Given the choice, most folks would rather read something that provides value to them.
As self-evident as it may be, that observation is driving the growth of content marketing as a cornerstone of the digital strategies of many businesses.
But while content marketing can be a highly effective marketing tool, it’s difficult to do well — and badly done content marketing may worse than nothing at all.
Churchill County High School graduate Abbi Whitaker, owner and president of The Abbi Agency in Reno and a missionary for effective content marketing, defines content marketing this way:
It’s the process of creating and distributing relevant and consistent content to acquire an audience. And successful content marketing, Whitaker said, drives some sort of profitable customer action.
What’s relevant content?
Often, Whitaker said, it’s how-to articles that are based on the expertise of the advertiser: How to mail iPhone photos. How to keep business tax records that will satisfy the IRS.
“Content marketing provides something of value to customers,” Whitaker explains. “Traditional ads do not.”
Potential customers who gain knowledge from a piece of content marketing often feel a sense of gratitude to the advertisers. If they decide to share it on social-media platforms, the reach of the advertiser’s message can be widened quickly.
Regular posting of useful content on your company’s Web site can help with search-engine optimization — keeping the site close to the top of search results — and can generate more traffic.
But like any other marketing tool, content marketing is only as effective as its planning and execution, Whitaker said.
Four questions, she said, need to be answered from the start:
What is your goal?
Who are you targeting?
What is your story?
What is your content?
Think through your potential audience. It’s often helpful, Whitaker said, to create fictional personae — detailed mental pictures of individual members of your audience. Let your content talk with those individuals.
But how will you reach them?
The content might take the form of a blog on your Web site that positions you as an expert in your field who is sharing knowledge with consumers.
Maybe it’s a podcast or a video that provides instruction or useful background.
The North Lake Tahoe Visitors Bureau, for instance, found success with a detailed guide to the region’s apres-ski scene, helping visitors plan where to go, what to order, what to wear and what to say.
Whatever the channel that will be used to distribute marketing content, Whitaker said consistent creation of fresh material is among the keys to success.
“Entertain people, inform people, educate people,” she said. “Make them love and share your content.”
That often means that you’ll need to dial back your inclination to use content marketing as an aggressive sales tool. Share, don’t sell. Don’t stuff the piece with attempts to close a sale today. Don’t stuff it full of content whose only purpose is to improve SEO. Talk with people, not search engines.
And either edit the content carefully yourself or find someone to help you edit it. Nothing kills content marketing faster than bad writing.
“Don’t produce content just to produce content,” Whitaker said.
Because content marketing is a long-term approach to building relationships with potential customers, Whitaker said it’s important to promote your content whenever you can and to keep measuring its effectiveness.
In some instances, she said, use of advertising in traditional media may be an effective tool to develop an audience for a content-marketing program on digital platforms.
Traditional public relations tools also may generate news articles or features that help spread the word.
“With every content marketing campaign, you should have a strong PR push,” said Whitaker. “PR people know how to get things found.”