According to Seth Godin, “Content Marketing is the only marketing left”. He may well be right but there is little consensus as to what ‘content marketing’ actually is. Here are a couple of definitions for you to noodle over.
- “The creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.”
- “A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
The first half of both definitions is pretty much the same but notice the words ‘to attract and retain a clearly defined audience’ in the second one. Is Content Marketing targeting an audience or is that audience self serving? Is the audience defined or defining itself?
The next discrepancy is that one definition aims to “stimulate interest” whilst the other goes in harder - “to drive profitable customer action”.
Is content just a new name for Advertising?
If there is any clear blue water between content marketing and advertising, it seems to be that advertising is thrust into the oncoming path of a viewer (perhaps better referred to as the interrupted one) while content is more likely to be discovered - via search or affinity. As there are no hard edges between these categories, people tend to blur them to suit their particular purposes. It’s worth noting that advertising will always need a media budget while content marketing technically doesn’t. What else should be considered to make content marketing work? Here a few pointers.
What can we learn about the consumer?
If you can figure out what someone is trying to get done, you can usually serve up some useful material. ‘I see you are trying to finance a car purchase’, ‘unblock your drains’, etc. If content can demonstrate usefulness, chances are, it will be read. And shared. The key is to frame the need as tightly as possible before offering an answer. Don’t jump to the solution, help refine the question.
Adding to the noise isn’t helpful
One thing is certain, everyone is being interrupted to death. With the exponential rise in mental illness, this is literally true. How much do we think of the recipient before pumping out another marketing blast? Our brand might benefit from that piece of research but will the respondent think so positively about our brand? Most of us don’t have enough time in our lives to do what is already demanded - so think hard before asking for more.
People like us turn the dial
Advertising doesn’t work. It really doesn’t. People don’t look at it, they block it and they don’t trust it. We believe what our friends tell us. 68% of consumers say a positive referral from a Facebook friend makes them more likely to buy a specific product or visit a certain retailer. A brand is no longer what we tell consumers it is. It is what consumers tell each other it is.
Anything you can do to encourage customers to become advocates should pay massive dividends.
Honesty builds trust - when you can find it
Society is losing faith in institutions. Government, Banks, The Church - the list is long. Faith has been eroded by lies and coverups. Truth, when it’s presented, is often obfuscated and twisted. Yet even bad news can build trust if you deliver it clearly. People we trust encourage us to buy. We don’t care if recommendations don’t even come from expert sources so long as they’re honest. 84% of millennials say user-generated content has influence on what they buy, so encourage its production wherever possible.
Don’t forget your Brand - or buyers will
There are some solid reasons why marketers believe Brands are under pressure - even dying. But adhering to the goal of brand consistency still makes complete sense. The purpose of a brand is to convey a promise of quality and reliability. As Jeremy Bullmore once put it, “Consumers build an image of a brand as birds build nests. From the scraps and straws they chance upon.” So whatever your brand stands for should be embedded in every shred of communication and at every point of contact.
Less is more - invest in the long term
For content to move the needle, it needs to be relevant and useful. Don’t create content like confetti - just for the sake of it. People don’t care where your creative team get their coffee from. Forget hype and spin, explain what your product or proposition can actually deliver. Emotional triggers will always work but the more facts and insights you can convey, the more effective the story and its reach.
Try and design your work to endure. Invest in a film or a report that will survive for a year or two, not a day or two. With the demise of ‘big tent’ media so did the opportunities to broadcast ad spots to the masses. The new content model demands that you drive traffic to it over time. So spend enough time and money to make content that is beautiful, informative, entertaining and ideally - enduring.