Let’s start with what it is: “Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
That definition is from the Content Marketing Institute, which is an extraordinary resource for anyone who wants to know about this fast-developing field. And, yes, it has most definitely become a field.
Businesses–from the largest on the planet to the smallest 1-person shops, are increasingly using Content Marketing strategies to generate leads, shorten sales cycles and stand apart from the competition. Not unexpectedly, an even faster growing field of experts is looking to service those companies. (Yep, I’m one of them.)
Despite all the time, money and effort being spent on these efforts, many of them–perhaps even most of them– are NOT working. The paucity of success stories has led some to declare that Content Marketing is just the latest fad and will soon be replaced by something else.
To understand how spectacularly wrong-headed that thinking is, it’s important to know more than what Content Marketing is; you need to know why it is.
Content Marketing exists because marketers have no other choice but to start using truly attractive stuff in order to attract customers.
Marketers once needed only to get in newspapers, magazines, radio or TV in order to succeed. But traditional advertising has been brutally confronted with two realities:
1) Our incredibly powerful human ability to tune out, gloss over, TiVo through or otherwise avoid and ignore the non-stop barrage of advertising messages we face each day.
2) Our ability to use the Internet to deliver detailed answers to our questions and then share and filter that information in communities that sift out the BS and shed light on the best ideas and products, replacing our old dependence on traditional advertising.
This is significantly changing how we find dentists, florists and electricians. But it has already profoundly changed how businesses approach complex sells–the purchasing of technology, systems and services that require special expertise to understand and evaluate.
The time-consuming process of inviting vendors in to present and defend their solutions, has given way to targeted groups organized through professional associations and social media networks such as LinkedIn, where buyers can discuss product requirements and the strengths and weaknesses of specific offerings.
A recent marketing study conducted by Adobe revealed that technology buyers were typically more than 70-percent of the way through the buying process before they would engage any vendor. To the dismay of vendors, when engagement finally did arrive, it would focus almost exclusively on pricing.
Buyers are no longer waiting for vendors to “educate” them on what they need. Clearly, that calls for much different thinking for sales organizations.
For one, they need to figure out how to get a seat at the table in these groups where buyers are educating themselves, and that can be damned difficult, as the best groups are closed to vendors or are closely monitored for any kind of “salesy” claims in the comments.
It might seem that technology businesses–which are presumably chock full of technology expertise–would be able to easily adjust to the new demands of the marketplace. But they aren’t.
The Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing study showed that more than 60 percent of marketers believed the impact of their Content Marketing efforts were “neutral,” “not effective,” or “not at all effective.”
So what gives? Why isn’t Content Marketing working? And more importantly, what can you do to make sure that your Content Marketing is effective?
1) Reset your expectations. Content Marketing can, indeed, be one hell of a competitive advantage. You can use it to grow your little start-up into a market leader. But the more you expect from Content Marketing, the more you need to invest in it.
Because results will take time, that means you will not be able to immediately scrap your existing marketing programs. You will need to assess how to grow your Content Marketing program in tandem with current programs.
2) Content Marketing is not “viral” content. If you spend all of your energy trying to create a magical piece of content that will bring fame and riches you are doomed to fail.
Indeed, your efforts to create viral content have an exponentially greater chance of bringing you ridicule and ignominy.
More importantly, even if you do happen to create a piece that goes “viral,” the chances that it will have actual bottom-line value to you are nil unless you are a really bitchin musical group, improv comedy troupe or fringe political candidate.
Remember that the point of Content Marketing is to attract customers to your business. If you think that the average, random person on the Internet is a serious prospect for what you sell then you are seriously starting off on the wrong foot.
3) Prepare to struggle with what is “interesting.” You must be forgiven for thinking that any words or pictures about what you make are incredibly interesting and worthy of attention.
But the person who creates your content will hopefully have a much sharper take on what you will need for your Content Marketing program. For one, if it is merely interesting content, then you’re screwed. The Internet is awash in interesting stuff. That’s why we waste so much time on it.
In order to succeed, your content must be engaging., and in the field of Content Marketing, that word has a very specific meaning.
Let’s return to that prosaic definition of Content Marketing from CMI:
Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
Clearly, in order to create relevant and valuable content for a specific target audience you will need to have a fairly deep understanding of that audience. You will need to describe in detail the various important “types” in your audience, then identify the pain and pleasure points each type has in common. Then, you’ll need to develop a topical framework to creatively explore.
At this point–before you’ve produced a single piece of content–you should feel wildly excited about where you are.
You will have a detailed plan for connecting with your customers and prospective customers.
Think about that. Having a true understanding of your audience means that you have a true understanding of your customers. Engaging that audience will not only provide extremely valuable sales leads. It will also provide valuable insights for customer satisfaction issues, product development requirements and many other important aspects of your business.
Once you have your starting topics and creative approaches set, you’ll be on the road to success. And you’ll get there, too, so long as you adhere to two final keys …
4) Content Marketing requires an authentic, genuine desire to connect with much more than your customer’s wallet.
This is significantly different from traditional marketing, which has nearly always been profit driven alone.
Content Marketing requires a solid understanding of the old 4 Ps of marketing, (Product, Pricing, Placement …) but with a much sharper set of skills and tools to fulfill vastly expanded Promotion requirements.
The quality of the story-telling required by Content Marketing is critical to success. No, you don’t need to create poetry, but it does need to be brightly and concisely artful. And, even more importantly …
5) Without community connection, Content Marketing is impossibly difficult and expensive. That means that you will have to ensure that your great content get every possible chance to get in front of your audience. Think of it this way: the novelist doesn’t write a different book for each one of her readers. She recognizes that every one of her novels must be fully circulated. Your goal should be to write great stories and then make sure they are as widely seen as possible.
That’s why the most successful Content Marketers diligently re-purpose their content in collateral material, web messaging, social media, event marketing, traditional advertising and any other media, methods and formats that make strategic sense.
The quality of your content is important, but the vigorous re-purposing of your content is an essential force multiplier that can increase the impact of even less-than-sterling content.