“I want a magazine.” “I want a blog.” “I want a newsletter.” Those are some of the most common needs expressed to us by new clients. More often than not, clients come to us with the media they want already in mind.
Rather than immediately moving forward, we prefer to start the process with a conversation about a client’s content marketing goals, then let those goals guide a custom media platform selection. We’re looking for the platforms that will work most efficiently, rather than the trendiest or flashiest. We won’t recommend a client invest in a custom magazine, for example, until we are clear about what he or she wants the magazine to do. With such an array of media choices to choose from, we realize the decision can be difficult. That’s why we draw on our years of experience—and tons of research—to craft the most appropriate media for each client.

Despite what some might think, simply setting up a few social media accounts isn’t enough. You have to have a strategy of how to use them.
Once you’ve outlined your objectives, if you’re having trouble deciding which social media platforms to use to best market yourself, check out this handy chart from Revenflo to get an idea of which social media platforms will help you achieve your goals. For example, Facebook and Twitter have ended up in the Most Effective Customer Communication and Most Effective Brand Exposure categories, while Digg and StumbleUpon are considered effective in driving traffic to your website.

As if you needed another reminder: Content marketing is the best way to build your presence on the Internet. Sure, it takes more time than submitting an ad, but the payoff is much greater, writes T.J. Philpott in an articlecity.com blog. Here are his five reasons to adopt a content marketing strategy:
1. It’s economical. All it costs is time and effort.
2. It lasts. Newsletters, blog posts or articles drive traffic long after they have been published.
3. It boosts credibility. The more content you publish, the faster your reputation grows online.
4. It draws traffic. By focusing your content on what you’re trying to promote, you’ll pull in not just any traffic, but targeted traffic.
5. It’s search engine friendly. The more you publish quality content and link back to your site, the higher your rankings will be in search engines.
Convinced yet?

At Hammock we work with clients to create content that works–content that solves specific business challenges. But how do we know what content will work for each client? There are some universal content marketing rules to follow, as Rex points out in his “Content That Works” series, but sometimes learning what not to do is just as helpful to guiding strategy decisions.
Here are five areas where Targetmarketingmag.com sees marketers make mistakes when it comes to their content marketing plans:

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times. To compete in today’s global economy, you need a Web presence with a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page … the list goes on and on. But with all the time and energy you put into these social media efforts, how do you make sure you’re getting a return on your investment? Here are the top three ways to make your social media efforts pay off, from John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing blog.
1. Follow up. Use networking sites to follow up with prospects you meet in the real world. Instead of meeting someone at a Chamber of Commerce mixer and following up with a phone call, send that person a LinkedIn invitation and, once you’re connected, pass along an article with tips about the very topic you discussed when you met.
2. Stay top of mind. Use social media to stay in front of your customers and educate them about what you have to offer. Share practical tools and tips and success stories through a blog that you encourage customers to subscribe to so you can engage with them. Upload video testimonials to YouTube and embed them on your site, or create a Facebook fan page with information about promotions and events.
3. Keep tabs on your industry. Subscribe to blogs written by industry leaders, competitors and journalists to stay informed about what’s going on in your market. Scan the day’s industry-related stories with a Google News Reader or set up Google Alerts to track industry terms and the news they create.

My first content marketing job failed, based on the measurements for success I established. I made my first magazine at the age of 10. It was a fanzine related to my enthusiasm for the Washington Diplomats, part of the long defunct North America Soccer League (NASL), and owner of the least poetic of all team nicknames, the Dips.
I hand made the magazines and complied statistics about the teams, players and games of the NASL. My mother, who was a teacher, allowed me to use the mimeograph machine at her office to make a dozen slightly wet and purple copies, which were stapled. I brought the issues to school, and offered them for sale in a unit of my class that was devoted to helping us understand economics. We reserved two hours at the end of the day each Friday to buy and sell to our classmates.
A guy named Sunil Chitra sold erasers with staples pushed in that could be used in our games of racecar before school. Sam Fowler made some sort of kettle popcorn. They met their goals. I know I bought from both of them. My foray into magazine publishing ended with two magazines sold. By the standards of how success could be measured in that situation, it was clearly a failure.
Creating content today can be a pure passion (like fanzines about NASL soccer) for fun, or it can be used to drive business aims, in which case it must be measured for its effectiveness. Content today is just as critical to the growth of a business as capital or access to credit. But content has to move the needle, and we need marks to tell how far the needle has moved.
At Hammock, we create custom content strategy based on our client’s goals and we benchmark and measure those things that we can influence and which drive the business goals. We then create and source the best content for the job. But that’s not enough. We set the marks with our clients, and track the movement of the needle every month, using custom reports to show how it’s working, and when necessary, make a course adjustment.
It’s still great fun to be in a business of creating content. But you can’t buy popcorn or little eraser cars unless you can create content that works.

When crafting your content marketing strategy, it’s imperative that you know what your customers want (and simplifying it to “my product” isn’t good enough). To better understand what your customers are searching for in an experience and a product, DesignDamage suggests researching your customers “natural behaviors,” and asking several questions, including:

  • Where does your customer go when searching for your products and services?

  • When and how do customers gain access to your products and services?

  • What does value mean to them?

  • What are some of the potential barrier to purchase?

  • Who are your competitors and how are they perceived in the customer’s eyes?

Head over to DesignDamage to learn more.

[Part 3 of a Series: See: Introduction. See: Links to other posts in this series.]

One of the ways you can measure the importance our culture places on different kinds of content is by observing the awards associated with them. For example, film and video have all sorts of awards that lots of people seem to care about — even people who don’t watch that much film or video. Music has all sorts of awards, and not just Grammys or CMAs. In the headquarters town of Hammock Inc., Nashville, almost every day there are short items on local websites about parties celebrating Gold or Platinum Records (or whatever they call “records” these days).

[Part 2 of a Series: See: Introduction. See: Links to other posts in this series.]

The subject line of this post is a bit misleading. There is no one wiki entry that will teach you every thing you need to know about research content. Fortunately, you can pick almost any entry on a well organized and managed encyclopedia-model wiki to learn what I’m about to explain. Typically, I’d use a page from SmallBusiness.com, as many of my theories about research content have come while spending hundreds of evening and weekend hours structuring it and learning what works and doesn’t by serving as “head-helper” to people who’d like to add content to it — or who can’t find something they’re looking for.
However, I’ve decided to use the Wikipedia entry Metal umlaut as the example for today’s “lesson.” If you’re curious why, it’s because many years ago, Jon Udell used this entry’s history to demonstrate what a screencast is. Also, after the first draft, I felt this post needed more cowbell.
So here’s what you can learn from a well-done wiki entry about the elements needed in great “research” content:

After 30 years of thinking about content, creating it or working with other content creators, Rex Hammock knows quite a bit about helping business people communicate better with their customers. In fact, our resident content marketing expert is in the middle of a new series, Content That Works, in which he outlines some practical ways to create engaging content that people actually look forward to reading and experiencing.