An Underestimated Asset in Content Marketing: Internal SMEs

Posted on September 30, 2014

All marketers are now publishers.

And if you are a marketer you know that both creating and curating quality content is one of the most daunting challenges you face as part of your thought leadership and demand generation initiatives.  The curation challenge has been made a bit easier in the past couple years with curation platforms that can allow you to capture, categorize and republish third party content through your website or social channels. Tools like Buffer make it easy to execute a “one to many” publishing workflow of pushing a single post across multiple social channels. However, the creation challenge remains heavy lifting: starting with the end in mind (personas) and working backwards (topics) to support an ongoing pipeline of content.

Most of the blog posts and articles on content marketing tend to focus on the tools and workflows needed to support content production. You know “…should I pick tool A or tool B? Should my Editor also be writing articles?” Additionally, the in-house versus outsource debate over content copy writing appears to receive equal attention. While these are important considerations to be sure, one of the biggest issues few seems to be talking about is the ability of content marketers to source enough good SMEs for the white papers, buyer guides, checklists and other content they are scheduling.

Now, I want to distinguish between initially identifying SMEs (sitting down with line of business leaders and selecting really smart people) and actually maintaining an ongoing pool of SMEs who can effectively write or be interviewed by writers, to support content production. The latter is often more difficult than it appears.  Without a pool of reliable, articulate and engaging SMEs — brands may find themselves relying solely upon curated third party content to fuel their inbound marketing efforts.

I’ve been working with a few technology clients in partnership with a unique content marketing agency, Content4Demand. I spend time each week with C4D’s president, Andrew Gaffney to discuss content strategy for these clients and ensuring the content is both relevant to the buyer persona and buyer journey stage, as well as includes the appropriate point-of-view (POV) to align with the brand’s positioning. One of the challenges we’ve run into is the inability of some brand SMEs to articulate their company’s USP or POV within the context of technical interviews by writers who are ghost writing the content marketing pieces. In a separate blog post I discuss the critical nature of being able to articulate a POV as part of the content marketing process as to establish thought leadership and establish trust. In other cases, whereas the client CEO was quick to provide a list of internal SMEs, those folks aren’t always able to organize their thoughts and articulate a POV that prospective buyers will want to read.  So what is a content marketer to do?

In some instances we are finding that it is the content marketing team that is having take up the slack by performing a majority of the copy writing to shape the message to ensure the USP and POV themes emerge without sounding like an Infomercial for the brand. To help the SMEs to gain a better understanding of their role within the broader context of an ongoing thought leadership effort, I have found that a kick-off briefing can be effective. During this initial meeting, both the content marketing and SME representatives can engage in an open discussion about how we want to develop technical conversations (based on the target audience and their pain points, challenges, etc.), the specific POV we want to take, and how it ties back to brand positioning. I have found that more contextual perspective that can be shared with the SMEs, the better they can shape their questions to interview questions by the writers. Likewise, writers understand how to create more effective byline pieces to reduce edit rounds (nobody like 6-7 edit rounds when you’re trying to hit a deadline).   We keep this information in a Google Doc and update it quarterly in accordance with our Sales Enablement efforts so that everyone is on the same page (literally).

This is a delicate balance to walk and I would encourage any/all marketers that are building content marketing production schedules and identifying internal SMEs (whether speakers, bloggers, or writers) to ensure that there is a common agreement as to how USP and POV will be part of the narrative and final production deliverables. This is also critical for the SEO strategy in that being able to use a common taxonomy and explanation to topics ensures consistent message delivery (e.g. “….you have to hear something 7 times to remember it…”)

As with any of my posts, I’m always interested in alternative perspectives. If you want to share how you’ve handled the SME dilemma I’d enjoy hearing from you via Comments.





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