Recently we were sitting in a prospective client’s office, trying to explain how search and social media integrate with a content marketing program. While they were generally open to the concept, they didn’t quite get what we were saying. Like a lot of business-to-business marketers, they were used to the traditional methods of building awareness and generating leads, which began and ended with broadcasting their message as loudly and as often as possible.
Finally we asked them a question. “How would you best define what it is you are selling?”
“Affordable inventory control software,” they responded.
Right then and there we pulled out a laptop, set it on the table and did a Google search for “affordable inventory control software”. To their complete dismay, the search results were a list of all their biggest competitors. They didn’t even appear on the first page, or the second – or the third.
That’s when they started paying very close attention to what we were saying. Because the only thing more compelling than seeing your competitor come up as the first choice for what you think is your dominant market position, is seeing all of your competitors come up for the first 50 choices.
It’s not that our prospective client didn’t have a marketing program in place, or that they weren’t spending enough on it. It’s that they didn’t know how to plan and execute a program that would achieve their marketing goals in today’s new media environment.
We’ve all noticed that marketing and media aren’t what they used to be. But what are they? For a lot of B-to-B marketers, trying to determine the best way to reach your prospective customers with your messaging is like trying to hit a room full of marbles with a dart. People get their news and information from dozens of different sources now, and marketers that limit their exposure to one medium or platform will almost certainly miss a large segment of their target.
The answer isn’t to just keep throwing more and more darts. You can keep doing that until you’ve thrown away your entire budget. The real answer is to turn it around: make the dart so interesting and attractive to the marbles that they come over to it. To make this a little clearer, imagine that the marbles are bees and the dart is honey, and it will start to make more sense. In other words, the best marketing strategy right now is to make your messaging so relevant and compelling that your prospective customers will find it, read it, tell their colleagues about it and go out of their way to look for more of it.
In the past, it would have been unreasonable to expect anyone to go looking for your marketing messages. That’s why consumer advertising ran on prime time TV shows where marketers could count on the majority of people seeing them, and B-to-B advertising was placed in trade magazines where prospects would be reading articles relevant to their profession. Those commercials and print ads interrupted the flow of what people actually wanted to watch and read, and put marketing information in front of them so that they had to see it. There was no guarantee that they’d pay attention to it or read it, but at least they would see it.
Those tactics are still valid, but they’re no longer enough. There’s no one place you can put a commercial or an ad and be sure that most of your audience will see it. And so it’s necessary to find a way to do something new that turns those tactics around – to get people to actually want to see your information.
To make that work, the nature of the information itself has to change. The old “look at us, we’re the best, here’s a great product”, which was the equivalent of shouting at the world, simply won’t cut it. Instead of telling everyone how great you are, now what you have to do is to say great stuff. And not just say it but write it, show it, sing it if you have to. Create a lot of really, really great stuff – or to use the marketing term, a lot of really great content – and you will be able to attract your audience to you like bees to honey.
Of course, not all content is going to be of interest to your market in every situation, and you will still need to find ways to put yourself in front of your audience in the new media landscape. That’s why a fundamental component of a great program is knowing what to create and what to do with it.
Here are three fundamentals of a strong content marketing program that turn old-school marketing principals upside-down.
Someone who’s never heard of your brand or product isn’t going to magically go looking for you by name on the web. However, they may be looking for what you have to sell. Just like in our example at the beginning of this article, whether you’re selling die-cut vinyl, architectural shingles or rack rail, there’s an entire customer base out there who wants to know about your products, and they’re using search to find out more. This is where you need to turn your thinking around and put yourself in the mind of your prospect.
If you want to see what is shown to people searching for what you’re selling, try searching it yourself. Type your product, service, top benefit or solution into Google (or Bing or whatever engine you like). It’s best to do this from an incognito window so that your own web behavior doesn’t affect the results. Then hit search and see what happens. If you’re not the first result, or even on the first page, you have some work to do.
Search engine optimization is both an art and a science. Ultimately it comes down to having the content on your website that is viewed by the search engine as the most relevant and useful to the terms entered by the searcher. There are many routes to get there and few if any shortcuts. The old days of link building via giant link farms and free PR sites have disappeared as search algorithms have improved, and now it’s essential to have high quality appropriate content and authoritative links with a variety of different anchor text on websites that are relevant to your own. In other words, it has to be real or Google will see right through it. The only path to this is to have a lot of useful and valuable information on your site, structured in a way that makes it very easy for search engines to find.
- Talking about someone else
It’s anathema to many brands to spend even a fraction of marketing time and budget talking about anything other than their own products and services. This is another way the new marketing turns the old marketing upside-down.
Part of a smart content marketing program involves looking for great content from other sources. If your audience is interested in the category of inventory software or power supplies or ophthalmic instruments, they’ll be interested in reading about all of the trends, new technology and major news within the category. If you become a consistent trusted source of this kind of content, they will value your contributions and pay attention to what you have to say, including what you have to say about your own offerings.
There are numerous additional business benefits to curating other people’s content, including the potential for them sharing your content with their audiences and amplifying your message to a larger audience. The biggest hurdle is almost always internal, until your own team discovers the value of this kind of sharing.
People are interested in trending topics. If Volvo makes an awesome truck video, or Target customers have their credit card numbers stolen in a hack, or there’s an earthquake in Asia, people will be talking about it for days. You’ll see news reports on tv, read them in the paper, see them on blogs and websites and social media.
If (and only if) there is a relevant connection between your brand and the topic, this is an opportunity. You can write a blog post, article, tweet or other content of your choice that talks about the topic from your own perspective, adding value and information that could be of interest to a wide audience. These stories can also be pitched to news outlets to bring your brand more general exposure than you could otherwise have gotten. Here’s an example of an article I wrote that leveraged the negative commentary around Instagram’s new logo to talk about rebranding mistakes and how not to make them.
It’s important to mention here that you should never try to latch onto any kind of tragedy for this purpose. Even marketing has its limits, and bad taste is over the line. Quite a few brands have tried this tactic over the years, and it has rightly backfired on every one of them.
Fortunately, once we went through all of the above strategies and information with our prospective client, they were intrigued and enthusiastic about implementing a content marketing program. The early stages are showing very promising results, and if all goes according to plan it won’t be long until their search results will put them exactly where they want to be.
(Note: our prospective client’s industry and products were changed for this article.)