Content marketing can be an overwhelming journey for any marketer.
It’s daunting. I get it.
As someone who has led content-marketing efforts for brands over the last decade, I have seen the pitfalls that lie along the way, and, honestly, I’ve blundered into more than a few bear traps.
But I have also seen the value content marketing can bring to brands at all levels and the real emotional connections it has fostered between brands and their audience.
I’ve put together a few tips to keep in mind as you approach a content-marketing program for your brand.
1. It’s not about followers; it’s about fans.
This seems almost elementary, but it can’t be overstated. The goal of content marketing should be to build an engaged audience for your brand.
This isn’t about likes or impressions—Those are table stakes in today’s marketing environment. This is about getting consumers to adopt your brand into their lives voluntarily, to choose you in a meaningful way. There are plenty of consumers that are flirting with brands, just following along passively, with an absent-minded like or heart here or there. That’s fine, but we’re looking for something more.
The goal of content marketing is a relationship. We want to go steady.
Relationships take work from both parties, but when you make a connection, an emotional bond forms that is worth more than any amount of flippant interaction from casual followers. In these relationships, fans are created, and, if inspired, they will voluntarily carry your banner into their social spheres.
This audience also represents real value as a source for future monetization. Once they are invested in your brand, it’s a lot easier to get them to invest in your brand.
Once they are invested in your brand it’s a lot easier to get them to invest in your brand.
2. Be useful, and be genuine (It’s about them, not you.).
Right out of college, I had a boss who had his own twist on a Zig Ziglar quote: “People don’t buy the drill. They buy the hole it makes.” This has always stuck with me because it was two truths folded in one. The first is a product-marketing methodology that Simon Sinek popularized with his Golden Circle TED talk. It’s about focusing on why people need a product, not what it is or how it works.
Second, though, is a simpler message. Be useful, and add value.
The content you are putting out for your brand isn’t the drill; it’s the hole it makes. As storytellers, we must always be looking at the brands from the outside in. What can this brand offer that is unique and that answers a need consumers may have.
Their need might be something functional (“How does this damn thing work?!”) or perhaps something deeper, like a moment of empathy or a genuine laugh to bring levity to their day (“Does anyone get me?”). Fulfilling them and helping consumers will create a lasting bond with your audience and will allow you to earn their loyalty. The next time they need help in a similar way, they will come back to you until, eventually, they are buying your drill and the hole it makes.
3. Progress over perfection.
If I was going to pick a rule that has been the most transformational for brands, I would emphasize this one most: Progress is key to any successful content-marketing program, yet perfection can be its greatest enemy.
Get started; don’t wait. The biggest mistake people make is overthinking — and over-producing, in many instances.
We live in a world where teenagers are generating content on their own using modest tools that garner millions of engagements. Why is that?
The expectations from the audience for production, expense and polish are different than they used to be. Most importantly, authentic content resonates with people. No one wants to be marketed to today, so the more you can connect with them naturally, the more likely they are to engage.
Am I saying craft and quality don’t matter? Of course not.
What I am saying is the body of work in its totality is more important than any single expression. Get creating. Start sharing and learn in real time what is working and what is not, with a goal of making the next piece the best one so far. Not the perfect one — because perfection is a lie.
4. Go spelunking.
The raw material to get started is all around you. You just have to go exploring and find it. I guarantee there are stories to be told hidden in white papers, presentation decks and in the history of the brand.
There are more out in the world, where your brand is being used, is talked about and is interacting with consumers. Many times, these real-life interactions can become foundations for content, whether it is user-generated, curated or created by you. It all has the potential to fill your editorial calendar.
Your job is first to uncover the stories and then start refining or retelling them in the appropriate form for the audience. This article is an example of something I created from a talk with students about content marketing. I’m using my talk track as a basic underpinning for the narrative, and building from there. Find what exists and use it as a shortcut to jump-start your content-marketing program while buying time for you to begin generating new pieces.
These are just a few starting points to help ignite your own content plans. There is so much more to talk about in regard to the ins-and-outs of content making and marketing, but these initial tips have always helped guide me, and I hope they are useful to you.
Content marketing represents one of the biggest changes in the marketing world in many years, and it also represents an awesome opportunity to do what we all got into this industry for, in the first place — to create.