help themselves.

In fairness, that’s not what Rockley is talking about. She’s suggesting that original content can be repurposed for use in multiple forms and media, with the aid of software. Which is fair enough, assuming the original source content is well thought out and well crafted – generally meaning, at least for now, that the content was written by a human.

Rockley’s original post was half of a point-counterpoint with Jay Acunzo, another content marketing pundit, who shoved back hard at the suggestion that robots will ever be literate enough to replace human authors. Both posts are worth reading for anyone with a professional interest in content.

I’ve seen some of the results of automated writing. My sense is that, if an algorithm can convert a box score into a short, pedestrian recap of a ball game, that’s probably a reasonable expedient for some media. On the other hand, I’ve seen attempts to teach artificially intelligent agents to write creatively, and come away with the sense that I’m likely to be in a comfortable retirement before a robot can replace a literate meat puppet.

Homogenized Content

I think automation is a side issue, but something worrisome is afoot. That something is commoditization of marketing content – a more general homogenizing of content into prosaic, plain vanilla, placeholder prose that fills a gap in the content arsenal, but only just.

I see evidence of commoditization every day. Content practitioners wind up on a lot of email lists, and we’re constantly getting each other’s stuff. And of course I notice – I have a professional interest in what passes for marketing content these days.

Apologies in advance if this sounds arrogant, but I invest a lot of myself in what I do, and a lot of the marketing content I read is crap.

I take it on faith that it’s written by carbon life forms. It’s search engine optimized to the nines – finding it certainly isn’t a problem. But it’s dull, weighted down with past-peak business jargon, and each piece is practically indistinguishable from what the sponsoring company’s competitors are tweeting this week.

Not all of it, of course. Content marketing is maturing but it hasn’t become decadent yet. Plenty of creatives are producing outstanding stuff that speaks to real customer needs, makes an elegant case for a product, answers serious questions and casts a flattering light on a brand.

But demand for content is increasingly universal, and the creative talent pool, like anything else, is defined by a bell curve. A lot of what I see seems to be sourced from the big hump in the middle of the curve.

My point is not to gripe about bush-league writing, but to caution against the “more is better” approach to content development, which might lead to a dumbing down of quality standards.

Quality Counts

Automation, to return to my original point, is unlikely to be an important driver for this. There are other ways to source cheap, commodity content. There are plenty of low-end content mills farming out authoring to amateurs looking to break in to the writing game. If creative quality is a secondary concern and the need is simply to generate lots of verbiage in a hurry, that can look like an attractive option.

The problem, though, is that content quality actually matters. This is not just something content pros tell themselves to continue feeling relevant. It’s been an article of faith ever since content marketing became a thing, and there are pragmatic reasons for this. Bad quality content will frustrate your SEO efforts – Google degrades the position of lousy content in its search results, on purpose.

Net: I doubt that humans who create original content for a living have much to worry about from robotic competition. Ann Rockley probably has a point about using algorithms to aid in repackaging content for reuse. In a market where CMOs are trying to get caught up quickly, we mere mortals can use the help.

Content repurposing is something I’ve done on many occasions; if that sounds like a good way to extend the reach of your content efforts, let’s talk about it.

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An Original Tool for Content Strategists

I’ve posted a couple times about the use of “Customer Journey Mapping” to guide content strategy – or at least to devise a practical plan to decide what content to generate. I first wrote about this in the fall of 2014. Since then, I’ve seen a number of Content Marketing pundits jump on board with this concept. It’s getting to be put up or shut up time.

The premise here is that customers follow fairly regular paths toward discovering your product and buying it. They often get lost along the way, and the challenge for your marketing and sales teams is to help them find their way to your solution. Customer Experience experts describe predictable “Moments of Truth” when prospects need a specific kind of information from you. Each of those Moments represents a need to create and deploy a specific kind of content to help clear away roadblocks to a conversion opportunity.

Thus, by mapping out this “Customer Journey” for your prospects, you also get a compelling plan of attack for filling out your library of essential Content Marketing materials.

I’ve been sharing this idea for more than a year now, and generally getting a warm response. The experts in the Content Marketing field have gravitated toward this idea, and I’ve begun to see various tools and templates being offered to help corporate content strategists implement the concept.

Long story short: I’ve downloaded a number of these tools, hoping to find one that might be helpful to the sorts of people who hire me to write white papers and blog posts. I have been really unimpressed with what I’ve seen. So I made one, and I’d like you to have it.

Here it is. Click the big, ostentatious, red button buttonto download Peter Dorfman’s Customer Journey Mapping Worksheet. A lot of Content Marketing consultants would force you to fill out a lead generation form to get a wicked cool gadget like this. But that’s not how I roll. (I hate gated content. Be honest…don’t you?)

I would, however, appreciate your feedback on it. And I’d love an opportunity to help you put it to work.

The big difference between this tool and the others I’ve seen is that mine is specifically intended to guide content creation and deployment. Because it isn’t enough to have defined Customer Personas and mapped out the stages in the sales cycle. If you’re even following along in this conversation, you probably know there’s more to Journey Mapping than that.

Once you know where the Moments of Truth are for each persona along the Journey, you can generate content that will be useful right then and there. What many Journey Mapping teams forget to ask, however, is how that content is going to reach the customer when he or she needs it. The decision on what content to create has to take into account which of your many Touch Points is in the best position to expose that content to the prospect. So it’s worth spending time up front listing those Touch Points and considering when and how they interact with the customer.

For each Persona, the tool invites you to consider:

  • The unique Journey associated with that Persona (usually a different path for each customer type);
  • Your company’s Messaging at each stage along that path;
  • Which company Touch Points interact with the customer at each stage;
  • The customer’s typical state of mind at each stage (which influences the tone of your communications at that point in the Journey);
  • The Buying Authority of the person you are likely to be influencing at each point in the Journey;
  • The Objections and Roadblocks to a purchase decision, or to your solution, and your optimal responses to each of these obstacles; and
  • Stakeholders who must be won over, including those in a position to approve a deal and those in a position to oppose it.

Knowing all of these specifics, you’re in a good position to take an inventory of your marketing content, matching specific pieces to specific Moments of Truth. You also can identify obvious gaps in your arsenal of content, and schedule resources to generate new content to close those gaps. And by considering who the Touch Points are at each stage of the Journey, you can decide how best to format content and who to train on its most effective use.

As I say…I would love to help you implement this Content Strategy approach. If you like what you see here but want some additional guidance, just let me know. If you would like me to work with your team to develop its Content Plan, I’d be glad to discuss that too.

If this method helps you identify content you need to develop and you need help generating it…voila! You’ve stumbled across my ulterior motive for offering this tool. Let’s talk.

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Meet me at LegalTech?

I’ll be browsing the exhibits at the ALM LegalTech conference in New York next week, if you care to meet up.

I’ve been around the Legal Technology market for quite a while, taking on writing projects for the attorney, corporate counsel and legal technologist audiences.


I’ve done numerous legal-focused projects including:

  • Media relations counsel for Litéra, a vendor of document change management software chiefly to law firms;
  • Case studies and white papers for the Information Governance Initiative, a consortium of tool vendors in the Records Management, eDiscovery and related areas – I’ve written white papers for Active Navigation, Equivio and Nuix;
  • A customer story for Anaqua, a patent law case management tool vendor;
  • Contributions to the corporate blog for Bridgeway Software, a matter management vendor;
  • Contributions to the blog of Robert Half Legal, a leading recruiting firm for law firms and corporate law departments.

Before launching Peter Dorfman Creative Services, I was Principal Knowledge Manager, globally, for the Office of the General Counsel at Hewlett Packard for three years. I managed the Legal intranet for a department of 1,200 operating in 77 countries, and led communications and collaboration projects for the Litigation, Intellectual Property and IP Licensing, Mergers and Acquisitions, Ethics/Compliance/Privacy, Contracts and Commercial Law, Antitrust and Competition Law and other disciplines. I had a key role in the department’s Legal Process Outsourcing effort as well.

If you want to get together in New York, or if you just want to talk about how I might be able to help your content marketing program succeed, contact me directly.

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I’m on Google+. Just because.

gplusI’m regularly reminded by the pundits in the social media game that Google+ is an essential place for brands to be seen — including my own. I don’t mean to be unkind, but I’m still waiting to be convinced.

Nevertheless, I maintain an active presence there, and have just started a Group, called Content Directors. It’s an invitation only group that is intended for people who are responsible for Content Marketing programs for their organizations — operating companies, not-for-profits and government agencies. If you’re accountable for your organization’s content, the group is for you to network with your peers who share this responsibility.

Do join it, if the shoe fits.

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Knowledge Management and steamed milk

I’ve been involved, in one way or another, in the esoteric science of Knowledge Management for more than 20 years. I’ve lived through KM’s many ups and downs, and I’m happy to admit that it’s never been an easy sell. A lot of people aren’t sure what KM is, much less why they need it. (If this happens to be an issue for you, drop me an email and I’ll give you my take on a definition for it.)

Suffice it to say it’s a complex business process, and adopting KM is more than a matter of buying a piece of technology, slamming it in and expecting it to solve a problem for you. This is true of a lot of business processes for which there are associated classes of software solutions. Each of these is a discipline involving an array of process, cultural and other pragmatic issues that have to be resolved in order fSteamed Milkor the technology you buy to have any measurable utility.

In fact, this is true of just about any product, isn’t it? Even milk – how many variations on milk are there in the supermarket’s refrigerator case? Heavy cream, light cream, half & half, whole milk, 2%, 1%, skim – each of these is a lifestyle choice, and I’m leaving out the whole issue of organic milk (versus…whatever we now call the alternative to organic), to say nothing of rice or soy derived synthetics.

It’s now a matter of expert opinion, what milk is. Your milk purchase is now the punchline in a lengthy shaggy dog story.

Lately, combining two disparate business preoccupations of mine, I’ve been talking to vendors of enterprise software, including KM tools, about their Content Marketing objectives. The gist of Content Marketing is that any brand, technology-intensive or not, is really a complex story, in which the buyer engages with the seller and assumes a part in the play. This is as true for SharePoint as it is for milk. The milk story might involve an elaborate daily ritual in which the buyer whips up a fresh cup of latte. The SharePoint story, analogously, could involve a team of attorneys collaborating on the drafting of commercial leases.

As a seller, your goal is to differentiate your brand and establish yourself as a source of good information – content – that gives the buyer the confidence that you can ensure that the story has a happy ending, whether it’s a perfect latte or a tightly crafted lease, every time.

Over a couple of decades in the knowledge management game, I’ve evolved a brief litany that I recite to give consulting clients a sense of what decisions are involved in addition to selecting and buying software – in fact, typically well before software adoption becomes an issue. Here it is:

Process – People – Content – Tools

At first, this may seem irrelevant to your business, especially if you’re not in the knowledge management field. But it occurs to me that this little bit of doggerel applies to many kinds of technology adoptions. I deliberately drop the product itself to the end of the list, because the non-technical issues have to be confronted to establish a context in which the buyer can successfully adopt the product. That’s a model that fits a wide array of technologies, even beyond IT.

  • Process – The technology buyer is paying attention because he has a business process he suspects would be more effective if a technology like yours were incorporated in it. But what process is it? Is your product really a fit for that application?
  • People – Business processes don’t run themselves. Making any new process or any significant change to an existing process a success will require some degree of organizational culture change. Is the buyer’s team prepared to make that change?
  • Content – Most technology adoption in organizations is concerned with data or information – capturing it, making sense of it, sharing it, and putting it to work. If the adopting organization is producing the wrong information, or presenting information in an impractical form, then no technology, yours or your competitor’s, is going to provide an effective outcome.
  • Tools – Once you understand the buyer’s process, people and content constraints, is your technology the right fit? Can it be shoehorned into place even if it isn’t a perfect fit? If all the stars are aligned, that’s the time to talk technology options.

PPCTThis model has served as an effective way to help clients approach complex technology adoption projects with an appropriately broad perspective. But a new use for my little mnemonic suggests itself: As an organizing principle for a technology vendor’s Content Marketing program.

If you market a software tool – in KM, for example – you already are accustomed to a long sales cycle, as prospects work toward satisfying themselves that your tool is more likely to get them to a successful outcome than your competitors’ tools. If you accept my premise that a successful outcome requires more than a rich feature set, a friendly user experience or a low price, then here’s another proposition: Your marketing objective should be to convince the buyer that you are the authoritative source on the Process, People and Content issues that create the context for successful use of the tool.

Each of these objectives could be met in different ways. It may be that the most effective way to prepare the end users for the change to come is to involve them in a sponsored community of users from other organizations that have come through the experience satisfied and still gainfully employed.

To educate the buyer on process issues, it may make sense to produce a branded White Paper, walking the buyer through a process-oriented roadmap for adopting the business process in which your tool will be used (as opposed to the tool itself).

As for content, think about creating a set of generic templates for the kinds of documents or files you anticipate will be stored in your platform, and offer them through your web site. Think beyond your own tool, and design them for general utility in the business process you support.

If you’re still with me, then your plan should be to fill out your library of marketing content with materials that establish your credibility as a source of expertise on the processes in which your technology is applied; on the methodology for taking the adopting team through the culture change that is required for success; and on the design and delivery of world class content for these applications.

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Content marketing and me

fogFriends and colleagues have begun to notice my embrace of a peculiar phrase: “Content Marketing.” I’m getting a lot of quizzical looks. Content Marketing is a slippery concept, but I think it will have more staying power than “Social Media Marketing.”

What it boils down to is that any business is defined not by the product it sells, the money it generates, the building in which it operates or the people who do the work. A business is a complex set of relationships between the producers and the consumers of a product or service. It’s a set of affiliations, and a complicated story. Content Marketing is the art of nurturing that story and making everyone in the value chain between the producer and the buyer a character with a role to play in it.

The consumer’s acceptance of a role in the product story is what sustains the business.

Convincing the consumer that he or she has such a role to play is relatively easy for a complex, expensive, high-involvement offering such as health insurance or a Boeing Dreamliner. It’s very easy for a product that has built-in emotional freight – a “lifestyle product” like a rifle or a luxury car, which is born laden with its own mythology about the kind of individual who’s meant to own it. It’s actually harder for low-involvement product like a laundry detergent or string cheese, but that hasn’t stopped consumer marketers like Procter & Gamble and Kraft from investing in substantial Content Marketing programs – some of the industry’s most successful.

It’s called Content Marketing because whatever form it takes, the effort to build a narrative around a product and engage the buyer in it requires lots and lots of content – words, images, infographics, songs and experiences.

Ever wonder how Red Bull, Subaru, Costco and John Deere all got into magazine publishing? Why was NBC’s recent live broadcast performance of “The Sound of Music” essentially a two-hour commercial for Walmart (in which the ads were almost indistinguishable from the show itself)? What’s up with all those tweets, blog articles and Facebook posts from corporate accounts? They’re all forms of Content Marketing. They don’t sell; they engage.

For the benefit of my still-quizzical friends and colleagues…what does any of that have to do with me?

As in any industry, there are creatives; there are engineers who constantly reinvent and tweak the channels for content delivery; and there are business heads who define the market, channel the demand and figure out how to quantify the benefits.

I’m a creative, a content producer. A writer in various media; a spinner of stories. I hire myself out to the aforementioned business heads for whom such stories are written. Of course, a very small percentage of writers get the privilege of making a living defining themselves as such. Content Marketing is the new context for creative. Apparently, it’s where the ex-journalists are resettling themselves these days. For people who trade in words and images, it’s where the demand is.

There, now. Is it beginning to make some sense?

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