In advance of the Content Marketing Conference Europe event last week, Maaike Gulden did an interview with me to surface some essential advice about improving content marketing.
Since the interview was published in Dutch, I’m posting portions here for our readers looking for a useful perspective on content marketing that will hopefully bring some clarity to an increasingly misunderstood concept. This Q and A covers everything from a definition to why to why content marketing is valuable, a solid B2B content marketing example and my perspective on the future.
What is your perspective on content marketing?
Content is the reason search engines exist and it’s the cornerstone of what people share on the social web. A quantity of quality content that answers reader’s questions in a useful and entertaining way serves everything from demand generation to lead generation.
Without content, there is no search and social becomes very boring. Without interesting and useful content experiences, customers are uninterested and uninspired to engage and take action on brand content.
Companies that can reconcile brand objectives and messaging with customer needs in a way that both informs and entertains (info-tains) their community are best prepared to win in today’s competitive digital landscape.
What is your definition of content marketing?
Content Marketing is the planning, creation, publishing, and promotion of useful information and media directed towards a specific audience and intended to affect a particular outcome.
Is content marketing just hype? Every organization creates content, so how can you really be different than your competition?
The popularity of content marketing has attracted opportunistic marketers that have endeavored to redefine content marketing for their own purposes. As a result, there is a bit of hype about what content marketing is and what it means for brand marketers.
Many companies are simply creating “more content” for tactics like SEO and not “better content experiences” for their customers. The distinction is important, because mechanical content production may increase a quantity of interactions, but there is little to differentiate.
Companies that truly understand the interests and goals of their customers create content that targets them with useful information published on the channels they prefer, in the formats they like best and with the offers and calls to action that the target audience is most likely to respond to.
Such a personalized effort is an entirely different experience for buyers than a quantity of content created based on a SEO keyword list.
What is the power of content marketing? Why should companies use it for their marketing?
Well planned, creatively produced and enthusiastically promoted content delivers all the information a buyer needs to make important decisions during the sales cycle. From awareness to consideration to purchase, content marketing provides answers to the questions customers are asking in order to buy.
If a company wants to create a competitive advantage and better relationships with customers, content marketing will play a central role in their digital marketing strategy. Content can be found in search, shared on the social web and inspire both transactions and referrals.
What is the link between search and social media?
Search engines exist to make copies of the content found on the web and any company that wants to be found where customers are actively looking with ensure their websites are optimized for discovery.
Content that is optimized for search visibility and social sharing accelerates engagement and effectiveness for conversions.
Making content easy to find when buyers are actively seeking a solution is one of the most valuable marketing investments a company can make. What good is great content if no one can find it? What good is great content if it’s not easy to share on social networks?
There is so much information on internet, does content marketing still work? How can you assure that your content still gets noticed on the web?
There is a substantial amount of content being produced by traditional publishers, bloggers, brands and even consumers. But there is a disparity between high value, high quality content and the bulk of the content being published.
In other words, the vast majority of content is closer to crap than awesome. To stand out, companies need to do 4 things:
- Create content that’s useful for specific audience interests
- Package content creatively and in interesting ways
- Make amplification of content (optimise, socialise, publicise, advertise) part of the content development process
- Grow channels of distribution through social networks, email lists and connections with industry influencers. These channels are useful for promotion and will serve as a source of infinite content ideas.
How can you create real value for your customers and organization with content marketing?
By understanding the what buyers want and need to know, companies can create content that solves specific customer questions. If a business creates information that’s useful, and not just hype, they are creating value above and beyond what most marketers are publishing.
The amazing thing is, without explicitly trying to promote and sell with every piece of content, content marketers will actually sell more. Customers don’t feel pressured or invaded with useless promotions. Instead, the brand can provide information that addresses customer needs specifically and actually help the customer achieve their goals. Purchasing becomes a logical next step and a decision made by the customer because it makes sense.
How can you give your customers a true brand experience with content marketing?
It starts with defining what your brand stands for. What is the brand value proposition and what does it mean for customers? Defining those key characteristics of the brand will help content marketing strategists construct brand stories that can be told through the content they create.
Brand experience comes from all touch points and customer may have from seeing an ad online to reading a blog post or article in an industry publication to reading an email offer. Each touch point is an opportunity for the brand to be useful and also to connect with buyers on an emotional level.
From awareness to purchase and beyond through retention and advocacy, companies can use content to create and support true brand experiences for their customers.
What is a good content strategy? And why is this essential?
The most basic of content strategies is to tell the brand story, be useful and engaging with prospects in a way that inspires them to become customers.
Come to Content Marketing Conference Europe in Antwerp 10 June to find out more. J
What are the biggest challenges of content marketing?
According to an annual content marketing study released by CMI and MarketingProfs, the top 5 challenges for content marketers are:
1. Lack of time 69%
2. Producing enough content 55%
3. Producing the kind of content that engages 47%
4. Lack of budget 39%
5. Producing a variety of content 38%
What are the biggest opportunities of content marketing?
To create better experiences for customers so that they buy from your company instead of the competition, advocate for your brand and inspire other people to become customers too.
How can you monetize content marketing?
Most content marketing is focused on monetization through customer acquisition. Content provides useful information along the buyer’s journey so that as consumers discover, consume and act on information, circumstances will align to inspire purchase. Content educates buyers in ways that inspires them to transact.
Another way to monetize content is through selling sponsorships, syndicating content and media and allowing advertising. Alternative content monetization can get in the way of the original lead generation objectives for a content marketing program, so the benefits and costs must be weighed carefully.
Do you have good examples or best practices of companies that use content marketing well?
Luckily, there are many companies using content in clever and effective ways to grow their brands and in ways that contribute to achieving business goals. A clever content marketing campaign might win awards, but if it doesn’t make money, it’s not worth much.
In the business-to-business world (B2B) companies like Marketo and HubSpot have long been great examples of best practices content marketing.
However, I think LinkedIn is really starting to come into it’s own, especially with the work LinkedIn Sales Solutions are doing with their blog (Koka Sexton) and with LinkedIn Marketing Solutions (Jason Miller and Deanna Lazzaroni) and projects like The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn, which won a Killer Content Marketing Award at the C2C conference recently. (Disclosure, LinkedIn is a TopRank Client)
For the Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn, an eBook was created offering advice on how to use LinkedIn as a marketing resource. Thought leaders were interviewed as well. The advice from marketing experts within LinkedIn combined with industry experts resulted in a very useful resource that gained international exposure.
The eBook was also very well designed in coordination with other promotable media. Using a consistent theme across channels made the campaign easily recognizable.
The eBook was published to both U.S. and Europe LinkedIn and Slideshare accounts. Many of the thought leaders interviewed for the eBook also embedded it on their own websites. Besides an accompanying webinar, infographic and translated versions of the eBook, an actual print version was created and given out at the Social Media Marketing World Conference.
Versions of the eBook were also customized by vertical market giving LinkedIn the opportunity to connect with specific target audiences in addition to the mass appeal to all digital or “sophisticated” marketers.
There’s a great collection of over 100 content marketing examples curated by CMI here:
What is the future of content marketing according to you?
The future of content is going to be a car crash for a lot of companies unprepared to compete at higher levels of content marketing maturity. I think we’re a ways off from that, but the amount of content bring produced will continue to increase as will the competition to stand out.
Rather than mass audiences, I think successful content marketers will be effective at growing specialized, niche communities. I also think those communities will be more actively involved with the creation of brand content too. Think: participation marketing.