What Is Content Marketing?
Make Powerful Connections With Customers
Wouldn't it be great if every marketing campaign you ran was a dazzling success? There'd be no head scratching afterwards, no vexed executives asking what went wrong, and no puzzled finance department waiting for the expected leap in profits to materialize.
Not everything always goes to plan, though, and if you rely on the same tried-and-tested marketing methods that you've always used, there could be a simple explanation for your unspectacular results.
Traditional techniques like direct mailings, radio advertising and catalog marketing are no longer the "big hitters" in advertising. Content marketing is taking the lead, by reaching people and connecting with them.
In this article, we'll look at how content marketing can help you attract and retain customers, and how you can create and share it in the right way.
What Is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is a method of communicating and engaging with your customers without overtly selling to them, in a way they often welcome. It focuses on building relationships with customers to encourage future sales, not just immediate ones.
In his 1992 book, "Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Cutomers," Seth Godin defines content marketing as a form of "permission marketing." He describes it as "the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them."
Content marketing contrasts starkly with "interruption" marketing such as television and newspaper advertisements, cold calls, spam emails, and postal campaigns, which fleetingly intrude on people's lives, clamor for their attention, and push for fast and direct results.
Great content marketing is useful, interesting and relevant to customers. It can take an almost infinite number of forms, from essays to emails, infographics to in-person events (like lectures or presentations), and from podcasts to product reviews. Content marketers look at where their customers go for information and entertainment, and create content – data, stories, recipes, case studies, opinions, or whatever their customers might value – that's appropriate for those channels.
Why Is Content Marketing Important?
People have become so adept at "switching off" from interruption marketing that it's become increasingly ineffective. With content marketing, however, they're often willingly, and even enthusiastically, receiving and engaging with it – which makes it a valuable and important tool for reaching and drawing in your audience.
Content marketing involves providing your customers with regular, entertaining and informative content in return for their attention, their interest, and a valuable insight into their needs, wants and preferences. Through features such as feedback, forums and reviews, you can tailor your products and services more closely to your customers' needs, and provide them with relevant and useful content.
Content marketing can also help you to build your brand, image, reputation, identity, credibility, and trust, which can all impact your organization's performance. It's also a great way to project your competence, creativity, authority, and other important qualities within your marketplace.
It can also be a significant tool for boosting your online visibility. Search engine results can be extremely important for an organization, and producing relevant, valuable and high-quality content can improve your position on search results pages and get you noticed.
The combination of building relationships and earning trust through strong content can, over time, create powerful customer loyalty. People will often seek out your content for themselves, share it with their friends and contacts, and further widen the impact of your marketing efforts. This is when great content can start to have a positive impact on your sales figures – although it can take time to reach this point!
The Potential Pitfalls of Content Marketing
You might assume that content marketing is a quick, easy and cheap way of engaging your audience, and that writing a blog post or filming a short video is an easy assignment. However, for your campaign to be a success, you need to produce high-quality content, and to devote the same amount of time and money to creating it as you did to creating your product or service. Invest in hiring specialist writers, editors, producers, developers, presenters, and so on, to produce high-quality and consistent content.
A common pitfall that you need to avoid is prioritizing style over substance. Attractive presentation is a critical element in successful content, but not the most important one. Make your material eye-catching but not at the expense of it being useful and engaging. Stay focused on the message you're trying to send.
Focusing on your content but failing to market it can be another easy and expensive mistake to make. People need to know that your content exists! Promote it via your email databases and social media. Re-purpose your content for different platforms, for example turning an article into a slide deck on SlideShare®, so that it gets maximum exposure.
The time lag between creating your content and reaping its rewards can be another potential pitfall. Explaining the delay to internal stakeholders can be a challenge too, and getting your finance department to agree to invest when you can't quantify the timing or size of the likely rewards can be tough. Prepare your pitch thoroughly.
10 Top Tips for Effective Content Marketing
Some aspects of content marketing are simply good marketing practice – such as establishing a strong end goal or purpose, identifying your target audience, planning your strategy, deciding where to market/publish, and monitoring your results. Others are more specific to content marketing. Here are 10 key points to bear in mind.
Successful content marketing has to be amazing.
Content marketing isn't new, so people already have a wealth of material to choose from, both online and offline. To capture and retain their attention, content needs to be truly outstanding, so aim high.
It's good to talk...
Content marketing creates relationships and communities, so be sociable. Acknowledge and digest questions and comments – both good and bad – that people leave for you on social media. Reciprocate the effort that your followers make in sharing your content, by sharing theirs too.
...but it's good to act, too.
Content marketing should inform and entertain your audience but, ultimately, you want it to sell your service or product. If your content includes a call to action, such as "watch this video" or "fill out this form," it's more likely to provoke a customer response. If your audience members can interact with your content, they're more likely to remember it.
Successful content is tailored content.
Your content will lack direction and focus if you don't have a clear understanding of who you're targeting. Use personas to identify the particular group you're targeting and optimize your content so that it answers their specific needs, talks directly to them, and is delivered through the channels and in the formats that work best for them.
Great content has a strong identity.
Build people's expectations so that they know what's coming. Give your content a consistent approach, tone and appearance. Focus on an overarching subject or a theme that will earn you people's continued attention.
Choose your channels wisely.
Identify the channels that your audience use most, and target these. Find out where they go – online and offline – and be there! Don't overwhelm your audience with content. Serve it up in "chunks" that are appropriate to the channel you're using.
Keeping your finger on the pulse is critical.
Consistency is important, but so is agility and adaptability. Being flexible enough to respond to current events and industry news means that you needn't miss out on opportunities to create topical content.
Dropping the "hard sell" is central.
A headlong push for maximum sales or profit will doom most content marketing ventures to failure. Avoid overt promotion and "in-your-face" sales techniques in favor of useful, relevant and entertaining information, and people will reward you with their custom and loyalty.
Focus on frequency.
You want to hold your audience's attention but not to outstay your welcome. Decide what constitutes the "right" frequency of content, and adjust it to match your audience's responsiveness. Take the media platform you're using into account, too. For example, you'd naturally expect more frequent – but shorter – bursts of content on Twitter, than you would from a series of books.
Content marketing isn't rocket science!
Content marketing isn't about writing technical manuals or academic coursebooks. It's about finding your company's unique human voice – bringing in irreverence, solemnity, or whatever's appropriate for your audience – and having an opinion, taking a stance, or expressing a point of view. In short, be human.
You can see a number of great content marketing examples from a variety of channels here.
Content marketing is a strategic approach to winning customers by avoiding a "hard sell," and by, instead, providing them with valuable and relevant material. It produces less immediate results than more traditional marketing methods but, if it's done well, it has the potential to create stronger, longer lasting and more profitable relationships with your customers.
You can provide content marketing via many different channels – both online and offline – and in a variety of forms. People welcome it into their lives because it provides them with information, entertainment and value.