Why your company should do Content Marketing …
… and why it will probably be terrible at it.
Let’s start with what it is: “Content marketing is … 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, one-person shops, are using Content Marketing strategies to find, acquire and keep customers. Not unexpectedly, an even faster growing field of experts is looking to service the needs of those companies. (Yep, I’m one of them.)
But here’s the thing: 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 content marketing 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.
Many marketers refuse to accept it, but they are becoming irrelevant to a world they once had immense power over.
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 new but 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 to then share that information in communities that help us sift out the BS and find the best ideas and products, eliminating our old dependence on traditional advertising.
This is rapidly changing our everyday lives–from what we do for fun to how we find dentists, florists and electricians.
But it has already profoundly changed businesses, especially how they 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.
So, 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) Know from the start that 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 rather than success.
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.
2) Reset your expectations for Content Marketing success.
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 or completely reinvent and re-energize your existing business. But the more you expect from Content Marketing, the more you need to invest in it.
Unlike traditional ad or marketing campaigns, Content Marketing will not produce immediate, bottom-line results.
You’re not simply trying to attract attention with Content Marketing. You are trying to build a community of followers.
And, unlike traditional ad or marketing campaigns, once you achieve success with Content Marketing, the benefits will not be short-lived. Once formed, communities will enjoy a measure of momentum that will continue far beyond the initial release of content that inspired it.
A Content Marketing program, properly designed, measured and managed, will efficiently generate customer leads and provide invaluable guidance for customer service management and product innovation.
It will be well worth the effort.
But remember that results will take time. That means your start-up may have to do some traditional lead generation initially. If you have an existing business, 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.
There are no shortcuts to success with Content Marketing.
3) Prepare to struggle with how “interesting” Content is defined.
This is, by far, the most likely reason your Content Marketing efforts will fail. You must be forgiven for thinking that any words or pictures about what your business does will make for great Content Marketing. You’re biased by all that you have invested in the business.
So you may depend on your engineers to decide what’s interesting about your product. But Content Marketing driven exclusively by engineers will not work unless your primary customers are engineers.
The same goes for your sales and marketing people. They frequently fail at Content Marketing because they approach it like a sales presentation or a traditional ad campaign. If you were to look at a costly, failed Content Marketing effort, it would likely consist of vast amounts of “content” that looks like gussied-up sales collateral.
Failed Content Marketing efforts produce beautiful brochures with near limitless shelf-life, sitting on unvisited web pages, all designed by folks who didn’t know what they needed to succeed at Content Marketing.
Only one person knows what you need to do to succeed at Content Marketing, and that is your customer. And the first thing your customer will tell you about your Content Marketing effort is that if you are merely aiming to create “interesting” content, then you’re screwed.
The Internet is awash in interesting stuff. That’s why we waste so much time on it. You cannot compete with that.
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 (your customers and prospective customers), you will need to have a fairly deep understanding of those folks. 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, and the action they inspire. Then, you’ll need to develop a topical framework around those points and those actions, to creatively explore and then use to build a content production calendar.
Now–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 truly 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 how to engage your customers and prospective 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 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 sharing, Content Marketing is impossibly difficult and expensive.
That means that you will have to ensure that your great content gets every possible chance to get in front of your audience. 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.
To succeed, your content must be shared, and to be shared, it must have real value.
That means that establishing an unreasonably rigid and demanding editorial calendar will not have the accelerating effect that you expect.
That means that content that aims to be merely cute, funny, touching, pretty, entertaining or edgy, will likely fail unless it is larded with real, credible, clearly valuable information or resources.
When you achieve that, the attractive quality of your content will benefit from an essential force multiplier. It will be shared–and implicitly endorsed–with prospective customers that will want to engage with you.