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Why Content Marketing is Like Boxing


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The competitive landscape surrounding marketing has become fierce to say the least, especially when you are held responsible for representing a brand while simultaneously having to generate demand.

This constant pressure, competitiveness and strive to be the best in your respective industry has made me think about marketing more as a sport than a job. The similarities are striking. There is so much that goes into the preparation and execution, and although marketing shares characteristics that are present in almost every sport, boxing is a similarity that I think describes the field best.

Assembling the Right Team

Marketing has transformed into such a multifaceted animal that it takes more than one ace to win the match. Now in addition to the traditional offline materials, there are digital, video, content and social media marketing channels that need to be managed and built upon within a company in order for the most well-rounded, exceptional campaign to unfold. Think about it; a boxer wouldn’t focus only on perfecting a left jab. That’s not going to get him too far. Nor would a boxer only train solely in the ring. It’s the combination of building endurance, learning new techniques and countless hours of practice that turns a novice into a repeat champion.

As the shift towards content creation and engaging with current and potential audiences through owned media channels has transpired over the last few years, many brands have taken to reorganizing their marketing departments to mimic publishing offices. It takes creativity, expertise, sharp writing skills and, perhaps most of all, consistency, to achieve continued success and demand generation. Much like a boxer would rely on a manager, nutritionist, sparring partner and trainer, every new role within a marketing department is as important as the next.

Some of the most vital, emerging roles in content marketing now include:

Chief Content Officer: Much like a champion boxer’s manager, the chief content officer’s role is to oversee the entire operation of content marketing creation — ensuring that everything is being properly completed and meets brand-standards. This position is held accountable for the production and supervision of all digital content that is going to be used as part of a marketing campaign, and guaranteeing that every one else in the department is fulfilling their assigned roles.

Managing Editor: Whereas the chief content officer is responsible for steering the ship, the managing editor’s role is to implement the strategies. This includes creating original concepts, assigning out content and carefully reviewing all proposed materials. The Content Marketing Institute describes this position as someone who works with the roles below to make the stories come alive, including tone, style guides and content scheduling.

Creative Designer: A boxer’s public persona is often influenced by those who surround him. Even the sharpest fighter in the ring needs a talented team in the background promoting fights, designing logos and arranging interviews. It’s all part of a well devised media team. Similarly,while content marketing is focused on messaging, copy isn’t the only vital component. Visuals have a tremendous impact on the influence and success of any campaign. In fact, according to Vocus and Social Media Examiner, 70 percent of marketers are increasing their visual budgets because people see and retain visual content 500 percent faster than text alone.

Customer Liaison: A brand can publish the most well written content, produce the most creative videos and create the most jaw-dropping graphics, but still manage to fall flat in demand generation. The reason? Failing to connect with their audience because they don’t know who their audience really is and what their needs are. Just as a boxer needs to familiarize himself with his opponent to know the other fighter’s signature moves, record of wins and weakest attributes, a proper content marketing team needs to have dedicated staff that are creating buyer personas, conducting focus groups and connecting with clients on a regular basis.

Training for the Fight: Commitment

The fastest way to lose a boxing match: stop throwing punches. The quickest way to sink a content marketing campaign: failure to publish new content.

A boxer doesn’t enter the ring for the first time ever on the night of the fight. No, he has spent days, weeks and months training for one single match. Winning takes determination. Muhammad Ali won 56 out of the 61 matches he entered into, and his career spanned 20 years. He certainly didn’t become a legend by winning his first fight and leaving the sport. In that same respect, a brand can’t expect to see exponential growth after just one published piece of content. Instead, content marketing works so well because it is based around building a relationship of trust and expertise with the audience. Your brand must become a source that viewers can expect to receive winning content from time and time again. When a consumer trusts a brand they are much more likely to return to the website on a continual basis and use the trusted brand’s product over the competition. In fact, companies that blog have 97% more inbound links than those who don’t.

As a result of statistic like these, 79% of marketers’ report that their organizations are shifting to branded content. This concept worked wonderfully for electronics brand Magnolia. Beyond selling electronics, the father-and-son run store produced a mini-magazine that attracted the attention of Best Buy, which eventually acquired the brand for $87 million and the company continues to publish a magazine. Talk about ROI.

Anticipate Audiences’ Plan

The most successful brands continually rise to the top of their markets because they address audience-need’s as soon as they become a concern, and don’t wait until the demand for a solution has become so elevated that the audience starts to look elsewhere for solutions. A prized fighter studies the techniques of his opponents, knows who the biggest competition is and plays close attention to the rising stars that have their eyes on the title.

The first step is understanding the problems potential buyers are facing and reaching them in their preferred means of communication. Marketo helps marketers succeed in all area of their profession by covering topics such as content marketing, social media, email marketing, sales and marketing alignment and lead management. They are constantly taking the issues that plague their clients and creating content specifically geared towards helping them understand and achieve solutions. And the variety of content types on Marketo’s website shows their dedication to innovation. Infographics, blog posts, eBooks, guides, cheat sheets, presentations, webinars — the list goes on.

In addition to addressing current issues, a brand should be equally focused on anticipating upcoming trends. Etsy, a popular online curator, has a current editorial strategy that focuses on popular topics that shape every day. “We’re very engaged with the lifestyle blogosphere … what other blogs are covering, and how can we play against that. A lot of it is trend watching … it’s not like living in a bubble — you really have to keep your feelers out,” editor-in-chief Alison Feldmann told Contently.

Keep Them on Their Toes

Your content should be consistent, but it shouldn’t be expected. The only thing that should be expected is that your company is portrayed as a reliable expert. However, there is no rule that explicitly mandates that you can only deliver this message in a singular fashion. A boxer with the same jab sequence might knock out an opponent or two, but the rest of the competitors would step into the ring knowing exactly what to expect. The sport, like your content, would lose its luster.

One of the most successful ways for brands to create fresh content is to reutilize evergreen materials. You don’t have to avoid a right hook in a match, you just need to make sure it comes when your opponent is least expecting it.

KISSmetrics, for examples, started repurposing blog posts into 47 infographics. Even though the outline of the content had previously been made available to their audience, the new approach helped to generate 2,512,596 visitors and 41,142 backlinks from more than three thousand different sites.

Social media channels are another steadfast way to reinvent, promote and add to content in order to entertain and engage with users. With 67% of adults now admittedly using social networking sites, there’s a great chance your audience does, too. Adding imagery, creating teasers and using company-supported data can work to your advantage. As PR Daily explains, these types of earned media further fosters authentic conversations with your audience, enables a brand to deliver targeted messaging and can be distributed among an endless number of digital channels.

And of course, any company not experimenting with video content creation is doing their brand a disservice. Video is one of the fastest growing segments of content marketing and one of the most influential, too. It’s estimated that by 2017 74 percent of all Internet traffic will be video. More and more companies are gravitating towards video because they are seeing it’s positive impact. Worldwide, 52 percent of marketing professionals named video as the type of content with the best ROI, and it’s been reported that videos increase people’s understanding of your product or service by 74 percent.

If a proven technique is available that increases customer retention and turns interested parties into buying clients, why wouldn’t a marketer take advantage? Yes, it may mean initially stepping out of your comfort zone, but the risks are worth the rewards. Again, this is similar to a boxer who only relies on a few proven fight sequences. Before long every opponent would be able to choreograph the fight and take the necessary precautions to dodge hooks and anticipate every upcoming move. A loss would be inevitable.

You WILL Get Punched

No boxer steps into the ring without the expectation that they are going to eventually take a punch. Sure, to the public they might say otherwise, but well-trained fighter’s train not only to throw hard hits, but to receive them, too. And most importantly, they train for a quick recovery. The same is true for a comprehensive marketing plan. If you don’t like how a fight is unfolding, or the response your company is receiving, change the conversation.

This is exactly what McDonalds Canada did in response to negative press about the nutritional value of their food. Rather than turning the other cheek or dismissing the accusations in standard press statements, the food chain did something rather unexpected. They put the focus on the negative connotations associated with their brand and encouraged customers to submit inquiries. In fact, they launched a website specifically targeted at answering food questions and debunking myths. By becoming transparent, the brand gained back the respect of their client-base.

And even when a brand has regained or maintained a loyal customer base, it may still not be enough. Lincoln, for example, wanted to expand their target audience to include younger demographics who traditionally didn’t make up a large sector of buyers. To do so they strayed from traditional print and TV advertising and created an interactive video campaign that they knew younger audiences would be more perceptive to. The campaign, Dream Ride, gave viewers the chance to experience a ride in a Lincoln luxury vehicle without the hassle of physically going the dealership. Once video users became interested in the brand and familiar with the speed and smooth handling of the Lincoln MKC that piqued their interests, they were more likely to take a true test drive away from the computer screen.

Another crucial component to a content marketing plan and winning the fight to attract clients away from competitors is making sure your clients trust you. And in this regard, honesty is key. Rather than putting up a screen of smoke and mirrors, Chipotle addresses head on, with complete disclosure, the fact they were not always serving natural foods. They admitted that 12 of their 24 food items contained Genetically Modified Organisms and became the first United States restaurant to explicitly label foods containing GMOs on their menu for health-conscious diners. While this honesty turned some customers away, Chipotle embraced their faults and, as Content Marketing Examiner applauds, repaired their brand image by launching a marketing campaign that generated awareness by striking an emotional chord with viewers through an app and videos.

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Win the Match, Not Just the Round

Boxing matches are not just about the first round. While some fighters might achieve a knockout within the first few minutes, and some companies might achieve over night success, the majority of fights go more than a single round. Championship matches have 12 rounds and marketing calendars have 12 months. Each round, like each new month, must build upon previous successes, rebound from mishaps and strive towards reaching the end as the triumphant victor. For a boxer this of course means hearing the final bell and being declared the title-holder. For marketing execs it means watching demand generation grow and meeting and succeeding marketing expectations for their brand. In either instance, once one match or year ends, there is the right amount of celebration, but ultimately the focus returns to the next match, the next year, the next strategy for success.

When it comes to being a marketing savant, don’t be afraid to take chances. Educate yourself on the ever-changing landscape of the industry and go for the knockout. You’re here to win the match, not just a round.

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