This post has been brewing for a while, I’ve been trying to let it crystalize some more, and even now I’m not sure it’s polished, but after reading so many good books and posts recently (I’ll list as many as I can remember at the end of this post) on the subject of “content marketing,” I’m going to take my first stab at it.
From this website that I started publishing my old newspaper columns in 1999, to the professional blog I started almost 4 years ago, and the fact that every venture or website we start comes with a blog attached as a central marketing strategy (see iThemes and WebDesign.com), I’ve long realized the value in delivering good, quality, practical, helpful content.
Maybe it’s because I was a newspaper journalist in my previous career, but I love good content and use it prolifically in my marketing strategies. And I believe, as so many others have said, businesses now need to become content creators themselves and stop outsourcing it to external media outlets in the form of advertising.
Here’s some thoughts on how and why businesses need to go this route:
- Content is an AWESOME marketing channel and strategy. Duh, Captain Obvious! But seriously, you can attract prospective customers through it, build your brand and establish thought leadership and expertise …. oh, and you can also make sales through it and because of it. More on that later.
- The media empires are collapsing around us. And there is a void being left in their ashes. Their readers still want quality content.
- Develop your own readership and audience. There is no need for a middleman to communicate with your prospective audiences. By creating your own media, you can develop direct relationships with your audience. You’re not leasing another’s readership, you’re developing your own.
- As I’ve blogged about before: Content is priceless. I’ll always invest in good “evergreen” or “pillar” content.
- Educational marketing IS creating valuable, practical content you’re prospects aka audience need or are interested in. There are topics and tips and tutorials that your customer is looking for … in your niche, you should be THE expert on it.
- Content is about being helpful. I keep using the words “valuable” and “practical” when I describe content here because ultimately if you help someone – through social media or the content on your blog – it endears that person to you. If you’re just a blaring marketing speaker, it’s not going to help your customer. But if you’re help through your content, they will associate good feelings with your brand and products that are tools in solving their problems.
- Content can also be about storytelling for your brand. It’s one of the reasons I bought a Tom Bihn laptop bag (I unboxed it here). They tell a great story. So in the words of Chris Brogan, “Hire journalists. They are great storytellers.” We’re trying to tell our own story through our live show at iThemes each week, through videos, through in person workshops … and by the way, this ‘About Us’ video from Digital Tutors is brand storytelling at its finest! David Meerman Scott calls this “brand journalism,” and has some good advice for journalists.
- Build community with content. One of the things we’re trying to do at iThemes is build community by embracing our customers and their unique needs. And that means not only providing products or tools to empower them to do it, but content that teaches and shows them how. We want to be their hub for building beautiful and effective websites with WordPress. American Express might be one of the best doing this with OPEN Forum, recruiting some of the biggest and best names for their free content offering. Stellar content that’s made me think better of American Express.
Content like this has been around for a long, long time. It’s nothing new.
Ebooks, white papers, blogs, videos, audio/podcasts, workshops, roadshows, webinars/teleseminars, speaking engagements, books, etc, etc …. are all pretty good examples of content creation and marketing.
I think businesses should use a combination of them … MORE, or heck, actually do some of this, starting with a blog.
How does all this relate to the bottomline? Or maybe, the question really is: how does content make sales?
Here’s what I’ve seen content do for my business …
- Builds your brand – the brand exposure content brings is amazing. One of our highest linked to and visited pages on our site is our free WordPress tutorials page.
- Establishes you as the expert – I love how often people cite Gary V as THEIR wine guru … and, by the way, he happens to sell wine. If I was going to buy wine (which I know nothing about), I’d go to Gary for advice … then I’d probably buy from him. Think about it: When someone helps you out in a niche, who are you most likely to buy from?
- Presents your products and tools as possible solutions – It’s about exposure but not the obnoxious kind. Gary and others who do content marketing well don’t bash you over the head with marketing their goods. (In fact, I’ve seen him say he’s not that worried about it – it’s more about community.) But good content marketing exposes your products and services as possible solutions. This is the VERY tricky part about content marketing. The one we’re still refining and I hope to share more as we learn effective ways to balance content and community with paying the bills!
Here are some more reference resources about content marketing …
- Book: Get Content, Get Customers: The excerpt is foundational, the rest of the book is mostly case studies but a good read
- Book: Inbound Marketing: By the marketing specialists at HubSpot … they are shining examples of content/educational marketing
- Post: Content strategy is the next big thing
- Post: Why Brand Are Becoming Media: I’m looking forward to getting his book Engage!
- Probably a ton more I missed or forgot ….