Traditional marketing techniques are tried and tested. Think advertising, direct mail or flyers. With traditional marketing the product or service being marketed takes centre-stage, and the messaging is product-focused: “Announcing product X. Here’s what it does, here’s why you should by it and here’s a great introductory offer”. There’s often a great deal of emphasis on product features and pricing and, as many millions of businesses can testify over the past few hundred years, it can be mightily effective.
The Birth Of Content Marketing
The problem with this traditional approach to marketing is that it tends to be fairly untargeted, is often somewhat unsubtle or even blunt and, as a result, can be quite expensive. The less targeted a campaign, the wider you have to cast your net in order to “catch” a hot prospect. And the wider you have to cast that net, the more expensive it becomes. You might need to pay for a lot of advertising in order to get your message in front of a large enough audience to generate enough leads to pay for the campaign and then make a satisfactory profit on top.
So in recent years, with the development of the internet and the emergence of social media, minds have been focused on developing more intelligent marketing techniques. And one such technique is Content Marketing. Content Marketing is the science of engaging prospects and customers with truly valuable content, which tackles issues and opportunities in your sphere of expertise. It’s about building trust and gaining a good reputation in your industry. It’s easiest to explain by way of example.
Case In Point: DIY Stores In The 1980s and 1990s
Think back to when you visited the large DIY stores some 15 or 20 years ago. In the UK, Wickes was one of the big ones, and when you went through the entrance the first thing you saw was a huge display stand which was home to some 50 or more “How to” leaflets. From memory they were size A5 and were either 2-sided or 4-sided depending on the project:
- How to Build a Fence
- How to Insulate a Loft
- How to Plaster a Wall
- How to lay paving slabs
Each how-to guide talked in depth about how to complete the project with a step-by-step approach and then, right at the very end, it listed the materials you would need to buy to complete the project. These guides didn’t lead with the products the DIY store was trying to sell (Buy fence panels – they’re cheap!). Instead they led with the challenge that the potential customer was facing (their fence has blown down) and provided a solution to that problem (how to erect a new fence). The prospect typically took the guide home, read it, digested it, scheduled the next dry weekend to do the work, and then went and bought all the materials. And guess where they typically bought all the materials? Yes, that same DIY store.
Slowly, Slowly, Catchy, Monkey
This is Content Marketing. The DIY store had created a lot of valuable content that potential customers were truly interested in. The content was very engaging, very useful. These how-to guides were providing practical solutions to everyday challenges.
This type of marketing is subtle. It’s a soft sell. It’s a case of slowly, slowly, catchy monkey. It’s about building up trust and credibility. It’s about establishing a reputation as a trusted adviser. Needless to say a company or brand which has earned trusted adviser status with its target audience, is extremely well positioned. Converting those leads to sales should be a piece of cake. With one caveat. A different set of content may need to be provided to the prospect to close the deal.
Aligning Content To The Customer Journey
The thing about content marketing is that you need to deliver the right content to the right person, and what constitutes the right content changes according to the stage of the customer journey that the individual is at. The person who walked into the store and picked up the how-to guide had entered the consideration phase of the customer journey. They were already aware that they had a problem to solve and they were now considering potential solutions. So the how-to guide really hit the spot. But it doesn’t follow that it will automatically generate a sale. Imagine that the customer sets off for the DIY store to buy all the materials but passes a rival store which is offering a 10% discount on fencing materials for one day only. He or she is minded to go to the original store (because they have built up a relationship with it) but when they get there they find out there are no promotions on and no deals available. So they traipse back to the rival store and take up the offer of a 10% discount.
The problem is, the original DIY store presented the wrong content at the conversion stage of the buyer journey. They’d done all the hard work to get the potential customer into the store but when they had them in their grasp all they could say was “here’s the price”. Not good enough. Didn’t hit the spot. Sale lost.
The Power of Video
At the other end of the journey you have the awareness stage. So imagine you don’t even know that the original DIY store exists and your fence is in really good shape, so it doesn’t need replacing. What can the store do to get on the radar of this total “stranger”. What content can they develop? Well, the stranger may not have a fence problem but he or she may well be experiencing another problem to which the store has a potential a solution. Remember those 50+ “How to” guides? So how about putting all the guides on the company website? How about creating a step-by-step blog series. The content is already developed, so it’s a reasonably simple case of creating the blog, posting the material online, and optimising each page for the search engines (SEO). Now, when this total stranger searches for “how to lay laminate flooring” (yes, they’re looking to replace there old carpets!), there’s every chance that this “solution” will appear close to the top of the search results – and they will be introduced to the DIY store for the very first time. They are now on their radar, and guess what? When they’ve laid their flooring and their fence falls down, they’ll know where to come! Sure enough, this is exactly what the DIY chains have done. Handy how-to guides are now available online, and there are even step-by-step videos available on YouTube. So the content is even better, even more valuable.
How Content-Led Marketing Underpins Inbound Marketing
Content marketing can be extremely powerful, but it’s all about playing the long game. You need to do your planning. You need to develop your marketing goals, identify your target customer (if you are able you can create cartoon-style buyer personas), Create a content calendar (message roadmap) and then invest the necessary time, money and resources in creating truly valuable and remarkable content. It’s true that a content marketing approach underpins inbound marketing, the science of attracting visitors to your website or alternative online platforms (e.g. Facebook page). Types of online content include traditional web pages, blogs, white papers, images, videos, infographics, case studies and reviews. But in modern marketing, valuable content should also feed into a company’s outbound marketing strategy.
The benefits of a content-led approach to marketing are many. First and foremost it helps you establish an online presence and that, in turn, helps you create awareness of your business. It then helps you to establish a rich pool of potential customers, people with whom you can build a relationship even before you have sold them a bean. It helps you to easily convert prospects to customers as and when they are ready and it helps you to build customer loyalty i.e. repeat business. All-in-all it is an intelligent and transformational approach to marketing which every business, large or small, needs to consider implementing – urgently.