Achieving Balance in Content with Kane Jamison

Kane Jamison of Content Harmony

Kane Jamison is the founder and most public face of Content Harmony, a Seattle agency that provides full-cycle content marketing to clients across a variety of industries. “We define it as four rough stages,” he explained. “Strategy and planning would be stage one. Stage two would be production and publishing of actual content. Step three would be promotion, distribution of it. Step four would kind of be the analytics measurement, optimization side of things, making them even better, and improving over time. It’s obviously all a cycle, and things blend together.” (You can see this balance in greater detail here.)

Content Harmony’s signature service is helping its clients find the balance between those stages. “Almost all of our clients have one thing going for them,” Jamison explained. “They’re good at producing content, but they don’t have a great strategy for it. Or they’re good at promoting content, but they don’t have the resources to create enough of it. They’re great at strategy, but not execution.” And so they hire Content Harmony to help them bring balance – and eyes, and results – to their content marketing efforts.

The Product Page’s Place in a Balanced Content Ecosystem

Product pages figure into Content Harmony’s work too, and they’re careful to differentiate between the expectations of marketing copy and the merchandising copy that belongs on effective product pages. “We definitely break out the difference between copy and the more informational side of content,” Jamison said. “When we do landing pages, e-commerce pages, or product-page copy, we’re definitely going very long form.” He means longer than Amazon, and more on par with Amazon’s much-coveted pages for their own offerings.  We’ve heard the clamor for pages a la Amazon’s lush, restriction-ignoring A++ pages for the Kindle and Fire.

Content Harmony uses product-page content as an essential part of a content marketing strategy, explaining to clients that really great product pages can help gain views and customers in a way that product pages on Amazon, Walmart.com, and other third-party retailers simply can’t. (content26 agrees with this, which is we get pretty excited when a client understands how important their own site’s product content is as part of a multichannel approach.) “If you can do it on your own site and you can make it so incredible that people will link to that instead of linking to your Amazon page, we’ve got some additional marketing value we can go after there,” Jamison said. “Apple pages would be a good example. Nobody links to the iPhone on Amazon. They link to the iPhone page [on apple.com] because it’s that great.”

Content Harmony also encourages clients to invest in landing pages and, when financially possible, updated content management systems (CMSes) that can create pages that fully address current user needs (as opposed to the perceived user needs when the system was designed several years ago). Amazon A+ pages net you one part of an audience, but rich landing pages that function as resources on their own can attract and nurture another group entirely. How does Jamison overcome objections to this kind of content investment? “Showing them some great examples of e-commerce landing pages, usually they go, ‘Ooh, ah, yeah… I want that.’ That’s enough to get some internal drive to improve the pages.” FOMO for the win.

So What Does Success Look Like?

It’s become accepted that you can’t understand the success of your content without setting goals, but how do you set those goals if you don’t know what success looks like? We asked Jamison how he defines success in this kind of chicken-egg situation. “I did a presentation last fall that was called This Is What Great Content Looks Like. The point of the presentation was you can’t define great content unless you define the goal of the content,” he explained. “Applying one single metric across all content is wrong. If you’re just looking at the value of the page in terms of end conversions, that’s flawed. You’re not looking at the full customer life cycle.”

As he sees it, goals fall into four buckets: brand visibility, engagement or consideration, conversion, and retention. While there is the rare piece of content that achieves all four buckets (and we’ll get to that shortly), most pieces aim at just one or two. So if conversion is your goal, views are certainly helpful, but they’re not the most important metric. Likewise, if you’re trying to make clickbait for visibility’s sake, sales may not be crucial, because that visibility will contribute to later sales. Jamison describes those rare pieces that hit all four buckets as “funnel content,” because it touches every part of the sales funnel.

One of those magic pieces of content for Content Harmony was an infographic explaining tax incentives for Hawaii residents considering installing solar panels. It built visibility by being reprinted by local and national publications, and it fostered engagement by touching on the high cost of energy in Hawaii, a hot-button topic. It aided conversion by presenting the case for solar panels, and it encouraged retention by reminding people who already had solar panels that tax time was coming up. Content marketing bingo.

Most content won’t hit all those marks, and that’s ok. So long as you know what your goals are, you know what success looks like and can adapt appropriately.

Content Strategy and Content Marketing: A Fight to the Death?

As you might guess, he has strong feelings about the separation and relationship between content strategy and content marketing, an issue of growing contention that has inspired many impassioned essays. (If you want to learn more, it is quite a robust Google experience. You won’t be disappointed.)

“I’ve got my answer ready to go,” he began. “For me, the difference is strategy covers strategy, and marketing covers marketing. That sounds really obvious saying it out loud, but when you actually break that down, there are elements of organizational strategy that have nothing to do with marketing. It’s definitely an overlap, right? The two have a lot in common. I think it’s really the organizational side of things and the user experience side of things where the crossover happens.”

Those commonalities make differentiating the two difficult for the outsider – or even, sometimes, relative insiders. “I mean it’s probably why it’s a priority is people don’t know what it is. As a marketer, I would come in and say that marketers are the ones screwing [the definitions] up. The content strategists that come from the IA/UX side of things know what content strategy is to them and what it has been for a long time. The content marketers coming in have no clue what a proper content strategist does and are assigning lots of labels to things that are only related to content marketing, but they’re using the broader term.”

So What Should You Do to Be Better?

Ask the expert: how can you improve your content marketing strategy? Jamison gave us these tips:

  • Go through your website and make every single page better than its counterpart on your competitor’s website. Sounds tricky, but if you have that kind of baseline for comparison, take advantage of it.
  • Work in a field with competitors that don’t believe in content? Great! You should still have a robust online presence. You’ll enjoy first-mover advantage and will look like the trustworthy brand that’s around for the long haul.
  • Think of every page on your website as a potential landing page aimed at different people with different needs. Imagine you’re trying to give them the best possible experience for their first visit to your site.
  • For SEO purposes, a well-designed, informative landing page or other taxonomy page can be a huge advantage.
  • If you want a big, flashy product page, create it on your own site. Online retailers have to keep within their standards and restrictions. You have no such limitations on your brand’s own site.
  • Use the right writer for the right job, whether you’re creating landing pages, product pages, or other collateral.
  • Know your strengths – and consider hiring an expert to complement them.

What’s Next?

Content Harmony is hoping to grow this year, seeking to expand their six-person staff to include a developer, a journalist, and other specialists. Jamison was especially excited about this. “I just go off on a tangent for a couple of months working with them on all the cool things I want to do for us internally, while we build up their schedule with client work as well.” He also hopes that the next year will bring an even greater variety of content formats and styles across all industries. “Serial content – not the podcast but literally serialized weekly or monthly content. I think one of the best examples out there right now is The Distance magazine, which is a publication by Basecamp.” He’s a fan of their profiles of small businesses, such as a family-owned Halloween store, the company that invented the hamburger press, and the woman who created thermal bags for pizzas. With the current vogue for story-based content marketing in full swing, 2015 will probably deliver.

Content Marketing Is for Everyone

Looking to learn more about content marketing? (If you sell something, explain things for a living, or are otherwise dependent on other people to make a living, the answer should be a quick yes.) Good news! On February 10, Jamison will once again be holding his one-day class, “Selling without Selling: Basics of Content Marketing” at the School of Visual Concepts. “It’s formatted in a way where we spend a quarter of the day on strategy, a quarter of the day on production, a quarter of the day on promotion, and then a quarter of the day on measurement, improving, testing, and optimization,” he explained. His goal is to give an overview of the many, many parts of a successful marketing strategy and to give students what they need to dig further once the class is done. “It’s a very, very functional, pragmatic crash course in content marketing. I think probably what it’s best for is identifying things you didn’t know you needed to know and finding new resources to deep dive in topics that you’re not comfortable on.”

The last class had a variety of students in attendance, from directors of content at large organizations to members of small nonprofits and businesses. “There’s a lot of fun Q and A with people talking about specific issues they’re having that I think were relevant to the rest of the room. Yeah, that one’s fun,” he said. “I think people that are in-house and used to seeing things from one angle get a lot of value from seeing how another business attacks similar problems that they didn’t expect. I think it’s fun getting all those people in the same room like that.” You can expand your own content marketing horizons with Kane Jamison at the School for Visual Concepts on February 10.

Learn more about Content Harmony here, and learn more about Kane Jamison and his upcoming talks here. Keep up with his frequent speaking engagements here.