Mid-Funnel Marketing: Creating a Curation Culture

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Creating a blogging culture may be impossible, but creating a Curation Culture is easy and is the key to content-marketing success.

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Some years ago, I recall some buzz about creating a “blogging culture” in your enterprise. The most obvious reason was content volume—in an effort to feed the Google machine, marketers needed more stuff. And if they could get others to help create it, well . . . that would be a big deal.

The Blogging-Culture Experiment

As the marketing lead for a global software brand, I decided to give it a try, and sent out a call for content. A few days later, it started hitting my inbox. People from across departments, it turns out, wanted a voice in the blogosphere.

Long story short, there’s a reason you don’t hear the term “blogging culture” much these days. Most of what got submitted was awful. Not wanting to discourage anyone, I and my team took all submissions and ended up spending a crazy amount of time reworking articles for publication. And while some of them turned out to be pretty good, those who submitted them were universally upset—something to do with their respective babies being unrecognizable after the editing process. The initiative died a quick death.

Where Marketers Need Help

But there’s a much better reason to commission content than sheer volume. In terms of a content funnel, marketers are domain authorities at the bottom. We articulate value proposition, formulate a brand story, and build it all into the company’s product site (website). And as marketers, we assume that when someone lands on our product site that they’ve made the intellectual and emotional journey necessary to appreciate our spiel.

But the further up the funnel you go, the less capable marketers are of creating thought-leadership content, and here’s why. Take the company I mentioned earlier, which was a big brand in several vertical markets but most notably, legal services. Consequently, one of our biggest events of the year was New York LegalTech, which generally had about fifteen thousand attendees: senior partners in law firms, in-house counsel, system integrators, bloggers, industry influencers—you name it.

Cramming the Funnel Full

Our assumption as a marketing team was simple: if they were at LegalTech then we wanted to engage them. To this end we employed an aggressive strategy. While some booths were giving away an iPad at the end of the event, we would give away an iPad every two hours for the entire show. Where most companies would get maybe a hundred badge scans, we’d get ten times that many.

But there was a problem—most of the people that we shoved into the top of our funnel just wanted to win an iPad, even though we believed almost any of them could benefit the company down the road some distance. The challenge, then, was creating the diversity of top-funnel content necessary to stay top of mind among the various types of people in our funnel until they were ready for a sales discussion. Simply put, we were domain experts at marketing who knew a lot about our particular product. But we knew nothing, for example, about running a large law firm or the rigors of system integration in the legal services space. Consequently, even if we had the bandwidth, we didn't have the domain expertise to create engaging content.

Why Content Marketing Fails

The need to catalyze a migration from the top of the funnel to the bottom engendered content marketing to begin with. But the virtual impossibility of marketing teams (especially in small-to-medium-sized businesses) creating thought leadership content for multiple customer personas is the reason why so many content-marketing initiatives fail.

Racoon Traps and Content Marketers

In the iconic children’s novel, “Where the Red Fern Grows” the old grandpa tells the protagonist, a young boy named Billy Colman, how to catch a racoon. In short, you drill a hole in a log and throw something shiny into it. Then you drive nails at an angle so that they protrude into the hole. The racoon sees the shiny object, sticks its paw in and grabs it, but, then, can’t pull out its clenched paw plus the object. It’s trapped. Billy thinks he’s been had: “But Grandpa, the racoon could just let go of the [object] and get away.” The kicker, of course, is that the racoon is too stubborn to let go of the very thing that has him trapped.

The point? Marketers have to let go of the idea that they can create content for customer personas at the top of the funnel. For most companies and products, they can’t and never will be able to. Fortunately, there’s an obvious alternative.

The Solution: Creating a Curation Culture

It’s hard to imagine a niche large enough to interest marketing teams that wouldn’t have dozens, even hundreds, of influencers, bloggers, and luminaries creating content for it—top-funnel, professionally created content for any customer persona you happen to define. The key, then, is curating content to go on a site that reinforces your brand story. And here is where employees outside marketing can be helpful.

Put out a call for 3rd-party content. If thought leaders in your company find an article/video compelling or thought provoking, chances are others will to. Have them send you a link. After review, repost the content on your site.

Video Content

Note that YouTube’s Terms and Conditions enable anyone to embed any YouTube video on another site. Videos run in an iFrame, so visitors to your site will be able to view the video right there on your site. (See "How to Create Hybrid YouTube Content.) "Facebook and Linkedin both allow the same thing on a limited basis. All in, we’re talking about millions of videos from professionals that you can selectively curate to support your story.

Written Content

Written content is a little trickier. Many articles on Linkedin can be embedded on your site. (See "What Is Hybrid Content.") And there are lots of sites that use a “creative commons” approach to content distribution. In other words, they’ll let you replicate their article on your site, providing you adhere to a few stipulations.

In most cases, though, you’ll want to create a rich link to an article you find on another site. Consider, for example, what happens when you paste a link to a blog article into an update on Linkedin or Facebook. You get the picture, title, and a short summary. That’s a rich link. (See Mojified Meda for examples of rich links.)

Creating a rich link using the blog editor on a WordPress or Wix site, for example, might be a little tricky, but it can definitely be done. Other platforms, such as Mojified, include rapid content-curation tools that allow you grab videos and create rich links in seconds.

The Need for a Media Site

The best minds in the content marketing industry agree that your product site is for bottom funnel content—product pages, your own blog content, etc. Because this bottom-funnel content is not interesting (perhaps, even caustic) to the I want to win an iPad crowd, you need a second site—a media site—for top-funnel content that you curate from third parties.

Note that this media site is not about SEO. Its purpose is to provide an attractive place to display content that will be interesting to top-funnel prospects, which you'll drive to the site through targeted email blasts and automated social-media posts.