4 Ways to Improve Your Content Marketing

Read this wonderful article by Frank Cespedes and Russ Heddleston from the Harvard Business Review. So on point on how you should think about content. As the leaders of branding design agency, BlueberryContent, rightfully conclude: You have under 3 minutes to make an impression, and there is an optimal length.


In the past decade, content marketing has become a widely established practice. Companies have hired writers and Chief Content Officers to run departments, create blogs and other materials, and, in the process, some have assured sales people that content marketing can mean the end of cold calling.

The playbook sounds simple: attract prospects with content relevant to each stage of their buying journey and extend offers that motivate them to contact your sales team for a demo or discussion. With online technologies and targeted lists, this should be a cost-effective tool for separating the suspects from the prospects, accelerating customer conversion through the sales funnel, and, equally important, optimizing “data-driven marketing” by tying each piece of content to metrics like opens, reads, downloads, and so on.

But as Churchill reportedly said after Gallipoli, “However beautiful the strategy, you must occasionally look at the results.” Consider: blog output by brands has increased over 800% in the past five years but organic social share of blogs has decreased by 89% and about 5% of content gets 90% of engagement. An estimated 70% of the content generated by Marketing is never used by Sales reps and a similar percentage of the leads generated disappear into a “sales lead black hole.” And despite the repeated mantra about “data-driven,” there is contradictory advice about which content-marketing benchmarks indicate success as well as many blithe assertions about best practices in this area.

We examined 34 million interactions between customers and content on DocSend’s platform, which allows sales organizations to upload and share documents with prospects. The result is empirical data and a good starting point for examining core aspects of any content marketing initiative: how much time prospects actually spend on content, on which devices, when, and the type of content they prefer.

You have under 3 minutes to make an impression, and there is an optimal length

It’s no secret that buyers are bombarded with messages and the web has exacerbated the situation. That likely explains why the average viewing time for content is 2 minutes and 27 seconds. During that brief period, prospects are making many rapid-fire judgments, including whether or not they will move to the next step. Conversely, many sellers need to share lots of information with prospects to motivate desired buyer behavior.

Our data indicate that you should do your best to get that information into documents that are 2-5 pages — compared to content of longer lengths, first-time prospects spend more time viewing each page of the document and are more likely to view all of it. Documents uploaded to DocSend’s platform include case studies, overviews and guides, e-books, and proposals. (Keep in mind that prospects further along their buying journey may require more information.)

Our data also indicate that much of marketing and sales collateral is read by prospects outside of the normal work week. If initially engaged, a prospect reading a piece on Wednesday often returns for a longer visit on the weekend. This reflects an important 21st century buying reality that pipeline metrics often obscure: increasing numbers of buyers don’t move sequentially through a funnel; rather, they adopt parallel streams to explore, evaluate, and engage with content and sales people. Buying is a continuous and dynamic process, and content forms, formats and sequencing must adapt.

Mobile is important but overhyped

The proliferation of smart phones, iPads, and other devices has generated a certain folk wisdom about crafting content for the mobile buyer. But our data indicate that, at the top of the funnel, it typically makes sense to optimize content for viewing on multiple formats and devices. Further, once a lead is handed off to sales and becomes an opportunity, an overwhelming majority of prospects view sales content on desktop devices, not mobile.

These findings have actionable implications for marketers. Desktop devices remain very important, so avoid needless optimization for a single type of device and format. Focus on creating content that offers visuals to convey key messages quickly and that performs well on multiple formats. Think succinct copy and core take-aways that punctuate each slide, and avoid text-heavy information drops on each page. Also, given the way prospects often return for a closer look outside work time, consider creating a content-sequencing process for coupling an initial view with additional engagement to help your sellers prioritize their follow-up actions. And in doing this, recognize inherent differences between marketing- and sales-relevant content. In the former, the goal is to establish awareness and interest; for sales, the goal is to get the customer to sign a contract.

There’s no “best day” of the week to send content

There are many assertions about the best day of the week to send content. But opinions about Tuesday afternoon or Thursday morning simply don’t hold up to empirical examination. Our data indicate that total visits by prospects to sellers’ sites were almost evenly distributed across each day of the work week — slightly more on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and, unsurprisingly, a bit less on Monday morning and Friday afternoon.

Do not focus on specific days for sending content. In fact, doing that probably indicates unused capacity and a lack of cadence in your marketing and sales process. Instead, it’s better to prioritize based on level and type of prospect engagement with specific types of content and a process for follow-up after initial engagement. For many companies, this often means linking your content marketing efforts to what you know about the vertical your prospect is in and relevant guides for each type. Content by vertical also plays well with most sales teams.

Prospects still prefer one type of content more than others

Marketers put a lot of time and effort into crafting content. And the data indicate they need to keep working on this to improve actual use of their content by prospects and sales colleagues. But which type of content routinely outperforms others in terms of completion rate? The tried and true case study is, by far, the content that prospects complete more than others. In our data, case studies have an 83% completion rate — orders of magnitude higher than other sales and marketing content provided during the buying journey.

Buyers, especially B2B buyers, want to know what others are doing with your product, not what they might do to improve productivity or other outcomes. Good case-study content does that, while providing a compelling reason for the prospect to learn more and initiate a change process. Especially in B2B contexts, buyers must justify a decision to others in the organization who have competing priorities for limited funds. Knowing how other organizations have successfully integrated and used a new product, service or process is more important than grand assertions about “thought leadership” or “disruption.” As a result, good case content, like good follow-up, often has a specific and relevant vertical focus. And the process of finding and articulating that content requires on-going interaction between marketers, sales, and service people in your firm — interactions that often yield other benefits in addition to relevant and credible use cases.

Content marketing is evolving, and, as buying becomes increasingly non-linear, can play an important role in aligning selling with buying. But there are now many myths and unexamined assumptions that have accrued around content marketing as the practice has exploded. Don’t follow the herd. If you can’t track what prospects read, when, where, and for how long, you have a blind spot in a big part of your marketing budget and are unlikely to get the ROI possible with this approach.

How Sabra Hummus Took Over The U.S.

NYC advertising agency

Even now, mere mention of Sabra causes veteran food marketers to stand in awe. For good reason. Eight years ago, the brand held less than 10% of the US hummus market, well behind Nestle’s Tribe and Kraft’s Athenos. By the start of 2015, the brand, which is co-owned by PepsiCo and Strauss Foods, had overcome the competition dwarfing them with a whopping 60% of the US hummus market, according to a recent article in Fast Company. Much of this thanks to the NYC advertising agency StrawberryFrog.

Everyone knows about Chobani and the rise of Greek yogurt in America. But how many know the incredible story of Sabra Hummus?

The trajectory of hummus in general and Sabra in particular would be astonishing in any industry, but especially in the food-marketing business, where short-lived brands are depressingly common. Sabra’s durability raises a question. How did the brand grow so quickly? How did it succeed where the competitors could not? All three competitors – Kraft, Nestle, and PepsiCo – have strong distribution. I’m hardly courting controversy by asserting that a vital difference was the marketing and brand management.

The brand strategy was a point of difference. Whereas traditional food brands rely on advertising, success here is explained more by the fact that Sabra led a Cultural Movement rather than a traditional advertising campaign. The movement moved passions, which moved people, which moved product. That was the difference.

As every brand manager would surely agree, good brand management is explained more by process than by strategy. In this case we adopted a Movement Marketing approach where the process identified cultural shifts in America and connected those shifts with the brand purpose and benefit.

Some brands are on a mission, and from the early days Sabra was one of them. Ronen Zohar, the former Sabra CEO, held the vision that Sabra had to stand for something meaningful in people’s lives. He wanted to connect with Americans where and how they already eat, instead of trying to bring Americans to the Mediterranean. This inspired the thinking around a movement that challenged the status quo and changed habits. He hired the Movement Making NYC advertising agency StrawberryFrog and set out to build the business over eight years, until 2015.

To the average American consumer, hummus was an alien concept. Plus, there were no hummus habits in the country. Unless your mother had been a hippie or had traveled to the Med, you had no idea how to eat this food. The Cultural Movement had to create the habit. But beyond that, it had to get people off mayo and spray cheese and into a beige pasty food unlike anything they had eaten before. Not an easy challenge.

Several brands of hummus had been trying for years but no one seemed able to break through. One marketing campaign from Athenos Hummus featured an authentic and lovely Greek grandmother but it only reinforced the idea that hummus was not easy to relate to.

Remembering Ronen’s vision to bring the hummus to Americans and not the other way around, the brand Sabra decided to break through and really put hummus on the US map in a big way: this was the launch advertising bringing Sabra to meet Americans on their own turf.

Sabra had been around since 1986, launched in Queens, New York, by a Rabbi named Yehuda Pearl. Israeli food conglomerate Strauss Group eventually bought half of the company, convinced of its international potential which is when NYC advertising agency StrawberryFrog entered the picture. Meanwhile, PepsiCo had purchased Stacy’s Pita Chips (another brand that chose to work with StrawberryFrog). In Sabra, PepsiCo saw a beautifully arranged marriage—“a great opportunity for that premium chip-and-dip combination,” says Frito-Lay VP of marketing Dave Skena (Fast Company). At PepsiCo, “premium” is the future: The category—which it defines broadly to include Smartfood popcorn, Simply Lay’s, and basically anything with better ingredients—is “growing at a significantly faster clip than other snacks.” PepsiCo bought the remaining half of Sabra, to run it jointly with Strauss. So began the great hummus adventure.

Instead of just doing ads, this brand chose Cultural Movement. Instead of the market of “foodies” which Tribe and Athenos built their business around, the latter using old Greek grandmothers to hawk their hummus to American gourmet connoisseurs, Sabra and StrawberryFrog targeted the 92% of Americans who opt for Chinese take away and spray cheese on a regular basis.  The result was a movement called the Food Intervention, ignited to start a conversation about eating better around America, and challenging family and friends to intervene to change food from the bad to Sabra hummus. The brand blossomed.

The ‘taste intervention’ flooded across digital and social, as well as in mass advertising – all of it asking Americans to join the intervention.

The brand continued to rise as new people joined in and consumers became passionate fans.

To avoid decay the Cultural Movement evolved (as all great movements do) into “Dip Life to the Fullest”. From our imaginations came series of campaigns to educate Americans about how to eat Sabra Hummus. “A Guide To Good Dipping” did the simple job of showing people, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, how to eat Sabra hummus.

Sabra became the “official dip” of the NFL, to take the brand even further into the heartland of America, and inspire hummus at Super Bowl parties, including a TV commercial featuring Jeffrey Tambor.

Smart marketing combined with a vision for a new kind of brand accelerated the trajectory of this wonderful challenger. And all of this, according to the article in Fast Company, grew Sabra hummus at an accelerated rate. Since the PepsiCo deal and marketing from our NYC advertising agency, Sabra’s revenue has grown exponentially and the brand continues to maintain over 60% market share.

Today, the market has matured. Consumers are a lot smarter and more comfortable with hummus. Brands such as Cedar’s and Eat Well are gaining greater penetration and share. Marketers are wiser. Last year, store branded hummus grew over 30 percent according to Nielsen. It’s an interesting time to be in hummus.