Throughout history, there has been one simple truth. It’s been there when nomads traversed the Pyrenees, when soldiers marched on the ancient roads of Rome, and when cowboys traveled to the new West and sat around the campfire. That one simple truth is everyone loves a good story.
When primitive man came back from the hunt, he didn’t communicate “nothing much happened.” Dragging home great strips of still-warm meat and questionably edible food, he held his tribe’s attention and told them of risks and beauty seen along the way.
Armies captured prisoners, showed them what they did to enemies, told detailed tales of what they had done in the past – and then released some of the captured to run and tell opposing armies what they’d heard and what they should expect.
Back then the message was: “Hear our story and don’t mess with us.” Today – and anytime services, products and money are involved – the signals say: “Hear our story, and DO mess with us. Please engage with us all the time.”
Content Marketing seems like a relatively new concept. But it’s not. What’s changed over the last few years is that tools have been invented and become available for content marketing specifically, while other hyped online marketing routes have dead-ended.
What pushed “content marketing” forward was, of course, marketing itself. Once people could explain it in a way that proved results, then agencies could offer it as a service. And other people who heard the explanation had the clarity to outline the basics to decision makers at companies who could benefit from the strategy.
No Longer ‘By the Numbers’
Because Google keeps changing things, measurements and “the new metrics system” will no longer be center stage. Traffic, the number of customer queries, search ranking and blog comments; all these and more were concrete examples of engagement.
Don’t get me wrong, they’ll still be a big part of the pie chart. Numbers became so important because they were much easier to track online. People can and do obsess about numbers – especially the ROI and their bottom line, and rightly so. Yet, all these ways to measure success feeds the numbers obsession.
The first thing to understand is that content marketing will blow up in 2014 because people will have to move beyond that very cold-blooded focus on “doing it by the numbers” to concentrate on what people will actually want to read, view and see.
Numbers will still drive strategies and influence what content gets created, but more and more a business will put themselves in a customer’s shoes and ask: “What is my consumer base interested in? And how can I fill the holes that are currently out there?”
Big Concepts for a Large Audience
As Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi detailed, the biggest idea behind content marketing is giving people – AKA customers – AKA paying customers – the ability to learn. His oft-quoted definition encompasses all angles of the purposes of content marketing:
“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
Marketing is a field as large as the wide open plains. A lot of amazing experiences and a lot of unsavory things are seen by pioneer travelers, with a promise of great opportunity by journey’s end. Content marketing, by contrast is the family that came later, after most trails were well-trodden and the blazing had died down into the embers of routine.
To take on content marketing is to understand big ideas even if you only work with a few of them.
Strategy is Key
Content marketing is designed to teach, entertain, attract and retain customers. Figuring out how your company does this successfully is the next popular trend for the discipline in 2014.
In what may seem an odd and old-school analogy at first blush, the results of a good content marketing strategy are like a magazine subscription. If you idly pick up a copy at the airport, there was something that initially attracted you. If you then want to keep on reading and subscribe, then you’re obviously interested in what you’re reading and want more. What that speaks to is a successful product sold and mutual benefits for all involved.
The only difference in 2014 is that people are more likely to download an app. People have their phones and tablets with them constantly; they are comfortable with them. Yet, people of all ages still want to do things with them – from shopping tips to games to long-form journalism. Content marketing is on the increase and all kinds of companies are gaining confidence in their efforts to get it done right.
For a long time, corporations released newsletters and magazines, first internally then publicly. The Michelin Guide in 1900, and the Better Homes and Garden cookbook 30 years later are iconic early examples of content driving a brand’s media presence, and offering a wealth of extremely useful information that at the time couldn’t be found collected together anywhere else.
The origins of content marketing specific to the internet can be tied to the birth of corporate blogs. In 2004, Microsoft had one of the first widely read blogs. I’m sure at the time people had ideas of video and podcasts and other media to deliver but the bandwidth back then, they knew they couldn’t sustain it.
Found In the Crowd
The continued expansion of content remains the biggest challenge today for companies looking to make their brands more high profile and convert that awareness into sales. You have to stand out from the crowd. Every day there’s, 27 million content pieces shared (not including Likes, Retweets or +1ing) and 92,000 articles being published. There’s 75 million WordPress blogs, alone. The best ways to stand out are to be creative and be consistent. All of this must work together.
In its early days, what being online did for content marketing was offer up a venue for a vast volume of verbose, vapid content. A slide from MarketingProfs.com titled: “1994: The Commercial Dawn of Online” says that after the Netscape Navigator browser was invented and caught on, “Business started creating what turned out to be more content in [the next] decade than had been produced in all of the previous century.”
The strategy that will give the most chance for success in 2014 is to work on a few extremely high quality pieces of content – in whatever medium – rather than turn a fire hose to the torrential flood of content already moving through the Internet.
As Google continues to alter its algorithms, organic link building is going to be harder to accomplish as will any online activity where you’re trying to be seen AND heard. It seems Google is pushing the power of marketing back on the businesses themselves as it continues to try to get a handle on measuring and managing social media and other online engagement. That latter part of the equation is often called in-bound marketing.
The difficulty businesses face today is finding the right mix of online content that will be best for them. It could include all or only a few of the following:
- share-friendly company website pages
- blog posts
- white papers
- free guides
- long-form or in-depth articles
- games or puzzles that deliver industry-specific entertainment
- apps to deliver any or all of the above
The mix depends upon a business’ value proposition or what it wants to mean to their customers and potential customers. This could be a focus on value, or luxury, or extreme customer service, or whether your customers are other businesses or people. The channels for delivery best suited for your company or industry also have to be discussed. Not all customers will be earned online, for instance, though a business model could easily be created around that perception. If you don’t know what you want to tell your customers, you’re lost and need to be found (how? see above).
None of the above listed ideas are any good if they don’t offer the ability to generate paying customers. A well-honed, fun and intentional content strategy creates new trails to blaze and opens up new territories for a company.
Today, 90% of companies say they plan to include online content in their marketing efforts. That high number has increased every year over the last several years. Maybe you aren’t even surprised that companies are focused more on content marketing strategies than ever. Just that fact speaks to this tactic’s ever-growing power. It’s going to be a blowout year, so make sure you cash in.