The ideas that content marketing and inbound marketing bring to the table are something I am passionate about as an aspiring marketer because it is an outside of the box way of thinking. My favorite marketing moments are the ones when I am exposed to marketing without even realizing it. The moments when the sole purpose of the marketing effort wasn’t to smother the consumer with a product, but rather to help the consumer, share a story about an organization, or even share an inspirational moment that is backed by a business. Granted, content marketing has to employ some sort of “push” strategy, just as traditional marketing does, but the key difference is who the content is made for. Content marketing creates content with the customer in mind and not the organization or its product.
What is Content Marketing:
Content marketing, as defined by content marketing institute, is, “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience-and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” Content marketing differs from traditional marketing in that its sole purpose is not to sell products or promote, it’s to understand the customer’s needs and provide marketing content that connects with consumers on a different level. While this definition has multiple parts to it that speak to content marketing, I believe it highlights two key parts of content that are very important for marketers and organizations as they deploy a content marketing strategy. Those two parts being creating content that is valuable, and creating content that is relevant. Additionally, another key aspect of content marketing is creating content whose very last purpose is to promote.
Creating Content That is Valuable:
Content marketing is all about creating content that your audience is going to find “helpful.” From an organizational standpoint, the main focus of content marketing is not about explaining why your organization is superior to a competitor, but rather focusing on the customer needs and producing content that they will be receptive too. In order to do so, HubSpot and this blog post on content marketing both agree that for content to be effective and “valuable” to an organizations customer base, the organization must first understand whom they are writing for or the “buyer persona” of their consumers. HubSpot strongly recommends that content marketers invest the time and effort into discovering what their customers are trying to “achieve,” what “challenges” their customers are facing, what their interests are, and really any information that will help a marketer get inside of the customers head and discover what will be most helpful to them. In his report about 2015 content marketing trends, Kane Jamison agrees that making this time commitment is important. He says that marketers should be “specializing content” and “dedicating the time and staff to manage channels in a way that is reflective of your brand and responsive to your audience. Organizations can take this idea of creating content that is valuable, and apply it to their business by keeping it in the forefront of their mind when they are going write a blog, eBook, or whatever the content might be. Before beginning, the writers should take the time to understand their audience and understand what it is the customers are hoping to gain by reading the content. Producing content that customers find valuable will ideally prompt them to search the organization again, and convert them into a prospective lead.
Creating Content that is Relevant:
Similar to creating content that is valuable for customers; content marketing is also all about producing content that is relevant to your customer base. For example, if you own a catering company and a person searches for “catering companies” online, something that would be relevant to that customer is brief introductory content about your catering company and the kind of food you cook. Something that would not be relevant to that customer, at that point, would be in depth ingredient and calorie brochures on your food because they are not yet at that stage. The key factor for organizations to grasp when attempting to produce relevant content is what HubSpot likes to refer to as, “where the customer is in the buyers journey.” HubSpot does a great job of explaining that “different types of content are more effective at different stages.” In order to provide content that is not just valuable but also reliable, organizations must focus on where the consumer is in the “sales cycle process,” and then “refine” their content based on that knowledge. In theory, this makes a great deal of sense and can be extremely applicable to organizations and their content writers. As discussed previously, the idea of content marketing is to help customers, but how can they be helped if the content they are reading is tailored to a customer that has already purchased the product and needs maintenance help. The answer is, it can’t. Organizations will benefit from creating relevant content because customers will find the content useful/helpful, and this will ideally further their interest in the business and prompt them to search the organization again.
Creating Content Whose Very Last Purpose is to Promote:
Finally, a last and important note about content marketing is that its purpose is not to promote; a foreign idea to some traditionalist in the marketing world. While it is very important that content marketing still seeks to “drive a profit,” the distinction revolves around how content marketing goes about doing that. One of the most informational pieces of knowledge that I pulled from my deep dive into content marketing was the 80/20 rule that HubSpot presents in their video. HubSpot says, “80% of the information that we portray should be focused on what our personas are more interested in. Content that answers their questions and is beneficial for them. 20% of content is sales related content that talks more about your product, your features, and how great your organization is.” In my opinion, this is a very effective balance between promotions and content because it emphasizes the content aspects heavily. However, one distinction that needs to be made very clear is that the content itself still needs to be promoted. Just because the content is not promotional in nature, does not mean the content does not need to be promoted after it has been published. Eli Periser, Upworthy CEO, puts it best by saying, “you can have the best piece of content and make the best point ever. But if no one looks at it, the article is a waste.” Organizations can take this lesson and put it into practice by limiting the amount of promotions they are doing within their content and being consciensus that it is easy to slip back into promoting. It may seem like it would be a detriment to business if marketing content was published that did not harp on promotional aspects, however organizations will benefit because it will ideally make potential customers more receptive to the content. Like I said earlier, as a consumer the greatest impressions I have of companies came from marketing that didn’t directly speak about and try to sell a product; maybe I am alone in this thought, but then again I hope I am not.
Microsoft’s Collective Project:
My favorite aspect of content marketing, and marketing in general for that matter, is inspirational stories with strong messages that can simultaneously act as marketing. The stories I am referring to here are the stories that you read and you instantly want to share them with your loved ones. The messages are so moving and different from traditional marketing; yet it is still marketing because look what you just did, you shared it. Microsoft’s “The Collective Project” is a perfect example of everything I envision successful marketing being; inspirational, innovative, outside the box, not in your face, and effective.
In nutshell, the Microsoft Collective Project features two college students who are making a huge impact on the community at large with their passion to help others; Albert makes bionic arms for children with missing limbs, and Neha has a passion for helping and raising money for children that live in orphanages. The Collective Project strongly emphasizes the power that students have when they are able to come together and collaborate, and in doing so, highlights Microsoft OneNote as tool that can help in this collaboration. Visit the Collective Project’s tumbler and read more about the story.
The Microsoft Collective Project is an inspirational example of content marketing, and, in my opinion, is a strong demonstration of what effective content marketing looks like. I feel that Microsoft, in combination with POSSIBLE, developed a strong example of content marketing because they were able to create a campaign that fostered a prominent message about students and their potential to change the world, while also implanting the idea that students were able to have such an impact with the collaborative help that Microsoft OneNote offers. Microsoft was able to strike the perfect “80/20” balance that HubSpot speaks of by extending most of their efforts into highlighting Albert’s bionic arms and Neha’s “empower orphan’s” story, while only briefly focusing on Microsoft OneNote as a collaborative tool. In addition, Microsoft promoted the Collective Project through content friendly mediums such as tumbler and YouTube, and were actually able to get others to share the campaign with their social media “audiences.” In my opinion, part of the reason that others were so willing to share the content was because of the content/promotional balance that Microsoft was able to strike. The campaign offered a strong message about collaboration and the power of student’s, and did so in a way that highlighted Microsoft as an organization that supports and aids this kind of collaboration.
Overall, organizations should use content marketing strategies, in combination with their other marketing efforts, because it creates content that customers find valuable and relevant to them as a consumer; something that traditional marketing cant always do. It also allows organizations the opportunity to connect with their audience on a different level, just as Microsoft has done with the Collective Project, and highlight their business in a way that isn’t so strongly focused on promotions. I think as marketers we need to appreciate the ability that content marketing has to make a genuine impression on the consumer. While that impression may not be immediately promotional and centered around sales, it is an impression that will be impactful and better speak to the organization’s values and their willingness to support their customers.
Another example of an organization that is employing content marketing in an inspiring and effective manner is the Dove #SpeakBeautiful Campaign that collaborates with Twitter. Similar to Microsoft, they are focusing a majority of the content around the message they are trying to send; “Lets change the way we talk about beauty on social media.” The overall theme of the campaign is to get women to speak more kindly about themselves and their bodies. It is very minimal in promotions, and the combination with Twitter further emphasizes the inbound effect. Read more about the campaign here.
All quotes, statistics, and pictures came from the following sources:
Think Content Image
Blog on successful content strategy
Content Marketing Institute
HubSpot: Content Marketing
Content Marketing Trends
The Collective Project Blog
The Collective Project: Tumbler
Dove SpeakBeautiful Article
Dove SpeakBeautiful Video