When I consult with businesses and nonprofits, I often have to introduce them to the concept of content marketing: Creating and sharing content and using it to attract customers based on merit, expertise or interest, with more focus on communicating rather than selling. Content marketing isn’t new; as far back as 1895, John Deere’s The Furrow magazine provided valuable business information to
farmers (it’s still in circulation and reaches 1.5 million readers in 40 countries).
On the other hand, we’re in a position where content marketing is now going to be a key factor in deciding how profitable your business is. This often elicits a groan from SMBs and marketers, who (correctly) perceive this as needing to put in a lot of hard work rather than putting pre-made advertisements on appropriate media channels. The question I usually get asked when I talk about the importance of blogging, E-books, whitepapers, newsletters and social media marketing is “What’s the point?”
Traditional advertising methods have long relied on a captive audience that has no choice but to watch your advertising: Radio ads, TV commercials, and even more modern forms of advertising like video ads preceding YouTube videos. The marketing dance has been, for many years, to capture your target audience where you’ve got them, with the quality of the advertisement often being given less consideration.
Here’s the big problem: There’s no such thing as a captive audience anymore.
In an age of Smart TVs, smartphones, tablets, multiple computer screens, multiple browsers, and unprecedented consumer choice and control, you’re literally never going have a a ‘captive’ audience again. Even in situations where people may voluntarily watch ads or don’t have ad-filtering software installed on their browsers, the concept of a captive audience doesn’t exist anymore.
Consumers have more abilities than ever to circumvent and bypass what they perceive to just be white noise. We’re in an age where consumers can pre-record and fast forward through TV commercials. They’re listening to their pre-approved iTunes mix in the car, completely ad-free. They’re reading news articles on their smartphones on the subway, and bypassing your print ads altogether.
I’m not just taking aim at offline advertising, either. If anything, when you go online people have even more options to avoid looking at advertising they perceive as intrusive or boring. Much has already been said about the ineffective nature of banner ads, but when the average web user has five different tabs open in Google Chrome, they aren’t going to watch your mandatory ad video or website intro. Adblock Plus has clocked 200 million downloads, which filters out everything from YouTube video ads to Google PPC campaigns. Consumers are getting better and better at seeking out the content they want – and tuning out the content they don’t want.
This brings me directly to why content marketing is important to you. Whether you’re an individual, business, nonprofit, mom and pop, or Fortune 100, people need to want to look at your content now. Mike Masnick at Techdirt has pointed out that without a captive audience, the idea that advertising is distinct from content doesn’t work anymore. Without the mandatory advertising that people sat through to access the content they wanted to see, it’s all content. Depending on the quality of your content, people will interact with it or ignore it. Regardless of the channel you’re using – Facebook, TV or PPC – if your content is reminiscent of traditional advertising, prospects are that much more likely to phase it out.
This is the role of content marketing in your business. Without a distinction between content and advertising, content marketing is how you promote yourself. People are drawn to you based on how valuable, insightful or interesting they find your content, not based on any mandatory viewings of your content.
Content marketing does require hard work, but it correlates directly with greater rewards. Instead of buying or begging your way in with prospective customers, earning your way with them can turn them into much more loyal customers who will happily share your product or your website on your behalf because they enjoy your content. Marketing based on content is an opportunity to captivate people, demonstrate your expert position, or showcase your unique value proposition that nobody else has. It makes those first time customers that much more likely to return and for them to share the message to their friends.
This applies to paid content, too. When you’re paying for higher news feed promotion in Facebook or first page rankings in Google, go out of your way to make your content more enjoyable. Put a creative message on your PPC ad. Do something innovative with your YouTube video ad that encourages people to watch it, or even go out of their way to find the ad itself on your own YouTube channel.
However you set out to promote your business, think about this: Are you the entertainment, or are you what people sift through to get to the entertainment? You decide which of these two has the greater return on investment.