A quick introduction to content marketing

by Sonja Jefferson on November 22, 2012

Everyone seems to be talking about content marketing as the new way to connect with customers these days. I’ve read about it in articles in the Guardian and the FT recently; hell, even The Marketer magazine put out an editorial request on this last week. Recent research in the US shows that 9 out of 10 B2B firms now incorporate content in their marketing strategy. From successful independents, to smart SMEs and corporates such as HSBC and Marks & Spencers, marketeers around the world are cottoning on to the power of content to engage customers and drive business for their firms.

But what exactly is content marketing, why is everyone so excited about it and what are the rules? Here’s a quick introduction from Valuable Content.

What is “content marketing” and how is it different?

In a nutshell it’s the art of winning business without pushy selling.

Content marketing is a marketing approach that puts the customer first: sharing information that is relevant and valuable to those who buy your stuff, so customers choose to come to you. Through digital media such as your website, blogs, social media, e-newsletters and videos as well as more traditional ones such as conferences, seminars and published books, sharing your expertise freely is the best way to build trust in a cynical world.

Why is everyone so excited about it?

Because it works so well in our internet-driven age when traditional more self-oriented marketing methods are losing their power.

A few years back research by Brighton-based Hot to Trot Marketing found that in 2006 it took only 6 calls from a telemarketing firm to make one contact. In 2010 this had rocketed to 41. Image how many calls it takes now! As of 2012 there were over 17 million UK phone numbers registered with the Telephone Preference Service demonstrating a huge swathe of the population that doesn’t want to receive sales calls. Research by digital news site Mashable finds that 44% of direct mail is never opened, 86% of people skip through television commercials etc. As buyers we’re all sick of pushy, propaganda-style marketing. We’re sick of cold calls, chuck direct mail in the bin and ignore as much advertising as we can.

Content marketing gets away from all that. It’s a more meaningful, comfortable form of marketing – for buyers and sellers alike – and it is bringing businesses the results they need.

Who is doing content marketing well and what does it look like?

Content marketing is fast becoming the smart marketing choice in every sector and every size of business. Here are some UK examples:

  • One-man bands giving away some of their expertise in thoughtful blogs, guides and newsletters that draw in leads – take a look at Ian Brodie’s superb blog-based website.
  • Personal training companies that find new clients by sharing helpful video tips online  - see Bristol’s own Create Fitness
  • A high street bank (HSBC) produces niche content for the expat community and wins their trust through its engaging blog, Twitter feed and helpful country guides – see the surprisingly human and helpful HSBC Expat
  • UK tech company Novatech Ltd that wins friends and business through its hilarious social media feeds – see our article on Novatech’s social media strategy
  • Marks and Spencer have now got in on the act with some really useful videos that help the customer and as a result sell more products – valuable bra content: M&S ‘Plunge vs. balconette – what’s the difference?’ video

Traditional companies like Scottish firm McKay Flooring, whilst keeping their product-based website, invests time and energy into a regularly updated and very inspiring wood-floor related blog (http://blog.mckayflooring.co.uk/), a lively Twitter feed, Facebook page and Pinterest too. All this valuable content raises awareness, builds trust in their brand and develops new relationships, boosts their Google rating and brings them business. Not so boring flooring as you can see.

The McKay Flooring web strategy is a brilliant example of how content marketing should be done. They’ve got it just right – sales website plus blog, wide social media presence, newsletter and resources. A really helpful and creative company showcasing everything you need to know about flooring and winning business as a result. Who knew flooring could be so exciting?”

Companies like McKay Flooring are winning with their marketing, even in a tough economy. They are consistently getting a stream of good leads for their business – from their websites and social media. Their networks are expanding rapidly and delivering warm leads that are easy to convert. They are doing all this without resorting to cold calling, expensive advertising or mass email blasts. Customer are calling them, and to top it off they say they are enjoying marketing too!

(You’ll find more content marketing examples from our Valuable Content Award Winners)

What are the rules?

“Help, don’t sell; talk, don’t yell; show, don’t tell.” A new mantra for your marketing from the Valuable Content Marketing book

This is not marketing as you know it. Here are our 7 guiding principles for content marketing success:

  1. Put your customers first: make your content primarily of benefit to the people who receive it.
  2. Help, don’t sell: this builds trust so people choose to take the next step in the buying cycle.
  3. Give your knowledge away, for free: give value in advance. Think of it as ‘commercial karma’ (says Bryony Thomas).
  4. Think niche: businesses that win are the ones whose content is most relevant and interesting for their target audience.
  5. Tell a good story: unite your customers and content around a compelling central message.
  6. Commit to quality: aim for content excellence. As content marketing becomes more popular, only valuable content will win through.
  7. Write from the heart: authentic, genuine, sincere – you can’t fake value. Be a good citizen with a genuine desire to help, and more sales will follow.

What are the pitfalls?

It’s not just doing content marketing; it is doing it right that matters. Here are some common pitfalls.

  • Wrong message. Don’t waste time producing the wrong content – if it’s too generic and not relevant enough to your particular type of customers it will miss the mark.
  • Not high quality enough. Poor production and what the FT recently termed ‘digital sloppiness’ just won’t work.
  • Not often enough. You’ve got to keep it up. That means regular blogs, daily social media presence, consistent newsletters. This needs planning and resource.
  • Not having enough patience. It’s a long game, not a short one. Keep delivering valuable content and sharing it in the right places and it will bring you results.
  • Bad sales follow up. Your sales practice has to be congruent with the customer-centred spirit of your content marketing approach. (If you are interested see our recent article: Should Sales Follow Up Content Marketing?)

I really hope that helps you get a quick picture of what content marketing is all about. It’s an incredibly rewarding way to promote your firm – valuable to your customers, and to the future of your business too. Win:win!

Psst! Did we tell you we’ve written a book on the subject? ;) You can find out more here – Valuable Content Marketinghow to make quality content the key to your business success.

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Sonja Jefferson

Sonja Jefferson is a consultant, writer and founder of Valuable Content. She helps good businesses to create and share great content so they win the business they deserve.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sudhir Suvarna September 6, 2013 at 8:48 am

Great article Sonja ,

I take an important point from your article here ..i.e. telling a story what my customers would like to hear and not what I have to offer.

Will be launching my own stock photo website soon…targeting a niche market.

May I get in touch with you when I have launched my website ?

Best Regards, Sudhir

avatar Sonja Jefferson December 4, 2013 at 11:30 am

Good luck with it Sudhir, and yes, of course!

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