Do you have a moment to learn about content marketing? It seems strange, advertising a marketing technique the way 20th century hucksters peddled wagon wares. But content marketing is king of the business landscape right now, and if you’re not at least dabbling in it, then you’re probably missing out.
So what exactly is content marketing? How did it become so popular and how can you get in on it? Like most things, the popularity of content marketing really blew up with the internet age.
Your online reputation
The world has moved on from word-of-mouth and phone books to something called an online reputation. A staggering 97 percent of businesses recognize how important online credentials are, but only a fraction of them are taking full advantage of all the marketing opportunities the internet has to offer.
When today’s consumers are on the hunt for a service or product, they turn to the internet. If you want to snare those leads, then your company has to be just a quick Google search away. And when potential customers find your online presence, they need to see a company that they trust. Nothing will lose you sales faster than a sketchy-looking Web 1.0 site that hasn’t been updated in three years.
What is content marketing?
It’s simple, really. Content marketing refers to any kind of content that supports a company’s sales and reputation without directly advertising to consumers. Sometimes the line can be a bit blurry, but as a general rule, content marketing is advertising that goes beyond the “necessary” components. Think back to old TV commercials. These were bare bones advertising. They included a description of the product, sometimes a demonstration and information on how to make a purchase. No frills, no extra content, no fun.
Content marketing is the opposite of these ads. Content marketing offers your audience something more than a traditional ad. Suppose you sell lawnmowers. What are your marketing options?
- Traditional marketing
Miniature showcases on your products
- Content marketing
A video on how to select drought-resistant landscaping or an article on the top ten most impressive lawns in America.
The content marketing option doesn’t directly hawk a product, but it engages potential customers with your brand.
Feed the social media machine
Facebook may have started as a platform for college students to chat online, but today it is awash with business profiles. Facebook is so ubiquitous in the business world that Forbes does writeups on Facebook updates geared towards business owners.
And it’s not just Facebook. Instagram, Youtube and other social media platforms are ripe for marketing opportunities. Customers engage on these platforms. And with the proliferation of smartphones, people have access to your social media presence almost everywhere they go.
Yet social media was never designed for traditional marketing, and users switch off obnoxious commercials and invasive pop-up ads really quickly. Content marketing is essential if you want to take advantage of these platforms. You need to give people a reason to seek you out on social media.
Build a reputation
Authority matters in every industry (including yours!). It’s not just about selling products. You need to convince your audience that you have the know-how, and that coming to you means they get the best possible product.
A lot of content marketing aims to educate potential customers. People want to learn, and they’ll put their trust in you if you strive to educate them on the industry. Return to our lawnmower example. An uneducated consumer may purchase the cheapest lawn mower they can find (or the most expensive if they think that’s the only way to guarantee quality). As an industry authority, you can use content marketing to teach your customers how to find the best product for their money (and that’s obviously your product, right?).
Escape the trap of traditional advertising
Audiences are becoming increasingly frustrated with traditional advertisements. Do you remember that episode of Futurama where Fry learns that futuristic advertisements have invaded people’s dreams? Many people are just as frustrated with the state of traditional advertising today.
People don’t like to be advertised at. They prefer feeling like they’re getting something of use out of the ad, whether that be entertainment or useful information. Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to marketing. Ever since Eugene McDonald’s 1956 invention of the “mute” button, customers have become more and more desperate to silence obvious ads.
The best thing since television
One of the reasons why traditional TV ads are seen as the most effective traditional marketing tool is because people see the money and time that goes into them. Television adverts don’t come cheap, and they can be difficult to produce. The thought goes: if you have the resources and dedication to commit to a TV ad, then you must have a product worth selling.
Content marketing helps tap into this mindset. For years, online advertisements were seen as suspicious by a scrupulous market that was all too aware of online scams and bootleg products. But today, companies that produce slick-looking content gain a level of trust similar to the TV ads of yesteryear.
More control over your ads
Not only can content marketing replicate the effectiveness of the best old-school advertising, it can actually surpass anything we’ve seen before. When you produce your own content marketing, you get to exercise a level of control never seen before in the advertising world.
Picture it. The year is 1994 and you’ve just purchased a print ad in the top lawnmower magazine. The magazine issue runs and maybe it’s effective, or maybe it isn’t. You have no way to easily tell and rerunning the ad is a cumbersome and expensive process.
But not with online content marketing. That article you published can be easily redistributed on social media. You can cross post videos and other content in minutes. You have control over when and where your content shows up.
You may already be using content marketing
Does any of this sound familiar? The term “content marketing” is relatively new, but the concept is over a century old! Companies have been producing tangential content to establish their brand with customers since before the American Revolution.
Need some examples? Days of our Lives, General Hospital and Coronation Street. That’s right, soap operas are content marketing, and they’ve been around since the 1930’s. (The history of soap operas is long and fascinating.) The soap opera was born when companies like Procter and Gamble realized they could hold their audience’s attention better with melodrama than traditional ads. And these serials have been going strong ever since.
So content marketing is nothing new. What is new, is its proliferation. In the digital age, content marketing is absolutely vital. In years past, content marketing was an option, but today it is the standard. If you’re already dabbling in content marketing, it’s time to up your output. If you’re new to content marketing, then it’s time to dive in.
Content marketing examples
So where to start? Jumping into content marketing headfirst can be intimidating. You’ll need to find the kind of content that matches your customer base. Lengthy academic articles, for example, may not play well to teenage customers.
You have a lot of options with content marketing and a lot of room for experimentation.
Blogs are industry standard at this point. From the humble days of the personal weblog to the more than 500 million blogs around today, jotting down your thoughts online has become extremely lucrative.
Blogs are the perfect place to share industry information with customers. Blogs are where you can place a recap of your time at that lawnmower convention, or give your input on advancements in grass-cutting technology. Pictures and videos will only strengthen your written content. A solid 90 percent of consumers find online videos helpful in the decision making process. And video content doesn’t have to be as dry and stuffy as a vintage TV ad. The more creative, the better. So don’t be afraid to start embedding!
Outsourced or in-house?
If all this sounds like too much, don’t panic. There are plenty of companies ready to help you get started. (Assisting with word content production is what we do here at Content Cucumber.)
Remember, consistency is key. You need to find a balance between frequency and quality, never letting one flourish at the expense of the other. Nothing turns off a potential lead like a blog that hasn’t been updated in eight months.
Content marketing on a budget
When creating content for your marketing, you have two options: pay an employee or pay a content creation company. Quality marketing content isn’t free, so you’ll need to set aside a content marketing budget.
The good news is that this can take over a lot of your traditional marketing budget, rather than being something completely separate. The bad news is that you still may find yourself running low on cash. If this happens, don’t fear! Even with a small budget, you can run some great content marketing campaigns. The two keys to success are these: evergreen content and creativity.
Content marketing is the perfect venue for evergreen content. Named for the almighty pine tree that never changes color, evergreen content refers to videos, photos, and written content that aren’t temporally locked down. This content can be recycled for later use.
To make the distinction between evergreen and temporal clear, return one more time to our lawn mower example. You have two blog articles. One is titled “How to ready your lawn for winter” and the other is called “The top 10 lawnmower brands of 2018”. The former is an evergreen article that you can refurbish and repost every fall, but the latter probably shouldn’t surface again after early 2019.
Sometimes you can still repurpose content that isn’t evergreen. Perhaps you’ve purchased a “Top 10 lawnmowers” article for every year since 2015. Now’s your chance to get a free article out of that (“The best lawnmowers of the last half decade”). With a bit of creativity, you can make a shoestring budget stretch pretty far.
To purchases and beyond
There’s one more hidden feature of content marketing: it keeps customers engaged long after the purchase has been made. With old-fashioned ads, a customer has no use for them after they’ve bought the product. Content marketing, on the other hand, keeps customers coming back even when they’re not looking to buy anything.
This keeps your company fresh in people’s minds. If your customers engage with you even after they’ve bought your product, then they’re more likely to recommend you to friends and to return to you should they need another product.
And of course this means reviews. Over 60 percent of shoppers turn to customer reviews to help them select a brand. The internet can be a sketchy place, after all. On sites like eBay, customer reviews are almost the only way to ensure you’re not being scammed.
People trust other people more than they trust the opinions of a company (the company is trying to sell them something, after all). Content marketing gives your customers an opportunity to engage with you after their purchase. Besides just leaving good reviews, customers can share your content on their own platforms. No one is going to share a boring advertisement, but an interesting article? That might make the rounds on Twitter.
So don’t underestimate the power of content marketing and the role your customers can play in it. Since the explosion of blogs in the early 2000’s and the rise of social media, content marketing has only become more important. It looks like it’s here to stay, so go ahead and get in on the action!