Maybe you’ve heard of content marketing. Maybe you’re a little curious about it. Maybe this is the first time you’ve even heard of such a thing, but you’re curious to know more. No matter where you are, I hope you’ll find something here to suit your needs.
First things first: let’s define our terms. According to Dictionary.com, content marketing is defined as “marketing that tries to attract customers by distributing informational content potentially useful to the target audience, rather than by advertising products and services in the traditional way.”
If you asked me, I’d tell you the most important part of that definition is the part that says “informational content potentially useful to the target audience.” That line tells you the basic difference between content marketing and traditional marketing.
Traditional marketing is all about pushing the sale as hard as possible. It’s about buying access to a mass audience and interrupting them while they’re trying to watch Game of Thrones. It’s all about imposing yourself on as many people as possible and hoping you’ll reach enough people that a few of them will actually be interested in whatever you’re pushing on them.
Content marketing changes all that. It’s about providing quality information to the people who want and need it. It’s about starting with a small audience of interested people who want to hear your message. It’s about collaborating with your audience as it grows, so you learn your audience’s needs and concerns while they learn what you can offer them.
Let’s try an analogy. With traditional marketing, you do the best you can to turn yourself into the dusty old professor at the front of the room, telling all those prospects exactly what they need to know. They’re not listening, and of course they’re looking at their phones every minute you’re trying to talk to them.
They see you as somebody trying to impose your message on them, so of course they’re not going to listen.
With content marketing, things are different. Here you’re the guy in the middle of the classroom who starts telling a joke. When you start out, maybe there’s only one or two people listening. As you go on, though, people start noticing. The captain of the football team turns and leans in close to hear. The weird mumbling kid from art class glances over with a hand held to his ear. The pretty blonde who sits in front of you tunes in with a smile on her face. And without trying to draw any attention to yourself, you’ve got the whole classroom in the palm of your hand.
How did you do it?
You did it by being engaging. And that’s what content marketing is all about.
Now, what does content marketing look like in practice? Simply put, content marketing can be almost anything in the online space. Here’s a short list of a few of the main types of content marketing:
- Email newsletters.
- Blog posts.
- Online videos/vlogs.
- Social media postings.
Nearly everything online can be treated as a form of content marketing. Whatever you use to spread your message by providing your prospects with useful information is content marketing.
Some people hear “content marketing” and immediately think blog posts. It’s not always blog posts.
As we go on, I want to do three main things with this post: I want to A) show you the process that allows you to attract clients with content marketing, B) warn you about a few of the pitfalls of bad content marketing, and C) leave you with a few tips on how to produce your own great content.
Content into Clients
I know I told you earlier that content marketing is not only blogging. There are many other forms content marketing can take. But for the sake of giving you a quick-and-dirty idea of how content marketing works, we’ll work on the assumption that you’re only doing a blog.
Before you get started with your blog, you’re going to need to know a few things. You’ll want to ask yourself a few questions, such as:
- What are my goals for this blog?
- Who is my target audience?
- What problem is my audience having, and how can I solve it?
- What pains are my audience experiencing?
- What topics will my audience be interested in hearing about?
One of the lucky things about content marketing is that you don’t have to have a final answer to any of these questions when you begin. It’s extremely important that you have answers, but one of the joys of content marketing is that you have plenty of opportunity to experiment with your approach.
For example: if you start out with the idea that your audience will be most interested in seeing content that’s all about how many awards your organization has won, it won’t take more than a few iterations to realize that’s generally not the best content strategy. (That’s a bit of a heavy-handed example, I’ll admit, but I’ve seen organizations try even worse things in their wrong-headed attempts at content strategy.)
The idea is that you want to start out with your best guess as to who your audience is and what they need to see. Assuming you post on a pretty regular basis, you’ll be able to home in on a more accurate idea over time.
You want to produce content that speaks to your readers where they are. That way when you distribute your blog posts you’ll be able to explain what you can do for your readers, in terms that someone who is totally new to your industry can understand.
So: how does content get turned into clients?
It’s not complicated. Let’s say I’m your prospect. I’m doing a search on Google, or scrolling through my Facebook feed, or whatnot, when I see a link to one of your blog posts.
Let’s say I just did a search for “how to attract better candidates.” I find one of your posts on Google, I click on it, and I come to your site. I find you’ve got a lot of good posts with a lot of good information I can put to work in my hiring process.
So I spend a little time reading your material and learning the information you put out on your site. I appreciate that you’ve put all this information out there, I recognize you’ve got some authority and credibility because of the quality of your information, and I appreciate that you understand my problem better than I do.
Maybe that’s enough for me to want to hire your services right now. Maybe it’s not. But even if it’s not, it’s enough for me to want to keep informed about your blog and your services. I’ll subscribe to your blog and receive a notification every time you post to it.
That way when I finally decide to hire a recruiting agency, I’ll know which one to choose.
So content marketing isn’t about the immediate conversion. It’s about warming up prospects and giving them the chance to get to know and trust you. Build up good will, draw enough of the right kind of attention, and you’ll be able to have the very best clients approaching you.
Bad Content Marketing: What’s it Look Like?
Like most things worth doing, the idea of content marketing is elegantly simple. The execution, on the other hand, is a little less simple.
Not necessarily because content marketing is terribly hard. All it takes is a skilled writer, a disciplined approach to content strategy, and a beginner’s understanding of the industry. The main reason content marketing attempts fail is that they’re not given the chance to succeed. An organization that does one or two blog posts, sees that they’re not seeing an immediate return on the investment, and cuts off the campaign, is not an organization that’s giving content marketing a chance to succeed. Content marketing is not an overnight solution, and anybody who tells you it is, is lying.
Assuming the content is getting a chance to succeed, why might it be failing? Let’s take a look at a few possible reasons:
- It’s keyword-stuffed garbage. Some people like filling their content with so many keywords that it becomes unreadable. This is a misguided attempt at SEO mastery, and it’s simply not worth it. What you might gain from keyword density is going to be more than lost by the extent of your bounce rate. Don’t do it.
- It doesn’t focus on the customer’s needs. I’ve seen content pages that have no purpose other than to feed the egos of marketing managers. Heck, I’ve seen entire blogs that existed only for the purpose of letting the CEO trumpet how many awards a company has. If someone wants to waste their time, I guess that’s their prerogative. But good content is about the customers and their needs. It’s not about ego.
- It doesn’t have any personality. Now, even though it’s not about ego, that doesn’t mean it should be dull or boring. The only thing worse than blog posts that read like they’re some kind of organizational resume are the blog posts that read like they were written by the HAL 9000 computer on one of his dull days. I could go on all day about this, but let’s condense the whole lesson down to three words: don’t be boring.
- It’s obviously a sales pitch. Now, this is a legitimate mistake. The first three mistakes on this list come from sheer laziness or lack of writing ability, but this one is what you could call a tactical error. There’s a temptation to treat your content as if it’s copy. There’s an urge to use your content to push the sale as aggressively as possible. There are places on your site to do that. The blog is not the place.
- It doesn’t offer any positive value to the reader. This is the one, giant, uber-mistake of all bad content marketing. Bad content marketing is about pushing yourself forward and shouting at the reader to buy your thing. Bad content is all about keeping things as formal and businesslike as possible. Bad content marketing is all about you.
Avoid those pitfalls, and you should be able to put together some good content.
Good Content Marketing: What’s it Look Like?
One reason I put the signs of bad content marketing before I put the methods for good content marketing is that it’s much easier to avoid the bad than it is to create the good.
It’s dangerous to overgeneralize about good content marketing, because every situation is different. You can depend on the worst mistakes to remain bad, no matter what the situation, but the right way to do a content marketing campaign depends on the business.
For example: let’s stick with the recruiter we were talking about a few sections back. The agency’s content strategy is going to be different depending on whether they’re more concerned with drawing clients or more focused on attracting candidates. Content marketing is a matter of dialing in on the right way to talk to your audience. So the nature and concerns of that audience are going to be the deciding factor in the content.
So even though this is only a partial guide to content marketing, here are a few guidelines to follow as you’re beginning:
- Tell a story (when appropriate). One of the clichés you’ll find about content marketing is this airy-fairy-sounding line about “telling the story of your brand,” or some variation on that. It’s not exactly wrong, but at the same time it’s one of those empty phrases that get any decent writer frustrated. Put it this way: if you’re going to tell a story, make sure it’s your customer’s story. If it’s something your audience can’t identify with, don’t put in there.
- Give your audience information they can use to succeed. I know one of the mental blocks that hold people back from doing content marketing right is that they think, “Can I really just give all this information away? Why would my prospects hire my services if I tell them exactly what they need to do?” My answer: don’t worry about it. Sure, some people are going to come to your blog, read your information, and never contact you. That’s wonderful. That means the blog is working. The people who are meant to work with you will know you can do the job better than they can. The people you’re meant to work with are skilled professionals who have a different specialty than you, and who understand the value of having a specialty. They’ll see the value of your service and be drawn to it that way.
- Make an effort to connect with the reader emotionally. This one can feel a little weird sometimes. We’re always a little shy about revealing ourselves and taking the risk to be vulnerable. Especially in the business world, having the courage to be vulnerable can feel extremely risky. But good content marketing requires you to connect with your reader as a human being. You have to realize that there’s a human being on the other end of the screen. A human being who is just as valuable and just as complex as you are. Good content isn’t just written for the proud businesslike façade we all show the world. Good content is also written for the gooey, sentimental human being who wants to feel things and connect with others. And it takes courage to write content like that.
- Make it easy for the reader to contact you. Ideally, every reader would leave glowing comments at the end of your posts, all of them telling you how brilliant you are and how you’re the most perfect human being who ever lived. But that won’t happen. So make sure the reader can show his or (hopefully) her appreciation by sharing your posts on social media, subscribing to your blog, commenting at the bottom of the page, and contacting you directly via email to hire your services immediately. Make these things as easy as possible and they’ll happen more easily.
Remember: content marketing is going to take testing and balancing. Every industry is different, and every business is different. You may have to try for a while before you find a way to connect to your audience effectively.
But with practice and iteration, you can figure out how to talk to the people meant to hear your message. Try to post at least about once a week. If your message is worth getting out there, it’s worth the effort.
Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about content marketing. I’m always trying to tailor this blog to your needs, so I’d appreciate the help. And I know some of you don’t like to post publicly, so feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d rather do it that way. Good luck, and good content!