Content marketing involves the creation and sharing of content in order to fulfil a marketing objective. Where content marketing is unique is that its purpose is to communicate with prospects and customers, not to sell to them.
Content marketing can take a variety of formats including blogs, videos, whitepapers, infographics, e-books, case studies etc. Proponents of content marketing (and in the interests of transparency I’m one) believe that if businesses provide valuable information to buyers, over time this favour will be returned through custom and loyalty.
However, despite the current hype, content marketing is nothing new. Look closely and you will find plenty of examples of businesses providing customers with marketing communications wrapped up as valuable insight and advice as far back as the 1800s.
The history of content marketing
Without the internet, blogs or social media, in 1895 John Deere reached out with a magazine designed to help farmers become better at business. One of the first to explore the benefits of communicating with customers in large numbers through the provision of valuable information, impressively this magazine is still going strong today.
Adapting with the times ‘The Furrow’ is now available online, has been optimised for mobile platforms and uses social media to reach out to a new and growing audience. However, not forgetting its roots, for those with more traditional tastes it is still available in print format.
Fast forward a few years and we come to one of my favourite examples of content marketing, The Michelin Guide. In 1900 tire manufacturer Michelin concluded that the only way it could sell more tires was to increase the number of cars on the road. Identifying this barrier to its growth strategy Michelin demonstrated both savvy business insight and extraordinary imagination with the creation of a guide for motorists.
With a wealth of tips including where travellers could find the best hotels, restaurants, mechanics, and (who would have thought it) tire dealers, not only did Michelin encourage more drivers to get out and explore, it also increased the number of potential customers available to them and positioned Michelin as the go-to tire dealer. Inspiring stuff!
It may have taken over 100 years for the marketing world to truly catch up to the power of content marketing, but now that it has everybody wants a slice. And with successive Google updates punishing marketers using bad content to improve site rankings, any marketing professional not upping their game when it comes to content creation is in the wrong job.
No longer is it acceptable to just spew out poor quality, unimaginative, keyword-stuffed content for the purpose of generating more web traffic (and quite frankly if you were doing this, then shame on you). Today’s content has to be interesting and meet a need; whether that need is to assist, educate or entertain.
So how is content marketing shaping up?
The challenge today is that everybody is doing it. Standing out from the crowd against such fierce competition requires not only a commitment to content marketing but also the time, resource and ability to get it done. The days of throwing together a quick blog once or twice a week are long gone. Today’s content marketers need to see the bigger picture.
The rise of ‘Big Content’
Never a sector to shy away from a buzzword, today’s marketers are all about Big Content. But what does ‘Big Content’ actually mean?
Big Content is not about volume. Nor does it have to be in long-form (although there is an ongoing debate on whether you should only be producing online content over 2000 words). There is no particular format when it comes to creating Big Content. It can be a blog post, a whitepaper, a video and infographic or something truly unique.
Put simply Big Content is content that takes effort.
Is Big Content worth it?
The feedback suggests yes. Big Content is not something people look at once and promptly forget about. People come back to Big Content; they refer to it and they share it.
What’s more, if you are creating something unique you are giving your potential customers something you competitors are not; you’re showing them you mean business.
Big Content should help you to:
• Develop and strengthen relationships with prospects and customers
• Raise brand awareness, trust and credibility
• Raise your rankings with those pesky search engines. Google loves quality content.
• Grow your audience beyond your immediate reach
• Convert your pipeline into customers and grow your business.
Can small brands create Big Content?
In a nutshell, yes. In fact, any business that decides to invest in content creation should go big or go home.
Creating content that doesn’t take at least a degree of effort is a waste of your precious time and resources. It’s a dog eat dog world out there and throwing a stick and hoping someone will catch it is simply not an acceptable marketing model. Everything you do needs to deliver results.
Top tips for creating great content
- Know your audience. Content is not king, your audience is. Before you put one word on paper, find out who you are talking to and revisit this exercise for every piece of content you create.
- Identify what they want. As proud as we are of what we do, most people are only really interested in what we can do for them. Too many businesses focus on the ‘we’ rather than the ‘you’ and in doing so alienate potential customers from the off. You know who your audience is; now think about what they want. What are their pain points? How can you help them look good? How can you entertain them? How you can help them to grow their business? If you want people to buy into what you’re saying you need to put yourself in their shoes.
- Let go of the fear. While many businesses (quite understandably) worry about giving away too much information for free, fortune favours the brave. The trick to great business content is that it not only positions you as an expert, it also lets customers know just why they need you.
- Be original. Think about what you can give your audience that they can’t get elsewhere. What can you tell them that they don’t already know? Okay so almost everything has been said before, but while a huge percentage of information can already be curated from the internet this doesn’t mean you should simply give up. In the age of information overload, valuable, well-written content is still hard to find.
- Add a dash of personality. In a competitive marketplace nothing differentiates like your own voice. A big dash of personality makes everything so much easier to read and keeps you front of mind. It changes the way you communicate and it changes the way people think about you. Straight away you’re approachable. Have courage in your own voice and convictions – and don’t forget to choose the right topic – you can’t fake enthusiasm!
- Make it shareable. No matter how interesting your content is, it’s of little use unless shared. The key to great content lies in expanding its reach beyond your direct followers. Aim to give your audience something they think is so good they want to share it with their connections.
- Know what you want it to do. Everything you create needs a purpose. Figure out what yours is. Is it to drive more web visitors to your website or do you want them to do something once they get there? Is it to create conversations? Do you want to raise your profile and position yourself as a though-leader? Or do you want them to pick up the phone then and there and buy your product/services?
- Do something with it. Content marketing is about more than content creation. It’s also about what you do with this content once you have it. It’s no good creating a great piece of content if it’s just going to sit there waiting for people to stumble across it. While the more quality content you have, the more likely Google will be to lead people to it, it simply won’t do its job without some carefully planned promotion. If you’ve followed the steps above you know who you are talking to, so you should know where to find them. Use every suitable tool at your disposal and get yourself heard.
- Get something in return. While we’ve covered the benefits of giving away content for free, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get anything in return. If you’ve created something truly valuable most people will be happy to swap their data in return for accessing it. (Just be careful you are meeting the requirements of GDPR!) While this may not be true for every piece of content you create it’s certainly worth considering for larger or more unique content.
- Make sure it’s worth the effort. If you’ve spent a lot of time/effort/money creating something, you need to make sure it’s worth it. There is usually not one single metric by which the success of your content marketing strategy can be measured, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set KPIs upfront and check to see how you are performing against them. Look at how many times your content has been viewed, downloaded and shared. Interrogate whether your social metrics (likes, follows etc.) have improved and whether the creation of content is helping your search engine results. Look at on-page metrics such as average visitor duration and bounce rates to see the level of engagement the content is generating. Are you delivering what they are expecting you to? Where appropriate examine how much data capture it has generated and how many of these have turned into leads, or even better customers.
Big Content however doesn’t have to mean big budgets and the key here is proportionality.
So what if you don’t have a Coca Cola budget? Look at what you do have; be that expertise, information or existing collateral and repurpose this to your needs. For smaller businesses investing weeks in the creation of an epic piece of content may not deliver bang for buck no matter how good it is, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create something of value that enables your voice to be heard above the noise.