The term content marketing is buzzing around the interwebs like crazy. You will hear things like: “It is the most effective way to market’, “It’s a must for your business”, “It replaces traditional marketing”, “it’s magic fairy dust’. All these things are at least partially true – save the last one of course.

As a business owner, you may be wondering what exactly it is and whether or not you need to start thinking about it. According to Wikipedia:

“Content marketing is any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers.”

“Content marketing is focused not on selling, but on simply communicating with customers and prospects. The idea is to inspire business and loyalty from buyers by delivering “consistent, ongoing valuable information”.

OK, so how does it work?
Much of the existing material out there is for marketing professionals and other geeks like myself. Some are super technical and others are just plain wrong – mistaking terms like inbound marketing or permission marketing as being synonymous (which, though similar and interrelated, are not). I thought I would put together a plain spoken, practical guide to the core concepts of Content Marketing for the average business owner. In the coming weeks, look here for more guides to specific aspects of planning and implementing your own content marketing strategy along with other tips and tricks of the trade – subscribe to receive updates.

First, a Little Background
From what’s out there, you might think Content marketing is a brand new phenomenon invented by a bunch of Silicon Valley start up genius types in 2005. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth. There are examples of it going back as long as humans have been involved in trade. In fact, some of you may already be inadvertently using it, and all of you have consumed it in some form or another. John Deere’s, The Furrow magazine is considered the first modern example of it. It was first published in 1895 and is still in circulation today, reaching 1.5 million readers in 40 countries in 12 different languages.

So, what’s changed and suddenly made content marketing rise to the top of the marketing food chain? The simplest answer is technology. The advent of web and social media not only started to drown out traditional media channels, it provided the opportunity for people and businesses to connect in ways never imagined before – more intimate ways. Sort of the way local businesses did many years ago in their respective communities, but on a much larger and more relevant scale.

Instead of geography as the catalyst, your community can be anywhere and its affinity based on deeper connections such as needs, interests, desires and beliefs and not just on proximity. In short, unlike that annoying neighbor blasting dubstep all night or the other one that keeps ‘borrowing” garden tools and never giving them back (you know who you are!), you can form communities and connections with the people you actually want to interact with – no matter where they are and in a mutually beneficial way. And guess what? You can do business with some of them as well. Sounds great, right? It is, but there is one catch…

Don’t sell – give away
Still with me? Hello, is this thing on? Here is the thing about Content Marketing and why many people fail when they first set out to do it; you have to resist the urge to sell your products and to talk about yourself. Even crazier? You need to give things away for free (I know!). It’s counterintuitive, but stick with me here, because this is what it’s all about – the magic fairy dust, if you will.

When you break it down to it’s most basic form, Content Marketing is about giving things away for free that will attract people willing to engage with you (i.e. give you permission to communicate with them). What you give them must have value beyond the sale – in fact, forget about the sale completely for right now. Focus instead on connecting with people on a meaningful level. Once you have established a two-way communication, then you can begin nurturing some of them into paying customers. If done correctly, they will get the exact product/services they need, when they need them. Meanwhile, even the connections that aren’t currently customers are still learning from you and adding to your credibility and authority as a thought leader in your field or industry. Seth Godin’s would say this is where you are Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Customers”.  It’s a win, win, win!

Key Benefits of Content Marketing:

Laser focused efforts: well-planned content will attract your ideal customers and allow for significantly better resource allocation in comparison to the shotgun blast of more traditional methods.

Brand Building: the creating, sharing and re-sharing of valuable content gets your brand out and builds authority and credibility. The more people see you, the more they will begin to trust your brand.

Better/Stronger Customer Engagement: this is true both pre and post sale due to the two-way nature of the communication involved. It will help you win and keep more customers.

Organic SEO Booster: Better, more natural search engine ranking increase – more traffic; better engagement. The better and more relevant the content you share, the more people will link to/share it and the higher you will rank. You can worry less about Google’s latest algorithm changing and focus more on your connections’ needs.

So what makes great content?
The answer to this varies greatly depending on your industry, individual business and goals. To start, think knowledge and expertise vs. product and offerings. Think about how you can help people and add value without strings directly attached to selling them something. I find citing very simple examples is the best way to communicate this concept:

  1. An auto Repair Shop might offer free lessons or articles on basic vehicle maintenance.
  2. A Grocery Store might offer free recipes; cooking classes.
  3. A Fitness Center can offer free consultations on fitness and diet; videos on basic exercise form.
  4. A marketing agency can educate you on Content Marketing; offer tools to help you start doing it yourself (Hmmm?)

I outed myself on number four for a reason – to illustrate the importance of being genuine with these efforts. Nothing will kill content marketing efforts quicker than faking it or underestimating the intelligence of your audience. You see, I really want you to learn these concepts and use them to be successful. Would I love if you hired us to help you at some point? Absolutely! But like any true believer, I get almost as much joy from spreading the good news as I do from getting paid for my services and that is the mindset you need to have with this stuff. If you can’t get there – don’t waste your time. It takes trust, a leap of faith and passion for what you do to create great content that will draw people in and keep them coming back.

As I mentioned, these aren’t new concepts and today we are dealing with consumers that are not only savvy, but also hold most of the cards in choosing where they spend their hard earned cash. Give freely of your knowledge, expertise and maybe even some of your basic services. Remember, be as generous as you can and you will be pleasantly surprised by the results. Good Luck!

Feel free to contact me with questions and comments – we’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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