For the past several years, content marketing has been the go-to solution for brands that want to increase their brand awareness, web traffic, and site conversions. It was seen as the golden ticket, a way for marketers to draw their target audiences in by writing articles that answered the questions searchers would frequently ask on Google.
And it worked!
Sites that published frequently saw massive leaps in traffic. Then “content marketing” became “inbound marketing” with the addition of gated content, which they would freely give in exchange for their website visitors’ contact information. And we all sat back and watched the leads flow in and our email lists swell. Here at eCity Interactive, we saw the results first-hand when we committed to our agency’s blog, and it worked for our clients, too.
However, what happens when everyone ramps up their publishing efforts and focuses on publishing quickly and frequently to vie for attention on social media feeds? Too often, people end up feeling overwhelmed by ample content options filled with keyword-stuffed clichés and few insights that can actually be applied to the problems they face.
Whether we’re reading content on the web or in print, watching videos, or listening to audio, if the content doesn’t resonate with its audience, it’s just a bunch of noise. So, it’s time to rethink our approach; when you think of content marketing, rather than blog posts and blurbs for your social accounts, think: radical generosity. Or gift-giving. Gifts are best received when they are tailored to the recipient, and so it goes for content.
Content marketing is the art and science of creating the right content for the right people at the right time, and naturally, it requires empathy.
As content marketers, our number one goal is to create content that is so valuable to searchers that it’s practically a gift, or a free service, in itself. Real relationships are all about giving, and as John Ruhlin states in his book Giftology, “Gifts are symbols of the value you place on the relationship.” Think about how you want people to feel after they read your content. You want them to feel full, inspired, hopeful, and empowered to apply what they’ve just learned to their businesses and see real results.
What Content Marketing Got Right
Well-crafted content cuts through the noise, makes contact with your target audience, and builds trust. As you optimize your content for people searching for solutions, you’re simultaneously optimizing it for search engines, which improves discoverability.
By respecting your audience and consistently producing relevant content, you will undoubtedly increase traffic. More traffic is great, but how do you deepen the relationship by turning mere traffic into qualified leads? Many brands started by creating gated content like white papers, eBooks, and webinars. Companies like Hubspot, Marketo, and Pardot pushed this inbound methodology and the “MQL” became every marketing team’s white whale. The trick was making sure that the gated content was worth more than the lifetime value of someone’s contact information. Anything less was a disservice.
Once a visitor converted into a lead, the relationship had just begun, and it needed to be nurtured. Through social media, emails, drip campaigns, and more, content marketers continue to develop these relationships, moving prospective customers further along the buyer’s journey.
Where Things Went Wrong
Content marketing is supposed to be quieter, more in sync with what searchers want, and have a stronger gravitational pull. For these reasons, it became ubiquitous and transformed the way companies communicated with their customers. Instead of bombarding searchers with ads, content marketers simply aligned their content with their target audience’s interests.
However, somewhere down the line, marketers started to think that ranking well on search engines ranked higher than actually helping people. Content marketing became nothing more than content overload with poor quality articles that emphasize brands and sacrifice searcher benefits. Today, searchers find themselves sifting through a mess of sales-heavy content that isn’t actually relevant to them or even valuable.
Content marketers also began thinking of their customers as “followers” when it should be the other way around. Content marketers must follow their customers closely and listen to them as user trends evolve over time.
Today, searchers are overwhelmed with media and choice. They’re suspicious of the way brands have been abusing the gift of content marketing and rightly so. They have their guards up. They also have less time than ever and require immediate and effective searches.
How Content Marketing Needs to Evolve
It’s time to reverse the wave and return to content marketing in its purest form. As Craig Davis, former Chief Creative Officer at the legendary marketing firm J. Walter Thompson said, “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.” So, how do we put this into practice? By finding the right content fit, focusing on quality over quantity, and choosing the right channels.
Finding The Right Content Fit
Without content fit, you can have amazing, highly valuable content that just doesn’t serve your customer. The goal of content fit is to create an experience that is truly tailored to the desires and needs of your customers. Alignment is essential. To create alignment and content fit, you must first develop an understanding of who your customers are, learn about their desires, discover their biggest pain points, and determine where they are on the buyer’s journey.
Define User Personas
My first step is to conduct user research and define your target user segments with their unique goals and challenges. User personas can be a helpful tool here. User personas are semi-fictional representations or characters that represent your audience. Rooted in data, user personas feature the common pain points, demographic information, and detailed background stories representative of specific user groups.
Related: To learn the what, why, and how of creating user personas for optimal results, check out this post.
Establish Voice and Tone
Next, it’s essential to establish your brand’s voice and tone. Voice and tone often get blurred together; however, it’s worth noting their differences.
Voice is your brand’s character and personality.
Tone is how your brand expresses that personality to a particular audience.
Your brand’s voice extends far beyond the copy and remains consistent throughout your branding and design. Websites serve as containers for the stories we want to tell, so we need to make sure that our message is compelling and that we focus as much on that message as we do the page formatting. Meanwhile, your brand’s tone changes with the context.
“In essence, voice is to climate as tone is to weather… Climate is consistent and predictable across wide coverage; weather is highly local and changes frequently.” –Kevin Potts
For example, you wouldn’t use the same tone in a Thank You email as you would in an apology, but both messages should still exhibit the same sense of character. To have a consistent voice but a changing tone is human, and it comes from a place of empathy and sincerity.
For me, working to identify the appropriate stories, tone, and functionality that will endear everyone from our clients to the people casually browsing their website is a fascinating process and often a moving target. But I love the challenge of working with clients to inspire and move an audience to come along on the journey.
Be Mindful of the Buyer’s Journey
In content marketing, empathy is everything. To establish healthy relationships, it’s important to meet others where they are. When we lose sight of our actual audience, the impact and charm of content marketing diminish. Fortunately, most—if not all—of your customers will follow the four stages of the buyer’s journey: awareness, consideration, decision, and delight. However, it’s important to note that not all journeys are linear, which is why really knowing your buyer personas is key.
Nurturing prospective customers along the buyer’s journey requires patience and radical generosity. It’s buyer-centric as opposed to brand-centric.
Knowing your buyer personas, their common questions and their typical path will enable you to create valuable and relevant content to delight them at every stage. You wouldn’t want to give someone in the awareness stage the same content or CTAs you would present to someone in the decision phase. If you did this, you would scare them away.
Focusing On Quality Over Quantity
eCity has always been a content-focused company; we even started out as an offshoot of our sister company, Center City Film and Video. However, inbound and content marketing have become such buzzwords and hot topics in the past few years that even companies with the best content strategies are getting drowned out. As a result, we’ve doubled down on quality over quantity.
“Writers who write ‘big’ blog posts are twice as likely to report strong results.” –Orbit Media
The 150-word snackable content is fine for some audiences, but authoritative, well-researched tent-pole articles with quality imagery and media have proven to be much more effective for our own marketing efforts here at eCity and also for our clients. Quality content also has SEO benefits. When you create new, high-quality content, Google ranks it higher in the search engine results than old, poor quality content.
Choosing The Right Channels
It’s also important to choose the right channels when distributing content. Ask yourself, what are the channels that will be most impactful for my users? Is it LinkedIn or Instagram? Email or a podcast? Blog or direct mail? And acknowledge the fact that you don’t have to be everywhere. Over-investing in any channel you don’t own is a big risk if they change their algorithm. The goal here is to own your platform and have it point to your content whether that’s videos, webinars, or blog posts.
While content marketing has become a cacophony, the trend doesn’t have to continue. It’s time to reverse the tide. By investing time into creating a solid content strategy, you will be able to understand your ideal prospects and in turn, create content at the caliber they want.
eCity’s talented team of content strategists is offering day-long workshops that will guide your team through creating the most important elements of an effective content strategy. To learn more, download our free Content Strategy Workshop Agenda.