I have always held much fascination for words, which is why growing up I dreamed of being a writer – a novelist – to be more specific. I meandered to studying something else though, and instead of reading English literature I ended up enrolling in a course that gave me a taste of everything from finance to public policy before I finally chose to make a career in marketing.
The joy to be had in marketing is this – it is a discipline that lets you be subjective and creative while pushing you to defend that ROI your employer loves to see in black. In almost six years of working in marketing and business development functions, I realized that my love for words was hardly lost, which is why I deep-dived into the world that marries words to marketing – content marketing.
It sounds simple really – create crafty content that people will want to read, hopefully, repeatedly. Working my way from writing business articles that spoke of digital transformation in financial technology to brainstorming on whitepapers that spoke of the burden of onboarding new customers for banks, my pen ached to tell business stories that were interesting, and not bland, technical-speak.
And just in the way with any project you attempt, the question looms – how does this fit into the big picture? How does content marketing fit into the business’s overall marketing plan? Does it even make sense to be focusing on content marketing? And what exactly does content marketing mean?
Content marketing differs from just content
Content is just about everything written everywhere. The blurb on the back of a book is content. The description of a dish on a restaurant menu is content. The advert on the huge billboard you see from your apartment window is full of content.
But content marketing is a lot more than that. It is a strategic answer to a strategic problem – how do you reach and engage your audience in a world dominated by digital where the shelf life of most of the content is very short? On an average, a tweet will survive for only 18 minutes, according to Moz. Another article finds that 75% of all engagement you are going to have on Facebook will happen within the first 5 hours of your post. So most of the content you create will suffer quick, if not almost instantaneous death.
Imagine this didn’t have to happen. What if, instead of just being perceived as a writer or curator you were a publisher? Imagine running something akin to an Economist magazine. Or a Vogue. Only the ‘magazine’ is geared specifically to your audience and their interests. Interested readers would find your publishing destination and come back to it repeatedly because you are offering them something that is not just a jumble of vague, generic content.
This is precisely the purpose of content marketing – to attract the right audience to you and your brand and make them come back, again and again, seeking your word.
It is not a product pitch; it is an education
I made a leap in my role from product marketing to content marketing – purely because I love to write. But from a strategic point of view, marketing strategists could make great use of this leap as well. Product pitches are more often geared at sales, answering how the product works, how it serves the client and are, by their very nature, short-lived.
Content marketing, on the other hand, helps the audience it talks to in a more valuable way – it makes them more knowledgeable, picks their brains and offers smart, meaningful insights, building a deeper relationship. The central character in the story is not the product, rather the editorial piece that exhibits the value of an entire product category, the industry it belongs to and the trends in the marketplace. It establishes the brand or the company as an authoritative voice that doesn’t just sell a product or service but has the power to influence industry trends and opinions as well.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
That’s what Henry Ford had to say. A lot of potential customers are already facing some challenge, but they might not be able to articulate what the problem is. How then, can they figure out what the solutions to their problems are?
Content marketing helps you achieve much more than just making a sale. It increases your brand’s visibility, creates awareness, retains customers and helps you cross-sell and up-sell. But that’s marketing speak. In simple terms, what content marketing achieves for you is a community of users that return to your channel repeatedly to gain knowledge on how to get the best value out of a particular product or to learn tips and tricks. Actually what content marketing does is to make your consumers feel like they are the smartest people in the room. It makes you a trendsetter, an influencer. It makes you the Henry Ford of your industry.
As with any strategic plan, the success of content marketing can be and must be measured against quantitative metrics. It isn’t just another marketing tactic to be deployed. Treat it like a product that needs to make waves into the market and that will, in the long-run, yield results like any other product of your company would. And if you believe what Seth Godin has to say, content marketing might be the only form of marketing left.