What is content marketing and how can we best use it?

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What is content marketing? A fine question – and an important one at that. Content marketing is concerned with the ways by which business ‘sell’ their products without ‘selling’ them. That is, rather than spamming your current and potential consumers, you opt instead to provide content (hence the content) that hopes to engage those people without making it obvious to them that you’re trying to sell something. In fact, selling shouldn’t even be your goal. Content marketing could easily be renamed Communication Marketing and we’d perhaps better understand what’s going on.

Put it this way. For the purposes of this blog, I’m a content marketing-man. I need to sell you my information, and it isn’t cheap to sell. Now, you’re an intelligent individual. You have Sky+ so I can’t have a TV ad – you’ll just whack things onto x30 speed and miss it. I don’t want to pay for a magazine ad – you will read the articles you want and filter out all other information. I certainly don’t want to create a pop-up – because everybody bloody hates pop-ups. And I have a Twitter feed, but I can’t just leave a ‘Hootsuited’-message five times a day in the hope you’ll follow it.

This is my plight as a 21st century marketing-man. You’re all clever; you all know how to use technology efficiently, and you can smell spam from a mile off. You all live in a world that is obsessed with information, and the obtainment of information. But it’s often sterile, and unsubstantiated (so many things are going viral without any truth behind them). All I know is that you’re human and –

Wait. Yes. You’re human. And what do humans love? Stories, of course. And attention. Yes, we all want to feel special, and important. Also, we want to be interested; nobody likes being bored. We have a responsibility to make people think, and change their minds, and feel they are learning and growing, all the while with smiles on their faces.

And that’s the focus. I’m not appealing to businesses or logos – it is my job to make sure that you, as an individual, are positively affected by the content which I choose to send your way. It could be a video of somebody using a product, it could be a testimonial, it could be a Twitter feed that does anything except sell the product, but aims more to guide its consumer.

In essence, then, I’m not selling you my product – I’m making an assumption that you’re using it. Meanwhile I continue to upload photos of the product in use, how-to guides and all manner of interesting things that encourage your continued use of the product. I assume you’re following, but let’s give a couple of examples, just in case.

Obviously, our examples start at the start of content marketing. The first person to use what we would now call content marketing was John Deere. In 1895 he distributed a magazine focussed on informing farmers on how to be as profitable as possible. As I mentioned in my last paragraph, this was essentially a how-to guide for every individual farmer. Moving forward to now, The Furrow is a well-established agricultural journal (in 14 languages, no less). If you have a quick Google of it, you’ll see that articles on its homepage include a feature on the Keogh family, potato farmers in Ireland, and also a story on a Green revolution in Angola. You see, stories! Not dry analysis of farms, but real narratives involving real, not hypothetical, scenarios.

Heck, call me a trumpet blower, but this article itself is a kind of content marketing. I am talking to you, right now, and I’m explaining how content marketing has influenced strategy in business. I’m selling the premise without saying “you should be doing this”; rather I’m opting to sell the methodology on the assumption that the idea will sell itself. If this is too, post-modern, though, allow me move on.

This post may be a type of content marketing but it is worth stressing that a solely text-based content marketing scheme is probably a tad obsolete. Consider the context. We have the internet, images, video, apps and all manner of wonderful knick-knacks at our disposal. Don’t forget the fad of the moment, “going viral”. If you really want to attract consumers on a mass-scale, going viral is the perfect way to go about it. And, let’s be honest, you’re not going to go viral with a piece of text unless you’re extraordinary. So, as a content marketing-man for the 21st century, I’d expect a mix of media, with a mix of intentions, if I was seriously considering attracting the widest range of consumers possible. Not only this, but you’ll retain those you have (most probably) by keeping them on their toes and providing entertainment and information on a regular basis.

I think a strong focus on video content, well-written prose, and a strong social media strategy (that projects a company that has a personality and a sense of humour) is going to be an emerging trend in the next few years. I expect apps and vines (and yet-to-be-released technology) dedicated to providing content on a mass scale at a touch of a button. I also expect company websites to become much more user-friendly, utilising trending technology and Twitter feeds to target younger, savvy, consumers to their products. This is a technological world and its terrain can only be traversed by those who are bold enough to use these technologies in exciting and innovative ways. Unfortunately, I don’t yet know what they are, but I think content marketing is a necessary future for all enterprise in all fields – to ignore its potential is to remain in a soon-to-be obsolete age. Pen and paper doesn’t cut the mustard like it used to, and it is up to us to find a new alternative for selling our products.

Well, I hope this has been fun for you. And engaging. If so, then I’ve done a decent job at explaining content marketing in a manner befitting the topic. And even if I’ve failed you in that sense, I hope that I have at least provided you with an insight into how content marketing is best used to attract and retain consumers on a humanised and individual basis, using technology as your most trusted ally along the way. Stay well, and remember that you’re communicating, not selling. If you manage that, then you’re on the right track. The rest, as they say, will come.

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