What is content marketing?
Content marketing has turned on its head the way many companies think about marketing, exchanging interruptions for conversations.
There’s long been problems with traditional marketing. The first is it’s easy to tune out or turn off, despite how much you’re bombarded with it – advertisements can become a ‘corner of the eye’ thing; you’re aware of them, but you're not focussing on them.
The second is that it’s a broadcast, not a conversation – advertisements and direct mail are not only intrusive, they’re typically geared to just one action: a buying response.
Which leads us to the third problem – people don’t buy all the time. For a given product, they buy infrequently. Sure, more so for a bag of coffee than a camera, but consumers are people most of the time and buyers for just a small percentage.
As traditional marketing has became less effective, content marketing has been on the rise.
Content marketing communicates to potential customers, crucially without selling. It provides information that customers value all of the time, not just when they’re thinking about buying – with the goal that when they’re ready to buy they’re predisposed to buy from you. Or, better still, become loyal to your brand.
By providing information that customers value, they're far more likely to keep coming back to your website and social media channels. They’re less likely to treat your e-mails as spam and be more likely to read them.
The information – the content – you provide might include tutorials on how your product can be used, case studies of how others have used it, how to avoid common pitfalls and so on.
Content marketing may seem to be a fairly recent trend, but it isn’t. Way back in 1895, John Deere launched a magazine called The Furrow, aimed at customers in the agricultural market. Michelin produced its famous Michelin Guides for motorists – providing great information about places to stay in order to boost the demand for cars, and tyres. For over a hundred years, organisations of almost every size have employed content marketing in the form of magazines, books, videos – in fact, almost any form of media. It’s a proven approach to long-term, sustainable marketing – and quite unbeatable customer engagement and loyalty.
Even just looking at The Furrow and Michelin Guides, a key tenet of content marketing becomes clear: content should be of value. Those are easy words to say, or write in a marketing plan, but the quality of those two publications is demonstrated by the fact that what they say and publish is highly regarded – and, in the case of the Michelin Guide, people actually pay for it (and of course its purpose has changed and it’s become a business in its own right).
That’s a real test of the quality of content marketing. Regardless of whether you do charge for it, it should really be worth paying for.
Unlike traditional marketing, content marketing shouldn’t interrupt someone’s life. It’s not forceful; there’s no hard-sell. But it should encourage engagement and interaction.
Good content raises a smile, teaches something or just makes people think. It encourages people to come back for more – and share what they’ve experienced. Because good content is unique, because it delivers answers to real questions, because it’s of genuine interest and, because it gets shared, it’s excellent for search optimisation.
People spend more time engaging with content marketing – minutes, not the seconds expected from traditional marketing – and even set aside time for the best content.
While some content-marketers believe that traditional marketing is dead, that’s not our take. We’d consider it foolhardy to ignore advertising, publicity, lead-generation campaigns and other forms of traditional marketing. They all have a role to play, even if the nature or size of that role is shifting.