Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in remembrance of all the content marketing strategies that started out with the best of intentions and slowly unraveled into a series of sales pitches.
We lift our collective hearts in memory of the blogs that became brochures, the white papers that became advertorials and the podcasts that became product one-sheeters. May they rest peacefully.
The best-laid plans of content marketing
Thanks to experts like Ann Handley and Joe Pulizzi, content marketing has become a huge buzzword in the marketing industry over the past decade. Blogs have become synonymous with growing your business organically, and even your local chemical processing plant is turning out regular social media content across three platforms.
Content marketing has grown in popularity for several legitimate reasons. One, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: People don’t like to be sold to. When was the last time you got a pre-approved credit card offer in the mail and didn’t throw it in the recycling bin without a second thought?
Every type of business can benefit from becoming more human and treating their audience like people with thoughts and feelings rather than a walking wallet. Providing interesting, helpful content helps establish connections with customers, especially when they’re early on in their buying journey.
“Content marketing is about celebrating what makes your business unique. It is, inherently, about making the business more social and more human.”
― Robert Rose
Second, content marketing is cost-effective in comparison to other marketing tactics. Studies have found that creating content as a form of marketing provides three times as many leads as traditional marketing techniques and costs 62% less
And third, every sale you’ll make starts with relationship building. Content marketing is an easy way to establish your business as a thought leader and go-to expert among your competitors. Writing about your industry and providing your thoughts to the audience will set a foundation for those relationships.
When content marketing goes awry
Many businesses, especially small and mid-level, start content marketing because someone they consider an expert told them it was a good idea, or their competitors started blogging and they didn’t want to fall behind.
Beware, even the best-intentioned content marketing strategies can devolve into self-serving, sales-based copy without proper thought. You start off writing blogs with tips to help your readers get better sleep and later find yourself writing the same 1,000-word pitches for your company’s mattress products over and over in different words.
“Content marketing is really like a first date. If all you do is talk about yourself, there won’t be a second date.” ~ David Beebe, former head of content, Marriott
We’re all for investing in content marketing. But when you dive into content creation for either of these reasons, you aren’t putting your audience first, you’re putting your business goals first. And that’s when the train tends to fall off the tracks.
Defining the relationship between content marketing and sales
The easiest way to make sure your content marketing efforts backfire is to consider your content an extension of your sales efforts. It’s easier than you would think to find 15 different topics to write about and turn them all into slightly different versions of the same product or brand-focused message.
But that doesn’t mean content and sales should be siloed out. Content marketing is an excellent way to support the sales cycle at every point in the customer’s journey - including the very beginning.
Content tells stories that answer questions, provide valuable insights and information and solve problems, all before the audience even realizes their problems exist. It’s a great way to educate and engage customers to warm them up before the sales cycle even begins, and it can provide them with more in-depth information later on when they’re actually considering buying.
“Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.” ~ Andrew Davis
The value of content marketing lies in providing the right content at the right time. If you’ve started to provide new audiences with sales pitches, your strategy may be off the rails.
How to get your content marketing strategy back on track
If you find your content marketing train is trying to turn itself into a Jeep and go offroading, it’s time to make some adjustments. Start with the following:
1. Reduce the number of team members involved
In our experience, content marketing tends to get off track most often when there are too many cooks in the kitchen. When a blog is run through eight different people in marketing, sales and legal, it’s almost guaranteed to come back unrecognizable.
Define your content process from conception to publishing and clearly indicate who is involved in each step. Try to involve as few people as possible along the way.
2. Identify (or reidentify) your audience
If you haven’t sat down and decided who your content is for, we guarantee what you’re producing is compelling to very few people. Content should have a clear focus and purpose for a specific audience, and should always put the reader’s needs over business needs. Writing with an audience in mind is what drives value.
All content under the umbrella of your strategy should be created for maximum 3-4 audiences with one clearly defined primary audience. Think: What does this audience want to know instead of what do you want them to know about you?
“Your customers don't care about you, your products, or your services. They care about themselves.” – Joe Pulizzi
You won’t know what they care about until you do your research! We suggest documenting your audience’s interests, goals, pain points and lifestyles in a series of buyer personas.
3. Refresh your strategy regularly
Every industry experiences change. Whether there’s a new trend on TikTok or new government regulations, every business will experience changes in a shifting business landscape overtime. Go with the flow by regularly refreshing your content marketing strategy to ensure you’re still writing with your audience in mind.
Has a change in your industry shifted what your audience wants to know more about? Revisit your strategy and refresh your content themes and topics at least annually to make sure you’re still in the loop providing value.
4. Make time for honest reporting
You won’t know what’s working unless you check. Trust us, it’s easier than it sounds to churn out content, throw it to the wind and never look back. But you won’t know if the topics you’re writing about are resonating or how to best evolve your strategy without taking a clear, no-BS look at how your content is performing. Make reporting a quarterly activity with a more in-depth annual report at the end of the year.
Keep your content train chugging along
Content marketing is not a strategy for people who love instant gratification. Google usually takes 3-6 months to index an SEO-based piece of content, and on average it takes 3 to 5 pieces of content before 40% of B2B buyers reach out to the seller. But we promise the highly qualified leads you receive are worth the wait.
So the next time you write a blog you feel slowly unraveling as you type, turning into a sales pitch for your brand’s latest product or initiative rather than a helpful, interesting piece of content that will improve the lives of your audience, stop. Get your train back on the tracks and help us put an end to memorial services for the content marketing that could have been.
Writing good content is easy. Writing great content is hard. Start slow and revamp one key channel for audience interaction by downloading our 2022 Social Media Playbook.