We often talk about content marketing as the marketing wave of the future. We say that content marketing is going to be the next revelation, bring in more customers, and change everything about how we connect with consumers.
But what is content marketing? How do we do it well, how do we measure it, and how does it build our brand in the world?
What is content marketing?
Seth Godin, sometimes called the godfather of modern marketing, has talked extensively about content marketing, or as he calls it, permission marketing. His blog, if you’re not reading it already, is an absolute must-read in the industry, both as daily practical advice on how to market in a way that builds trust and reputation for your brand, and also as a daily reminder of what can happen when you do it well.
What Godin talks about, and what is supported by blogs such as KISSmetrics is that old ways of advertising relied on interrupting something the customer considered valuable—a commute, a radio program, their favorite TV show—with an attempt to grab their attention briefly, in hopes that they wouldn’t change the channel or entertain themselves in some other way, and would build a connection with a company’s brand that way.
As the Internet has gained popularity, that method of advertising has fallen completely apart. We are annoyed with the 5 seconds of an ad that we have to wait through before we can skip to see our video. We roll our eyes at promoted social media posts that interrupt the stream we want to see. We DVR shows so that we can fast forward through the commercials. We put pop-up blockers on our websites, and walk away from the websites that skirt around them.
The concept of permission marketing is that instead of interrupting the customer’s valued time, we create something that they value. We do this with content marketing. We present our potential customers with information that they find intriguing, so that they’ll stick around and see what we have to say tomorrow.
How do we create good content?
To create content that is of value to both yourself and your customer, there are two basic tenants you need to adhere to.
First, what you create needs to be interesting to you. If you hate makeup, and find the intricacies between two different formulations of eyeshadow to be more boring than a droning lecture, it doesn’t matter how hot make-up tutorials are on YouTube; yours won’t interest customers if you don’t care.
Second, your content needs to be of interest to the people you want to connect with. If you want to talk about post-progressive rock in modern music, but your audience is passionate about Latin American guitar techniques, you’re not going to find that connection that builds trust.
Much has been written about Search Engine Optimization, gaming Google, and ranking higher for minimum effort, but ultimately, even if you get the customers to your page, if your content doesn’t intrigue and interest them, then you’ve wasted your time and effort. They’re not going to stay. Remember, the point of content marketing is no longer “just get eyeballs on this ad and hope for the best.” The goal is to create a reputation, a feeling of trust between a customer and a brand.
How do we measure good content?
There are various opinions on this. First, you need to decide what you want to measure, and why. In an interview with Contently, Seth Godin said:
“[Measurements have] been shown over and over again to be misguided—that in a world of zero marginal cost, being trusted is the single most urgent way to build a business. You don’t get trusted if you’re constantly measuring and tweaking and manipulating so that someone will buy from you.”
It is important to measure with care. If all you’re looking at is how to replicate content to maximize users, you will lose out over the long run, because your content will become repetitive and lack the fresh interest that keeps bringing in new users.
It is also important to be specific. Decide what you want to know first, and then figure out how to measure it. Is the point of your blog to create an email newsletter, so that you can send out an email blast for your new product launch, or do you want to create Facebook fans for your blog who are likely to share your posts with friends? These two different scenarios require different measurements, and garner different results, but both are very valid analytics.
How does content marketing build our brand?
This is the trickiest question to answer. Modern marketing is very much based around the idea that your goal is to get people to buy things. And sure, any business that is going to be successful does need to make sales and create revenue to be successful. But what content marketing suggests is that the correlation is much less 1:1 than it used to be—if, in fact, it ever was.
Whether you’ve just written a book that you’re sure will be a best seller, or sell pens and stationery to big businesses, the simple fact is that it’s unlikely that what you do is unique. It’s not a popular conversation to have in many spheres, but with the democratizing force of the Internet, it’s likely that a customer can get any product or service from someone else, if they’re unhappy with your service.
What you can offer a customer that is less replaceable is excellent service, high quality content, and a feeling of trust, so that they believe they’re getting something better from you than from anyone else. If a business is designed, top down, without shortcuts, to give the best possible experience to a customer, then it’s going to ultimately be vastly more successful than a business with spun content and low-quality content.