This article is an excerpt from chapter 9 of Ahava's book The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web.

Everyone says content is the solution, but when you try to find new ways to manage it in your organization, you feel like you’re fighting an ancient beast from the deep. Why is content so hard? How do you lasso this monstrous beast and align your content developments to your business objectives? And what’s this new thing everyone is talking about called content marketing?

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is just a new term for all the web publishing you’re probably doing already, or want to be doing. Think of blogs, social media activities, email newsletters and the like. But those are just the tools of content marketing. The overall goal of content marketing is to create a sustained and interactive conversation with your audience so that they will come to regard you as a trusted friend and advisor.

Content marketing centers on the idea of having a conversation - the natural give and take that happens when people communicate. It is the difference between saying, “Buy a Toyota,” and “Hey, it looks like you are interested in buying a new mid-sized car - this particular model of Corolla might be perfect for you, but I’d like to hear more about what your car needs.” The first is forceful, the latter more of give and take, which gives the customer a chance to make up his mind based on the information you will provide.

Before we talk about how to institute content marketing within your organization, let’s explore some of the problems content marketing solves. How can content marketing help you?

These challenges, in no particular order include:

  1. Ads Don’t Have the Same Power: The Internet has weakened some of the most common advertising channels of the past, making a multi-pronged approach even more necessary. Certainly print media has suffered most publicly. And, digital advertising is not always effective. People skip over ads using their DVRs (Digital Recording Devices), their eyes roll right over them on websites and they close them out as soon as they pop up. So, Question #1: Without effective advertising, how do you create brand awareness and reinforcement?
  2. Reduced Attention: People are busy, busy, busy. When’s the last time you talked to someone on the subway or had a conversation with someone that wasn’t via Facebook or Twitter? We are all so busy looking down at our phones, that we miss a tremendous amount of the world as it streams by us. This means people ignore billboard ads, don’t listen to radio commercials, don’t retain information about your product and service, and could, honestly, care less. Question #2: In a world where no one is paying attention, how do we capture the attention of our target audience?
  3. Lack of Brand Loyalty: There was a time that people only bought one brand of car, shopped at one department store, or bought one brand of home appliances. Those days are gone. People want deals, they want the best product and they want someone to confirm that they are getting that. Why do you think online customer reviews are so powerful and plentiful? People with bad experiences want to rant in public so that the company that betrayed them suffers. People who had good experiences want to rave about the brand that treated them as though they really mattered. Question #3: How do we create brand loyalty in a world in which allegiance to brands doesn’t really seem to exist anymore?
  4. Social Sharing: People share a tremendous amount of information over the web now. Often time, brands are not even aware of the conversations that take place –both negative and positive. More than ever, people look to their networks to make recommendations about everything from gel manicures to guitar teachers to mortgage brokers. Once they are looking to their friends, they are not searching the yellow pages or looking at ads. In fact, they may not even care about your brand at all - they are simply interested in your service. All they care about is solving THEIR problem. You only become relevant to them when you provide proof that you have the solution. So, Question #4: How do we inform our audiences through a trusted community?

The Solution: Content Marketing

Prospective customers are looking for a company or service to trust. You want them to come to regard you as an expert on a subject, and then as a trusted expert. If you’re strategic, eventually, they will also regard you as a friend. By sharing stories and solutions, people will look to your brand as the answer to their problem and engage with you.

Once they regard you as a friend, you have created a member of a brand community who will advocate for you and spread positive comments about you all around the web. Content marketing exists to pull people in to your customer loop (lead funnel) by providing practical, useful information that leads to continued engagement and interest.

Content marketing is about creating and sustaining relationships with your customers by sharing content with them, and then measuring and responding to their reactions.

Content Marketing Tools

Some of the tools content marketers use to attract and sustain customers are:

Any developed content you use to grab a potential customer and move them into your customer loop serves as content marketing.

Content Marketing to the Rescue

Let’s address something important about content marketing. It isn’t really new. Communications professionals have been practicing some form of it for years, been doing it for years, using different parts of it, but never calling it content marketing (some people call it custom publishing, corporate journalism, brand journalism, branded media, brand content and inbound marketing).

By wrapping a name around it, recognizing it as another type of marketing approach, and associating it with certain tactics, we’ve tapped into a powerful method that is incredibly useful for attracting, engaging, and cultivating today’s consumer.

Want to learn more?

If you’re looking to expand upon traditional content strategy-both external (branding, messaging, tone) and internal (governance, workflows)-by folding UX into the conversation, you’ll want to join us on February 20, when Ahava presents her virtual seminar, Designing Effective Content Marketing.

Ahava Leibtag PhotoAbout the Author

Ahava is the author of "The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web", which includes tons of case studies on how to sell content marketing to senior-level executives. She also founded the Aha Media Group, a content-strategy and marketing consultancy. You can follow Ahava on Twitter at @ahaval.

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