This is a summary of Tom Belle’s talk at the Microsoft Dynamics 2014 Conference ‘Content Marketing: What’s real & What’s next?‘. Tom Belle is the President and CEO of Gage. In his talk, he provided priceless insight into today’s state of content marketing, and proposed a concise content marketing strategy that is very simple – but not very easy.

Tom’s formula for a successful content marketing is as follows:


Relevant content + right time + right channel.

This means, companies should provide content that matters to their target market, at a time they’re likely to get a positive response, and via a channel their target audience is happy with.

If you’ve already done some content marketing, you probably know that in practice, this is not as easy as it sounds. The problem in today’s organisations is that every employee is unique and works differently from everybody else, and in effect whole departments work differently than other departments.

This can sometimes result in a common problem – everybody is working hard but the effort is not necessarily coordinated. In case of content marketing, the organisation ends up with numerous ‘silos’ of content from Sales, Social, PR, Digital Marketing, Marketing Communications and so on.

Sounds familiar?

The term Tom Belle used for this kind of ‘strategy’ is ‘Random Acts of Content’, which stands for content that is being pushed out via irrelevant channels, at the wrong time and/or isn’t consistent with the overall content strategy of the organisation as a whole.

And this is where the secret lies – in organisation as a whole. To successfully execute a content strategy, the organisation must be taken as a whole as opposed to being divided into departments – sales, marketing, support etc. Otherwise the company ends up with overly expensive and inconsistent ‘strategy’ that yields much worse results than a single, overarching one.


Making it work

So how to make sure your efforts are consistent? If you spend time on social media, you’re likely to have read something about technology being crucial to content marketing. By technology, we mean CRM, Sales Force Automation, Content Management Systems, email marketing, lead generation & management etc. This is of course true – as Tom Belle explains, anything that can be automated should be automated, otherwise you’re wasting your time – but technology can’t create strategy – it can just help you execute it.

So let’s start at the beginning: what should content marketing be used for?

Tom Belle listed a few purposes:

  • Building brand affinity
  • Enlarging the company’s network (getting traffic from more channels)
  • Getting the product out there
  • Generating new leads
  • Cross-selling & up-selling
  • Building a social community

And how should we achieve this? The simple answer is: By reaching out and providing a reason to your target market to also reach out and engage with you.

The more complex answer is, by combining:

  • Technology – as means of getting information in and pushing content out
  • Content – as the main attraction for the audience
  • Marketing – as the methodology for delivering your strategy


Where to start?

Start with your company.

As with every other project, define your objectives. What do you want to achieve with your content marketing? Next, capture the value your organisation delivers in a few short sentences. Look at how your brand is viewed by your target audience.

Continue by focusing on your customer.

Find out what your customers’ needs, questions and interests are, and which channel you’re likely to reach them through. From these, create very specific personas.

Next, create customer journeys.

For each individual persona, map out the journey you want them to take during their lifecycle. Create a matrix for every persona: at each stage of the customer journey (awareness, consideration, trial, use & loyalty, advocacy), define the activities, motivations and key information sources they should have or do. Base your content strategy on these matrices.

For example, if your persona is not happy with an aspect of your competitor’s service and if they’re spending time on LinkedIn, engage with them on LinkedIn and talk to them about how your service will not irritate them in the same way. As the lead is moving through the customer journey, keep sending them messages tailored to every journey stage. Remember, relevant content, right timing and right channel are crucial – and these will change as the lead is advancing in the journey.


Creating great content

The first thing you need to do in order to create great content is to create robust brand content pillars. These will serve you as a sturdy foundation and will keep your content creators from steering off track.

Brand content pillars are the essence of what your audience should think about the value your brand delivers. For example, Nike delivers ‘authentic athletic experience.’ Naturally, in B2B marketing, what we market is often not as exciting as that. However, the value you say you deliver still needs to be relevant to the customer, and if you can find a unique niche and present your brand that way, all the better for your brand.

In his presentation, Tom Belle talked about 3M and their digital display screens. During this campaign, they managed to create 4 times more conversion than from anything they’d ever done before. How? By switching from communicating their products’ features to communicating the experience (value) they delivered to the customer. So instead of talking about the technical specifications of their screens, they focused on talking about the great customer experience. Whatever they did, they made sure they kept their messaging consistent by only creating new content around their brand content pillars (amazing screens, great experience) – which is also why their strategy was so successful.


9 mistakes to avoid

Finally, Tom talked about the most common mistakes to avoid in content marketing:

  1. Not knowing your customers. You can always know your customers better. Invest effort into tailoring your marketing personas and follow through with the messaging you’re sending them.
  2. Not keeping the content unique, borrowing content from everyone else and not adding your own spin on it. Always make sure you’re contributing to the debate.
  3. Not clarifying your objectives and/or strategy and posting ‘Random Acts of Content’.
  4. Not respecting the channels. Always find out what’s appropriate to do on each channel and what people do on these channels, and make your content relevant.
  5. Talking about yourself – always talk about the experience your customer is going to get before talking about your brand.
  6. Chasing ‘that shiny object’ – always make sure what you’re about to do is consistent with your marketing strategy. If it’s not and it’s still enticing, think twice before doing it.
  7. Not effectively multiplying content. Make use of your most popular content by recreating it in a different form. This way you can use the same message in various media and get it through to more personas.
  8. Always striving to write a lot. Sometimes less is more – don’t try to stretch what can be written in a few sentences. Sometimes a shorter piece of content has more impact than a longer one.
  9. Not perfecting the whole customer journey. Especially at the end of the customer lifecycle, it’s crucial that your leads feel catered for and relevant. Make sure every touchpoint through their journey is designed to move them on to the next one – by confirming your positive brand image.


What did Tom Belle recommend at the end of his talk? Start simple and follow through. The positive results will come.