So what exactly is content marketing? What is it’s purpose? What does it look like in practice?
More importantly, how can your business or brand leverage it to reach more customers and deepen your relationship with current customers?That’s what we’re after today. So let’s dive in!
The Problem with Traditional Marketing
For decades the world of advertising dominated the marketing budget of most businesses. Commercials, billboards, magazines and newspaper ads were where it was at. Advertising and marketing messages began to be plastered everywhere.
Before long people were becoming numb to traditional advertising methods. Ad-blindness became a real thing and marketing messages just weren’t having the same effect as they once did.
Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) allowed people to speed past commercials. Billboards have become nearly invisible backdrops. Magazine and newspaper ads are just another page to turn. And the growing clutter of advertisements showing up in our social feeds became more of an annoyance than anything else.
People just plain hate ads and will do anything to avoid them. Why? Because most traditional advertising is based on interruptive marketing; taking people out of what they were actually doing, shoving the message in front of them.
So there needed to be a fresh way to grab people’s attention. There needed to be a way to get customers to come to you rather than you having to jump out in front of them.
With the revolution of social media and the age of digital marketing, something began to shift.
Seth Godin was the first person to coin the phrase Permission Marketing. The way he defined it was:
Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.
It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.
The idea was that you needed to earn people’s attention. If you earn their attention you must then earn their trust. If you earn their trust, you earn their business.
It is around this premise that content marketing, as we know it today, hinges. Providing free content that your target audience is looking for you earn their attention, you earn their trust and you earn their business.
Definition of Content Marketing
Since becoming the next big buzz word many have tried to define and redifiine what content marketing actually is. According to Wikipedia content marketing is:
any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers. This information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, etc.
That definition seems to cover all the bases. It’s a bit of a mouthful though. We like to think of content marketing as:
Earning the attention, trust and business of your target audience through producing and sharing valuable content that meets their needs.
It’s that working definition that we’re going with for all intents and purposes of this article.Tweetable version: #ContentMarketing = Earning the attention trust & business of your audience through content that meets their needs.Click To Tweet
Examples of Content Marketing
The earliest known example of content marketing is actually from the John Deere corporation in 1895. They began publishing a magazine titled The Furrow which offers information about the agricultural industry.
This piece of content was (and still is) a highly valuable resource for those in the agricultural industry— the very same people who might be customers of John Deere.
Today, John Deere has evolved with the times and technology trends to create an online digital version of The Furrow.
Red Bull has taken the idea of a content publisher very seriously with it’s magazine, The Red Bulletin. It’s a full-fledged magazine that can be consumed in digital formats (website, smartphone apps, e-paper) as well as traditional print.
Showcasing celebrities, events, and other items of interest, they have worked to build a captive audience that will always think of them first when it comes to fueling their non-stop lifestyle.
Williams-Sonoma is another great example of modern digital content marketing in action.
As a company that sells cooking equipment and accessories, they realized an opportunity to serve their target customers by creating a world-class food blog called Taste. Their blog is incredibly pleasing to the eye and their articles help cooks to do what they love— make food that’s pleasing to the tastebuds.
Another great example is Buffer. Since their product is primarily for those working in social media and content marketing, they’ve developed one of the best social media and content marketing blogs on the internet.
This has positioned them as one of the leading resources of industry related content for their target audience. It’s no wonder their business has grown by leaps and bounds.
Types of Digital Content
As in the first example above with John Deere, there’s far more ways to do content marketing than just digital. For the sake of this article though, we’re going to limit the discussion to the context of the online world.
When it comes to digital content marketing the most common types of content are:
- Blog Posts
- Social Media Posts
- Industry Reports or Studies
- White Papers
- Email Newsletters
- Slide Decks
Each of these types of content can be utilized to meet specific consumption preferences of your target audience. Not everyone likes to consume content in the same way.
Some people like to read and therefore prefer long-form blog content, ebooks, or white papers. Others don’t have time to read and therefore consume podcasts far more than blog post. While still an entirely different group of people prefer to be visually stimulated and therefore want to consume video content or infographics.
The key to content marketing though is knowing who your audience is and what they’re looking for. Then it’s simply a matter of creating things that they need and making it as easy as possible for them to discover it.
Content Marketing Action Plan
Once you fully understand what content marketing is, you can begin to take action. Here’s our recommended steps:
- Identify your audience – this is the first and most important step in the process. Know who it is you’re serving. Know them like you know your best friend.
- Discover their interests – what are they talking about online? Use social listening as market research to uncover their interests, wants and needs.
- Start blogging – if your website doesn’t already have a blog attached to it, create it and start writing about the interests you’ve discovered in the previous step.
- Decide on social networks – you can’t be everywhere so start with the places that matter the most. Through your social listening you should have also discovered where your target audience is talking. Start there.
- Create an editorial calendar – this is a crucial step. Having content planned out using an editorial calendar will force you to be strategic and intentional with your content. If you don’t know where to start, you can use my basic Editorial Calendar Strategy to get you rolling.
- Execute, measure, rinse, repeat – do the work, and make sure you’re measuring everything you can. In order to know if it’s taking you in the right direction you need to measure. Once you measure you can continue to get better an better.
If you have effectively done all the above you will undoubtedly begin earning the attention, trust and business of your target audience.
Look, this can be a lot to take in. Your business has a lot of moving parts and I’m sure you have more than enough weight to handle already. But take this stuff in stride.
Take the time to do it right. Content marketing is a long game, not an overnight miracle potion. And if you ever need someone to walk you through any of the steps, we’re here to help.