what-is-content-marketing

Tigers might not change their stripes, but consumers do, and things that worked a few years ago simply don’t work any more. 

In 2008, Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog) said that content marketing is the only marketing left. Fast forward seven years, and even the people who didn’t believe him then are actively spending time and money building an online presence based on high quality content. He was right then, and he’s only become more right over time (if that’s even possible!)

Back in 2008, however, we were all still posting articles on Ezine Articles and calculating keyword density on our blog posts. Things that would probably get you penalized by search engines these days. In fact, those things have been a bad idea for a while, according to a 2012 post by Search Engine Watch.

So let’s look at why everything changed, how it changed, and what you can do to stay relevant and engaging in a modern, information driven world. Content marketing is not, after all, going anywhere, and you certainly can’t beat them, so you may as well join them.

Why Have Consumers Changed Their Stripes?

Marketing used to be all about interruption. Everything was designed to be in consumers’ faces, and to force them to pay attention to a brand message, whether they liked it or not.

What’s changed? Consumers have a choice these days. We have DVR’s and pop up blockers. We can hide marketing posts in our Facebook feeds, and we can unsubscribe from email newsletters. We can block the old ‘hard sell’ and we do. There is no such thing as the captive audience anymore, and as Craig Davis, formerly of J Walter Thompson Worldwide (@JWT) said, “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.”

Old fashioned marketing will continue to become less and less effective, as more methods to block it out become available. It really is that simple. Even Bill Gates (@BillGates) has said that content is king, and if the man who pretty much single handedly created the modern PC interface thinks so, who are we to argue? More critically, when even Google is weighing in on ad blocking, you definitely need to pay attention. Consumers have changed, advertising has changed, so marketing needs to change.

What Is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a marketing strategy that is based on the creation of valuable, non-sales oriented information that consumers voluntarily seek out, read or watch, and share. Instead of forcing consumers to sit through your marketing or brand message, a good content marketing campaign creates informational pieces that customers will actually seek out.

It is marketing that doesn’t look or feel like marketing, and it’s designed to build relationships, rather than sell, sell, SELL! Or, as Robert Rose (@Robert_Rose) said, “Traditional marketing and advertising is telling the world you’re a rock star. Content Marketing is showing the world that you are one.”

Content marketing is a strategy that allows you to sell more without trying to sell, and that turns customers into brand ambassadors. It’s a method of positioning yourself as a thought and industry leader, and having your customers reinforce that idea on your behalf. In short, it’s a method to allow companies to turn website visitors, social media followers and customers into a part of their sales force.

What Is A Great Content Marketing Strategy?

We can all agree that outbound marketing is waning, thanks to technology, while inbound marketing grows, also thanks to technology. Content marketing is a big part of any inbound marketing strategy, but there is a difference between the two, according to HubSpot (@HubSpot). But what makes great content? What makes a great content marketing strategy?

The first question is easier to answer, and you probably already know what great content is. In case you don’t, Neil Patel (@NeilPatel) highlights 15 different types of content which all suit different brands in different ways. The second question is a little more complicated, but fortunately, no matter what type of content you choose, the bones of a great content marketing strategy are the same:

  1. It must be valuable. Valuable content is information that your potential customers want to read, watch, see or share. It answers questions or provides information that they want to know. It is not about sales. It’s about developing relationships. The Content Marketing Institute (@CMIContent) posted a great explanation and checklist on their blog in 2011, and it’s still relevant.
  2. It must be relevant. What your content says is important, but how it says it is just as important to your content marketing strategy. Knowing your buyer personas, and how and where to reach them is critical to creating content in the right voice for your market.
  3. It must be consistent. A great content marketing strategy is as much about consistency and sustained visibility as it is about the quality of the content. Even with all the changes in marketing, customers still need to see your message and your brand several times before they are likely to consider making a purchase. If you need help coming up with a consistent content strategy, there are some great articles that can help.
  4. It must be interactive. You are not creating content in a vacuum. The internet is supposed to be a collaborative, engaging platform that allows your customers, followers, fans and even your detractors to share their views. You want them to share their views, because that allows you to continuously improve. Copyblogger (@copyblogger) have a great article about the evolution of interactive content.
  5. It must be high quality. Just like great content can catapult your business into the public view, bad content can do irreparable damage to your brand. It is better not to post content than it is to post bad content. Copyblogger has a great post about how you can tell if your content is bad, in case you’re not sure.
  6. It must be shareable. If you have got the first five things on this list right, then this one should be easy. The real power of content marketing comes from ‘going viral.’ If you can create a piece of content that is shared massively, you are effectively turning your customers into your sales team. Darren Rowse of Problogger (@problogger) has a great cheat sheet of tips you can use to nudge your content into viral territory.

If you can get those six things right, then you should be well on your way to creating a content marketing plan that works to build your business and your brand over time. Because content marketing is a marathon. Not a sprint.

It Starts With Content… But Where Does It Go?

As we’ve already covered, content marketing is part of an inbound marketing strategy. It’s one of the most important parts, but it’s still just one facet. Most of the other elements of an inbound marketing strategy rely on your great content to serve as a base. Those elements may include:

  • Social media marketing. You’re going to need great content to share on your networks.
  • Search engine optimization. Things have changed dramatically over the years. SEO is less about keywords and metatags, and more about killer content that is published on a regular schedule.
  • Paid advertising. Great content is a big part of PPC success. The Econsultancy (@Econsultancy) blog has a great post about landing page optimization for tips on revamping landing pages.
  • High newsletter open rates and low unsubscribe rates are all about sending quality content to your list. If you don’t have great content, no one is going to opt into your list, and no one is going to want to read your news. It’s that simple. As this post on Kissmetrics (@Kissmetrics) points out: opting in is all about readers asking ‘what’s in in for me.’

Your content is the hub of your inbound marketing strategy. You can have content marketing without an inbound strategy, but you cannot have successful inbound marketing without great content.

What Does This All Mean to You?

The good news about content marketing is that it’s never too late to start implementing solid best practices, and generating great content. If great content makes companies like Microsoft, Cisco Systems and the companies on this list of 32 top content marketing brands massively visible, then lacking content has probably made your company mostly invisible. If massive corporations like these are investing in content, then that’s a pretty clear indicator that you should be too.

Content marketing is, fortunately, a forgiving format. While bad content can get you in trouble (particularly if it is offensive), in many cases, it’s just ignored totally by consumers. Which means companies are simply wasting time, effort and money creating it. Time, money and effort that can easily be used to turn their content marketing around. After all, content marketing is a cumulative exercise, and it’s never too late to start.

That’s our take on why content marketing matters, and how companies can get it right. Can you think of anything we’ve missed, or any tips, tools or tricks that can help? Share them in the comments.