The Old Becomes New: How Content Marketing Rose from the Dead
Guest Blog by Dennis Bailey, president Savvy Inc.
Content Marketing is all the rage right now among companies, brands, ad execs and marketers. It's the shiny new toy, predicted to be the hot new thing this year as companies divert more of their ad and marketing dollars to create nifty content that people want to read or view and share.
But there's nothing really new about content marketing. It's about as old as, well, marketing. What's changed is the medium – the web has made it simple for almost anybody to publish and distribute all types of content to a worldwide audience. It's why major corporations and brands, even small businesses and individuals, are becoming media and publishing companies, bypassing traditional and mainstream media channels and reaching their customers directly via their website, blogs, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, you name it.
And yes content is king. Actually, good content is king, because there is a lot of bad content out there that is not only not doing the job it's intended to do – engage and increase customers and clients – but is actually counterproductive, turning off prospective customers with annoying come-ons and content that isn't much different from the days of snake-oil.
For the uninitiated, content marketing is creating and sharing – i.e. giving away – any type of helpful, interesting and engaging content about your particular industry or niche that is designed, in the long run at least, to gain customers, fans or followers. It can be something as simple as a one-page FAQ or more elaborate like a 50-page eBook, a well-produced YouTube video or a free webinar.
Content marketing is mostly noted for what it isn't. It isn't press releases or hard-sell, flashy advertisements. It's something your customers, or potential customers, want or will find useful. If you're an accountant, for example, you might offer a free guide on your website like, "How Recent Changes in the Tax Laws Will Affect You." If you're a travel agency, you might have a simple YouTube video, "Top 10 Travel Destinations in 2013 (and 5 You Must Avoid)." A law firm might offer a free webinar, "How Estate Planning Now Will Save You Money – and Let You Sleep Easier."
See, this is all useful stuff, stuff you might want to know regardless of whether you ever want to hire the accountant, travel agent or lawyer who's offering these freebies. But companies are discovering that content marketing is paying dividends because it's far less costly than traditional advertising and, in an age when people can shut out traditional, outbound advertising, it's becoming more effective as an inbound marketing technique. (Here's more on inbound vs. outbound PR and marketing.)
As you can see from the video below from the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is really nothing new. John Deere is credited for initating the first content marketing campaign with the publication of its magazine The Furrow in 1895. The magazine gave farmers free advice on how to make money growing things, and it's still published today (and available on the web). Just a few years later, Michelin began offering its famous Michelin Guides that offered travel tips and car maintenance advice, but soon bloomed into restaurant and hotel ratings. Eventually, Michelin began charging for the guides, but the publication set a precedent for both informative guides and content marketing distribution.
Jell-O also broke the mold (ahem) for content marketing when its door-to-door salesmen distributed a free cookbook starting in 1904 and saw its sales rise by over $1 million just a few years later. And don't forget all those cheesy TV soap operas that became so popular in the Fifties. They sold a lot of soap over several decades for the companies that produced such content, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers. (Due to more women working outside the home and other factors – like soap characters returning from the dead, constantly having amnesia or falling in love with space aliens – the soap opera bubble has finally burst.)
Content marketing was revived around 2000 with the introduction and popularity of blogs on the web. But for the first few years, these company blogs were crap – self-promotional blurbs, press releases, award announcements (yawn). Now, many companies have come around and are offering quality content on their websites – Coca-Cola, American Express and, probably the best example, HubSpot (full disclosure: Savvy, Inc. is a certified HubSpot partner). Go to Red Bull and you'd think it was a snowboard or skateboarding company with all the video and flashy graphics (it sells an energy drink). And then there's that recent Jeff Gordon/Pepsi YouTube video that went viral with more than 30 million views (nailed it).
There are still plenty of companies and brands that aren't in the content marketing game, yet, including some who might think they are but haven't really grasped the concept (I'm talking to you Mr. Big Shot Lawyer). But stay tuned. They'll be jumping in soon enough.
So here are Savvy's five rules for quality content marketing:
- Add Value: Whatever your content, it must bring something to the table, something I need or want that will solve a problem, help me in my career or just brighten my day. It can't be dry, mind numbing or jargony. It has to be creative and interesting, maybe provide a different or unique perspective on some common topic. In other words, it can't be just pabulum. Make it rock my world.
- Be Human: This sounds easier than it is, but if you look at some of the stuff that companies are churning out, you'd swear robots produced it. Talk to me like a person, not a prospective customer or client. Have a conversation. Put a face to your company or blog. Don't be afraid to let people see who's behind the curtain. In my hometown, the Portland Press Herald has begun running radio ads featuring their reporters talking about how they go about getting stories and doing their jobs. I have some issues with the way they're going about this, but why aren't they putting these on their website, giving their readers an inside look at what goes on at the newspaper and making a real connection with their audience? The ads are an interesting approach, but their marketing is still stuck in the 1950s.
- Don't Sell, Tell: I don't want a hard sell. That's why I hang up on telemarketers. I want to be informed or entertained. Tell me a good story, some interesting tidbit about your profession or company. And don't be afraid of giving away some basic information that you'd like to charge for. If you interest me and convince me you're an expert in your field, you'll most likely get my money. This is why companies need to fire their ad agency and hire a few journalists, people who know a good story and can write it.
- Shake it Up: Don't just give me a blog. Give me eBooks, whitepapers and case studies. Give me pictures, videos, Slideshare and infographics. We're visual animals, with attention spans measured in microseconds. Me want cave drawings.
- Shareworthy: Give me stuff I want to email to my friends or share on Twitter and Facebook. The web is like a big pyramid scheme. If 10 people download your stuff and then share it with 10 of their friends, well, you do the math.
Those are my rules for content marketing. Any others you'd like to add?