Many marketing analysts, writers and thought leaders have chimed in on what they believe the content marketing maturity model should look like. The Altimeter Group, Forrester, TopRank and likely others have weighed in. What do they all have in common so far? They simply don't go far enough.
Marketing and communications professionals leaning on their insights could believe that being mature is simply monetization. Monetization can happen much earlier in the model below. In other words, landing some new customers by blogging and embracing storytelling does not make a brand content-mature.
The below content marketing maturity model was developed to stand the test of time. Technological advancements and new emerging channels should have a fairly neutral impact on it moving forward. It also highlights one of the most critical, but little deployed or known stages in corporate content marketing maturity. Ignoring this phase is the primary reason most marketing and communications executives believe their content efforts are ineffective.
The Enterprise Content Marketing Maturity Model
2. Testing & Scarcity
Averse to online publishing and promotion at most stages of the buyer's journey. Focuses mostly on offline content towards the bottom of the decision making journey (catalogs, spec sheets, sales slicks, coupons, etc.). Online efforts are primarily controlled by IT.
Individual contributors or small teams within departments create the content they think should be published online without much coordinated effort or vetted, organizationally-aligned, goals. Resources are scarce and red-tape is a hindrance.
Leadership begins to develop processes and coordination across departments. Marketing automation, demand generation and CRM software is used. Measurement is a priority and sales and marketing are more tightly aligned. Focus is almost exclusively on owned and paid media.
4. Promotion & Distribution Logistics
5. Scaling & Optimization
6. Corporate Publishing House
Paid and earned media channels are used to promote, amplify and enhance owned content. Research prior to content production and promotion is standard practice. Communications, PR and marketing are more tightly aligned. Monetization and thought leadership is realized.
The relationship between content and the entire customer buying journey is accurately mapped with cost and revenue figures calculated across most deployed channels. Rapidly growing a significant revenue-driving online audience. Customer service is brought into the fold.
Complete organizational buy-in. Brand reach is epic across industry. Return on content is proven and scaled. In addition to driving revenue and share of voice, striving to earn a disproportionate share of popular culture through brand awareness developed using content.
The research the Content Marketing Institute and others do every year is invaluable information for marketers. Unfortunately, the people surveyed run the maturity gamut - from stage one to stage six and are likely bottom-heavy. Challenges, goals, strategies, tactics, measurement and what's considered a win at each stage of the model can vary greatly. Disappointingly, current research doesn't address this and we're left with very austere data.
In the meantime, let's look at what some of these challenges look like at each stage of the enterprise content marketing maturity model.
Laggards: analog stage
Marketers and communications folks with enterprises at this stage are very frustrated. The keys to publishing anything online and the resources needed are in the hands of IT. Sales mostly values offline printed material and senior marketing executives are stuck in the 90's. Television and other traditional outbound channels own almost all of the marketing budget.
Laggards: testing and scarcity stage
Individuals or small tribes within departments begin to take action. They've earned the ears and made champions of a few executives. Resources that were traditionally owned by IT are accessible, but still scarce enough to prevent full content marketing implementation. Access to the website or websites is easier, too. However, the compliance department makes deploying any type of meaningful and ongoing content marketing campaign very difficult.
Late majority: coordinating stage
This is the stage where many enterprise and midmarket executives find themselves today. This can also be called the honeymoon phase. Marketing departments are poised to reap the rewards of content marketing by focusing on production, email, social media, SEO, demand generation, conversion rate optimization and marketing automation.
Unfortunately, this is also where the majority of marketers try to start scaling and monetizing. They attempt to skip stage four altogether; likely, because they don't even know of its existence. Scaling and monetizing content marketing is very difficult without an existing viable audience or established content promotion and distribution channels working in conjunction with content production, today. This is why most marketers feel their content is not effective.
Last decade, many brands could skip stage four and start scaling and monetizing because the audiences they were targeting were faced with an online content deficit. The digital landscape of today is much noisier than what it was then and those deficits are now online content surpluses. The reality is today's audiences have already found and are loyal to their online destinations of choice. Without a way to reach those audiences scaling and monetization can take many years, if it happens at all.
Early majority: promotion and distribution logistics stage
This is where the convergence of owned, paid and earned media takes place. The line between marketing, communications and PR start to blur. They know what each other are doing and they're all striving to achieve many of the same goals - especially seeing the content they produce and promote driving thousands of eyeballs daily. Thought leadership and monetization is realized in this stage.
Some enterprise organizations attempt to promote their content with paid media exclusively. While this can help expedite monetization and the growth of organic audience, they will likely achieve stage five faster with full convergence, to include earned media.
Early adopters: scaling & optimization stage
In this stage, executives have a pretty clear understanding what it costs to drive one visitor, subscriber, conversion and reconversion from most channels. They also intimately understand what the online personas of their target demographic looks like. Their subordinates know what type of content and on which channels will likely deliver the returns expected. Granularity and standardization of reporting will likely span across many prudent departments.
Active online listening, customer service, reputation management and sentiment are all measured. Executives know what it costs to lose a customer and dedicate resources to prevent it. Just because they're measuring it and dedicating resources to it doesn't necessarily mean it's working well yet. In this stage, brands find their online voice, but may still struggle to make a monumental impact on current brand perceptions.
Innovators: corporate publishing house stage
Marketing, sales, communications, public relations and customer service all have a realized stake in content marketing. All of their respective rolls may not necessarily be mastered yet, but all are either already scaled or are being scaled and monetized. Brands at this stage tend to have many agencies managing or supporting several of the content marketing initiatives and campaigns.
Building, supporting, resourcing and scaling a proven content marketing machine at this stage affords brands more leeway with new channel experimentation. From Snapchat to other niche networks and devices, these are some of the first brands to be seen.
Brands in this stage have surpassed the audience tipping point and can only incrementally grow their audience by slowly chipping it away from others. A hard task to accomplish, but who said earning a disproportionate share of popular culture was easy?
The enterprise content marketing maturity model serves as a compass for the over 90 percent of companies that have already adopted content marketing. Not all aspects of the model have to be realized in the stage suggested. Brands in the early stages have adopted strategies of the latter stages. Those that publish helpful and/or entertaining media in industries with content deficits may realize monetization early. Even so, achieving monetization early does not make a brand content-mature. The model shows that there's much more to strive for.
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