One of the reasons that they work is that providing high-quality content helps build trust and rapport with prospects and customers, making it easier for them to make an eventual purchasing or renewal decision. It’s not a new idea. Are you old enough to remember the old “Come to Shell for Answers” booklets from the 1960’s and 1970’s?
Luckily, the days are long gone when you needed to be a billion dollar corporation to be able to afford to produce, print and distribute helpful content that builds brand awareness and loyalty. Now, all you need is a knowledgeable subject matter expert, an Internet connection, and the ability to produce some form of digital content.
What kind of content works? It can be anything. Here’s a partial list; you’ll find more in a great post from Joan Stewart, who provided 17 samples of fabulous content that generated thought leadership and leads for companies.
- Case studies
- Press releases
- White papers
- Widgets or apps
- Reference guides
- Buyer’s guides
- Comparison tables / charts
- Photographs, infographics, or cartoons
The best content answers a business question, or offers a way to solve a business problem. How do you know what kinds of questions or problems your prospects and customers have? Start by asking your customer service staff and your sales staff. If you can answer the questions that are reaching them, you’re probably tapping into an area where your target market wants more information.
Know the Rules
As with anything else, it’s important for content marketers to understand the accepted rules, and when to break those rules.
The basic rules of content marketing are simple. To be effective, content should be:
- Relevant to the reader
- Relevant to your company
- Well-written and SEO optimized
- Proves a point that supports your value proposition
Pretty basic rules, right? Yes, but there are times when most of us will struggle with the need to balance “the rules” with corporate mandates, deadlines, or directives. At its heart, content marketing is about telling a compelling story in a way that allow it to be repeated, shared, and remembered.
The one we hear marketing communications people talk about most often is, of course, the first one. At a webinar on content marketing, we got comments like these:
- “I’m supposed to fill a twice a week blog with nothing but sales copy – and they wonder why people don’t read it.”
- “I am having trouble getting my boss to see the value in writing ‘best practices’ or ‘how to’ content. He says that we should be selling that advice through our professional services team instead of giving it away.”
- “If it doesn’t sell products, my boss wants to know why we are wasting time on it.”
So how do you persuade management to follow the content marketing rules? By building a business case for content marketing the way your customers build a case to purchase your more expensive products or services. Start with the pain point you’re trying to solve.
For instance, let’s say that you’re the director of marketing at a company that provides a cloud-based social media marketing and PR platform – like MyPRGenie. Publishing a blog that provides best-practices content will help our customers, prospects, and anyone else who’s interested understand the environment in which our products are sold and used. Secondarily, it’s a great source of traffic for our website, thought leadership positioning for our executives, and ideas for content we might publish on our website in other forms.
We started our content marketing strategy for three reasons. First, we have access to subject matter experts with the writing skill to product good copy quickly and at low cost. Second, we have a small marketing staff and a lot of work to do to meet our key performance indicators (KPIs). Third, we’re a relatively small company in an arena dominated by larger, older companies. We can’t possibly outspend our competition – so we have to out think them in order to gain share of mind in our target market.
As Guy Kawasaki, former Apple evangelist and founder of AllTop Media said, “If you have more brains than money, then your focus has to be on inbound marketing.”
When to Break the Rules
Normally, when you’re working on a content marketing plan, it’s a good idea to follow those five rules pretty closely. But there are times when breaking one or more of them is essential.
Why? Because there are times when a topic is so compelling to your audience that you need to write about it in order to demonstrate thought leadership, or position your company in a space you’re planning to enter. “Writing ahead” to position your company in a category that didn’t exist yet, or shaping the dialog about a product that you haven’t announced yet, is an important part of PR and content marketing.
The other breakable rule is the very first one. Sometimes, it simply isn’t possible to get budget approval for content that doesn’t include a direct product pitch. And sometimes, there’s the opportunity for a direct product pitch as a “wrapper” or embedded part of the non-promotional copy. For example, a customer case study can be very non-promotional, but if yours is the only product on the market that solves the customer’s problem, be sure to say so. Adding a product pitch or company pitch to the end of a white paper or eBook is common, and doesn’t break the rule about not being promotional, because the reader is free to ignore it, and can still get the information they wanted without reading it if they choose.
Don’t break the other rules, however. Because if it isn’t relevant, well written and SEO optimized, or doesn’t support your value proposition, it isn’t worth publishing because it won’t help your thought leadership and positioning efforts – and might hurt much more than it helps.