To understand content marketing, we need first to understand what is marketing. According to the American Marketing Association:
Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.
This is a pretty broad definition. Most people think of marketing as being akin to selling, that we start with a product and then look at ways to market it. Modern marketing starts with questions like
- Who is the customer?
- What problems do they have that we can solve?
- How do we design a product or service to solve these problems?
Then we would look at the competition, pricing, distribution, and bringing the product/service to the attention of the target market for whom it was designed. With traditional marketing, getting attention is achieved by advertising. Advertising is focused on selling, with the call to action of ‘Buy Now!!!’
Content marketing on the other hand is focused on the customer and the problem that was originally identified that brought the product into being. It is designed to engender trust by addressing the customer’s pain point, showing willingness to help and expertise in the problem area.
Content Marketing is not new
Content marketing is not new. Back in the 1890’s the brothers Michelin in France wanted to sell more tyres – so they created the a small book of helpful information for motorists, inclluding lists of places to eat. Thousands of copies were printed and given away free. No charge. The thinking was that readers of the guide would drive to the restaurants, cover more miles and need more tyres. So that wonderful secret sales funnel that is endlessly promoted online is not new either – offer something of value to get an email address, then run some kind of automated email campaign. Of course most consumers are onto this today, they will sign up, get the ebook, and unsubscribe. Anecdotally, the Michelins found that their book was not valued as they would have liked – they found a tyre reseller was using them to level a bench – so eventually they put a price on the guide. Seven francs, whatever that was worth at the time.
Most Companies are Doing It
77 percent of companies have a content marketing strategy in place – many more are doing content marketing without a strategy.
Why Content Marketing?
Traditional advertising is in decline for many reasons:
Move to privacy
According to Business Insider over 763 million devices worldwide are blocking advertisements. Most browsers not only allow but promote ad blocking as a feature – Firefox’s most recent updates offer to block ads and tracking, frustrating Google’s analytics and hurting their advertising business. Of course Google’s Chrome browser resists ad blocking because, well, Google.
To most internet savvy people today, social media advertisements are mostly background noise, just like television ads have been for years. Advertisers have tried to make their ads look like posts, but this eventually annoys people and drives them away.
The Decline of Social Media
Overall, the use of social media has topped out or is in slow decline. Younger people in particular are moving away from the use of open communications. This is in no small part attributable to the inexorable rise of social media advertising, the intrusiveness of the ubiquitous algorithm, and the knowledge that everything is being watched and measured.
The Rise of the Digital Campfire
“Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fasting growing areas of online communication” -Zuckerberg, March 2019.
The term ‘Digital Campfire’ was coined by content strategist Sara Wilson (The Era of Antisocial Social Media) to describe closed, private, interactive online spaces. Examples are Facebook groups, close friends on Instagram, What’s App chats, and Slack communities.
People, especially younger people, are moving away from the constant bombardment of advertising, much of it low grade and deceitful, from algorithm moderated spaces, from public trolls, to private spaces where they can feel safer and in control.
While existing social media platforms have some privacy features, less familiar platforms are gaining popularity, such as Discord, Slack, and Twitch.
But Search Still Works.
All social media advertising, print advertising, television advertising, is unwanted. We endure it because it permits us to enjoy a service: free to air television, free social networks, affordable newspapers. But we will avoid it if we can.
Search is different. We use search when we are actively looking for the solution to a problem, what car to buy, how to fix a leaking tap, where is the best italian pasta restaurant. People who are searching are what salesmen call ‘qualified’. They are in the market, willing participants.
Content marketing helps you to be found when customers search for a solution to their problems.
Content can take many forms: for example text, images, video, infographics, podcasts, animations, and gifs. All have their place, depending on the intended message, but for attention grabbing, images and video have pride of place.
Text vs Images and Video
Text blogs are all very well, and better than nothing, and they will be appreciated by Google, but today people are much more visually oriented. Images attract clicks, and people will watch a video rather than read a 5000 word article.
We are primarily visual creatures: reading and writing came much later than seeing. Visual communication technology has advanced at breakneck speed, going from cumbersome wooden cameras to smartphones in little over a century. Growth in internet broadband now enables video as a communication tool available to everyone. Look at the growth of Zoom during this pandemic. Suddenly everyone is using technology that a few years ago only large companies could afford.
To grab attention in an instant, images are unrivalled. For explanation, video can convey more information much quicker than text.
- 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual.
- The brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text.
- People only retain 10% to 20% of textual information, but when an image is included, they retain 65% of it.
- Infographics make numbers interesting. Compare the text above with this infographic.
- According to Wyzowl, 85% of businesses use video as a marketing tool. There are opportunities in your blog to use video, but also in Facebook and Instagram.
Content can be delivered through many channels: blogs, facebook, instagram, YouTube, even television programs. Big companies have large marketing deparments with teams dedicated to management and development of content. Small businesses do not have that luxury, often one person has to take on all the roles in the business. Where is the time to devote to content marketing? Businesses have to balance the need for content, the time to produce it, and the cost of getting someone else to do it.
Mostly, small businesses will try to post regularly on Instagram and Facebook. It tends to be fairly random, whatever pictures happen to be available at the time. Results will be unspectacular. Again the quality of content has to be balanced against the cost of getting a professional to do it.
The Need for Strategy
Content marketing, like any marketing, has to start with a strategy. And that should be part of an overall marketing strategy. A few random posts each week on Instagram doesn’t cut it.
If you already have a modern uptodate marketing strategy, you don’t have to do much to have a content marketing strategy: just fit your content marketing to the existing marketing strategy, which will already have considered the following:
- Brand identity. Your brand is what distinguishes you from your competitors, essentially it is your promise, the way you behave. Visually it is recognisable by your logo, trademark, signature colours, and perhaps your slogan. Content marketing must be consistent with brand.
- The Ideal Customer. Defining your customer might well be the first step in marketing, before you design your product. If your content does not speak to your customer, it will be wasted effort and expense.
- Your competitor. You must know your competitor in order to know how you are different. This is going to be an important factor in your content.
Content marketing strategy might mandate the use of user generated content, widely used for its perceived authenticity.
What Does Content Marketing Look Like?
Let’s contrast advertising and content marketing with an example. Here is an advertisement for Dior j’adore fragrance. This is the pinnacle of advertising production, part of a campaign costing many millions. It’s all about impact and grabbing attention, and attempting to insert a link into the viewer’s memory. And it is singularly focussed on selling a single product, though it may result in the sale of related Dior products at the department store or online shop. The video ran on television and online while stills were inserted in magazines, billboards, and bus shelters.
Dior’s website is primarily product oriented, but content marketing can be found on the News and Savoir-Faire page.. It contains a range of interesting articles related to the company and its products. It is still pretty tightly focussed on Dior itself, and could be termed selfish content, but content nevertheless.
Like all good content marketing, Dior includes a page on the Dior story. As the effectiveness of advertising decllines, it becomes more important for small business to start telling their story, preferably by incorporating video. (CXO Today)
Content marketing does not have to be really expensive. Mr Poolman is an Australian company selling swimming pool related products. On their webpage, though a little hard to see, they have a blog with dozens of helpful articles about pool equipment and maintenance. All that was required to create this was time and knowledge, knowledge that the company owner did not have to look for because they were already experts in their field. Anyone can do this. All small business owners are experts in their field, or they would not be in business, or at least, not for long. Most pool maintenance companies make extensive use of content.
Authenticity and User Generated Content
This is a big topic. Authenticity is one of the most commonly used buzzwords in marketing today. It is difficult because it pierces the wall between the business and the consumer. The business becomes more vulnerable, accountable, and needs to be honest, and, dare I say, accessible?
Content provided by the business can be seen simply as promotional material and dismissed by the consumer. Authentic content resonates with the customer and is seen as truthful. At its simplest, authentic content can be customer reviews. This is User Generated Content. It can go further than simple reviews, and can be customer stories, relating their experiences.
There are companies promising to create UGC for businesses, but this is a dangerous road to go down. Once your ‘authentic’ content is seen to be fake, there is no road back.