When I was asked to speak at Leeds Business Week 2015 as part of the ‘customer conference’, the topic was a no-brainer. Content marketing is now regarded as the only marketing in the US and is gradually being taken more seriously over here, which has manifested itself in the fact that 120 people have signed up to our session at The Leeds Club at 10am this morning.

But content marketing is still largely misunderstood as a customer engagement tool. It is still being offered as an ‘add on’ by digital agencies who are more interested in selling you the ‘quick wins’ that you will supposedly achieve by driving traffic to a fully optimised, newly designed website via search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay per click (PPC). High quality static and ongoing content is all too often an afterthought when in fact it should be the foundation on which all other forms of digital and ‘offline’ marketing are built.

If you can’t make it along to the session or want to refresh your memory afterwards, here is a summary of the key points I’ll be discussing:

Who says content is king?

You will have heard the phrase ‘content is king’ bandied about and could be forgiven for thinking it’s just another cliche made up by marketeers to sell what we do. But it’s not brands or their marketing teams who say that content is king – it’s you, the customer. That’s why the likes of Google and Facebook – who only exist by responding to the needs of what their users want – prioritise high quality, engaging content over pushy sales messages in search results and news feeds.

What is content marketing?Advertising a hole, not the drill

Content marketing is “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling… the belief that if we deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they reward us with their business and loyalty” (Content Marketing Institute). While traditional marketing talks at people, content marketing talks with them. It is inherently and wholly ‘customer centric’.

What does it mean to be ‘customer centric’?

Being ‘customer centric’ does not mean trying to be ‘all things to all men’. It means trying to be of value to a small niche of potential loyal fans with a priceless ‘lifetime value’.

Think of it this way: Running a Google ads campaign to appear at the top of searches for popular keywords will catch the eye of a mass of ‘browsers’ but you are literally ‘paying per click’. You are investing in a low quality way of attracting the attention of many ‘OK’ customers, instead of investing in a high quality way of converting potentially ‘great’ customers.

Content comes first!

This doesn’t mean that other routes to market or more traditional forms of marketing are dead, it just means that they won’t work as well without high quality content to back them up. It’s no good investing in ways of driving traffic to your website if the visitor bounces away after hitting a salesy landing page. It is easy for lazy businesses to think that by putting the ‘graft’ in to be useful rather than salesy, they’ll spend lots of time helping out people who aren’t actually going to buy from them but the opposite is true. By taking the time to answer pressing questions facing your top notch targets, you’re more likely to attract ‘buyers’ than ‘browsers’.

Owned media, earned media and paid media – in that order!

  • Your ‘owned media’ – website, blog, e-newsletters, printed materials – is your real estate but your customers are the shareholders and even on your platforms, they control the conversation
  • ‘Earned media’ – endorsement from others via media coverage, social media shares/likes/comments, online reviews, good quality SEO – should drive customers to your ‘owned media’
  • ‘Paid media’ – advertising, pay per click, sponsored social media posts – will give you some ‘quick wins’ if you get the owned and earned media right first

Investing in quality content

Content marketing is a sustained, long term effort to produce valuable, useful content on topical issues that are facing your audiences – it’s a full time job which requires professional skill. Professional content developers bring a fresh perspective but must be involved from the beginning in developing a content strategy so that they understand the business objectives, audiences and tone of voice.

Without strategy content is just stuffDeveloping a content strategy

Focusing on quality engagement with a niche audience, learn how to speak their language by listening before talking and tracking the issues they’re facing/questions they’re asking. Establish a consistent tone of voice, personality and brand narrative across all relevant channels and create your own ‘branded’ publishing platforms with your website at the ‘hub’.

Effective content planning

The traditional marketing plan doesn’t work any more! Your plan should reflect not what messages you want to convey, but what your customers will be talking about. Some of this can be proactively planned for – major events, awareness weeks, certain times of year – but much of it has to be flexible to an ever-changing agenda (ie what’s #trending). Good content planning can have a huge impact on your business by strategically ‘plugging the gaps’ to avoid financial ‘peaks and troughs’. Bad content planning can make it look like you’ve gone out of business (that’s the reaction you’ll get from a ‘latest news’ section or Twitter feed which hasn’t been updated since 2011)!

Creating content that converts

  • Think like your audience – what are their ‘pain’ points?
  • Use emotion to motivate and give it some urgency
  • Make it as relevant as possible to your niche market
  • BE CLEAR and eliminate distractions
  • Facts tell, stories sell
  • Reassure and instil trust by illustrating points and including endorsement from others
  • Give advice, not pitches

(see more on this in James Scherer’s Content Marketing Institute blog ’10 tips for creating content that converts like a champ’.

Staying front of mindContent marketing ee card joke

It doesn’t matter how good your content is if no-one can see it! Visibility is key and social media gives businesses access to a huge network that they can engage with directly without advertising or being at the mercy of journalists. But consumers are bombarding with content on social media and ‘cutting through the noise’ is tough. The temptation is to focus on frequency and volume but quality over quantity will always pay dividends. You don’t have to be everywhere all the time. You just have to be in the right people’s newsfeeds at the right time with the right content. First and foremost, social media is an incredibly valuable customer insight tool and if you use it to listen rather than just talk, you will be able to constantly find new ways of engaging and staying front of mind the people you want to talk to.

Content marketing ROI

Content marketing is a long game – there are no ‘quick wins’ – but that doesn’t mean it is ‘intangible’ and can’t be measured. In fact, it is more outcomes-focused than any other form of marketing (where measure based on outputs have been relied upon for too long). “Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue” (Andrew Davis). Google and social media analytics will give you an idea of what is working in terms of quality engagement (if you focus on the right measures such as length of session rather than number of ‘likes’) but ultimately it comes down to impact on the bottom line in the form of long term growth. A strategic, integrated approach will achieve this but content’s contribution needs to be given credit at board level from the outset.

If, like most businesses, you don’t have a content strategy or the skills/resource in house to deliver it, get in touch and we can help you understand how it can work for you.