There aren’t many people who can describe themselves as a professional content marketer, publisher and writer. These are three things very close to my heart, so I was practically dancing round the room when Melissa Romo agreed to be my guest on The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast.
Melissa is Head of Global Content Marketing at Sage (the accountancy software company, not the publisher), and wrote a novel, Blue-Eyed Son, which she set up a publishing company, Red Ship Books, to publish. (You’ll have worked out by now that this is not a woman who does things by halves.)
Content marketing is now mainstream in every industry. It’s part of what Melissa described as the ‘digital transformation’, but that doesn’t mean it’s always necessarily done well. Here are three top tips from my conversation with Melissa to check your own content marketing strategy is on track.
1) Start with them, not you
Melissa described how Sage ‘is striving to truly leverage content as a strategic element of its digital marketing in a way that it hasn’t been able to so far.’ One reason why it’s been problematic in the past was legacy structure: ‘The company has really been organised by countries or acquired units, and so activity around content has been relatively siloed in those countries or acquired units… there hasn’t been a holistic thinking about the audience.’
The audience is not monolithic, of course, and neither is it an abstract concept. The people you’re writing for are real people with their own preoccupations, fears, frustrations and hopes. ‘It’s the job of content professionals and content specialists to help define the audience, and put a face on the audience,’ says Melissa. ‘We worked on this last year, defining six personas for Sage, and that is how we define our content… we have, in the past, tended to start with the product we’re trying to sell, and what we are working hard to change at Sage is that we actually should start with the person we’re trying to sell to.’ Not the imprints. Not marketing vs editorial. Not the UK vs the US. Whatever way your company has been carved up to create neat reporting lines is almost certainly not the way you want to be presenting yourself to your readership.
2) But don’t lose yourself along the way
I was struck by the fact that Melissa is one person on Twitter (@RomoAuthor), despite wearing so many hats. It wasn’t always that way, she told me, but ‘trying to run three Twitter accounts as an author, a publisher and a content professional was too hard, and I realised I lost the synergies that go between those three types of roles, and so I just decided to dump the three and go with @RomoAuthor… I want to just be that one persona out there in social media.’ What makes her so special is precisely that blend of expertise, experience and interests. People buy people, so focusing on your audience should not mean that you lose your sense of yourself. The publishers who are winning at social media and content marketing today are those who let the personalities of their passionate, intelligent, sometimes snarky, often funny individual members of staff shine through. Having said that, you can’t always have a bright young thing on hand to answer a customer’s question so…
3) Keep looking ahead
I asked Melissa what she thought were the trends in content marketing – what do we need to be thinking about next?
‘What’s really hot right now is content coming out through robots… The bot that Sage has developed is called Pegg, and Pegg actually works through Facebook Messenger and through Slack… You know, if you ask Pegg about your accounting balance, or just “Have I been paid by this customer today?” Pegg will be able to tell you if that has happened or not.’
Some publishers are already using chat bots like this: HarperCollins has recommendation bots that work through Facebook Messenger (BookGenie and EpicReads), and Pan Macmillan are on the brink of launching theirs. The team behind it, BAM Digital, are also developing a recommendation engine for voice-activated assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, which as Melissa notes is taking the US by storm: ‘Everyone has Alexa on their kitchen counter.’
Content marketing is still a relatively young discipline. In some ways it’s simply what we’ve always done – told stories, connected with each other, made someone laugh or cry or think, or persuaded them to do something – but it’s also just beginning to explore the boundaries of what’s becoming possible in this disrupted world.
Watch this space.
Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com.