In the tech-savvy world that we live in, nearly all aspects of life are moving to a virtual medium and so are businesses. The battle for customer attention is now being fought online more fiercely than ever before, and the rules of the game are completely different from a conventional business sense — internet’s meteoric rise has brought to the fore some such aspects with democratization, dissemination and consumption of content creation are certain examples. Thus, it is imperative that businesses pick up the tricks of the trade and familiarize themselves with modern concepts such as inbound and content marketing.
Inbound Marketing vs. Content Marketing
At the outset, it will be worthwhile to draw a distinction between two seemingly similar yet inherently different terms. While content marketing and inbound marketing are often wrongly used interchangeably, the latter is a super-set of the former. Inbound marketing refers to a set of actions that deal with discovering and converting sales leads online — it is more like drawing customers to you than going after them. Content marketing, though, is one specific spoke of the inbound marketing strategy and it specifically deals with creating targeted content that stands out and aids all stages of the customer journey. Inbound marketing also includes other tactics such as search engine optimization and social media presence.
Historical prevalence of Content Marketing
Unlike inbound marketing, which is a relatively modern concept, content marketing is not a new phenomenon. Brands have been using compelling content to attract new customers or service existing ones for over a century now. One of the first instances of it was John Deere’s magazine ‘The Furrow’. The magazine provided agricultural tips, equipment knowledge and advertisements. The Furrow set exceptional precedents in both branding and agricultural publishing. Across the century we have continued to witness great examples of content marketing with brands like Harley Davidson (The Harley magazine), Michelin (Food Guides) and Nikon (photography course) joining the fray.
Two important tenets of content marketing are subtlety and impartiality. The content you send out to your potential customers should not just be a sales pitch but also useful. Customers would value your opinion if you have their best interests in mind and this fosters loyalty in the long run. Since publishing the first edition, John Deere’s Furrow publication department has stood its ground on disseminating knowledge unequivocally about all equipment companies and not only John Deere and it regards this principle as one of the key reasons for its success.
Additionally, you may do well by keeping these few pointers in mind:
1. Set Clear Objectives
One cannot emphasize enough the importance of setting a clear goal from the start. The lack of which may lead to your entire content marketing campaign becoming a potpourri of several half-hearted and disconnected stories that end up confusing your customer, thereby achieving nothing. The road to successful content marketing outcomes is a long one, and it would bode well for the content marketer to be guided by a single large objective ensuring concerted and coherent actions throughout the campaign.
2. Identify your Target Audience Correctly
Content can be made to appeal to various people differently or differently to the same person at distinct stages of the customer journey. For example, the kind of content that may be required for lead generation (a newsletter) will be different from what is required for customer conversion (a demo video or case study) which will further be different from what is required for customer service or retention (a thorough FAQ section). It is important to know who you are speaking to.
3. Identify different distribution channels and tailor content appropriately
What is relatively distinct, and particularly challenging about the content marketing scenario of today is the plethora of channels available for one to reach out to his/her potential customers. And the biggest mistake that a content marketer can make is to devise common content for all. Each medium differs from the other in that it has its own implicit communication protocol and posting the same content across all is like speaking in the same language to people of entirely differently nationalities.
A blog helps in giving detailed explanations, while Twitter expects you to be succinct. Instagram and Pinterest require you to speak in photos, while YouTube expects a motion picture. Further, offline media may warrant a certain kind of content that could be quite different from online channels. In summary, your content will be dependent on the channels you choose.
4. Build a Strong Content Pipeline
The race for the consumer mind space online is a heated one. In staying relevant, a consistent frequency is as important as consistent quality. It is, therefore, very important to collate content at a central repository and build up a content pipeline for several weeks in advance. This ensures a consistent flow of messages to your target audience and allows you to escape from the out-of-sight, out-of-mind trap. Furthermore, planning content well in advance allows you to manage it better and weave a stronger story.
5. Ride the Wave
A lot of conversation online is shaped by trends, i.e., conversation around any event or issue that takes the netizens by large. Leveraging any such event or phenomenon would at the very least get you a sizable chunk of eyeballs or could also make your content viral, which is every content marketer’s dream come true.
Thus, good content marketers must always keep an eye out for what is relevantand gather the pulse of their audience. They must also be able to quickly churn out content to successfully take advantage of the windfall gains in case of unexpected but relevant events. The agility with which Amul synchronizes its billboards with the current affairs is a good case in point here.
6. Close the Loop
At the end of the day, the entire purpose of churning out good content is to bring in more business. A strong content strategy must also generally contain a call to action or fulfill the business purpose it set out to achieve. For example, a career counselling company writing an article on how to create an effective resume may appropriately end it with, “for more such tips and tricks, sign up for our newsletter today!”
All Marketers Tell Stories
For the initial few decades, marketing, particularly advertising, was all about telling your potential market that you exist. As technology matured and competition increased, the use of fixed ad slots and crammed media spaces proliferated with marketers dumping a laundry list of features and technical jargon onto unsuspecting customers. This was done in a race to prove how one product is better than the rest.
In the modern age, for a lot of markets, the race is no longer only about asserting your company’s existence or convincing the customer of your products’ superiority. The entire narrative has shifted to an altogether different theme which involves showing the customers that you care about them. Powerful brands are no longer built by sending messages in isolation, but weaving a common story through a coordinated marketing effort that paints an overall picture of what they stand for. Content Marketing is a central effort in weaving that tale and letting your customers know what you stand for and why you care.