Content marketing is a way to drive traffic to your site, get leads, and generate business, right? Well, sure. But if that’s all it is, it’s just inside-out advertising.
No, I think there’s more to it than that.
I’m considering this as I prepare for three upcoming conferences. Starting tomorrow, May 2, I’ll be at the Content Marketing Conference in Boston, where I’m doing both a clear writing workshop and a speech on Truth and Influence. This fall, I’ll be speaking at Content Marketing World in Cleveland and Hubspot’s INBOUND. All three conferences are dedicated to the idea that you can create valuable traffic and buzz with content.
This is how the Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing:
Content marketing 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.
That’s not bad, but it reads like it was written by a committee. Naturally, I’d like to improve on that. So here’s my definition:
Content marketing means regularly sharing valuable (useful or entertaining) content with your customers.
It has to be regular, because one “campaign” or post or video is not sufficient. It has to be useful or entertaining. And it has to be aimed at customers.
But I don’t say much about marketing. There are thousands of posts on how frequently to post, what format to post in, what words to use in your titles, how to use social media to drive traffic, and how to get that traffic to convert. These are all part of content marketing. But unless you have something to say, there is no point in the tactics you use to spread what you are saying. No one converts unless they believe you. So I prefer to concentrate on the content, and leave the marketing to the marketing experts.
If you share something valuable with your customers, you will succeed. The marketing optimization is just about how to maximize that success.
Why content marketing is good for your soul
So, content marketer, what are you going to say?
Answering this question is difficult. It requires you to understand who your company is and what your brand is.
If your company does something valuable for your customers, you will have something to say.
If you are HubSpot, you are about helping small and medium sized companies succeed. Go read the HubSpot blogs. You’ll learn a lot about success for small- and medium-sized businesses.
If you are Zendesk, you are about better customer service. Go check out the Zendesk videos. They’re excellent at surfacing the ironies of customer service.
If you are Nike, you are about the clothes and equipment that make athletes perform at their best (and look great, too). Check out Nike’s Instagram feed.
If you read or watch these, there is no question what these companies are doing, why they are doing it, and who they are. Their feeds are who they are.
Now, let’s talk about you and your content marketing goals.
Your company does something useful for customers, right? If not, give up right now, content marketing is not for you.
What do you do? Do you help them look great? Do you help them make airline reservations? Do you clean their swimming pools? From all that repeated work, you must have learned something. In fact, you must have learned a lot things.
If you have not learned a lot of things that would be useful or interesting to your customers, give up right now, content marketing is not for you.
If you have learned a lot of useful or interesting things, now your job is to organize your creation and delivery of that knowledge. You might blog, create podcasts, post on a Facebook page, tweet, release a series of videos, post on Instagram, maintain a board on Pinterest, answer questions on Quora . . . the list is endless. Which of those you should do is a useful discussion, and if you attend one of these content marketing events you’ll probably get a lot of advice on that.
But organizing what you want to say is more important than how you want to say it. Because you’re going to have to be producing content on a regular basis, so you need a plan that’s not going to run out of content.
Whether you are a sole proprietor or a massive company, this means you need to think about a few things.
• What is the single, most important thing you want to get across? How will you circle back around to that in multiple posts?
• How will you organize your content? You could do it by different verticals, different use cases, different parts of the client company, different stages of a process, different size companies, and so on. This is how you get to diverse and rich content.
• What is the relationship between your content group, your company’s brand owners, and your PR department? Can you publish without an onerous approval process? This is only going to work if you, the content marketer, develop into a trusted voice for your brand.
• How will you respond to people who react to what you post? Will you answer their questions? Will you use their ideas to drive you to new and better ideas, not just for content marketing, but for your company?
• How will your content marketing team and stream get involved if something goes wrong?
And if you develop this level of understanding, not only will you be a valuable member of your company’s marketing team, you will feel good about what you are doing. Because your inspirational work and your company’s goals will be aligned.Answering these questions will get at fundamental questions about your company, its brand, and how it relates to customers. This is a good thing for your brand. Clarifying and deepening your understanding of these questions could make a fundamental difference, not just in your company’s marketing, but in its overall strategy.
This is why content marketing is good for your soul. I hope it generates a lot of business for you. But it ought to make you and your company succeed together, too. Isn’t that what work ought to be about?
This article originally appeared on Josh Bernoff’s blog withoutbullshit.com