Content marketing isn’t new. In fact, it’s older than you are. When you consider that John Deere produced The Furrow magazine to “educate” farmers all the way back in 1895, and since then, persuasive copy has been used to sell everything from tires to toys to toilet paper, you realize that we’ve all been marketing content for centuries.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re good at it.
What John Deere had the foresight to understand back at the turn of the 20th century (though the term “content marketing” wasn’t coined until the 1990’s) was that thought leadership influences brand perception. Of course, 2014’s marketing environment is very different from what it was in 1895. And “content marketing” has become an all-encompassing term for good copywriting—in a good format, in a good channel—that doesn’t have a hard sell. Large, well-branded organizations are embracing this discipline, as they spend significant amounts of money on content designed to create emotional connections with their audiences. They’re even creating their own media channels to share it.
But many small to mid-sized company types haven’t yet embraced this changing landscape. They’re still plugging away at headlines for print ads, coming up with jingles for radio spots, and developing bullet points for direct mail/email. They’re using social media, but mostly to promote products and store events and to issue mea culpas when online banking goes down. Content marketing hasn’t become a line item in most marketing budgets. And not many people in smaller organizations have added “Content” to their titles.
This is a problem. Look around… people are tuning out traditional, intrusive, mostly unwanted advertising. This is especially true for Millennial and Gen Z targets. These digital natives have been over-marketed to since birth, and they possess the most sophisticated BS meters yet. Born into an overload of crisis communications that has them questioning Wall Street, politicians, and “experts,” they suffer from a serious lack of trust in the media and in advertising messages.
So, how do we sell ourselves less in order to sell ourselves more? How do we gain the trust of the younger customers we all need?
It begins with one simple principle: the less we talk about ourselves, the more interesting we are.
Think about your own consumption of media. Most of us are drawn to topics that inform, entertain, and inspire us. They likely aren’t “Me, Me, Me!” messages. We form positive perceptions of the brands that deliver valuable, relevant content, the kind of content that gives us something useful in return for our attention. And those are the brands we reward with our business. (See a few examples at the bottom of this post.)
Here’s how to make your marketing messages more interesting:
1. Gather up your digital and printed content—newsletters, emails, direct mail, blog and social media posts, etc. —and lay it all out on a conference table. What are you telling people you stand for? How likely are they to share your information? Is your content about your customers’ pain points or is it mostly about how great you are?
2. Figure out what you need to change in order to show people why you are in business. This might mean investing in messages that don’t talk about products. Or letting your professional guard down a bit in order to communicate more like a human and less like a corporate herald. Or finding a new channel, one that is highly appealing to your target. At a minimum, it means discovering and developing stories that illustrate why you exist, and why someone should believe in you.
3. Dedicate real resources to content creation. Content marketing is a big job, no bones about it. (I won’t tell you how long it took me to write this article, but it definitely didn’t crank itself out.) You need someone who is always on the lookout for great, sharable moments and topics. Someone who can curate content and keep it moving. This person needs to lead your program with a publisher mentality, marshaling resources and generating ideas.
4. Stop talking and listen. What do your customers care about? What’s happening in their world? What’s happening in your own world? What are the interesting trends or changes happening in or related to your industry? Are there partners or other brands you can support or leverage to share a point-of-view?
5. Find your non-corporate voice. Identify a subject likely to resonate with your targets and then write (or have a talented employee write) something that ties in, something with a point-of-view, something someone might pass along—because it’s that helpful, insightful, or entertaining. Start a social media conversation. Take pictures. Create a video. (A video is a great empathy builder that is especially effective with younger audiences, because it can slow down the scroll of headlines and communicate an idea faster than an article can.)
6. Determine your metrics. Decide how you’re going to measure your content marketing program up front. This doesn’t have to be a highly technical process involving advanced analytics—though if you’ve got it, use it. Likes (the organic kind) and shares are easy to measure by volume and give you an initial understanding of what’s interesting. Comments also give you invaluable insight into who you’re reaching.
7. Test it. Push your content through the channels you already use and see what lights up. Are people interested? Do they care? Definitely don’t spend money promoting content that isn’t hitting its mark.
8. Adapt. With content marketing, you find out very quickly if people care. Use that data to speed up decision-making, to revamp or drop content that isn’t working, and to amplify anything that is gaining momentum. You’ll know when your content is resonating because people will respond to it.
There are lots of reasons for your organization to invest in content marketing. Overall, content can be very cost effective to produce, has a longer shelf life with a lower risk than traditional campaigns you may run, and puts you back in charge of your reach and distribution. It improves your search results and helps people who share your values find you. And, if it connects, motivates, and amplifies someone’s experience of your brand, it creates a truly loyal fan base.
One last thought: we, as marketers have to remember that there is a live person behind every mailbox, Tweet, Facebook share, and website visit. And that person, that moving target, wants to fall in love with something that matters. Content marketing gives us a chance to share something that matters.
Our only job is to give that person a reason to believe.
Content marketing campaign examples
P&G’s #LikeAGirl campaign goal is to transform “like a girl” from insult to compliment. Does this impact the way you feel about Always feminine products?
Old Spice uses Twitter to develop rapport with followers. Their site is less about sales messages than it is about the non-stop humor their followers seem to appreciate.
Lowes’ 6-second How To videos on Vine provide quick, helpful tips and tricks for common chores. I’m definitely using their tip about lining my paint pan with foil the next time I tackle a painting project. So helpful!
Pepsi’s Millennial-facing site, Pepsi Pulse attracts those interested in the arts and music scenes. Does this influence the way younger audiences feel about Pepsi?
Airbnb’s neighborhood guides are helpful resources that don’t say a peep about renting. But the tie into the brand and the product is obvious. Hmmm… London looks amazing. I wonder if they can find me a flat in April.