3 Content Marketing Pillars:

Purpose. Targeting. Patience.

Content marketing continues to consume a rising share of marketing budgets, with even more growth forecasted in the years to come. Yet, many organizations don’t do content marketing at all. And many that do only dabble in the space rather than fully commit to delivering a consistent flow of brand-relevant information in multiple forms of media.

Especially for many smaller operations, content marketing remains an elusive concept that’s often ignored or misunderstood.

There’s a variety of textbook definitions of content marketing, and we could use this space to dissect the nuanced differences from one definition to the next. But it’s more helpful to share examples because, as with lots of things, it’s easier to identify content marketing and to learn from it when you see it.

Before sharing a couple examples of content marketing done well, let’s consider a few things that content marketing is not:

Content marketing is NOT creating a one-off advertorial promoting your latest sale. That’s great if customers buy your product or service after engaging a piece of content, but generating direct sales is not the primary purpose of content marketing.

Content marketing is NOT writing a blog post and hoping prospective customers find it or blasting content into cyberspace with fingers crossed that it connects with the right audience. If you’re not targeting a specific demographic, you’re not really doing content marketing. You’re just creating content.

Content marketing is NOT an instant revenue generator. If your content goes viral and generates a lot of sales overnight, fantastic. But that shouldn’t be the expectation. With content marketing, patience truly is a virtue.

Now, for examples of how content marketing works when it’s done well…

Let’s say you’re in the market for lawn care. You seek out local companies that do lawn fertilization and ask for price quotes from three vendors. At the same time, you think maybe you could handle the job on your own, so you search for “fertilizer spreader,” too.

Your search returns a selection of name-brand spreaders. Other than a photo of each spreader and a price, there’s not much to go by. But your search also turned up a blog post created by one of those brands. The post offers information on the best time to fertilize your lawn. It also links to an infographic about fertilizer ingredients and what nutrients your lawn needs at different times of the year. There’s also a video that demonstrates the best methods for actually putting the fertilizer on the lawn.

All of this content might feature the brand’s own spreader and fertilizer, of course, but the point of the content is not to make a hard sell on equipment or materials. If you end up running down to the hardware store to buy that brand’s spreader today, that’s great. But the content isn’t explicitly asking you to do that. Instead, the purpose of the content is simply to share the brand’s expertise on lawn fertilization. And, more than that, it’s targeting that expertise to a specific demographic – people like you who search for “fertilizer spreaders.” That’s content marketing.

In addition to price, you now have something else to distinguish the lineup of spreaders that appears in your search, something deeper and more personal. You have the beginnings of a relationship with a particular brand, a brand that not only can sell you a spreader but one that already has educated you on how to make the best use of it. As a result, you have a sense of loyalty to that brand before ever even purchasing one of its products.

Good content marketing focuses on what the customer wants,

not on what the marketer wants to sell.

After learning how to fertilize your own lawn, you say “thanks, but no thanks” to the three companies that quoted a price for their services. Two of them you never hear from again, but the other one subscribes you to their newsletter. A month later, you get an email with tips on how much water your lawn needs for optimal grass health. A few weeks after that, you get another email with a podcast full of advice on how high to set the blade of your lawn mower at different times of the year.

Now, keep in mind that the company sending these emails doesn’t even offer lawn mowing or sprinkling services. They’re not trying to sell you that. They’re just sharing their general lawn care expertise, repeatedly. Providing education on an ongoing basis. Presenting themselves as an authoritative resource again and again and again until their name is top of mind when it comes to anything having to do with your lawn.

Sometimes content marketing yields a quick conversion, like if you do go out and buy that fertilizer spreader today. But often, content marketing is a loooooonng play that requires patience and persistence. That lawn care company can’t expect an immediate ROI from its newsletter. They might not turn you into a customer this year, or next year or maybe ever. But even though the company has no financial relationship with you, they’ve already developed a kind of personal relationship with you.

Now, if you ever do decide to hire someone to fertilize your lawn, guess which company you’ll think of first? And until then, in every conversation you have with a friend or neighbor about lawn watering or grass mowing or fertilizing, guess which company’s name comes up? That’s content marketing.

Contributed by Matt Vande Bunte, Content Marketing

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