As we look back on 2012, I think the award for biggest buzzword for the year should go to Content Marketing. Not that it is not useful or powerful, on the contrary. However, I think the term has been overused and misunderstood. Plus, content marketing has been around for a long time, especially in B2B high-tech marketing.
In this post I’ll cover why content marketing is so important today and I will provide some practical advice about how to be good at content marketing.
The new buying process
The way customers buy today is very different from how they made purchase decisions 15 years ago, of course. The most important difference is that today customers do most of their buying research on their own, with many sources of information, often in real time. By the time a customer reaches out so a sales person their purchase decision is almost 60% complete, often having already made their mind about what they will buy.
If you were interested in buying a car 15 years ago, you most probably walked into a dealership to learn about the car from the sales person, get a few brochures and take a test drive. Today you probably visit a few car review sites, like Edmunds.com or MSN Autos, check safety and reliability ratings, look at resale value in KBB.com, and then ask a few friends on Facebook. B2B customers today use an average of 7.6 sources through the purchase funnel according to Peter Burris from Forrester. (how’s that for an attribution challenge)
In short, customers are more informed, they find information on their own and they mainly use the internet for research. By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, customers hate marketing, they don’t trust the emails we send or the marketingspeak we write on brochures and other materials.
We have evolved from living in an information economy where knowledge is power to time where information is a commodity. Arguably, Starbucks and the iPhone started the experience economy where UX and UI is power. But that even is giving way to a relationship economy where trust is power. Trust in your values, your ethics, your skills and experience, your ability to deliver, your track record.
10 Steps to a Building a Successful Content Marketing Strategy
- Become an Expert. You want customers to listen to you? You want to be a thought leader? Then be an expert at something. You can’t just hire a writer and task him with writing 20 pieces of content. (You can, but it will not work in the long run.). This is not easy or fast, but is a crucial element of content marketing. Be the best at something, then write about it.
- Be Helpful – In this age of commodities, people buy from who they trust. Writing educational, helpful content can be useful in building trust. It can also be used to prove your expertise – or ‘thought leadership’ in content marketing lingo.
- Step in your customer’s shoes. To help customers, you can’t write about your products. You must write from the customer’s point of view. They don’t care about your products or your features. Make it about the customer, not about you. If you write about your company and your products, then it’s a brochure, not content marketing. Start with the customer’s context, explore their problems and how they can solve them.
- Express your values – As Simon Sinek explains brilliantly in this video, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Your content should reflect your values and should express your point of view, what you and your company stand for. You don’t always have to be right. Sometimes it is more important to be different and to embrace values that your customers share.
- Make it interesting – Be controversial, explore ways to fascinate customers, be entertaining, provide practical advice. Use graphics, charts and video. Infographics are easy to consume, but customers will read long articles and white papers as long as they are interesting and helpful.
- Be personal. People don’t connect with brand, they connect with other people. A content strategy and a social strategy can work together make personal connections between the people that make your company and your customers. Social media can be used to turn a B2B transaction into a P2P relationship.
- Think like a publisher. This means you probably have to start a content calendar, hire an editor-in-chief, build an editorial process and set up an editorial board. This is the new marketing: it’s more about educating than broadcasting.
- Go multi-format. Maximize your content: Create good content and turn it into a white paper, then take chunks and make them blog posts. Why not then create a few slides and create a slideshare presentation or a slidecast. A YouTube video and a podcast is not to far out. Tweet about all of it. All content is cross linked and posted on your website. But also on social sites, as long as you do it the right way.
- Optimize for SEO Juice. A smart marketer knows his customers and knows what problems they are trying to solve, and what keywords they use in search engines to find the answers. Take advantage of this knowledge when writing content. You don’t have to be an SEO expert, just find someone who is an SEO expert and get some advice.
- Make it a priority. Content marketing, like social media, are important marketing activities. They can’t be relegated to ‘whenever you have time’ because we never have extra time. It must be part of the job description or the full time job for someone. If it is important it should be a priority.
Making it all work together
In 2009 most companies where trying to figure out where to start with social media. At the time I was working for the leading content management platform which also sold social media tools. We took this customer need for guidance as an opportunity.
We had good ideas, smart people and a point of view. But we needed credible, interesting data to back it up. So I approached the Marketing Leadership Roundtable and offered them a partnership: we would work together researching marketing members and then I will do a webinar explaining the results.
I wrote a questionnaire, MLR sent it to their members, we got a couple hundred responses. We had now interesting, statistically-valid insights coming from marketing leaders at large companies.
The webinar was the most successful MLR had ever had in terms of attendance and feedback. I posted the slides on slideshare, where they have been seen over 8,000 times. Derivative presentations have been viewed thousands of times as well. Some of the slides where the basis for my Web 2.0 presentation that same year which was packed.
At the end of the presentation I offered a link to a white paper and a link to register for a free copy of the book Citizen Marketers by Jackie Huba. The marketing team was nervous about posting content online without registration, I had some convincing to do. Some of the stats we produced were later used by Erik Qualman in his super-popular Socialnomics video.
At the end, we were able to reach tens of thousands of customers in a way that positioned us as experts in our field, we helped customers understand social media and get started, and they appreciated. The company had more leads than it can deal with.
You know what? It’s fun and rewarding. So get started with your content strategy. I hope you find this advice helpful.