All learning should involve self-reflection. Whether it's attending an event or reading a book, there will be moments and passages when the narrative strikes a cord and you create a deeper connection with the subject. Reading Mark Masters' book, The Content Revolution, has been another one of those learning experiences where (thankfully) most of the content has resonated with me and whilst much of what was written has formalised my own shared beliefs, it has left me pondering can a business succeed if isn't willing to adopt a content marketing approach?
The notion set forth by Mark is that "businesses need to become more useful, interesting and entertaining to their audiences" in order to succeed. Whilst most organisations fear that people will not buy unless you're constantly shouting the loudest, adopting a content marketing approach does away with the shouting and puts creating and sustaining a meaningful, trustworthy and credible relationship first. Having not been an entrepreneur or business owner myself, some may say it's easy to preach that when the time comes to buy, the consumer will have already made up their mind because they know, trust and like the company they buy from. In reality this may not happen before a business is crippled from high overheads.
Whilst I have never "risked it all" myself, I have worked with new business ventures who have failed to take off. For the most part they have failed to invest in their dream, vision, belief and product long enough to see any fruits of their labour. Mark often refers to natural world analogies through his book to help visualise how the world of content marketing can make a difference if you give it enough time and I quite like this approach. It connects Marketing with a world which is seen as wholesome, nurtured and innovative. Marketing can often be seen as a frivolous activity (the first budget to go when things are tight), or a capitalist profession which makes us all spend money we don't have, and is often not considered an essential role within an organisation (I have certainly worked with many companies whose lack of a Marketing person has inhibited its potential). I remember reading somewhere that the CMO should receive Board level representation but it rarely ever does.
So it's nice to associate content marketing with a process which expects long term goals, the biding of time and organic growth. I'm a passionate paid media advocate, but over the years I have also learnt to appreciate the benefits of communicating what you stand for, building a brand and building relationships with consumers without always having a direct sale/conversion in mind. This is why I have enjoyed reading Mark's book, and come back to my original question, can a business succeed without embracing the principles of content marketing?
In taking Mark's advice I'm not going to paraphrase the contents of his book, you can read it for yourselves quickly enough (a few sunny days with time on your hands should do it), but I will draw out a couple of snippets which really resonated with me.
It's not necessarily about expertise, but familiarity, trust and personal connection
"Let's take things back to our school days. We all cherished picking our team whether it related to sport or study. The first members we picked for our team were never really those who were the best, but were predominantly with whom we got on and hung around...
As businesses, we need to create the whole package that is more than being experts in the aim of standing out from the rest... People do not necessarily select the expert, but the one to whom they relate on a personal and emotional level."
Herein lies why businesses should become good at content marketing. People do business with those they know, like and trust. How can you expect to develop these traits if people won't listen to you? You need to become a business that becomes integral to a community and useful by:
- being consistent and continuous with your message
- acknowledging the problems you want to solve for them
- using the most appropriate platforms to deliver your message
- offering something more than just sales messaging - people don't want to be sold to, what they want is for their needs, hopes and wants to be catered for.
I recently conducted an audit for a prospective ecommerce client and throughout this book I could hear alarm bells going off in my head as their social activity totally contravened everything that should be successful and appropriate on social media. They constantly touted a 'buy buy buy' mentality and yet they were part of a community which loved food. There are so many other ways to meet their customers' needs and tap into emotional benefits in this space to develop brand loyalty. I'm afraid the hard sell is just lazy (and ineffective) marketing.
What do you stand for?
The next major hurrah moment during my read was the emphasis on a business "to stand for something" and something which other people also believe in. I've probably been guilty of not pressing this definition hard enough when my clients provide me with a brief, and sometimes companies really struggle to offer something unique. Should we as an agency walk away if this purpose isn't clearly defined, plausible or unique? It certainly makes our job harder and can limit growth potential (for both parties) if we don't.
This connects well with Mark's other point about storytelling. Even if you sell the same products what makes you different from your competitors is having your own voice and telling a story which is true to you. Having an opinion also helps! It's not about trying to sound important and "the expert" though, it's about authenticity and bringing value to your audience.
It's not a popularity contest
I like this one. Don't chase being popular. Aim to make lasting impressions which build strong relationships amongst a select group of consumers that stand the test of time, rather than look popular and end up with fickle, superficial affiliations which waste valuable time and resource. If what you preach resonates with your core following they will share on your behalf and help you build your community.
If you want attention in this world you have to earn it first. Same goes with trust. People need to understand that you are passionate about what you believe in, you're authentic, honest and real. Content marketing is a great way to show commitment to the cause and that you're willing to stick to it.
A content marketing strategy is paramount
Without writing my own novel on the subject, I will leave it at the point where having a content marketing strategy is a REALLY good idea. Mark quotes Joe Pullizzi, founder of The Content Marketing Institute and his seven points for an effective strategy:
- Who is the reader?
- What is my story?
- In which area can I be the leading expert which will also help my business?
- What is the objective?
- How will I measure this exactly?
- Is this initiative helping to build a unique audience?
- How patient can I be in making this happen?
I'm a strong believer in a good content marketing approach will lead to business success (without it you may have some short term gains but it's not a precursor to strategic business growth). For those that do embrace it, it can just take a little longer for some to reap the rewards than others. My advice, keep with it for as long as you can and let me know how you get on. Oh, and read Mark's book (in the sunshine) if you can.
P.S I received no compensation for plugging his book, but true to its contents, when you're passionate about something and have a set of shared beliefs you can support, share and collaborate on each other's behalf more effectively.