The term content marketing can start to lose it’s meaning. So, what is not content marketing and what should it mean to businesses?
This form of marketing has built resonance since the term was coined in 2007. What I’m starting to see, is that any piece of content that is created is regarded as content marketing:
The Sainsbury’s Christmas World War One Video – This isn’t content marketing, this was an advert.
Facebook 2014 Year In Review – This wasn’t content marketing, this was an automated algorithm.
This dull social post on LinkedIn from Jaguar – This isn’t content marketing, it’s native advertising.
Aldi’s ‘No Frills’ message – This isn’t content marketing, it’s an ad campaign.
It’s a bit like thinking that karate is just karate without the teaching of the full discipline from Mr.Miyagi. If you can punch, kick and watch a Bruce Lee film, you know karate. Many businesses are now ticking the box called ‘content marketing’ because it is easier than ever to create and press the ‘publish’ button. Businesses complete actions without tying the whole meaning together. For a content marketing approach to have meaning you need purpose and direction.
A Term Not Too Comfortable With
Like many this is a term (‘content marketing’) that I have always had an issue with, but I accept that it is here to stay. It just seems to mean too many things to too many people. Whether audio, copy, video, illustration it all fits into a square hole called ‘content.’ For instance, I went to Bournemouth Aquarium at the weekend and should I start talking about the content that was within the fishtanks? The content was different and so was the size and shape of the tanks.
There is a lot of content out there, but that is ok. It just means that we have to become more defined with the audiences we are targeting and to become more relevant than our competition. This is where I find it fascinating. We can now build an audience and convert prospects into customers. These will be people who will come to you and not someone else, without relying wholly on the old methods of borrowing audiences via advertising, spending all your money on Google Adwords and purchasing lists of strangers.
The Old Path
If we follow an old formulaic approach of thinking we can tell our audience what we want them to know, it just doesn’t cut it any more. Hiding a sales pitch within an article for it to stand out from the 2009 A to Z book of SEO, where key words are in place at any given moment like a game of ‘Bop-it,’ fails its purpose to educate and inform.
We need to define what content means to us as businesses so we can attract a better (and more informed) audience. We can share with those who subscribe and to create a more purposeful reason for people to buy from us.
I found that to become more relevant to my audience, I had to move away from the ’10 ways to get people to retweet you’ type of articles. I needed to look more at the issues that I have faced and what I am doing to make an owned media strategy to work by controlling an asset (such as this blog). From the successes (and fails), this is what I share.
The Role Content Marketing Should Play
What is it that you do that can become the pillar for you to stand behind? I’ve had a think. I’m not going to use this article to define the meaning of content marketing, you can read a more informed article here, but to look at the role it should play for your business:
1) You provide solutions to real problems
When my customers introduce a question and answer section to their website (no matter how silly they may sound to the person who faces these everyday), these become some of the most visited pages on a customers website (from looking at their Google Analytics).
I guess this is because it is the starting place where you begin to mean something to someone. A relationship may not have begun to develop, but this is in a different league from the ‘news page’ showing the company day out last April. A business is looking to become relevant to the people it wants to attract.
2) Identify a different angle to a topic
It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, the easiest route to take is to represent how your industry has behaved since time began. If you are an estate agent, you’ll demonstrate how good you are and how busy the last quarter was for selling homes or if you are a digital agency, you’ll state how influential you are to your audience. I think Ian Rhodes says this better than me.
While the world goes down one route, its time to head in the opposite direction. You can do this by becoming inspired. I don’t want to turn into a life coach, but from a Talking Content Marketing interview with Mitch Joel, I love what he highlighted that, “Being inspired is not a destination, but you need to get inspired and proactively look to become energised. I read a lot of books and to everyone reading is always accessible, from the library to any major news site, there are many places to become exhilarated.”
3) Become a useful resource that reflects character
The role of committing to a content first mindset is to become regarded in the eyes of others as influential. It doesn’t matter how many Twitter posts you create with a link to an article where you attempt to look more important with the dogmatic approach of ‘yes….I am the oracle to all things about social media, but don’t ask me about Google+,’ what matters is that you draw on experiences made. I find it wrong when companies wax lyrically about a platform or channel they have little or no experience. With the intention to educate others on something they have little knowledge about.
We don’t have to become experts in everything related to our respective industries, what we have to become is meaningful to those who are ready to participate with us.
You can’t position yourself as an influencer — not in a way that has any staying power, anyway — any more than you can position yourself as being clever or attractive. That determination isn’t yours to make. It’s up to the “influenced” to decide if you are influential.
4) You entertain, you challenge
It is time to realise that you are competing with everybody.
If you take the stance that the new website that went live in 2013 is ok as it is, then you have lit the stick of dynamite. The old way of thinking from my agency days was that the website meant that you had done enough and the race was complete. Today, having a website merely means that you have been accepted to run the race.
I’m not just talking websites here but others places to get people to think and to show personality that represents who you are. I’m taking the jump next month into the world of podcasting with the Marketing Homebrew podcast.
Someone who does this brilliantly is Jay Baer and his Jay Today three minute videos. With an iPhone 6, he records each video. This is then on YouTube and the audio is on iTunes. Jay Baer is the King of repurposing content. Have a listen to the Rainmaker interview from the end of last year, with Brian Clark, where he explains more.
5) educate, don’t manipulate
It’s easy to put the call to action on everything you create for people to email you to immediately work with you. Relationships don’t work that way.
For others to make truly informed decisions, the information that we collate and build needs to strike a chord that is valuable to someone else and to help them form an opinion, rather than a straight ‘this is the answer.’
Hiding a piece of content as a glorified sales pitch, is now becoming even more visible as we become wiser gatekeepers with the deluge of content that is served in our direction. It only takes a second to unsubscribe or stop following what someone else has to say.
As businesses we have to serve a wider purpose to make our audience more informed. We don’t have to sound important anymore by using clichéd language. We just have to be informed, in tune with the industries we are part of and understand the world around us. Trying to sound professional by using jargon is weak. Being individual, passionate and interesting can make you Hercules.
6) you can evoke an emotion
If someone reads, listens, watches what you create and thinks, ‘right, back on with my life,’ then you have to dig a bit deeper. If we want others to remember us, we have to create a reaction.
Whether that reaction is to enquire, subscribe or buy, relationships are built by people, not logos. It is our duty as businesses to mean something and to become relevant to others. The thing is it is becoming even more of a challenge to adopt. According to Start-Up Britain, during 2014 there were over 581k businesses registered with Companies House. The previous record was 2013 and 526k businesses. There are more of us competing, but there are more of us looking the same.
Doesn’t the world look a better place when you make a commitment to build longer-term relationships that move beyond the three-month ad campaign. While the world becomes more competitive, we need to adjust and take advantage of the new opportunities we have to grow with the spaces that we have complete control over (such as our website and our email). Taking on board an owned media mindset means that you have to work a little harder, but you can make a difference.
Not About The Masses
According to IBM, 90% of the worlds content has been created in the past two years. This is not something to make us feel uncomfortable, but to feel assured that most of the content created is not worth seeing. The opportunity businesses have is to understand the industry they are part of, understand how to develop and implement a strategy that in turn helps to develop an audience. The biggest challenge that you have is to rise above the noise and to become meaningful to others.
Since the introduction of the printing press during the 15th century, the world has been awash with content. Where we are in 2015, our challenge is to create better content with the technology that we have to attract an audience. The added bonus is that this a fraction of the cost that it was around five years ago. We can now become significant to others via the content we create. It’s not about engaging the masses, it’s about appealing to the people who want to know us better.
Stories Drive Revenue
We can now tell real stories and drive revenue. It’s time to look at who we are, why we do what we do and become more comfortable with the tools at our disposal to illustrate the role we play.
Coming back to the Karate Kid analogy at the beginning of the article. Daniel had to ‘wax on, wax off’ before he could win the tournament. It’s not about the shortest route to success by ‘sweeping the leg’. This is what we need to do as businesses to understand the meaning for what we do. To master a content marketing discipline takes time and practice, but with a dogged commitment it can reap the reward.
Image at the top of the article courtesy of Gareth Simpson