James White
17th February 2020 - 6 mins read
S

ounds great, doesn’t it?

But the reality is, it is simplistic, outdated, rigid and even wrong and that’s why I think it is time to take a hammer to the funnel.

The big problem with the funnel is it doesn’t reflect the modern consumer’s experience or the way they interact with brands. And it is also prescriptive about where different content formats sit in the process, whereas it should be the content within each format that is the decisive factor – not the delivery method.

Just because someone is at the start of a process to buy a product doesn’t mean they need the same form of marketing content to take them further along that journey.

Everyone is different. When I have gone out to buy software, like Communigator, I have tended to go on YouTube and looked at ‘how to’ videos. I wanted to find out more about how you import data and how you create dashboards.

Most marketeers would argue that is the back end of the funnel, where you are really deciding what you are going to buy, but I used it right at the top.

The top of the funnel for me is about peer review and word of mouth. I am more likely to talk to people and ask how they do things.  Yet this doesn’t get a look-in in marketing funnels.

The other top of the funnel – the awareness piece - for me is people picking up the phone and calling me or going to a conference and seeing a good speaker.

And, I’m sure I’m not alone – different types of content appeal to different people at different times.

You simply cannot afford to put everyone in the same pot and say that just because they are at a particular stage of the process, they need that type of content, delivered in a particular type of way.

Let’s take podcasts as an example. These are typically placed in the ‘awareness’ section at the top of the funnel. But why do they need to sit there? Surely, they could also play a role in other stages, such as research and comparison.

You could have a podcast talking about the different types of automated marketing software and that would sit in the comparison section. Or you could have a podcast talking about pricing or ROI which could sit in the ‘purchase’ section of the funnel.

As I say, it is the content within each format that decides where it should be used in the process, not the delivery method.

So, if you are not going to base your marketing on the funnel, what should you do?

Well, you still need a process in place that gives thought to where different parts of content should be. And you still need a method or process for identifying buying intent.

Ultimately it is all about having good quality content that engages, convinces and compels your audience, regardless of whether they come to it at the start of the buying process or when they are about to make a buying decision.

You need to offer them something that adds value; that showcases your expertise and highlights what makes your brand different.

That is why at Thirty Seven, and our sister company Media First, we put journalistic principles at the heart of every bit of content we produce.

And that means we aim to tell the TRUTH.

By that I mean our content is:

 

T topical, of the moment, and something people are talking about

R relevant to a specific audience

U unusual. Not what people already know or expect

T trouble. Show how you are solving a problem. Or, if your story is not strong enough, a journalist will look for their own trouble angle

H human interest. What is in it for people? What impact will it have on your customers and the journalist’s audience?

 

The aim is for the content to include at least four of the five elements of TRUTH to create something meaningful.

But the human aspect is crucial.

The most common phrase you will hear in a newsroom is ‘so what?’ Journalists will look at a potential news item and ask ‘so what does this mean for my audience?’

At the very least they will want to know who the people are behind the story. Take a look at any newspaper, news website or news programme and you will find all the stories have a human angle.

The reason is simple – people are fascinated by stories about people, not policies, procedures initiatives and protocols.

As well as telling the TRUTH you need to say AMEN (no, this blog hasn’t taken a strange turn towards religious preaching). This means you need to ensure the content you produce is suitable for the target ‘Audience’; that you are clear on the ‘Message’ you want to get across to that audience; that you have ‘Examples’ (ideally human ones) to support and explain that message; and that you have considered any potential ‘Negatives’ that could be raised.

Unless you are working for a company with a huge marketing budget, and lots of people producing the content, the ‘topical’ element of what makes quality content is tricky.

The key is to balance timely content with content that is evergreen (not time-sensitive) and that can also be sliced and diced in different ways. At Media First, we have recently taken a number of blogs and used them as the basis of downloadable eBooks aimed at specific sectors.

Similarly, there is no reason why videos can’t be turned in to podcasts or why parts of a Whitepaper can’t be turned into an Infographic. Not only does this ensure your carefully crafted content is working harder, but you are also providing more ways for consumers to access content in the ways they are most comfortable.

The other key journalistic principle you need to use in your content is proof reading. You should ensure that your content is seen by three sets of eyes before it leaves your office. This helps to ensure your content meets its aims and objective and that those typos and errors that can undermine content are eradicated.

I mentioned earlier the importance of still having a process behind your content once you have moved away from the funnel.

That process needs to be flexible and it also needs to be something you are prepared to interrupt. At Media First, we would normally see someone downloading our content as a sign of a hot lead.

But recently we decided to interrupt that and call people before they reached that stage.  We called 135 people – identified by the pages they had visited on the website. 90 people got dropped, two were not the right contact and one was international, but we generated 34 proposals and eight hot leads – that is a ridiculous conversion rate for new business development.

 

It’s time to take a hammer to the funnel – or at least throw it out. There is a better way, and quality content lies at its core.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is a podcast or email marketing.

Marketing

Content should be more than just marketing

Tom Idle 29th March 2018 — 8 mins read

I couldn’t bear to sit around on the sidelines any longer while some agencies just messed things up,” is how James puts it when I ask why he’s decided to venture into the world of content marketing.

In his six years as MD of Media First, James and his team have been asked more and more to help with different communications challenges – to present better, to deliver more impactful messages, to shoot and edit film, to hone communications. “We’ve been naturally moving towards helping with content marketing over the years. Now, with Thirty Seven we will get to help our amazing clients in a much more involved way.”

James is joined by Mark, an ex-Microsoft application development consultant, who has been running his own content and design agency for the last five years. Having worked together enhancing Media First’s own content marketing and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) performance, the pair decided to team up.

“We’ve built a loyal following and I enjoy knowing that what we are producing is worthwhile and entertaining,” adds James. “I knew that, so long as we kept enjoying the creative process and stayed true to our journalist-led concepts of always putting the audience first, then there was a good chance that people would continue to enjoy reading, watching and listening to the content we were making.”

Enjoying the frisson of their new business launch, the pair were keen to tell me how and why they plan to do content marketing better.

 

It seems that your decision to establish Thirty Seven was based on a belief that most content marketing is poor. What’s wrong with it? 

Mark Mars (MM): So much content is produced without any strategy behind it and the quality just isn’t there.

When it comes to SEO, there has been such a focus on creating pages that rank for certain keywords. What you often end up with is lots and lots of content which might create a decent search ranking, but the quality is so poor that visitors don’t stick around for long. Google has caught up with that and now has more quality measures in place.

James White (JW): SEO and content are still considered by some agencies to be separate pieces of work. But they need to be considered together. You don’t produce good SEO with poorly developed content; it just doesn’t work.

Also, the content marketing industry seems to be in a race to produce the most amount of stuff. Quality is coming second to quantity.

 

But clearly your customers are increasingly aware of the need to improve content quality. How have you evolved to cope with changing client needs?

MM: A hell of a lot has changed in the last five years. Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million, so brands really understand that this is the best way to reach their audiences.

There is also more appetite from consumers to digest content in many different forms, which opens up plenty of opportunity for publishers and content creators.

But that is not to say that it is being done particularly well. About 80% of B2B marketers claim to use content marketing. But 70% of them lack a consistent or integrated content strategy—and that’s a big problem. There has been too much focus on quantity over quality.

JW: ‘Quality’ is such a generic term because it’s all subjective. You need to develop the right content, for the right audience, in the right format, at the right time and in the right place.

Brands need to think more like publishers to really get the value out of content.

 

You use journalists to deliver content for your customers. The benefits of doing that might be obvious, but what is it you’re getting from journalists that you might not get from other content creators?

JW: Well, content should be more than just marketing. It’s not just good enough these days to tell good stories. You have to educate, entertain and excite audiences. You have to give people a reason to care.

Journalists inherently get this. They know how to sniff out unique stories that make people stop, sit up and listen. My wife is a journalist and she has a great ability to be brutally honest. I could spend all day coming up with, what I think is, a great idea. I’ll go home and tell her about it and she’ll challenge me by saying something like, “Who cares? Why will your audience give a damn?”

And that’s what’s great about journalists. They can easily put themselves in somebody else’s shoes and work out how people tick. That’s why I’ve loved working with our team of journalists at Media First these past six years.

 

Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million...

 

All of your customers will have very different needs. How do you approach each piece of work to deliver the best results?

MM: Well, you need to get into the mind of the client to find out what they want to achieve, rather than just blindly creating content. You need to help build a cohesive and coherent plan that includes not just what content you will create, but also how you are going to publish it and promote it.

JW: It’s all about meeting objectives. Is this content to raise awareness? Or is it to convert lurkers on a website into buyers?

It’s also about looking at data to find out what types of content a client’s audience wants and how it wants that delivered.

When we get into content creation mode, we work like an editorial newsroom to script, write, edit and sub-edit. That then goes through a cycle of refinements until we are happy for it to leave our office and reach the client for sign-off.

 

There’s a continuous debate about the virtues of long- versus short-form content. Which do you think is best?

MM: It’s not really about what’s better. It’s about what’s most appropriate.

We do live in a fast-paced world, but to say that nobody wants to read more than 500 words just isn’t true. Long-form content has always received more shares and links than shorter pieces. People do appreciate the time that goes in to creating quality long-form content. And Google does too, with their algorithm generally favouring longer content.

 

So, are there rules for creating great content that you stick to?

JW: We like to use the simple TRUTH test – that the content is Topical, Relevant, Unusual, Trouble (solves, raises awareness of or discusses) and importantly, contains Human interest.

But it has to be delivered in the right format as well. Many people were surprised to hear that Media First and Thirty Seven have joined forces to create this magazine. Yes, it might seem a bit retro but not all audiences are the same; not everyone wants to read a blog or get their information from social media. I have a Kindle and iPad at home but still buy books, newspapers and magazines.

 

The General Data Protection Regulation is coming, giving individuals more control over how their personal data is collected and used online. What will it mean for the content marketing industry?

JW: It’s certainly something our clients need to be aware of, not least because the new regulation is so far-reaching. It will affect not just marketing but internal comms and even supplier contracts.

You can either hide under your desk and pretend it’s not happening. Or you can see it as an opportunity to be proactive.

I personally think it’s a great thing. I will have more control over my data and who markets to me. And as a content producer, I will know that we are providing our audiences with information they want.

 

So, what does the future look like for content marketing?

MM: We are drowning in content and it is getting harder to get results. The average number of shares of any content has been steadily falling over the last few years. So the whole practice does need to evolve.

That means content marketers need to be a lot more strategic about the type of content they create, backed by better research. And instead of asking inexperienced or new writers to churn out low-quality pages of blogs for long-tail keyword targeting, content teams will be comprised of creative designers, developers, AI experts, videographers, as well as plenty of experienced writers and journalists too.

JW: We also know that it’s going to be important to work closely with our customers’ teams. I hate the concept of a full-service marketing agency, where everything is outsourced. I hate to see comms teams dwindling in size. We want to support our customers to retain in-house teams because we’ve seen just how important they are during the last 35 years working with Media First.

 

What’s with the name, Thirty Seven? How did you come up with that?

MM: Well, if you ask somebody to pick a random number between zero and 100, a disproportionate number of people will choose the number 37. The more you delve into the number – the fact that it appears more regularly than any other number in films, for example – you realise just how special it is. It’s attractive and we’re in the attraction game, so it made sense.

 

What’s it like working with each other? Do you always get on or are there things you disagree on?

MM: We’re very similar. We’re both ambitious and want to succeed.

But our work lives have been very different so we have different ideas about how things should be achieved.

JW: Sure, sometimes Mark and I approach things from a different angle. Occasionally this leads to disagreements. But we complement each other. If we were both the same, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as a team.

Ultimately, we both want to deliver projects that excite and motivate us. That’s the reason we get out of bed in the morning; not to just earn money to pay the mortgage. It’s about more than that.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Adam Fisher
2nd May 2018 - 7 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.