Have you ever picked up a company’s brochure or flyer? Watched an infomercial or a shopping channel on television? Ordered a product DVD explaining the benefits of a new mattress or a vacation destination? Leafed through a company newsletter? Read the little comic strip in a packet of Bazooka bubble gum?
All these are a few (but by no means an exhaustive list) of the ways companies use content to market their products and services to customers and to prospective buyers.
Content marketing, in other words, is nothing new. Companies having been creating and distributing content for many years, both to attract new business and to retain existing customers. However, here’s the point of differentiation from more traditional forms of marketing and advertising: Using content to sell isn’t selling, or sales-ey. It isn’t advertising. It isn’t push marketing, in which messages are sprayed out at groups of consumers. Rather, it’s a pull strategy—it’s the marketing of attraction. It’s being there when consumers need you and seek you out with relevant, educational, helpful, compelling, engaging, and sometimes entertaining information.
When customers and prospects come to you, rather than the other way around, the advantages are obvious. They’re interested, open, and receptive. Your customers have chosen the moment—all you have to do is be ready. And it spares you much of the headaches and expense of outreach marketing efforts:
- Media planning and buying.
- Direct mail dumps.
- Spraying and praying in an era in which browsers can be configured to block ads, spam filters can be sending your email campaigns into oblivion, digital video recorders are making TV spots optional, and consumers are emptying much of the content of their mailboxes into the Recycling Bin.
There’s really no debate over the benefits of tune-in versus tune-out, of pull versus push.
A Roper Public Affairs poll found 80% of business decision makers prefer to get information about a company from articles rather than from ads. Some 70% say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company, and 60% believe company content helps them make better product decisions.
Content marketing aids in brand recognition, trust, authority, credibility, loyalty, and authenticity. Content marketing can help accomplish these tasks for a variety of constituencies, and on several levels: for the organization it represents, for a company’s products and services, and for the employees who represent the business or service.
Content marketing creates value and helps people. It answers questions and provides foundational information. It makes customers and clients more educated and informed, so they feel they can make purchase decisions, or, in organizations, to recommend purchases to colleagues or superiors. It’s used by marketers large and small and by those selling business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C). Some are using content to augment traditional advertising campaigns. Others are leveraging content to completely replace more traditional forms of advertising and marketing. Content can spark customer engagement at all stages of the buying cycle, including helping to establish an ongoing relationship when a prospect becomes a customer. Content can reinforce an existing relationship, inspire upselling, cross-selling, renewals, upgrades, and referrals.
Digital Changed Everything
Although content marketing is hardly new—after all, businesses have been publishing newsletters and brochures practically since the advent of the printing press—the rise of the Internet and other digital channels, particularly social media, has significantly lowered the bar (and the costs) of leveraging content to profitably attract clients and prospects.
Research from this same MarketingProfs/Junta42 study, conducted in 2010, found that 60% of marketers planned to increase content marketing spending in the coming year. Content already accounts for more than 33% of marketing budgets— often double that in smaller organizations. Overwhelmingly, all these efforts and budgets are flowing into digital channels.
You should bear in mind that when it comes to content marketing, there really are no rules. There are best practices, to be sure. Aside from common sense notions (such as checking spelling and grammar; if it’s a video, it should probably contain moving images and audio), there are no hard and fast rules, only guidelines. The content that works to support your business won’t be what works for another company with a different audience, offering, and personality.
If there’s a single thing that deserves to be said before you dive in, it’s this: Be prepared to experiment. Be prepared to fail—but make sure your learn from those failings. And above all, have fun. Creating interesting, compelling, original, educational, diverting, immersive, entertaining, and attractive content can be just as valuable and inspiring for the creator as it is for its intended audience.
So have fun! And learn a lot.