By now, you’ve likely heard the term “content marketing” – but what does that even mean?
Well, it’s a lot less complicated, and a lot more powerful, than you might think. This style of marketing has been growing in popularity over the last several years, and before we get into the nuts and bolts, it’s important to understand why. There are two major factors at work here.
First, because there is more information available online than ever before, people are becoming more and more discerning about where they spend their time and energy around the web. Simply put, there’s so much out there, they have to choose wisely or get lost in the fray.
Second, also in part because of the expansion and proliferation of the internet by way of mobile devices (and the basic necessity of a web presence for many companies), would-be prospects are becoming more and more skeptical of marketing material in a general way. This means that companies, and more specifically, the marketers who work for them, are facing much larger obstacles than they have in the past.
The idea of content marketing sprouted out of these two problems. So, what is it anyway?
What Is Content Marketing?
Surely we know what “content” is in terms of the web: pictures, blogs, videos, infographics, etc. – all of those bits of material meant to entertain or inform visitors of your website or social media profile.
We also know the basic purpose of marketing: to attract and retain customers.
When you combine these two things, a picture of content marketing emerges: attracting and maintaining customers by way of online material meant to entertain and/educate prospects.
While this is a good working definition, it falls a little bit short of the often dynamic and multi-step efforts the experts of content marketing go through to “market without marketing.”
The real push behind marketing with actual “content” – instead of the typical modes of advertising – is that a lot typical advertising doesn’t work anymore. People want more substance, they want to know how a product or service is going to enrich their lives, they want to know that they can trust your business, and above all, they don’t want to feel that their time and energy is being wasted.
How Does It Work?
Content marketing has two sides, though the line between them is sometimes blurry.
On one hand, you’ve got the massive (incomprehensibly massive) arena of the entire internet. As people surf around from site to site, clicking this link and that, they start to carve out their own interest niches, and effectively lump themselves into diverse and often overlapping demographics.
Companies keen on content marketing will likely want to reach out to those groups who mostly closely resemble their ideal customers, but they need to do so in a way that doesn’t reek of advertising (they don’t want to scare these prospects off with sales pitches, after all). So, if they can’t jump immediately to offering a product or service, they have to break the ice in another way – namely by offering entertaining or educational content that caters directly to their target prospects’ interests.
Such content could include videos on YouTube, features in the press, guest blogs on other sites, SlideShare presentations, social media, etc.
This content would be branded, of course, but it exists as a benefit for the consumer – not the company who created it. The idea for this “at large” content is that when a customer sees it, learns from it, is entertained by it, etc., the source of the video (your company) becomes a trusted place for information, a style they can identify with, or an authority they can look to for guidance.
On the other hand, you’ve also got the content native to your company’s website. This content isn’t necessarily designed to attract prospects, but to keep them on your site (and interested in your products/services) after they’ve discovered the brand.
It’s still the same type of content – that is, images, videos, articles, etc. – but where your “at large” content focused on broader problems and interests that might be affecting your target customers, this content is more specifically about your products/services, and how they relate to your prospects’ needs (though your site can – and should – certainly include the first type of content as well).
Again, these aren’t sales pitches – this is detailed, specific information that will help people feel like they are making the best possible purchase from the most reputable source. The purpose is to educate and build a relationship.
For a brief example – if you’re a realtor, your content can’t just be about pitching property. That’s what prospects expect from every realtor. To build trust, you could write an article about “5 Ways To Prep For An Open House” or “3 Pitfalls Of Buying Your First Home.”
These articles don’t necessarily have anything to do with YOUR company selling property, but it does illustrate how much the company knows about the topic, how it can help those looking to buy and sell, and the kind of expertise a prospect can expect when working with your company.
Why It Matters
People have more options than ever, and more access to ways of researching those options, reviewing customer feedback/reviews, asking friends and family for opinions, and comparing products/services to competitors’ alternatives.
Because there are so many options out there, and because so much of our daily lives is saturated with marketing “noise” – it takes something special to really get people’s attention. Once you have that attention, it takes the prospect’s trust that your company is the best possible option, that purchasing from you will not only meet their needs, but that they are making the wisest of their available choices.
The only real way to get over the barrier of customer skepticism and lack of trust is to demonstrate your value and expertise before any pitch takes place, and content marketing helps you achieve just that.
Whether it’s videos, blogs, podcasts, infographics, or even in-person workshops and presentations, the more authority you can establish, the more credible you become, the more customers will want to do business with you – simply because you’re the best and most trusted choice, not just because you had a good pitch and won a one-time sale.
In this modern world, it takes more than flash and a slick salesman to earn a customer – and it takes a whole lot more to earn a loyal customer. If you can become the go-to source in your niche, based on expertise you’ve shown through your content, you’ll have customer relationships that last a lot longer than a single transaction.
Earn their trust, and you earn more than a customer – you build a relationship. THAT is what content marketing is all about.