Digital marketers are often proud to have never completed a formal marketing degree, since as they put it, this gives them an edge over traditional marketers who are stuck in the era of Seinfeld and 30 second TV spots. But it turns out digital marketers may be able to use a little formal training after all, because many have fallen into the trap of thinking ‘likes’ equals engagement, and a fast publishing tempo equals effectiveness. After all, how many times have you heard, “look how many likes or shares my last article received!” To which an appropriate response could be, “So what!”
The rise of content marketing strategy
The phrase inbound marketing was coined by HubSpot who sells content marketing automation tools. Early online marketers then coopted the phrase “content marketing” to define the approach of using content for the purpose of selling a good or service. The raison d’etre for content marketing – the derivative name for inbound marketing – was to improve search engine rankings on Google and improve discoverability of products being promoted.
Online marketers in an attempt to manipulate Google search rankings, discovered that publishing articles could be an effective way to make Google think their site was worthy of ranking more highly than the competition. But before Google was the machine learning engine it is today, this content could be not much more than keyword stuffed tomes barely readable by humans to be loved by Google.
Content marketing seemed to be the future, but as a recent Moz article pointed out, many startup websites received clicks, not from content marketing but rather good ole’ fashioned publicity from high-profile PR coverage and announcements. This is interesting, because if you listen to content marketing evangelists, they say to publish often to win. Yet a recent study revealed that PR attributions provided more traffic than a related content article. So what gives?
Google and Facebook disrupt content marketing
As Google rolled out ever sophisticated search algorithms to give credit to high-value sites while pushing down or even penalizing spam sites, marketers who had become adept at low value but high volume keyword stuffed marketing techniques were forced to change their tactics. Similarly, Google Adwords and Facebook Advertising became viable marketing vehicles that afforded excellent targeting options, and thus, pay per click (otherwise known as PPC) became popular as an “alternative” to content marketing strategies. But not to be marginalized, content marketers hung in there with the message of “content is king”.
“The reality is, content has always been king. In fact, content is all that is left in marketing today.”
Content messaging is the primary job of marketing
Consumers are jaded by empty promotional marketing phrases that don’t say anything, and with the plethora of information and social platforms available, never has it been easier to click away from an article to something that is more meaningful.
Marketing’s primary job has always been to create messages that serve the business objectives of the enterprise. Inserting messages into content pieces that build the brand, increase demand, and drive the sales funnel, by transmitting that content over a channel to an audience is the essence of what marketers do whether traditional, social, digital or whatever “next new title” you wish to assign the effort.
“Whether the channel is traditional as in a TV network, Internet based, or a social property, the objective is the same – drive corporate value by creating sales opportunities and brand engagement.”
Content is not a commodity
Facebook is wrong, content, especially in the written form, is as relevant as ever. However, marketers must change their thinking and stop treating content as a literary license to spam the Internet.
Think about your own behavior as a consumer. I doubt you summarized the last book you read by uttering the words, “wow, that was great content.” Instead, you likely expressed your appreciation for the book based on the value it returned to you. Value that may have been purely entertainment related, or value that brought knowledge transfer in an area you were seeking to grow in. Either way, “value” is defined by the reader based on a feeling that by ingesting the words written their life was enriched or knowledge gained.
Content must add value to be useful, as only useful content will be liked or shared en mass. Of course, there is the exception of sensational “gossip” or celebrity news content that is the opposite of useful, but where it can (and will) receive a high degree of sharing activity. The point is, remember that “value added” content offers a greater probability of causing the reader to think different about your brand, product, or service, causing the reader to take action.
Add value to the reader or die
Content marketing should be an essential part of every go-to-market plan. The “mistake” inbound marketers make is not the use of the tactic, but rather a lack of understanding for the importance of presenting meaningful information to the reader.
As a marketing practitioner, I understand the tension of needing to feed dozens of social outlets and the company blog while maintaining a high standard for providing value. This task of value creation cannot be outsourced or delegated, and for a marketing leader, I believe it is one of the most important to “get right” – there are no shortcuts.
“Stop, slow down, and develop your marketing messages carefully, only then can you put a high volume of content into the market and not fall into the spam folder abyss.”
One marketer, I consider to be a master at getting to the perfect message-to-market fit is Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary is famous for flooding his channels with content – blog posts, videos, pictorials, social posts, he covers every content form and channel, and then some. Gary says the secret to building an effective content marketing play is first to know where your audience is.
Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Linkedin, they are not all equal. You need to consider which platform your users are on so you do not waste time speaking when no one is listening. Furthermore, the way every platform works is different. This means getting the message right for the platform is one of the single most important activities that you can undertake to increase engagement.
Respect the platform
Ask yourself, what is the mindset of your audience when they are on Facebook compared to Pinterest and be sure to give them content that intersects with their psyche on the platform they will consume your content on. You want people to share and comment, so give them a reason by talking about things they care about and in the manner that is consistent with the usage patterns on the platform. Pictorials and infographics probably work best on Instagram, whereas short articles are best suited for Facebook. If you match the appropriate message with the psyche of the user on the platform you are communicating to them on you’ll crush user engagement.
“Jump on emerging platforms early. The advantage of early platforms is that the audience will be highly engaged.”
On new platforms everyone is new, everything is fresh, and the “rules” of engagement have not been locked down yet. Publishers and content producers will still be struggling to figure out the best approach, topics, message length, formats, and posting frequency. It’s a perfect time for an under-resourced company to jump in and benefit from the momentum if the platform is successful. As a marketer, I’d rather ride a wave in motion than try and create one large enough to carry my company all the way into the market position I’m seeking.
If you “build it they will come” is a great reference to the famous movie line, but being on a leading platform is not enough to guarantee success. Which is why you must always be evaluating the numbers and metrics. Knowing your levels of engagement as measured by the number of fans, likes, shares and comments will be critical. Are the numbers trending up, or staying flat? How are you doing with monetization (converting) and be sure that you have a clear way to track the effectiveness of your content marketing.
Should you use inbound marketing techniques?
Yes, absolutely! But don’t spam with low-value content and make sure that you are not assigning more value to quantity over quality. If you deliver maximum value to the reader, you will capture high levels of engagement and achieve your market goals and objectives.
Thank you for reading. As a content marketing piece on the importance of creating value for the reader, I trust you received more than your fair share for the time you invested!