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Have you ever picked up a company's brochure or flyer? Watched an infomercial or a shopping channel on television? Ordered a product DVD explaining the benefits of a new mattress or a vacation destination? Leafed through a company newsletter? All these are a few (but by no means an exhaustive list) of the ways companies use content to market their products and services to customers and to prospective buyers.
Content marketing, in other words, is nothing new. Companies having been creating and distributing content for many years, both to attract new business and to retain existing customers. However, here's the point of differentiation from more traditional forms of marketing and advertising: Using content to sell isn't selling, or sales-ey. It isn't advertising. It isn't push marketing, in which messages are sprayed out at groups of consumers. Rather, it's a pull strategy - it's the marketing of attraction. It's being there when consumers need you and seek you out with relevant, educational, helpful, compelling, engaging, and sometimes entertaining information.
When customers and prospects come to you, rather than the other way around, the advantages are obvious. They’re interested, open, and receptive. Your customers have chosen the moment - all you have to do is be ready. And it spares you much of the headaches and expense of outreach marketing efforts:
There's really no debate over the benefits of tune-in versus tune-out, of pull versus push.
A Roper Public Affairs poll found 80% of business decision makers prefer to get information about a company from articles rather than from ads. Some 70% say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company, and 60% believe company content helps them make better product decisions.
Content marketing aids in brand recognition, trust, authority, credibility, loyalty, and authenticity. Content marketing can help accomplish these tasks for a variety of constituencies, and on several levels: for the organization it represents, for a company's products and services, and for the employees who represent the business or service.
Content marketing creates value and helps people. It answers questions and provides foundational information. It makes customers and clients more educated and informed, so they feel they can make purchase decisions, or, in organizations, to recommend purchases to colleagues or superiors. It's used by marketers large and small and by those selling business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C). Some are using content to augment traditional advertising campaigns. Others are leveraging content to completely replace more traditional forms of advertising and marketing. Content can spark customer engagement at all stages of the buying cycle, including helping to establish an ongoing relationship when a prospect becomes a customer. Content can reinforce an existing relationship, inspire upselling, cross-selling, renewals, upgrades, and referrals.
Although content marketing is hardly new - after all, businesses have been publishing newsletters and brochures practically since the advent of the printing press - the rise of the Internet and other digital channels, particularly social media, has significantly lowered the bar (and the costs) of leveraging content to profitably attract clients and prospects.
Websites, Blogs, YouTube, eBooks, Downloadable Whitepapers, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Search Engines. All these channels (and many, many more) remove many of the hard cost barriers that were once a mandatory part of creating and disseminating great content. No more paper, printing, shipping, warehousing, postage, filmstock, processing, and developing. Many of the physical and logistical hurdles to creating and disseminating great content are gone.
Although content marketing may be cheaper thanks to digital innovations, it certainly isn't free (even if your Facebook account is), nor has digital made it any easier. Consistently delivering quality content to a target audience requires thought, work, originality, strategy, experimentation, and persistence. A plethora of potential outlets for content online (the options seem to multiply every day) add complexity to the choices you must make about what content to create, in what form, and how to disseminate it - not to mention measuring its effectiveness. One thing is certain: Digital channels overwhelmingly account for the preponderance of content marketing outlets.
Content is king.
Anyone who's ever worked in publishing or broadcast media has heard this familiar mantra ad infinitum. In media, content is the bait. It's what captures eyeballs, ears, attention, and engagement. It's part of a time-honored contract with consumers: We'll give you content, you give us attention - but you'll have to agree to get ads or commercials as part of the bargain. The traditional media model is interruptive marketing.
That model still holds true, of course, and will continue to do so. But these days, traditional media is on a continual decline. Newspapers, television, radio, and magazines, although hardly on the verge of extinction, are nevertheless experiencing catastrophic disruption. Circulation and tune-in are sinking. Journalists are losing their jobs in record numbers.
Meanwhile, the rise of the Internet and other forms of digital media has created meaningful shifts and changes not only in the way media are consumed, but also in the way various channels are created, found, and disseminated. What powers that fundamental shift is, simply, content and technology platforms that make creating and disseminating content within everyone's grasp.
You may not be able to afford to buy a television network, but nothing's stopping you from creating your own YouTube channel. The cost of launching a newspaper or magazine is prohibitive - and risky. Want to set up a blog? Go for it. A basic blog can be up and running in minutes, and will cost nothing but your time.
Certainly consumers are jumping on these digital trends. Consider the astronomical growth of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or other content platforms that didn't exist a decade ago (or in some cases, even five years ago). It took television and even the VCR decades to reach these content platforms' levels of use.
One primary change came with search. Some 90% or more (depending on your sources) of buying decisions begin with a web search. And on the Internet, practically no one's searching for an ad. Depending on where they are in the purchase cycle, they're searching for information, recommendations, research, reviews, authority, and credibility. And when they find the information they seek, they're sharing it with others involved in the purchase decision: A friend, a spouse, a colleague, or their boss, or perhaps they're throwing out that information to a trusted network to vet it or to validate their position in the decision-making process.
Content can also create a virtuous circle in tandem with search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. More content helps a brand, product, service, or company rank higher in search engine results - provided that content is useful, helpful, relevant, or engaging. People talking about that content in social media channels creates links to the content, which in turn further elevates it, search-wise.
Content marketing is also coming to the fore as marketers realize the importance of focusing not only on the buying cycle, but also equally on the sales cycle. Marketers are then flipping the funnel over entirely as they quickly learn that customer service, reputation management, branding, positioning, and public relations (PR) are occurring in digital channels as well as positioning, lead generation, and nurturing.
Businesses of all kinds are adapting, and they're learning how to create great content. A 2010 study conducted by the Business Marketing Association and American Business Media, surveyed 1,100 marketers in North America and found nine out of ten businesses - across all industries and companies large and small - are incorporating content into the marketing mix. On average, they're spending a quarter of their marketing budgets on content, and over half said they plan to increase that investment in the coming year.
These marketers know content can provide the solutions prospective buyers are seeking when they use search. They know prospects need to be educated before making buying decisions. They know that when credible, trustworthy information is found, it can easily be shared with others involved in the buying process. They know they can become publishers. Rather than invest time, money, and resources buying or influencing media with advertising or public relations campaigns, savvy marketers can redirect the flow of that money to become the media. Marketers worldwide have caught on to these strategies. Although, most still rely on print to distribute at least some of their content, virtually all marketers have made digital the centerpiece of any content distribution strategy.
Consumers have come to expect content from brands and the companies they do business with. More and more, marketing is structured to supply content and to enable customers to use it, interact with it, and share it.
To sell, engage, educate, and inform in a highly competitive online environment, the time for marketers to embrace content marketing is now.