Content marketing is perhaps the newest widely-recognized trend in the world of digital media. This past September, the recently formed Content Marketing Institute held its first Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland, Ohio. Over 50 Internet marketing giants, including Brian Clark, Michael Stelzner, and Mack Collier, assembled to present the latest and greatest ideas on the subject. Clearly, there must be something to this content marketing thing.
As I discuss the ideas of content marketing with my peers and customers, I am met with a host of objections. People are not only hesitant to adopt the model; they seem to have difficulty in understanding it.
To alleviate some of the doubts and concerns about content marketing, I have jotted down some impressions I’ve gotten from people in my own life. Content marketing isn’t what many people think it is. It is the next big thing in business… and it is here to stay.
1. Content marketing is a technological fad
One misconception is that content marketing is about technology. It isn’t. Technology merely makes it easier and more cost-effective. Content marketing has existed as long as brochures, samples, and free seminars have. The Internet has merely converted those things into websites, giveaways, and webinars. Content marketing is not a technological idea, but a philosophical one. It is essentially the notion that, if you give away valuable information, potential customers will see you as a valuable resource (thought leader) and, eventually, buy from you.
2. Content marketing is blogging
Blogging is perhaps the most primitive form of content marketing on the web, but it is not all there is to content marketing. Saying you are doing content marketing because you have a blog is like saying you’ve tasted the world of fruit because you’ve had an apple. Blogging, though perhaps the most effective and most widely-recognized manifestation, is not all there is to content marketing. There is video, webinars, eBooks, podcasts, white papers, the list goes on. Distributing content, regardless of the format, is content marketing.
3. Content marketing is social media
Social media (or social networking to those not in the Internet business) can and should include content marketing. But social media isn’t just about sharing information; it’s about dialogue and interaction. In fact, for most users, being inundated with information on social media platforms is a major turn-off. For the most part, things are posted on social media not to be read or watched, but to be discussed. If content is posted on social media, make sure it elicits dialogue.
4. Content marketing is spam
Many on the receiving end think of spam when they hear the phrase content marketing. “Spam,” in a nutshell, is an unwanted solicitation for something typically from someone you don’t know. Content marketing is not spam, because it doesn’t ask for anything. It is sharing; not soliciting. Many people will watch “how-to” videos on YouTube or read blog post on, for example, nutrition, without even realizing they are being marketed to. That’s content marketing. It’s valuable information with no strings attached.
5. Content marketing is not a legitimate marketing practice
It’s too new. Too uncertain. We’ll do TV adds, radio ads, magazine adds. These have a longer track record. Heck, we’ll even pay for a banner or pop-up on the web. At least, with those things, people know we want them to buy something. This seems to be the prevailing idea: that content marketing isn’t “real” marketing. But content marketing marketing isn’t philanthropy. It is about building trust with potential customers and, though the buying cycle may be longer than traditional marketing, the results will likely lead to deeper engagement and more loyal customers.
6. Content marketing is just another form of advertising
Okay, this isn’t necessarily a misconception. Content marketing is, I believe, the future of advertising. I do want to point out how it is different from traditional advertising, though. Traditional advertising makes promises of value and relies on persuasive rhetoric or psychological ploys to trigger a purchase. Content marketing offers demonstrations of value and relies on proof to trigger a purchase. With content marketing, people first buy into a product and then actually buy it.
7. Content marketing is cheap and easy
Starting a blog is free…or is it? How much time does it take to write consistent, high-caliber content for a specified audience. A lot! And, again, blogging isn’t all there is. It’s a neat little trick to ask someone what they think the number two search engine is and hear responses like “Yahoo” and “Bing.” The reality is that the second place, other than Google, that people are most likely to search is YouTube. How much time (and possibly money) do you think it takes to consistently produce high-quality, engaging video? Content marketing IS rewarding, but it isn’t easy and it isn’t necessarily cheap.
8. Content marketing will detract from my value proposition
One worry people have is that, if they give too much away for free, they won’t have anything left to make money off of. If you are a plumber and you teach people, through content marketing, how to fix their leaky pipes, they won’t need you anymore, right? Wrong! Most of them still won’t want to go through the trouble or take the time. They will simply see you as someone who knows how to fix stuff. Even the ones who do take your advice and fix the faucet themselves will seek you out when bigger problems arise. To put it simply, if you don’t have enough value built in to justify giving information away, you have more to worry about than your marketing.
9. Content marketing will expose my secret sauce to competitors
Ah, the secret sauce argument! You don’t want competitors to find out what you’re doing, so you hide it from your customers. This too is not a marketing problem but a fundamental leadership and innovation problem. First, you are deluding yourself if you think you’re really that different from competitors. Your Mac Sauce is more than likely just another’s Thousand Island Dressing. You think that you’re hiding a greatly differentiated, proprietary secret, but you’re not. Secondly, by the time your competitors figure out what you’re doing, you should be already doing something new–something better. Customers follow market leaders–not copy cats. So don’t worry about the idea thieves.
10. I’m too busy for content marketing
People used this excuse for the longest time about social media, but now almost every major company has a Facebook page and Twitter account. I imagine the same thing will happen with content marketing. Saying you are too busy for it is absurd; it’s like saying your too busy to make money. Besides, much of the grunt work–from blogging syndication to video production to radio shows–can be outsourced. Your President doesn’t always have to be the one distributing content. Hire someone for content marketing–just like you would an ad agency for advertising.
11. There’s no proven ROI for content marketing
Six words: “What’s the ROI of your mom?” Gary Vaynerchuck’s witty retort applies to content marketing as much as Social Media. Just because it isn’t easily measured doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. There is a strong business case for content marketing and that alone should justify an initiative. Not every business decision is about the bottom line. What’s the ROI of your company’s logo? You don’t know, but it’s necessary to promote your brand. It’s the same with content marketing. Besides, ROI can be measured in content marketing using tracking tools such as Google Analytics. You can easily tell how many viewers are turned into subscribers and how many subscribers are turned into customers.
12. It’s too late and I’m too far behind
So, maybe you’re convinced that content marketing is a good idea. But, things are moving too quickly and you feel like you’ve missed the bus. Don’t listen to that line of reasoning. It’s never too late. It’s better late than never. Get started now. Don’t over think it. Your strategy will develop as you go along. Jump in. Go over to WordPress and start blogging. Make a video on YouTube. Do something. Your customers are waiting.