Ask an Expert: Educating C-Suite Decision Makers About Content Marketing

There’s a knowledge gap between content strategists and C-Level Managers about what exactly content marketing entails. Learn how to bridge that gap.

As content becomes at the forefront of most business’ marketing mix, it’s clear that more and more C-Suite decision makers are becoming more knowledgable about content, SEO, and related inbound marketing activities. But, let’s be honest: not every exec has drank the content Kool Aid.

In light of the pervasive knowledge gap of inbound, content, and SEO, the second installment of the “Ask an Expert” series at iAcquire, poses the question:


“How can you reduce or eliminate the knowledge gap of content marketing and/or SEO for C-level executives?”


Experts Weigh In:

ann-handley-headshotAsk them to consider their own buying habits: Do they Google purchases before they make them? Do they query friends and family and (possibly) their social networks? The oft-quoted Zero Moment of Truth compellingly lays out the case more globally: Consumers generally tap 10 pieces of information online before they buy. The argument to make to the C-Suite is this: Those stats include your customers. Will they find you when they look for you? What will they find? Will it be useful, compelling and valuable… or will it be drive?

Also, tie your content to business goals. Unless you are a novelist or a feature writer, you shouldn’t produce content for content’s sake. Your C-level execs want to hear how content can help address a business need: Will it lead to sales? A shortened sales cycle? Increased awareness and more leads? Or what? If you C-level folks are true skeptics, start smart and targeted: Identify a clear pain point and craft a content strategy solution as a test case.

Ann Handley, CCO of MarketingProfs and Co-author of Content Rules


There are two ways to get the CEO more involved in the content marketing process:

1. Involve them in the content creation process AND share the results of their content. Let them know what part their content plays in your process (lead generation, subscription acquisition, etc.). Help them to understand that it takes both consistency and time to see results (it’s a marathon not a sprint).

2. Get the team together around a content pilot program. Agree with the CEO on what results we are looking for in the content program, then agree on the time and the metrics that will be judged for the particular objective. Most CEOs start believing when they see actual results…so agree upon a program over, say, a six month period of time, and get your results.

Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute Founder and Co-author of Get Content, Get Customers


I would argue that the conversation has to start with ROI. If you can make a case for inbound marketing being a profitable approach, good execs will take the time to learn. Everyone knows inbound marketing isn’t an exact science, but thorough backlink and competitive analysis – along with years of link building experience – you can come up with solid predictions around rankings, traffic, conversions, and revenue.

By combining SEO and social media with the traditional marketing mix of market research, PR, and branding – content marketing brings SEO one step closer to becoming part of the standard marketing plan and one that can help connect all channels and divisions.

Jay Swansson, Co-founder and CEO, iAcquire


Insightful anecdotes from data speak volumes to C-Level execs. The really simple answer to this is to leverage data from Google Analytics (GA) to inform your content strategy. GA has a wealth of knowledge that can inform several aspects of your digital strategy, but tapping into referral sources, rank of content performance and navigation paths, you’re easily able to glean what’s working well, what’s not and hypothesize on what content you should be creating that you’re not today. Use this information to tell a story to your senior management team.

A general career anecdote that applies: I learned early on in my career that my ideas were only as good as how I built them. I found myself running into my managers office with ideas that in my mind were amazing, but because of how I presented they likely raised red flags or the payoff of execution wasn’t’ clear (or they just thought I was nuts. So, I learned quickly that if I believed in a particular strategy, idea or tactic, I had to:

  • Have a strategic direction or strong hypothesis
  • Build objectives (which have to be measurable)
  • Map the plan to reach these objectives

By presenting a new content theme, post or tactic this way almost always ensured I’d get to test it out. It is the ability to test new things and bring back the insights that we’re able to close the gap in knowledge because we have built and presented something that the senior team understands. Get to know data and come to rely on it to support your goals with any initiative.

Lisa Grimm, Director, PR and Emerging Media, space150


I think most marketers underestimate the amount of information that executives need to filter on a daily basis. They simply don’t have the time like many of their direct reports to stay on top of the never-ending changes in digital technology. It’s too convenient to blame executives for “not getting it” when it comes to technology, but we need to understand that their decisions are million dollars ones. A lot is at stake, including their careers.

The best way to bridge the knowledge gap is to leave the jargon at your desk. It’s disenfranchising. Secondly, and most importantly, you MUST make better business cases for the recommendations you’re making. It’s not enough to say, “This is important. We need to fund it. “You need to be a business person first, and put your requests in terms that an executive can digest. If you can’t put your desired outcome in a broader business sense — how to reach a new market, how to improve a process, how to delight your target consumer — then the executive won’t either. It’s your job to sell up to the business case, not theirs.”

Andrew Eklund, Founder and CEO, Ciceron


To no surprise, C-Suite decision makers most often want to see how revenue or lead conversion connects to their business’s content marketing strategy, but it needs to be understood that not all content is meant to connect directly with revenue or leads. It’s creative and quality content, whether editorial, video, or graphic that quickly engages the audience and draws them into the sales funnel. But from there the responsibility of the content is to influence navigation to key conversion pages. These are most often brand landing pages, case studies, product descriptions, etc…

Content usually isn’t meant to be the closer, but instead the hook and navigation to pages that allow users to better understand who your brand is and what you represent and can offer. To determine conversion ROI in your content marketing strategy review where most of your conversion takes place then track how users navigated to that page. A successful content marketing strategy and UX layout should show that revenue or leads didn’t stem directly from the content but navigated users deeper into the site where conversion realistically takes place.

Zach Michonski, Associate Director of Content Marketing, Brafton


Content marketing is still viewed as a faith-based initiative in many organizations. It isn’t, and the key to getting buy-in from the C-Level crowd is showing the concrete value. The data is there: 70 percent of the B2B buying decision is over before a prospect contacts the salesperson. The net of that is that if your company isn’t contributing to that decision with killer content, you can bet that your competition is.

Beyond that, look at content marketing over time. It produces three times the leads of traditional online marketing. Why? Because consumers (and enterprises) are smart. They know when they’re being sold to. And they’re looking for solid, relevant content. Give it to them.

Brice Bay, Chairman and CEO, Enveritas Group, Inc


Too often at my organization [Tunheim] we hear executives say, “I don’t want to tweet” or “I don’t have time to blog.” As champions, we need to do a better job outlining the strategy in a way that executives understand: that content marketing is part of a greater expert positioning and thought leadership initiative for their company. C-Level executives need whoever champions content marketing to provide context and help them understand how proactive, positive expert positioning will lead to greater visibility over time.

They also need to understand their role in content marketing. Whoever owns brand messaging (marketing and/or communications) should be part of creating a holistic process that outlines executive roles based on their unique strengths. Having an executive sponsor who agrees to be positioned, quoted and use the same talking points in public speaking opportunities is imperative to long-term success and visibility. An executive who wants to be part of content curation is excellent, but not required; what is required is having a team with executive permission to execute on great, timely content.

Liz Tunheim Sheets, Director of Digital and Social Strategy, Tunheim

Additional Reading

Stay tuned for more next month on iAcquire’s exclusive Ask an Expert series.

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  7. […] effectively brings in leads? The answer isn’t quite so simple, but is certainly achievable. Education is the key to this success. As the leaders of our organizations, it is difficult to take a step back and admit to not being an […]