It’s a rule of thumb in 2014 that anyone involved in digital marketing should include content marketing in their book of plays. Content marketing is not a stand-alone tool to attract more inbound leads, but rather a finely jig-sawed piece of your marketing puzzle. Integrated with other digital marketing tools, content marketing can form part of a broader marketing strategy crossing digital and traditional borders, and meeting requirements for brand-building, reputation management, outbound and inbound marketing, and client relationship management.
The first step is to understand what content marketing is and then to remove the misconceptions of one of the oldest marketing practices available:
1. Sales-y vs informative
Most of us tend to want to include our brand in all of our communications. If we don’t mention the company name or the specific product, how will our clients or customers know who or what is being promoted? But wait, there’s more… The nature of content marketing is that it is un-branded, unbiased, and completely not sales-orientated. The point of content marketing is to educate your target audience; to make them feel smart, confident, and better-informed. When they need help, a product, or a service, they’ll be most likely to get in touch with the brand that made them feel smart, confident, and better-informed.
As a tourism company or stakeholder, you could provide a handy guidebook or infographic on what to do in the Klein Karoo, or a reference guide on tropical fish for divers in Sodwana Bay (for example). Where this content appears should guide your use of branding and sales talk. If you have a website blog that provides your content to your visitors for free, there’s no need to brand your content or make any mention of your company name — it’s implicit in the fact that it appears on your blog or website.
2. Content marketing is customer-focused
Good content marketing focuses entirely on the needs of your customers or potential clients, and not on overtly promoting your company or brand. This happens for two reasons: firstly, how will your potential customers find you? They perform a search for their “problem” and, if your content is compiled well and it ranks highly for relevance, it will appear in the search results of their query. Secondly, the focus on solving your customers’ problems isn’t a question of brand, but of information. Solve that problem efficiently enough and you will be remembered for your expertise and support, not for how well your logo was integrated into the content design.
3. Content isn’t just words – it’s multi-media
Many think of content simply as written pieces — articles, newsletters, promotional features, etc. Content is so much more than that — it can be packaged visually in the form of infographics, or delivered in audio format via a podcast or downloadable .mp3, or for true viral impact, a cleverly directed and edited video could go a long way to distribute information in a memorable and shareable way. It’s getting more and more tricky to capture and sustain users’ attention because of the sheer volume of content being produced, so it’s imperative to create and distribute content that is valuable, useful, and relevant to your audience – even more so if they can consume it in a convenient and entertaining way.
4. Content marketing isn’t new
After the proliferation of Google’s Penguin and Panda algorithms, and the collapse of black-hat SEO practices, digital marketing types have refocused their efforts on content to improve web rankings. This massive return to content marketing as a viable method of audience building and lead generation has led newcomers to marketing to believe that content marketing is new. But it’s not.
For a long time, the earliest known instance of content marketing was John Deere’s consumer magazine The Furrow, which was first published in the late 1800s. However, this has recently been knocked to second place, with the earliest example found from Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, which released The Locomotive in 1867.
This publication, which is still running digitally, was first released to provide technical information for equipment operators in order to help them manage their risk and solve operational problems. Doing a search for “the history of content marketing” will return numerous results of companies who built their audiences and their reputations on simply helping their customers… and not from selling to them.
5. Content production is specialised and time-consuming
There’s no point in simply diving in and producing content (in whatever format) that you like and that you’re interested in. Effective content marketing requires a well-researched and carefully planned strategy that is entirely consumer focused.
There’s nothing easy or quick about producing content — it takes time and a trial and error approach to find the perfect balance of volume/frequency and distribution when it comes to satisfying your target audience’s requirement for good content that will assist them with problem-solving. It’s also key to assemble a great content production team if you want to effectively execute on your content marketing strategy.
6. Content marketing is not cheap
An effective content marketing strategy requires a range of skills for proper execution. Digital marketing specialists, strategists, digital networkers and social media managers, web developers, video production experts, graphic designers, and copywriters — these are just some of the people and skill sets involved in planning and executing on a content marketing strategy. These skills include niche areas of expertise and cannot be learned overnight, which is why you cannot expect to pay a pittance for content.
In spite of the initial investment you’ll make in content marketing, it’s a long-term strategy that will feed into other areas of your business reputation and that can build a life-long customer base if you get it right. It’s a worthwhile investment with long-term, exponential rewards.