I had the chance to catch several interesting sessions at the bigger-and-badder-than-ever SaaStr 2018 in San Francisco last week. I was pleasantly surprised to see and hear content coming up more and more in the panels and conversations.
Pixar and Prezi talked about the power of visual storytelling. Various CMOs on different panels talked about how they try to involve customers and the broader community in the content they publish. But it was during Branch co-founder Mada Seghete’s talk in particular when it hit me: tech founders and marketing leaders need to solve for “content-market fit” in much the same way they work to achieve “product-market fit.”
Seghete was talking about the importance of experimentation and creative marketing approaches when she mentioned the Branch blog as “exhibit A” for her organization. That’s when she uttered one of the simplest, most eloquent soundbites I’ve ever heard for how to think about content:
We found a topic others were interested in, rather one that most explicitly benefited our brand.
I can’t think of a better way to sum up a guiding philosophy for content marketing, whether you sell enterprise integration software, iPhones or paisley pocket squares. Your content should be about “topics others are interested in,” not what you’d love them to put in their shopping carts today. It’s worth reading her words again. And again.
Content As Its Own Product Line
Scads have been written about product-market fit (see serial entrepreneur Jyoti Bansal’s great blog here). Getting it right is inarguably tough, but the concept isn’t too hard to grasp—make stuff people feel compelled to buy. Content is not much different—make stuff people feel compelled to read and/or watch. (And if you do it well, they will want to share it and talk about it, too.)
Too often tech leaders see content as a tactic to sell what’s on the shelf. And content can—and should—help you do that. But if that’s the sum total of your content strategy, you’ve not only missed the big picture, you’ve likely just telegraphed to the marketplace that you have no vision beyond making this quarter’s number. Producing content that serves people—in-and-of-itself, on its own merit—is a long-term, strategic play that can build your community while driving market credibility, authority and loyalty for your brand.
So, approach content similarly to how you would approach nailing product-market fit—just substitute “audience” for “customer” and “content” for “product.”
- Who is my target audience?
- What are their likes? Dislikes? Pain points?
- Will my content help them solve a problem?
- Will my content entertain them?
- Will my content help them be more productive?
Oh—and a key one. Substitute “time” for “money.”
- Will they gladly spend their time on my content?
Treat content as a separate product line—something that has to live or die based on its own intrinsic merits—and you’ve taken the first critical step to creating content that people will be interested in.
Plan, Execute, Iterate
Nailing product-market fit is no easy task (as Jyoti mentions in his blog, inability to get it right is the number one reason why 8 out of ten startups don’t survive). Similarly, many companies are failing with content, whether it’s lonely and semi-abandoned blogs, unwatched YouTube channels or self-serving announcements that journalists reflexively delete (if they notice them at all).
But the good news is, we have more tools at our disposal than ever before to help us understand audiences and to craft content that they will gladly spend their time on. As with product-market fit, it takes a mix of art and science.
Research—e.g., audience demographics, psychographics, pain points, reading and viewing habits—is key, of course. You also need to hammer out your own unique “IP” for content—in other words, how are you going to tap your organization’s brains for the unique/ interesting/ informative/entertaining information and points-of-view that will fuel your efforts? Once you have that, where will you publish? Will you curate? Syndicate? What’s the social strategy? How will you measure how you’re doing?
As with product-market fit, you need experienced professionals driving an end-to-end strategy and plan, managing execution, and iterating based on audience feedback. This is how professional content producers—newspapers and magazines, TV shows, websites, movie producers—have been doing things for a long time. But now we have the benefit of some great new technologies to help us understand and serve our audiences better than ever before. (For example, the folks at MarketMuse showed us a cool demo of how they use AI to help companies better identify the topics that matter to the marketplace.)
Great “content-market fit” is achievable—it just requires the same kind of focus and discipline that tech leaders so readily give to figuring out product-market fit. So, substitute “audience” for “customer” and “content” for “product,” and get planning. Soon you will be producing content that people are actually—wait for it—interested in!