Manage and market your content to compete and thrive in the 21st Century.
Content marketing is hailed as the future of marketing strategy. Make the right marketing choices to avoid drowning in the rising ocean of content on the internet.
Traditional marketing is dead. Long live content marketing! So says the Content Marketing Institute, but can we really believe that or is it just – well, clever marketing?
Online opinions are divided as to whether content marketing is the next big thing, a short-term fad that has already passed its sell-by date, or a new name for a concept that has been around for more than a hundred years.
Whichever of these is true, there is no doubt that the concept occupies an important place in the marketing toolbox of any company, large or small, digital or offline, new or mature. It is therefore critical to assess what content means to your business to derive the most value from content creation, marketing and optimization.
Before you can set about marketing your content, you need to get to grips with the following preliminary questions:
- What is your content?
- What is its purpose?
- How do your customers perceive it and react to it?
What is it?
Content is everything you produce or that is produced about your business. This goes far beyond the basic content of your website and how it describes your products and services. It also includes meta data, blogs, online advertising, customer reviews and comments, online discussions on social media and other fora and even comments and discussions on other people’s websites.
But it does not stop even there. Content is not just about what you have online. Other marketing materials, such as radio and TV advertising can be considered content, as can tangible branded items such as business cards, pens, calendars, coffee cups, and signwritten vehicles and office space.
What is its purpose?
Clearly, we create a lot of content, sometimes without even meaning to. What is it all for? In short, content should give information to those who see, hear or in some way “consume” it.
Evidently from a content marketing perspective, that information needs to be accurate, concise and of benefit to the consumer. It must present your product or service in such a way that it attracts, interests or entertains whoever sees it, leading to optimized conversion rates and increased sales.
How do consumers see it?
According to one respected marketing agency, consumers do not specifically differentiate between online and non-digital marketing. However, according to research from Deloitte, they do react very differently to different types of content in different ways in terms of trust and influence.
This intuitively makes sense – to use an extreme example, an individual will obviously place far more trust in a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend than they will in an unsolicited SMS from a marketing firm.
This suggests that the question of whether content marketing is the new be-all and end-all of marketing and has rendered traditional marketing methods obsolete somewhat misses the point.
In today’s market more than ever, businesses need to understand and optimize their use of all aspects of the marketing mix. As ever, it all comes down to understanding the buying cycle – homing in on what customers want, having a product or service that provides it and utilizing the right mix of marketing channels to make sure customers know about it.
What makes content marketing different from traditional marketing?
Content marketing can be described as a form of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of content in order to win and retain customers. The Content Marketing Institute describes content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
The magazine “The Furrow” was first published by John Deere in 1895 and is often cited as the earliest form of content marketing, providing useful information to farmers and at the same time increasing sales of John Deere products. The magazine is still in circulation to this day.
From a marketing perspective, the main difference between the world of 1895 and today is the mind boggling volume of content, or information, which is available. In view of this, the key word from the Content Marketing Institute’s definition has to be “valuable.”
Create content that is sufficiently valuable to its audience and they will actively seek it out. This is the core difference between content marketing and traditional advertising where the challenge is to get the attention of an audience that is actively avoiding the marketing message (fast forwarding through TV adverts, closing or ignoring online banner adverts, etc).
If potential clients seek out your content and find it valuable, then by the time they make contact with you, they are already interested in and engaged with your company and the product or service you are providing. The element of trust that is needed for a successful and long term business relationship will grow much faster if the customer has come to you rather than being “won” through a high-pressure sales pitch.
So how does content marketing fit into the marketing mix?
We have already touched upon the buying cycle from the marketing perspective. It is also valuable to see it from the customer’s point of view, in which it is a four-stage process:
- A customer has a need, a wish or a problem to be solved. For example, the customer’s family might live overseas and regular communication with them is difficult and costly.
- Once our customer is aware there is a solution, he will conduct research to find out more about what is available. In our example, he might evaluate different communication platforms, like Skype, Whatsapp and Snapchat, and different hardware such as tablets and smartphones, to establish which one will give the most satisfactory solution.
- At this point, the customer knows more or less what he wants, and starts to compare different deals from different vendors.
- Finally, the customer makes his decision and proceeds with the transaction.
Traditional marketing strategies and advertising campaigns work best in phases two and three, where we have a potential customer who knows what he wants and is simply seeking the best available deal.
Where content marketing comes to the fore is in the first two phases. It can raise the consumer’s awareness of a need that he did not know existed and of a potential solution that he had not even considered.