Content Marketing

Guest Post: How Content Marketing Can Work For Your Business

You know how a word like innovative used to be meaningful but now everyone claims it as one of their virtues and so the word has become meaningless? That’s kinda what happened with content marketing. When it first became a thing five years ago, everyone and their brother in Agency World abruptly decided that they too offered content marketing services. Suddenly, everything was content marketing, which means that the phrase quickly lost its meaning. If everything is content marketing, then nothing is.

Still, we fight the good fight; we want other marketers to understand what the underlying goal of it is—to build a long-term, trust-based relationship with the potential customer, rather that a transactional one that is quickly forgotten. 

Defining it is more than semantics. Here’s a bad memory that explains why the definition matters—a couple years ago we won a new client that had hit a plateau with their SEO firm and was looking for something fresher, something that would catch fire. We had great conversations; we agreed that content marketing was what they needed. However, while we used all the same words, we meant different things. The relationship did not last long because neither one of us was happy. 

So that we’re on the same page here, this is how we define content marketing at Scribewise: 

Content marketing is the creation and distribution of journalistic, helpful, audience-focused material that ultimately increases customer acquisition.

(Here’s how some other smart people define it.)

The word journalistic raises the bar on quality by implying a more rigorous approach to content creation based upon research and interviews. Audience-focused takes out the self-promotional content that some other definitions include—again, to us, that’s just marketing as it’s always been.

Distribution is vitally important as well; simply publishing blog posts on your website is not content marketing, and almost surely will not be effective. There are now a billion websites in the world (really, I looked it up)—you need to be sure to get prospective customers’ eyeballs on your content, whether that’s through SEO, email marketing, social media or media relations. We always advise clients that there are two aspects to choosing the right distribution channels: 

  1. Where are your customers? If your customers simply don’t use social media (yes, those people still exist), it doesn’t make sense for you to put all your energy into social. But maybe a quarterly print publication could do the trick. If you’re targeting seniors, Snapchat probably doesn’t make sense. You get the idea—it’s awfully hard to work to get people to try a new platform and consume your content. 
  2. Where aren’t your competitors? If the leader in your industry has a massive Facebook audience and a huge head start, it probably doesn’t make sense for you to simply copy their approach. But maybe Twitter can work for you because none of the competition is there. And so on.

There are no pat answers to these two questions. Every company has to dig in to figure out its own best path forward.

What content marketing isn’t.

Promotional ads are not content marketing. Product sell sheets are not content marketing. Social media posts announcing your booth number at the next trade show are not content marketing. It doesn’t mean they aren’t important; it just means they aren’t content marketing.

Who does content marketing work for?

I’d argue that content marketing can work for any organization, but I’m admittedly biased. But if the success of your business is based upon building trust with your prospective customers, then content marketing is a great and cost efficient way to do this. Most businesses do need this trust-based relationship, particularly in an era of global competition.

However, there may be exceptions.

If, for instance, your company has spent big bucks on advertising for years or even decades and you’re the go-to in your industry, you might not need to embrace content marketing. On the other hand, you’ll have to continue advertising at an ever-higher rate to get the return you’re looking for, which means you’re beholden to the media that you buy from—you are building your empire on rented land.

There are certainly plenty of industries that have historically been relationship-based—everybody meets up three times a year at the big trade shows, you go out and have some fun, maybe tell hungover stories the next day, and you’ve bonded with your customers. That still works. However, those relationships can move to the digital space, and eventually they almost certainly will have to. Is now the time, or should you wait? I’d like to point out that waiting can be dangerous, but the decision is yours.

How about if you’re a one-location coffee shop? Content marketing seems like a lot of work. Overkill, right? But what if you post community notices and become the news (and gossip) hub for your neighborhood? If you become the center of that hyper-local conversation, that’s likely going to be good for business.

How are you going to get this work done?

There are at least five distinct skillsets you need on your content marketing team. A lot of companies will hire a “content marketing specialist” and expect the person to be able to handle all of these tasks, and do them well. Word of warning—this unicorn does not exist. You might be able to fill these five roles with two or three people, but one? Impossible.

  1. A journalist. Content marketing is fueled by storytelling, and journalists typically are tremendous storytellers. For starters, they’re curious. They’re also usually (but not always!) very strong writers. Experienced journalists also tend to write with readers in mind, which is what you’re looking for. Journalists have a natural inclination to put the audience first—even ahead of their own organization. This is the person you want doing the heavy lifting of content creation.
  2. A community manager. This is something of a jack-of-all-trades position. It’s this person’s job to promote and distribute your content—whether that’s through media relations, social media, email marketing or getting backlinks. 
  3. A graphic designer. A skilled designer can turn pedestrian content into something that attracts an audience. They can help you create a visual look-and-feel that creates a distinct impression in the marketplace.
  4. A video producer. As you know, YouTube is now the world’s second-largest search engine. Social media platforms increasingly favor video in their algorithms. You need video. There are a lot of ways to get this done, some expensive and some as easy as pointing your iPhone at someone interesting at your company. But, definitely, you need video.
  5. A data analyst. Data-driven storytelling is a megatrend that’s here to stay. Telling stories with your proprietary numbers is an opportunity to create content that no one else in the world can create. Better still, a data analyst can help you assess what aspects of your content marketing are working, and what isn’t.

In the end, content marketing is not easy. It’s hard work, it takes talented people working together and it’s not something that can be done for three months and then dropped. If you’re getting into the game, you need to plan on staying in the game. But is it worth it? For just about every business, the answer is yes.

John Miller