Why is content marketing important?

It was a tricky situation. We all want to understand what is content marketing ? and lead, but how do you do that when no one knows what yo...

It was a tricky situation. We all want to understand what is content marketing? and lead, but how do you do that when no one knows what your product is?

A company that shall remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious was looking for a solution to a problem that it felt imperiled its very existence. This national telephone company, which had recently been privatized from its previous government ownership, was suddenly concerned about a competitor its new owners kept asking about:Google.

Google sells ads to small businesses, and those businesses no longer want to be listed in the Yellow Pages, which is bad news for our heroes. What, they asked, can we do to convince small businesses that this is a mistake? How do we show that this is a fad? How can we scare those small businesses about the risk and expense associated with digital marketing?

Nervously, our team tried to proceed with our original proposal to them. We tried to explain how they had big advantages over Google. Yes, Google had an interesting ad product to sell, but how would Google reach all of those small businesses? This telco not only had the contact information (yes, phone numbers) for every small business in their country but it had “feet on the street”—a sales force that no competitor could match. We breathlessly proposed how they could partner with our agency services to offer a website to every small business for not much more than they paid for a full-page ad.

You can guess the outcome. That’s why we won’t reveal the name of the company. The point of the story is that no matter what message the telco wanted to convey to its customers, it needed content marketing. It needed to educate its market that change is in the winds and that you need us now. But they would have had a lot easier time focusing on a message that would really help their customers rather than on one that was designed to feather their own decaying nest.

why is content marketing important

What Content Marketing Is

Why is content marketing important? At its base, content marketing provides the content your audience needs. Content marketing can be entertaining, helpful, or informative, or perhaps it can help solve your audience’s problem. One good test of content marketing is whether it helps your audience even if they never buy your product or servic e. If by now you are starting to wonder if content marketing will test your abilities, you should know that it doesn’t need to be complex. IT managed services provider Logicalis took the simple step of providing a free ebook that explained how companies using today’s technologies to run their data centers can be ready for the changes that cloud computing and other technical trends have in store. Logicalis didn’t set out to sell anything (although, obviously, they wanted their marketing to result in sales). They just tried to be helpful, to explain what they thought their customers needed to know so that their customers could be successful. It was a classic “thought leadership” campaign, which is one of the basic techniques in content marketing. The results? In just three months, $8 million in added revenue closed or in the pipeline.

One of the reasons that Logicalis was so successful is that its information is credible, which is the first characteristic of content marketing.

Content Marketing Is Credible

In order for content marketing to be helpful or informative, it needs to be credible. Rather than using the kind of breathless hype that characterizes most sales pitches, content marketing needs to set a tone closer to that of a newspaper article or a trade magazine—or even a documentary. It must show, not tell. It must advise, not sell. It must enrich rather than pitch.

When your marketing is credible, you begin to build a relationship with your audience based on trust. When you gain their trust, you can influence their buying decisions. The more trustworthy your content experiences, the more effective your content marketing becomes.

As with much of content marketing, it sounds simple, but it is tempting to cram in a little bit about your product, right? Don’t. Your audience has a finely tuned BS filter. (BS stands for blatant sales. No, really.) When that filter goes off, they stop listening. They start questioning whether the information is for your benefit or theirs. You lose trust.

Some successful content marketing can be entertaining—much of consumer marketing works that way—but content marketing is more often applied to high-consideration products, such as technology products or business services, that require lots of information and a long sales cycle.

The credibility of your information is essential to gaining trust. If you provide enough helpful information, you establish your company as the expert in the field. When you clearly describe the problem that needs to be solved and you help solve it, your credibility goes sky high, and customers begin to believe that you are the answer to their prayers.

While some members of your audience will be able to consume your content and solve their problems on their own, enough of them will be unable or unwilling to tackle the problem on their own—and that’s why they engage your products or services to do the job.

Instead of using marketing that puts the product front and center, why not try an approach that puts the customer first? Freightliner, the largest division of Daimler Trucks North America, wanted to help its largest group of customers, individual owner-operators—the drivers who own their own truck rather than get paid by a large company to drive a truck. Instead of blanketing this audience with boatloads of content on why they should buy a new truck, Freightliner realized that their customers’ biggest challenge was that they were now running a business, not just driving a truck. So they put together the Team Run Start online community and loaded it up with the very advice that owner-operators needed. What kind of advice, you ask? Everything truckers need to know about their trucks.

About fuel economy—one of their biggest costs. About the business of trucking—because these owner-operators own their own business, too. And about their health—because sitting in a truck all day brings its own unique health issues. This content obviously struck a chord with the target audience, attracting 18,000 members in two years. These members now have a very different relationship with Freightliner than they did before. What do you think the odds are that at least a few of these people buy a Freightliner truck the next time they are in the market?

Content Marketing Is Targeted

Most successful marketing is targeted, so it isn’t surprising that content marketing is, also. You can target your content marketing by using traditional targeting approaches, with demographics (for B2C marketers) or firmographics (for B2B businesses)—such as industry or company size. But content marketing typically employs deeper targeting than other kinds of marketing, employing finer-grained techniques, such as these: Personas. Far more specific than market segments, personas include motivations and psychographics that could include even particular content factors, such as learning style. If your target persona has an experiential learning style, for example, you might tend toward games, videos, webinars, and other more interactive fare rather than blog posts and newsletters.

Stages of the buyer’s journey. Someone who is just learning about a problem is not ready for a coupon. Your content needs to be carefully targeted based on where the buyer is in the journey to a purchase.

Message resonance. You can target a message to an individual at the right stage in the buy cycle, but it still might not resonate. How do you know it is doing its job (i.e., helping the client or prospect take the next step in her journey)? A/B testing and multivariate testing allow you to identify effective messages—not just in general but when targeted to specific personas within a stage of the buyer’s journey. In the past, marketing messages were targeted at archetypes—such as housewives, dads, executives, or line-of-business managers. Now we can market to individuals—for example, a finance officer of a particular company—giving them all and only the content they need, when they need it. Search is the main way we accomplish this, but social shares, emailing links, and other methods provide information specially selected for the recipient. It’s the marketer’s job to provide the right content in the first place. In this way, we can build trust with customers faster and have stronger influence over their brand and buying preferences.

Content Marketing Is Differentiated

How do you build messages that tend to help your audience take the next step in their client journeys? One question that comes up throughout the buyer’s journey is “How can your company help me solve my problems better than your competitors?”

Before you answer that question, you need to understand what marketers mean when they talk about differentiation because most marketers don’t understand this concept very well. Most marketers believe that differentiation is about how their product or service is different from their competitors’ offerings. And it is. But it’s more than that.

Differentiation is a difference that a market will pay for.

Let that roll around in your head for a minute. Every product is different. Unless you are selling a complete commodity, your product is different in some way. You need to truly focus on a difference for your product that at least part of your audience values enough to shell out their hard-earned cash.

GoPro, the runaway hit camera that can record people doing just about anything, knew what its differentiation was from the start: It could take videos that no other camera could. So it began with surfers, but it quickly expanded into other sports by marketing with its best possible content—videos posted by its thrilled customers. Because their customers understood GoPro’s differentiation, the company rarely heard objections such as “I already have a camera” or “I can use my phone as a camera” because GoPro was focused tightly on customers who could not get these shots any other way. GoPro never fooled themselves by going after a market that any existing camera competed in. They created a completely differentiated space for themselves and stuck with content marketing that sold the product in an utterly convincing way.

Most people, however, don’t realize how long GoPro stuck with that differentiation. The company started with a 35mm film camera and didn’t even introduce a digital camera for three years—in 2005. Each successive year, technology improvements broadened GoPro’s appeal, but their focus on a differentiated market survived every technology change. Differentiation is not something you can change with each new marketing campaign; it must be woven deep into your offering.

You need to approach your content marketing the same way, but it takes some bravery. We are all tempted to market our offerings as broadly as possible. We’d love to think that every possible prospect out there should buy what we are selling. And, to be sure, if someone wants to buy your product, no matter who they are, go ahead and sell it. But that isn’t how you market it.

Can you imagine if GoPro tried to market its camera to all photographers? No one would have figured out what their true differentiation was, so their ideal audience might never have found them. Yes, there are more generic camera buffs than the folks who buy GoPros, so you might have said, “Let’s try to be a little broader here,” but that would have been a colossal error. It takes bravery, but you must be focused on that small segment that you are differentiated for when you start your content marketing.

Another way to say it is that you need to be very focused on that segment of your audience who would be absolute idiots not to buy from you. You start your content marketing by identifying that segment and isolating the specific problems that group has problems different from other segments. These are the problems that your offering solves better than any competitor: That is true differentiation.

Focusing your initial content marketing efforts on content that describes and addresses these problems is your best approach because if you can’t persuade those buyers with your content marketing, you sure aren’t going to persuade anyone else.

Because differentiation is so important, marketers tend to make a crucial mistake: They focus on “how we’re different” too much. In the process, they lose sight of the market. Clients and prospects are in the market for something that solves their problems or fulfills a need. They express those things in their own terms, which tend to be in the common parlance of the market. Differentiation makes sense to them only relative to that common parlance. If you try to be clever and use words to describe your differentiation that don’t make sense within the common parlance, your differentiation won’t work. Mainstream customers worry about products they can’t compartmentalize in some way.

It’s a fine line. And you really don’t know what level of differentiation will resonate with your audience until you try different levels and see what works. GoPro wasn’t an overnight success. They had to experiment. In experimenting, they found that their product had a broader appeal to more than just surfers. So they built that into their differentiated messaging.

If you’re wondering where to start, differentiation is a good place. But the important thing is starting. Do your homework. Take your best shot. And prepare to adjust as necessary.

Content Marketing Is Measurable

The fundamentals of content marketing haven’t changed. The medium has. The digital medium enables all kinds of analyses of the target audience. Fine-grained analysis can be used to target the audience not only with the content they need but in the time and space that is most convenient to them.

That’s the theory, anyway. The practice is quite a bit more complex. The types of data we use to learn audience preferences are many and varied. Data comes at us at alarming speed, and it accumulates in huge volumes. The big data that content marketers need to use can be intimidating, especially to traditional marketers, but it can be summarized into four hallmarks—known as the four Vs:

Volume. This is the “big” part, but you probably knew that.

Velocity. This extreme speed of incoming data has never been seen before.

Variety. You have structured data coming from your metrics analysts in spreadsheet form. You have unstructured data coming from your keyword research and social data visualization listening, which starts out as plain text. You have A/B test data. You have user experience studies. You have surveys. It all comes together to produce meaning in different ways.

Veracity. None of this matters unless you know you have accuracy.
It isn’t enough to just make the claim that content marketing is measurable. We need to go deeper, into exactly what kind of metrics a successful content marketer needs. Some metrics, called structured data, belong in spreadsheets and relational (i.e., SQL) databases. But many modern metrics are derived from unstructured data—text, images, videos, and other kinds of data that is more complex to analyze than rows of numbers and values. We call it big data not
just because there is a lot of it but because analysis of it involves mixing both structured and unstructured data.

Let’s look at the many kinds of big data that content marketers need to analyze.

Search Keywords

You learn the language of your audience by conducting search keyword research. Regardless of your audience, they will primarily start their information journeys with search. And the more complex the problem or information challenge, the more likely they will use search throughout their information journey. Mining this activity will give you a good sense of the topics they’re interested in. If you do it right, you can also learn the questions customers ask and the problems they want to solve. Once you have a good sense of the keywords your audience uses in search, you can plug these keywords into social listening tools to learn even more words they use when they write about these topics in social settings. In this way, you can learn the language that resonates with your audience.

Social Listening

You can measure the credibility of your content by using sentiment analysis and other analytics applied to social media conversations. The same tools that mine the language of your audience in social settings can also measure their emotions and the intensity of those emotions. How positive or negative are they about the topic when they post in social settings? How do they feel about your content? Comments on your content, especially in social media, can also be powerful places for listening.

Social Endorsements

If your audience thinks highly enough of your content to actually share it to their friends and followers—by retweeting it, sharing it on Facebook, or taking equivalent actions on other social networks—it shows a high degree of relevance and credibility. Another kind of lesser endorsement is a Like on Facebook, a Twitter Favorite, or a similar action on other social platforms.

Links

Another type of endorsement is a link from another content owner to your page. You can measure the connections to your content by performing link analysis to measure the number and the credibility of links to your content. The other content owner then works with their media relations colleagues to try to close any gaps in the interwoven information between their information and their media partners. They also work with their own development teams to strengthen link relevance between the content on their pages and related pages.

Search Referrals

Search referrals count how many searchers have clicked on your content from a search engine’s results page. Although in recent years search engines and web browsers have been blocking the actual keyword data related to these referrals, you can still get raw counts of referrals that tell you how many people Google or Bing sent to your site. Of course, people don’t click your listings in search engines if you don’t rank well for important keywords. So referrals are a function of ranking and how well your snippet (the words underneath the title on the results page) entices searchers to click. Because Google and other search engines are trying to list the most relevant content for a searcher’s keyword, ranking is a good indicator of relevance. Referrals are even better because referrals mean that the quality of your page’s snippet was good enough to attract a click.

Social Referrals

Social referrals are indicators of how well regarded your content is in the marketplace of ideas. Social referrals indicate how many people have followed links to your content shared in social media. People don’t share content unless they value it, and the recipients don’t click shared items unless they trust the endorsement of their social connection.

Bounces

Once someone lands on your content, the central question is whether it meets their needs, which some might call relevance. You can measure content relevance with a metric called bounce rate. A visitor who clicks the Back button deems the content irrelevant and that’s a bounce. A visitor who clicks the links you provide deems the content at least marginally relevant.

Paths

When your audience does click your links, what paths do they take? You might design paths through your content, but your audience will tell you to what extent they think your paths make sense. You can track users through your content to see what journeys make the most sense to them. This information can help you make your content experiences more effective over time.

Conversions

Beyond bounces, if visitors to your site go so far as to buy your product or to request to be contacted by sales, that can be counted as a conversion. Counting conversions is the first step in showing the value of your marketing with ROI for increased sales.

If big data feels a bit intimidating, we understand. Most marketers went into marketing as a refuge from math, but unfortunately, the numbers have caught up with you. It’s not necessary that you be the person actually crunching the numbers, but you need to be willing to make decisions based on the numbers rather than on your golden gut. We’ll try to make this as easy a transition as possible.

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