What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing refers to any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media with the purpose of acquiring and retaining customers. When it comes to businesses the type of content they share depends on their product or service. In most cases, the content is not really aimed at selling but focuses on the need to prospect. Content comes in a variety of formats such as video, podcasts, email newsletters, news, infographics, photos, blogs and many more.
Here’s a graphic from Moz.com that shows the core of Content Marketing (more on this later) and the end goals. Believe it or not, sales are not the immediate goal of Content Marketing
History of Content Marketing
In the old days, advertisers were content to disseminate information about a brand in an attempt at building their brand’s reputation. John Deere changed the game in 1895 when he published a magazine called The Furrow which provided farmers guides on how to be more profitable. Today, the magazine is still in circulation reaching 1.5 million people in 40 countries and a dozen languages.
The same happened with Michelin when they published the Michelin Guide in 1900 providing auto care tips, accommodations and travel tips. 35,000 copies were distributed for first publication.
But it wasn’t until 1996 that the term “content marketing” was first used. Author Jeff Cannon wrote in 1999 “In content marketing, content is created to provide consumers with the information they seek”. According to Forbes Magazine in 2014 use of content marketing had risen from 60% from the previous year to 93% as part of a company’s overall strategy.
In today’s modern world, content marketing is the norm even if most of us do not realize it. James O’Brien of Contently, told Mashable that the idea of content marketing is for companies to give something of value to get something valuable. “Instead of being the commercial, be the show. Instead of the banner ad, be the feature story”, he adds.
For example, personal finance website Mint.com uses content marketing to sell their product MintLife. But instead of selling directly, they use blogs and provide useful information to readers like how to get out of debt, paying for college, or saving for a house. They have built an audience independent of the product. They even hosted an in-depth interview called “Trainwreck Tuesdays”. As popularity of the site rose, so did the demand for their product. The company quickly grew and was sold to Intuit 3 years after their launch to the tune of $170 million. By 2013, the site had grown to 10 million users thanks to their blog’s useful content.
Content Marketing Means Great Content
The core of content marketing is useful content. No one wants to read something that you, the author, spent 1 hour making at the most. A great piece of content that gets circulated can take between 5 and 20 hours of manpower to complete. Its purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently providing relevant and valuable information with the purpose of enhancing or changing customer behavior. It is an ongoing process that should be integrated to the overall marketing process. Companies like P&G, Cisco and Microsoft regularly use content marketing to attract more customers.
Thought leaders and marketing experts like Seth Godin conclude that content marketing is the future of marketing. However, content that is published must be great content. Regardless of the kind of content marketing a company employs, it should be part of the overall process and not something separate that business owners check off their list just to check it off and say they did it. Quality and useful content should be part of any marketing strategy including but not limited to:
- Social Media Marketing – Content should always come first before focusing on a social media presence. When potential customers visit your Facebook page and see no activity, it’s harder for them to want to trust you as a legitimate business no matter how many people you actually have working at your company.
- Search Engine Optimization – Search engines reward companies that provide quality content and you can consistently rank for more than just a few keywords. The more blogs and content you have, the more specific keywords you can rank for.
- PR – Readers like companies that address issues and not just focus on getting your business. Would you want to read a sales pitch over and over or something you enjoy reading.
- Pay Per Click– Needs great content to work effectively. If you are advertising using Google’s Adwords Program, then you need to really entice your visitors because they are seeing you for the first time. Making a great impression can really help the buying process.
- Inbound Marketing – Inbound revolves around focusing on bringing prospects in rather than going out to find them. This really needs quality content to drive inbound traffic and leads.
Why Marketing Content Is Powerful?
Content marketing involves writing blogs, using social media and video to provide useful content. Traditional marketing focuses on the creation of persuasive advertising to entice customers to buy products and services. These two worlds are clearly very different.
By harnessing the power of marketing content, companies can get readers to subscribe to your content and share it with others. If you provide something of value, people who need it will show their appreciation by sharing this content with others. The process of sharing is akin to a domino effect where you are able to reach more prospective clients by giving them information they find useful. In turn you are rewarded with more potential customers and possibly an increase in sales.
Best & Simple Content Marketing Strategies
Since most companies are now employing content marketing to get new and retain old customers, it can be very hard to break through particularly if you’re a new company or brand. There are many complex strategies that can help you breakthrough and maybe even get the top spot. However, some of the best strategies are pretty simple and straightforward.
- Personal Approach – if you want your content marketing to be relevant, always make sure it has the personal touch. While this does not necessarily mean knowing your audience personally, it pertains to talking or communicating with them as if you know them. Put yourself in their shoes, use simple words and write content that is not only useful but easy to understand. Try to approach content writing as if you’re making it for a friend.
- Be Relevant – Say for example you’re a jazz club but provide content appropriate for knitting enthusiasts. Right of the bat, you are going to have a hard time reaching the right audience. Using the example of Mint.com, they provided information that many people found useful. They provided advice for people struggling with money problems or wanted investment advice. This is appropriate because they are a financial company. By keeping content relevant you are providing useful information to readers.
- Be Entertaining – Aside from using easy-to-understand information, it does not hurt to be entertaining. You don’t need to be funny but studies have found that readers are bound to remember information that makes them laugh, cry or cringe more than any other form of content. If it elicits emotion even on a basic level, chances are they will remember and appreciate it, and even share it.
- Be Consistent – People like patterns. They like information that is easy to find with minimal surprises. If you change it too often readers will suffer from this inconsistency. Good content strategy has a repeatable system that governs content creation and frequency of messaging.
- Be Honest – Do not be scared to tell your audience what you really think. Do not be afraid to share your opinion or show your personality. This is what they want. They want a face, name and back story to your content.
Why Many Companies Fail at Content Marketing
What We Have Learned about Content Marketing
So far we have learned that people do not want to be sold to when making buying decisions. They want useful content that helps explain more about the business and improve their trust level with them. This useful information could spread to other potential customers through social media and word-of-mouth exposure.
Content is not only what the people want, it is also what Google and search engines want. Websites and companies who provide useful content do not only get new and repeat customers; they are also rewarded by search engines through higher search engine page ranks.