As I’ve mentioned previously, the days of simply using interruptive, outbound marketing techniques like email (which many of us don’t read) to grab potential customers’ attention are long gone. This isn’t the 90s, people! We don’t sit around like Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks did waiting to hear “You’ve Got Mail!” from our inboxes, mostly because we don’t think the majority of emails we get are particularly informative or interesting (the content doesn’t matter!). Customers don’t want to hear your sales pitch, they don’t like feeling like they’re being sold to. They want to feel special, and to find meaningful information – it’s our job as marketers to give it to them in a fun, interesting way. And, hint: it’s not via traditional advertising methods (at least not just those ways). It’s through useful information, and the way to provide it to them is through content marketing (a subset of inbound).
If you haven’t seen You’ve Got Mail, I highly recommend it. One of my all-time favorites (and it’s on Netflix!). Small business owner Kathleen Kelly totally could have competed with big businessman Joe Fox if techniques such as content marketing and inbound had existed that early in the digital age. Not only was she way, way more knowledgable about her product, but she definitely could have found a creative way to present it to her audience. And with organic search and the right keywords (another part of content marketing), she and The Shop Around the Corner may have stood more of a fighting chance.
Content marketing levels the playing field. Any business, big or small, can compete with equal chance of leads and traffic if they create the right content and know their audience. This part is key. A lot of businesses create persona profiles, which go above and beyond plain old target marketing and focus on the why aspect of the buyer experience: this includes the goals of each type of persona, their “watering holes” (where do they spend their time online?), and their shopping preferences and habits. Think of it as STP on steroids. Going above and beyond segmentation and targeting by using hard data to look at and understand real customers, and then positioning to them in a whole new way. In order to position to both current and potential customers properly, businesses have to understand what type of content will be useful to them. Buyer personas help with this.
Creating interesting content and sharing the right information at the right time during the buying processes is so, so important. According to Hubspot, in both inbound and content marketing (a subset of inbound), content should be presented at the right place and time for customers and searchers to find it most useful. Context is key! And according to the Content Marketing Institute (and their handy graphic above), there are three different stages in the buyer’s journey. So:
- The Awareness Stage should focus on content that will increase brand awareness, such as blogs, white papers, and infographics
- The Consideration Stage should focus on information that will increase the number of leads (Hard facts! Data!) such as case studies and tech guides
- The Decision Stage should help differentiate you from your competitors, and creating content like free trials and Webinars (one of Content Harmony’s CM Trends for 2015) shows the customer that you’re the best
Once again, it’s important to know what content your customer will find relevant and interesting and what they won’t. For many businesses, reaching out to your audience via blogs and brand magazines is awesome (the context). According to Content Harmony, using a combination of printed and online content helps push brand awareness and knowledge without actually feeling pushy. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about JC Penny, who is resurrecting their print catalog after discovering print catalogs and magazines actually boost online sales. They allow customers to see the product and become inspired by it.
However, some of these techniques aren’t useful for everyone and that’s why it’s important to know your audience: Starbucks has a blog, but in the 90s it tried publishing a brand magazine (called Joe) that failed just months after launch. The problem? People thumbed through the magazine, but never purchased it because the content inside wasn’t particularly interesting to them! Cool context, unremarkable content and information. Tony’s Coffee (a local Bellingham coffee roaster, and personal favorite) also has a blog, proving that content marketing is just as available to the little guys as the big ones. By updating their blog frequently and putting important information and messages about where they get their beans from and local happenings the business is involved in, Tony’s stays just as in-touch with their audience as Starbucks does, and puts them on the same level as the coffee giant. Creating meaningful, remarkable, and inspirational content within the right context to reach your audience allows small businesses to compete with big ones, regardless if they’re a bookstore, a clothing retailer, or a coffee shop.
(Sorry for the mildly NSFW photo of Homer, I just find this cover to be absolutely hilarious.)
Content marketing is all about knowing your audience: what information do they want, what goals do they have? Maybe your business isn’t the right fit for them, but it’s up to you to provide them with the right information to figure that out. And who knows, maybe your business is! If you give them the right content within the right context (like a weekly newsletter or product tutorials), they might look forward to hearing “You’ve Got Mail!” again and actually read those emails you send them.