By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer
If you ask five people to define content marketing, they’ll offer ten different answers. This doesn’t mean any of them are wrong, just that its meaning varies significantly because content marketing occupies a wide scope of the digital marketing landscape.
As communications technology advanced throughout the 19th century, so did the potential for companies to connect with their customers. Content marketing was part of this connection, allowing businesses to reach their prospects and customers in an authentic and helpful way.
However, like any disruptive market force, it was met with some skepticism. I recall conversations with marketers as recently as a few years ago who were reluctantly including, for the first time, content marketing in their annual plans.
The fact is, content marketing is not new. It’s been around for decades, evolving from print newspaper and magazine articles to blog posts, social media content, video, and beyond.
Defining Content Marketing
When a term evolves over time, it can take on a variety of meanings. Take the SUV, for example. Do you recall what SUV even means? Both the 1955 Chevy Suburban and today’s Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class are considered sport utility vehicles, which shows just how much that term has expanded over time, as did the value it brings to consumers.
When using terms that have a spectrum of meanings, such as SUV and content marketing, clarifying them can be helpful in business to business (B2B) marketing, especially when business leaders are offering guidance to their teams.
The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as, “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.”
There’s so much to discuss in this short definition. Let’s examine three important words: “valuable, relevant, and consistent.” These are the three keys to a content strategy designed to attract and retain your ideal customer. So let’s dive in.
One of the most well-known pioneers of content marketing is the John Deere Company. They first published The Furrow in 1895 as a magazine intended to help farmers. It is still published today, and the print magazine remains popular.
The content in The Furrow has always focused on educating farmers about the latest advancements in the field, no pun intended, and offering solutions for common problems they face. Any reference to John Deere is subtle and subordinate to the importance of delivering high-quality, helpful content to their readers.
How does a publication continue to attract and retain John Deere’s target audience? Because the information in The Furrow is valuable to its readers. The Furrow is not a publication farmers read to learn more about John Deere. It’s where farmers go to learn more about farming, from conservation and technology to industry advancements and policies. Providing value builds trust, and trust is what turns prospects into customers and customers into raving fans.
In addition to being valuable, your content marketing strategy must be relevant to your target audience. Relevance is key to reaching your prospects and customers in an endless sea of information. There are two aspects to content relevance. The first is that your content is appropriate for your audience. The second is that it’s connected to what is happening now.
Sticking with our example of The Furrow, think about what this publication would look like if they were still talking about farming practices from 1895. Chances are, your modern farmer is more interested in farming technology, conservation, and modern agricultural best practices. On the other hand, consider if The Furrow centered their content strategy around home gardening; it would be relevant to some, but not to their primary customers: farmers. It should be noted that John Deere now also publishes Homestead magazine intended for country lifestyle enthusiasts, another distinct target audience.
Content strategies created from an internal perspective often fall flat because what’s relevant to you may not align with what’s relevant to your customers. Instead, try to get in the mind of your customers and prospects. What are they interested in? What news do they follow? What challenges do they face? Create content around the topics your customers care about.
Why is consistency important? Your prospects and customers are inundated daily by information overload. Chances are, you won’t become top of mind by being the loudest in the room. However, showing up every day, meeting your customers where they are, listening to their perspectives, and addressing issues that they care about, will earn you an authoritative voice and build trust over time.
As mentioned earlier, John Deere has been delivering valuable, relevant content regularly since 1895. Their content marketing style is in John Deere’s DNA as noted by the editor David Jones: “telling stories that folks enjoy reading—and that they can use in their own operations—has been the recipe since the beginning.” The Furrow’s 124-year history of consistently delivering valuable and relevant content has earned it a legendary following. Its raving fans not only look forward to the magazine but collect historical issues. Even their children are known to wallpaper their rooms with John Deere tractors. How’s that for branding!
It’s important to remember that content marketing is not a “one and done” approach. Consistent publishing is crucial to keeping your audience engaged with your content and your business.
Developing Your Content Strategy
When developing a content marketing strategy that will deliver positive business results, keep the three pillars in mind: value, relevance, and consistency.
Take the time to understand the issues your customers and prospects care about. Develop content that addresses those issues in a helpful and informative way. Establish a schedule to deliver this helpful content regularly so your customers and prospects look forward to your content on a consistent basis.
Once the content marketing strategy is complete, put it to the test by asking yourself or your marketing team the following questions:
Is my strategy delivering content that my customers and prospects find valuable?
Is my content addressing issues that my customers and prospects currently have?
How will I sustain delivering this valuable, relevant content over time?