What does content mean to a business?
As a product, content has been cheapened by so many freelance sites that pitch our work as “the most cost-effective” way to market a business.
But let’s face it – while “cost-effective” (or cheap) content can work, it often doesn’t.
As much as we hate this reality, there’s a huge amount of ill conceived content in the marketplace.
Surely, you’ve read several blogs littered with spelling mistakes, questionable advice and poor fact-checking. You’ve seen videos with clucky edits, horrible lighting and framing with a presenter who sounds like they are speaking underwater. And you’ve probably stopped listening to podcasts because they weren’t engaging at all.
We’ve all been there, too.
The more content that misses the message, lacks refinement, and doesn’t connect with the target audience, the more inclined people are to believe that content has little worth in growing a business.
The result? Many people think that content is just something to do for SEO. So they start believing it doesn’t matter if their content is crap, is random or goes off on a tangent , as long as it exists and has the right keywords to boost Google rankings.
Well, they’re missing out on opportunities.
SEO is vital to every business, but realistically it only gets eyes on your page. It’s the quality of content that converts a reader into a customer.
Does it hook your audience? Do they understand the message? Is it what they’re looking for? Will it make them trust you more? Do you have a clear call to action that steps them further along your sales process?
Great content answers ‘Yes’ to all of these questions. The fact that many overlook is that content, if done well, becomes:
- A lead generator that will convert
- An authority booster
- A way to build your league of motivated and passionate followers
- The most effective way to target your customers
But given how underestimated content is and what it can do for a business, why is it then one of the biggest marketing strategies?
The history of content marketing
According to Dictionary.com, content is “something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing or any of various arts.”
Content marketing, as per the definition by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), is “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
So to put in simpler terms, content marketing is creating content in various art forms such as blogs, videos, podcasts, and social media posts that communicate with a business’ target audience, to generate and convert leads.
While content marketing is massive now, especially in the online world where brands can have wider local and international reach and posts can go viral in a matter of hours, it doesn’t mean it’s new.
In fact, content marketing has been around for centuries, dating back to the 1700s.
Here is an abridged timeline of events from Content Marketing Institute (CMI) presenting the beginnings and evolution of content marketing:
- 1732 – Benjamin Franklin publishes the first issue of the yearly Poor Richard’s Almanack to promote his printing business.
- 1801 – Bookstore Librairie Galignani opens a reading room and prints a newspaper that featured articles from influential authors and books to grow its business
- 1882 – The Edison Electric Lighting Company Bulletin shares the benefits of electric lighting.
- 1887 – Charles Scribner’s Sons publishes Scribner’s Magazine, which provides a look inside the lives of its most famous authors, to generate sales for Scribner’s books.
- 1888 – Johnson & Johnson launches a publication called Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment aimed at the doctors who buy their bandages.
- 1895 – John Deere launches a customer magazine called “The Furrow” which now circulates globally in 12 different languages.
- 1900 – The Michelin develops The Michelin Guide which helped drivers maintain their cars.
- 1930s – P&G begins radio soap operas with brands like Duz and Oxydol.
- 1987 – LEGO launches Brick Kicks magazine.
- 2004 – Magnum Opus Awards (now known as Content Marketing Awards) debut.
- 2012 – Joe Chernov receives the first Content Marketer of the Year Award
- 2013 – Red Bull Media House launches 20 mini-movies for marketing.
- 2014 – Marriott International launches an internal creative and content marketing studio.
- 2015 – CMI produced The Story of Content: Rise of the New Marketing, which is the first documentary film about content marketing, is released.
Based on the history of content marketing, we can see that despite how it has grown through the years – from almanacs and magazines to radio soap operas and mini-movies – the idea stays the same.
People knew even centuries ago that they can drive sales through content marketing. This hasn’t changed today. All that’s changed is a shift in medium, with online content gradually becoming more popular than physical publications.
That said, it’s a lot tougher to stand out when there’s so much content being published everyday. Adding the fact that plenty of the content we find is rubbish, it’s even more challenging to hook your audience.
But that shouldn’t stop you from creating content for your business. Trust us, if your content is top-notch, the customers will seamlessly flow in.
How is content marketing better than traditional advertising?
Billboards, TV commercials, magazine ads, and website ads – traditional advertisements are found everywhere.
And we really mean everywhere. They pop up on websites; at the beginning, middle, and end of Facebook and YouTube videos; between every level in mobile games – everywhere.
As an average internet user, admit it – they annoy the hell out of you.
What’s the likelihood of you not skipping an ad that pops up in the middle of a video you’re watching? Our guess is, ‘highly unlikely’.
According to a Hubspot study, the majority of users find ads annoying and intrusive, especially online pop-ups, mobile phone ads, and online video advertising in the middle of other videos (e.g. YouTube). If the products or services aren’t on sale or on a massive promo, your ad will likely be ignored (sometimes out of spite).
Additionally, because of how intrusive ads are becoming, 200 million people now use ad blockers. That means chances are you’re not getting the amount of exposure you anticipate if you rely on online ads as your biggest marketing tactic. With ad blockers becoming more popular, many users won’t see them at all.
With content marketing, users don’t have to deal with similar frustrations. Since content marketing has a subtlety in how a brand “sells” their product or service, users don’t feel like you’re forcing them to buy from you.
It’s through the quality of your content that you build their trust until they decide that they want what you offer.
Aside from giving users the freedom to seek out and consume the content they desire whenever they want, here are other reasons why content marketing is better than traditional advertising:
It educates readers: Content marketing involves a lot of educational material that talks about topics that are relevant to the brand, while ads generally only inform users about the products being sold.
It allows more interaction: Content marketing aims for you to start conversations with your audience (e.g. through comments, reactions, etc).
It’s cheaper: On average, content marketing is 62% more cost-effective than ads while delivering three times as many leads.
How can brands stand out and add value through their content?
As with ads, your audiences do not want to consume ego-driven content that screams “I’m awesome!” Making your brand stand out is not about bragging about your success; it’s about how you connect with your customers.
So the reason why content marketing started as early as it did is because the communicative tool it uses dates back much further, and it’s even older than language itself: storytelling.
A great piece of content is one that is able to build personality while being both educational and entertaining to its target audience.
Storytelling has the capacity to build the trust and empathy of your audience, as it’s the best way to humanise your brand.
We’ve all seen how more and more TV commercials feature heartbreaking (or heart-warming) stories of love and family where the product becomes nothing but a cameo instead of the main focus.
These kinds of commercials are more memorable because storytelling reaches our emotions by showing us something that we, as humans, value and can relate to.
By humanising your brand through storytelling, you can hook your audience, communicate with them better, let them know “who” your brand is, educate them, and make them trust you and product.
This will make your brand stand out
What is the future of content marketing?
SEO can make you more visible and drive traffic to your website, but that’s about the end of its job. As mentioned earlier, it’s the quality of content that converts leads.
However, the amount of online content keeps rapidly increasing, oversaturating the market. Currently, there are about 440 million blogs (and just imagine how many posts each blog has too).
How do you compete with all of that (assuming that number will keep growing)?
Content marketing isn’t as easy as it used to be. It’s harder to make it work now than ever before because of all the competition. So for content marketing to work in the future, it needs to evolve.
This evolution has been happening gradually. Business owners, marketers, and content creators have been changing their content strategy to get ahead of their competitors.
Many content marketing experts predict that businesses should shift their content strategy from building brand content to establishing themselves as content brands (especially small, service businesses), provided that they commit to it.
According to Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group, “The difference between content marketing and just content is a brand-owned destination that serves customers over the brand. This means you have to think long and hard about where your content will live, how it supports the brand mission, and what value that has for the customer and the business.”
Creating content just for the sake of having content will be useless for your business.
Top influencer and Marketer Neil Patel also emphasises the importance of creating content that’s fresh.
If by now, most of your content topics have already been written about by dozens of other writers, just imagine how many similar pieces there will be in the future. No sane person will read through one hundred articles with the same message.
So, to stand out, your content needs to be new.
“Whether it is data that people haven’t seen before or something based on a personal experience that people can learn from, the articles that are unique and can only be written by you will perform the best,” says Patel.
The power of content is often misunderstood these days because of the surplus of poorly-made content online.
Many entrepreneurs and small business owners believe that the sole purpose of having content on their website is to rank higher on Google through SEO keywords.
But the power of good content has been evidenced by its history dating back to the 1700s when brands started using print content to drive more sales. Content coverts, boosts authority, and builds your brand.
However, with an oversaturated market, it’s increasingly becoming more difficult to stand out among your competitors, even if your content is great.
So to stand out, you need to go above and beyond. Commit to creating new, unique, relevant, and high-quality content that engages your target audience and humanises your brand.
Ultimately, content remains the most powerful and easiest tool to build an audience, convert them into customers, and get them to on-sell for you.
You just have to do it right.