Content marketing: Target your audience

Dec. 6th, 2011

It looks like the term "content marketing" has officially joined the marketing lexicon. In the last 12 to 18 months, we've seen it gain traction as creative and PR agencies now offer it as a discrete service, the catalog of books devoted to the subject continues to grow, and Google Insights shows a definite rise in search volume for the term this year. (Click the screenshot below and look at that blue line in the graph.)

As a result of all this activity, I keep hearing these questions: "What is content marketing? Is it just another buzzword?"

My answer is, only when you're not doing it right. Content marketing is real and effective. It is a potent strategy that addresses the seismic shift in the relationship between all companies and their customers. It acknowledges the fact that customers of all types are increasingly in control over how, where, and why they decide to interact with companies.

When executed correctly, content marketing provides a powerful vehicle for your company to attract and engage customers and prospects by delivering relevant content to your audience—through the right channels, at the right time. And that's been Tendo's mission statement for more than a dozen years now.

As the concept of content marketing is rapidly adopted, it's important that marketers understand what content marketing is—or should be.

Focus on your audience

When I'm asked to explain content marketing (and sometimes when I'm not), I start by saying that it begins with a focus on understanding your audience. From there, you craft a content strategy to develop, curate, moderate, and deploy content to engage and retain your audience. It's one of the most cost-effective, highest-ROI ways of engaging prospects and building customer loyalty. But that's just the top line—it might be easier to think about content marketing in terms of what it is and what it isn't.

Content marketing is: The process of creating, distributing, managing, and measuring the results of content that focuses on the needs or interests of the audience. It coordinates a range of channels (blogs, social media, your website, or company publications), formats (video, PDF, HTML), and content types (articles/posts, quizzes, tweets, white papers) to provide an integrated, multilayered experience in which the audience willingly engages.

Whether it's part of an effort to reinforce brand value, build a customer community, nurture leads, or retain customers, the goal of content marketing is to connect with your audience through relevant content that meets an audience need—for information, shared experiences, or entertainment—while delivering measurable business results to the provider.

Content marketing is not: "Telling." It's not blasting a company's marketing message across the fragmented media landscape. Content marketing delivers a rich, relevant, and contextual experience that hits a chord with your current and/or prospective customers, and therefore gets them to spend time with content that supports the value of your brand.

Enough descriptions; let's make it real:

  • Straight marketing: A 30-second TV ad for a new minivan aimed at middle-class families, talking about pricing, features, financing options.
  • Content marketing: A branded blog that discusses the best child seats and how to install them, camping adventures made easy with a minivan, and misadventures with GPS navigation or sippy cups.

Content marketing and your media landscape

As far back as 2009, Forrester Research was talking about viewing corporate media in three categories: Owned, earned, and paid. Owned media is your website and other channels your brand controls. Paid media is the ad you place with someone else's TV network, magazine, or website. Earned media is when someone else chooses to talk about you—the happy customer who tweets, the blogger who writes a review, the journalist who features your product. It's when, as Forrester puts it, "the customer becomes the channel."

These three types of media follow an engagement curve. Owned media is a website waiting for the audience to show up. You leverage paid media because your audience is already there. And earned media turns the audience from passively receiving your message to actively engaging with it.

That last category, earned media, is the prize—the spontaneous and unsolicited consumer endorsement. There are two ways to get it: The first occurs when customers have such a great experience with your product/service that they're compelled to tweet, post, or comment about it, sharing their experience with their social network.

The second way is by investing in your owned media channel. This is where, through deep audience understanding, compelling content development, and ongoing content optimization, your customer finds a piece of content so useful, relevant, or entertaining that they repost it and they "become the channel." Good content marketing hits that high-value, must-share response in a way that traditional marketing can rarely manage.

A good read

This is the first of (at least) two parts. The next installment will look at what you need in-house to launch an effective content marketing strategy, and what you need from the creative partners who help you do it. But in the meantime, if you'd like a copy of that Forrester report, drop me an email. We can't post it, but I'm happy to share it with anyone who's interested. And if you've got any thoughts or questions, the comments, like my inbox, are open.

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