Content marketing is a way of communicating with customers and prospects without selling. It is part of the trend toward inbound marketing, which is a strategy for drawing customers toward your product or service by freely providing relevant, valuable information that solves a problem or fills a need.
Content Marketing Provides Value
Content marketing is about sharing, not selling. It skips the sales pitch in favor of information and advice. So, instead of telling prospects how good your product or service is, content marketing provides information they can use even if they never buy from you.
Of course, you hope they eventually do buy, but content marketing is aimed at getting your target audience interested in your offerings, not closing a sale. By entertaining your readers or solving a problem for them, you reward them for viewing your content and give them a reason to come back for more. Over time, they come to view you as a trustworthy expert and to see how your product or service might fit into their lives.
The best content marketers educate their audiences about not only topics directly applicable to their products and services, but also related interest areas. For example, obvious topics for an athletic shoe store include:
- Types of shoes
- Shoe care
- Shoe care products
Related topics might be:
- Foot care
- Buying shoes that fit
- Using related products like insoles or heel cushions
- Exercising safety
- Choosing the right exercise for you
- Getting the right shoe for your chosen activity
Within your content you may mention your product or service and how it relates to the topic, but without a hard sell.
Content Marketing Puts the Customer in Control
Traditional marketing methods are becoming less and less effective.
- Caller ID lets us avoid marketing calls.
- Fast-forward and mute buttons allow us to skip or ignore TV ads.
- Mp3 players mean we don’t hear radio ads.
- We barely notice print ads.
- Internet browsers block pop-ups.
- Browser add-ons, like Flashblock and NoScript, block many in-page ads.
With content marketing, you avoid these problems because you are providing information that your customers want. While this is not an entirely new concept, until recently, even useful content usually included a sales pitch. The idea of giving away reams of useful information without a hook started taking off around 2007 or 2008, mostly online. At the time, Chris Brogan, a blogger and social media expert, described it as shaking the tree, predicting that the relationships fostered through content marketing would deliver better results than slick ad copy.
Today, the proliferation of social media, user review sites and crowdsourcing has borne out this prediction. Even better, good, free content encourages sharing. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 49% of adults share content at least weekly. Sharing increases your reach.
Content Marketing is Useful Everywhere
Content marketing obviously works very well on the Internet, where sharing freely is made simple with Facebook like and LinkedIn share buttons, along with re-tweet and social bookmarking options. However, content marketing is about the message, not the delivery medium, and you can successfully use content marketing in:
- Resource sections of your website
- Newsletters (either print or email)
- Webinars and virtual conferences
- Talks or lectures, either in-person or as podcasts
- White papers, case studies and best practice guides (either print or digital versions)
You may also want to consider providing your audience with one or more smartphone apps for viewing your content. ClickZ, a leading interactive marketing resource site, predicts that content marketing will go mobile in 2011. For small companies without programming expertise, a service like MyAppBuilder can help.
Using multiple channels ensures that you appeal to all segments of your audience, each of which may prefer different types of content. Excellent content will promote you and your business continuously.
One final note. Make your content useful and actionable, but hold back a little to make your reader want more. Your product or service offers the more. Include at least one link to a sales page that your readers can click when they are ready to buy.