The One Critical Thing Companies Get Wrong With Their Content Strategy on Day 1
When companies first decide to use content as a marketing strategy, they are thinking about themselves first: ‘What can content do for us?’ they might ask. Whilst it may be logical to establish how you may benefit commercially, this question may start you off on the wrong foot when it comes to devising a content strategy.
Thinking about what YOU will gain from content marketing does nothing for those that are consuming your content. The result is that many companies fall into the trap of creating content focused on themselves. Unless your company already has substantial brand authority or consumer sentiment, content that centres too heavily around your brand risks leaving the audience disinterested, and you without any benefit from your content.
To win in content marketing, you must flip this scenario on its head and instead ask: ‘What can content do for our customers?’
You must provide content that provides value for the audience. That often means providing content that has nothing to do with your brand, but instead helps your customers succeed. This is often referred to as customer-centric content.
Why bother producing content that doesn’t talk about your brand?
Multinational software giant, SAP, realised that their brand-orientated content was failing to perform. Here is an excerpt from SAP’s Vice President of Marketing and Content Strategy, Michael Brenner, in his foreword in the book Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi.
“Businesses are responding to a world with too much content by creating more content. And as each piece lands on their websites and in social streams, they send the same message to their audience: we only care about ourselves…
“The problem: no one is listening, reading, or acting on this content...
“We realised that we were creating too much promotional and product-specific content that wasn’t being downloaded, read, or acted upon. We ran reports on our website that showed us that we were reaching the few who wanted product information and were ignoring the many who were not even sure that there was a technology solution to their problem.”
- Michael Brenner, former Vice President of Marketing and Content Strategy, SAP.
Brenner realised that SAP was missing an opportunity to educate potential customers about solutions to their biggest problems in business and create a relationship with potential customers and, in doing so, demonstrate that they care about their customers needs and would make a key partner for their customers business.
In essence, what Brenner is saying is that content designed with the primary purpose of helping the customer first, builds trust, and this trust leads to more effective relationships with your potential customers. This is the kind of opportunity that you could be missing by only producing brand-orientated content.
A relationship as strong as this can provide several advantages beyond an immediate sale. For example, those that aren’t ready to buy may become a loyal follower of your content and may think of you first when it does come time to buy. Or they may share or talk about your content with colleagues and friends if they think it will provide value for them also.
All this can be difficult to tangibly measure in the short-term, but can create a snowball effect over the long-term. For example, CRM (customer relationship management) and marketing software provider, Hubspot, have become, arguably, the most well-known CRM which is, in part, due to a massive online library of high quality free content such as how-to guides, blog posts, templates, spreadsheets and resources that assist their customers with almost any marketing-related question, task or problem they may ever have.
Now, when you search for almost any query or question related to marketing, chances are high that an article from Hubspot appears in the top 3 search results. Hubspot have used high quality, highly valuable articles to position themselves as a useful resource for their customers, to help them achieve all their marketing goals - not just ones directly related to their service offering.
CRM & marketing software company, Hubspot, has built a library of marketing resources that ranks highly in Google search, so anyone searching for almost anything related to marketing are likely to stumble across their website.
A recent study by Brian Dean from Backlinko found that educational blogs receive 52% more organic traffic than company-focused blogs. The study goes on to say:
“Interestingly, only 8% of companies solely used their blogs for PR-style, company news-focused content.
“This suggests that if a B2B company is investing in their blog, they understand they’re likely to see better results by providing useful content for their audience vs. company updates and news.”
The internet has changed the game so that the audience can pick and choose exactly what they want to or don’t want to consume. You need to make content that consumers WANT to consume - and that means providing something of value.
How to start producing content that provides value
“Your customers don’t care about you, your products, or your services. They care about themselves, their wants, and their needs. Content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you.”
- Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute
When thinking about your content strategy, the key is to focus on the value-add for the customer. There’s no single formula or method for determining what value you can provide through your content, but there are several common approaches. Some of the most common types of customer-centric content include:
- Practical content - Helping customers complete tasks
- Educational content - Making your customers better at their job
- Informational content - Informing customers of industry updates or news
- Entertaining content - Story-based, interesting or funny content
The most common value-add used in content marketing involves providing content that helps your potential customers complete their everyday tasks. For example, you may create short articles that answers customers’ most commonly asked questions related to your industry or your products.
Not only would this help existing customers succeed when considering or using your products or services but would help potential customers find you when they search for those questions online.
Bunnings Warehouse uses blog and video content to help their customers complete their DIY tasks. These mini-tutorials provide many benefits for Bunnings. Firstly, they reinforce the customer service ideology of Bunnings (as they use staff to narrate the videos). The content also directs large levels of traffic to the Bunnings website from Google search when people search for tutorials or tips for completing tasks. Lastly, it positions Bunnings, not just as a supplier, but a useful companion in the customer’s DIY project, making them want to come back for their next project.
A common marketing and product management practice is to create personas of your customers. A persona is a very specific description of a typical customer.
This is a good way to get into the heads of your customers and determine how they may think and act: What do they do? What are their goals? What are their biggest challenges? What questions do they ask? How do they currently find answers to their questions?
Determining customers everyday problems, tasks and objectives will allow you to start brainstorming what content you can provide to meet these needs or make these tasks easier. Remember to focus on your customers main goals in general, not just as they relate to your products or services.
Cement Australia provides a range of online calculators to help their customers more accurately calculate quantities of mortar, sand and render needed for their construction projects.
What practical content could you produce that would help your customers complete their everyday tasks or fix their common problems?
Making your customers better at their job or running their business could translate to wage or profit increases. So, using content to upskill your customers has the potential to provide huge value for them.
In addition, learning new things creates new electrical connections in the brain and can trigger a release of dopamine, making education a powerful psychological tool for engaging your target market and enticing them back.
For example, let’s say you sell project management software tailored to small contractors.
Instead of just focusing on the problems your software solves, your content strategy may entail providing short courses on a range of typical challenges faced by small contractors in the day-to-day management of their business. This may include hiring project staff, improving operational efficiency and strategies for winning new projects.
By doing so, you can increase your online exposure and become a trusted business partner for your customers, helping them improve their entire business, rather than just a provider of project management software.
Google’s Digital Garage offers over 150 free courses on a range of digital marketing topics that are “designed to help grow your business or jumpstart your career.”
By offering a new way of learning for free, Google is helping both its existing and future customers thrive, beyond the use of Google’s own advertising products. This kind of holistic thinking that puts users first has helped Google grow to become the internet’s most popular search engine.
What kind of educational videos, article series or short courses could you provide to help your customers thrive at their job or in their business?
Broadcasting relevant industry news and updates can provide value for your customers. This is particularly true if they rely on industry news for gaining new work, such as knowing the latest government construction tenders being released.
Another approach may be providing general interest news for casual browsing. This may encourage your audience to return to your website during their commute each morning.
Construction recruitment firm, ConsultANZ, publishes industry updates about major Australian projects relevant to their target audience on their website and social media. By sharing their own articles along with relevant news articles by others, they have attracted over 90,000 followers on LinkedIn!
It’s little wonder, then, why the world’s best content marketers say that to succeed in content marketing you must view yourself as a media company. This means your competitors are now news organisations, publishers, TV channels and media conglomerates - all of whom are competing for audience attention.
Thinking like a media company will force you to consider your content as a product in itself that is being consumed just like any other product, so it must be valuable enough for the audience to want to consume it like any other product.
Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of Vayner Media, is one of the world's leading authorities on content marketing. Vaynerchuk, has attracted millions of followers on social media, hundreds of millions of views on YouTube and become a world-renowned entrepreneur, author and public speaker from consistently creating highly valuable and extremely frank business and marketing advice over a long period of time. One of his core philosophies is that all businesses should adopt a media company mentality, saying:
“There is no reason to do anything other than act like a media company in today’s digital age...
“Instead of trying to sell, now you have the luxury of creating entertaining or utilitarian content as the gateway to the long term sale….This is the key. No sale required.
“The content you produce doesn’t even need to be related to your product. You can post your favorite articles saying “these are the articles you need to read” You can post about the weather, the news, your users, yourself! As long as you are focused on bringing value to the end consumer, you are going to build reputation and relationship.”
What relevant news, updates or trends could you talk about that keeps your customers in the loop about their industry or job?
Providing content that entertains may provide value to the audience through laughter, escapism, interest, emotion, inspiration or a captivating storyline.
The best example of entertaining content marketing could be the LEGO movies. The toy building block company has now made 4 box office movies using characters and settings made solely from their products! Despite being an incredible publicity achievement for the brand, the movies were a commercial success in themselves. The first of the LEGO movies grossed US$468 million and was unanimously praised by critics.
Content with entertainment value is most often used by major consumer brands to gain and keep audience attention in a world of distractions. This is because the need for closure in story-telling is such a powerful driver to keep the viewer engaged, connect with audiences and elicit emotion that can’t be achieved with practical, educational or informational content.
Online home design magazine, Hunting for George, started as an online retailer for homewares and interior design products. Founders and sisters, Lucy Glade-Wright and Jo Harris, used a strong content marketing strategy comprising video home tours, design case studies, high quality photography, and the like to promote their online store.
As cofounder, Lucy Glade-Wright shares on their website:
“Since day one we created unique stories to share with our community on our blog and social media and our audience loved it!... After 9 years of skin in the game and countless blog posts, videos, events and photoshoots later… Hunting for George had cemented itself as an authority in homewares and design.”
Hunting for George’s content strategy was so strong that the sisters shut down the online store and turned Hunting for George into a creative media company! They now boast over 290,000 Instagram followers and 120,000 YouTube followers, with some of their videos receiving over 1 million views!
What unique content can you create that entertains your audience first, and incorporates your brand second?
I hope this gets you thinking about your content strategy in a different way - one that puts value for the audience first.
These are some of the main types of customer-centric content that you can provide for your audience. You can also combine these different types of value offerings. For example, a common genre on YouTube is edutainment - educating the audience in an entertaining way.
Remember that if you want to successfully produce content that resonates with your audience, then you must view yourself as a media company and your content as a product. And every product must provide value and have a clear use case, otherwise it will be ignored.
Once you have created personas and established a better understanding of your target audience and their pain points and buyer’s journey you can start to identify ‘content gaps’ in the market. This will be key to creating a unique content strategy that meets a need not currently filled by others.
Now read: Where to Start With Your Content Marketing Strategy (coming soon)