We’re often asked, as an organization, what’s our position on content marketing. I’ve written this post to share some broad principles and our approach.
The content marketing opportunity
Every company—and individual—with passion, commitment and a unique point of view has an amazing opportunity to reach the world at scale using widely available consumer technologies that enable easy content development and social media distribution (e.g., the iPhone). We no longer need a middleman in the form of old-guard trade/media publishers that sell access to a “rented” audience through advertising to connect us to our customers. The purpose of content marketing is to build a relationship with your audience. People buy from people (or brands) that they know, like and trust.
Every company has the opportunity to excel at content marketing by simply thinking and acting like a publisher. Great publishers forge great relationships with their audiences by delivering consistent content and experiences over time. Once again, it’s about people over products.
In this socially connected and information-overloaded world, leading organizations and individuals that think like publishers use content and digital/social activation platforms to break through the noise with a message that matters.
Media is the new marketing
The goal of this new marketing is to create a loyal audience (customers) and sell by not selling. More specifically, to know when to teach and when to sell by having a deep understanding of your buyers’ journey. The philosophy of content marketing is to build deeper relationships via meaningful, useful or entertaining content (which can take many forms: written words, images, video, audio). Content marketing should never be viewed as a short-term campaign. Rather, it is a solemn commitment to serve your audience; indeed, a long-term investment with a commercial outcome.
Fathom’s approach to content marketing:
- First, determine business strategy. What are the organization’s broader growth goals? What is its purpose?
- Second, conduct audience research, identification and analysis. This goal of this phase is to provide absolute clarity on your ideal customer profile: Who, exactly, is it? What are the central goals and challenges of this person? What motivates him or her? Where does this person spend time online? Contrary to what we might like to think, marketers and brands are not at the center of our audiences’ worlds, though our job is to understand what is. It is also to know how we as problem-solvers can best help them. Note: The audience strategy must always connect to the business strategy in order to bring the highest return-on-investment.
- Third, we must have intimate knowledge of the buyers’ journey and make certain we’re providing relevant content along the way. We should all strive to teach when customers are learning and sell when they are buying.
- Fourth, after all of the above are established, we then codify a documented content marketing strategy with a strong editorial mission statement. From this, the content asset type selection, development, distribution and activation strategies become very clear.
The art is in choosing how aggressive to be with the tone of your content marketing strategy. The scale goes from completely altruistic—sharing everything you know and expecting nothing in return—to 90% mercenary in which a strong call-to-action interrupts or at least punctuates every experience. Knowing how and when to engage with your audience is one of the most critical strategic choices one makes when selecting a partner. Fathom leans towards a balanced approach with a high degree of education and engagement at the start, and then adding more conversion-centric messages at the right time and place. All of this is predicated on having insightful data across the buyers’ journey to support decision making.
Creating content vs. making a difference
The strategic catalyst of a content marketing program should ultimately correlate to growing and strengthening a company’s relationship with its audience through retention and referrals. This includes raising top-of-mind awareness while nurturing and activating influencers (including brand and employee advocates). The underlying reason for doing it should never be mass production. Production without purpose is useless, even disastrous to your organization.
Back to the nurture concept, sales leads are a potential great outcome of a true content marketing program, not a strategic driver. And while SEO is still very critical to content success, the right approach is to create content for humans, which is actually what search engines want anyway. In fact, Fathom’s roots in SEO and conversion-oriented disciplines like paid search give us a depth of understanding that focuses greater attention on the critical business outcomes of content marketing.
As a result, company priorities should never be forgotten when asking the question (which should always be asked): “What is the desired action the user should take after engaging with a given piece of content?” An understanding of conversion principles makes behavioral change—i.e., nudging a sympathetic customer toward mutually beneficial business outcomes—easier.
We also believe that people like to buy from other people … and not strictly from a corporate brand. This knowledge dictates the emergence of a charismatic representative or otherwise authentic person within the company to drive a content marketing strategy forward.
For reference purposes, here is the Content Marketing Institute’s authoritative definition of content marketing (emphasis added):
“Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
We would love to hear your own philosophy and questions about content marketing. To participate in a content marketing workshop, contact Jeff Leo Herrmann at jherrmann (a) fathomdelivers.com.