I’m a huge fan of Content Marketing, and as I have said, Content trumps SEO, Links, PPC, and most other ways you can market, especially for budget conscious startups. But what is Content Marketing, and more importantly, what makes for good Content Marketing Content?
Content marketing is an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation or sharing of content for the purpose of engaging current and potential consumer bases. Content marketing subscribes to the notion that delivering high-quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable consumer action.
Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
I explain it this way. A concentration of content given freely invites an audience to come take a look. If the content is good to great, it builds trust with the audience. Ultimately, that trust can lead to an opportunity to do business, if all goes well. Notice how you have to give quite a lot of value away before you get to the doing business part?
Content Marketing Content is not the same as Marketing Content. We’ve all seen lots of traditional Marketing Content: data sheets, white papers, demo webinars, and all the rest. Usually you have to give away enough contact information to faciliate identity theft before you see any Content, too. That’s Old School. Fuhgeddaboutit.
The New School says you product fantastic content and give it away. After you have built the trust, then you can ask for a little contact information and not before. Moreover, the content you’re going to give away doesn’t have all of that overt marketing stuff. There are no calls to action, asking for the sale, competitive face offs, feature check lists, or any of that. No reason you can’t produce that content too, but keep it clearly separate from your Content Marketing Content, or you’ll spoil the trust.
How do marketers spoil trust? Well, when my son was very young, we were headed over to a friend’s house for a pool party. This friend was a VP of Marketing. I asked my son if he knew what Marketing was. He said, “Yeah sure, that’s where they lie to you to get you to buy stuff.” There goes the trust! It’s been so often, that people don’t even check whether you’re lying. You may not be, but they will assume you are at the first sign you are trying to sell them something.
That’s a radical change of mindset for most marketers. It goes against everything they’ve been taught. They find themselves in the middle of writing a blog post only to find that they were writing ad copy, not a blog post, and they have to start over again. Here’s a way to try to escape that trap. When you sit down to create your Content, try to put your company aside. Heck, do it at home if that makes it easier to get outside you Company’s parochial view. Or start the session by reading some blogs written by people who don’t have competitive companies but that are associated with your space. What are they talking about? How are they taking positions? What are those positions and how do they sell them? Roll that around in your brain like you’ll roll a fine cabernet around on your tongue. Get the nuances from that juice.
Are you ready?
Okay, now take out three hats and put one of them on. Your three hats are Teacher, Curator, and Pundit. Whichever hat you put on, that’s your voice, that’s your background. You are not the Director of Product Management for ACME SaaS Software anymore. You are a Teacher, Curator, or Pundit who is connected with the same space, profession, market, demographic, fraternity, or whatever that ACME SaaS Software’s customers are. Does that feel a little different? You bet it does!
What do you write? Let’s look at each hat.
A Teacher is there to teach. This is a rich area. What can you teach about the Best Practices of your space? What have you learned from your Customers that you could pass on? What does someone new to your space need to know to do their job? Notice I didn’t say what do they need to know to choose software to help with their job. There is a difference. You are a Teacher. There is a rich mileau of subjects for you to teach your students in almost any space you can name.
Okay, now let’s put on the Curator hat. Curators oversee collections. There is a broad universe of knowledge out on the web that is connected to your space. Other people are producing that content all the time. Your job as Curator is to assemble a collection for your audience of the very best of that information that is out there. Build lists of the very best blogs and publish them. Read all of those blogs, and when really cool articles show up, call your audience’s attention to them. Comment on the articles and add a little editorial value. Link out to them. Marketers are terrified outbound links will send their audiences packing. If you are doing a good job producing content, the audience will be back. Curation is the easiest way to come up with good Content Marketing Content. If simply involves knowing what you like and pointing others in that direction. Anyone can do it. If all else fails, and you haven’t produced content lately, crank out some Curation pieces. Curation is also the most easily delegated if you need to multiply your resources with some hired guns. BTW, if you really want to get jiggy with this Content Marketing, point to some praiseworthy things your competitors are doing or saying. Be sincere. Give props if they do something worthy. Your audience will appreciate it because it takes guts and is the opposite of lying to get them to buy your products. The competitor will be so shocked they won’t know what to do. They’ll think it’s a trick. They’ll know if they trash you after you did that it really makes them look much worse. Heck, they may even figure out the only way to diffuse that sneaky bomb is to say something nice about you!
Time to put on the last hat: the Pundit hat. I saved it for last for a reason. The Pundit hat is both the most powerful, and the most dangerous hat you wear. Curation is easy–you basking in the glow of someone else’s creative effort in exchange for directing attention their way. Teaching is at least factual. You do the research, write it up, and send it out. If you’re intellectually honest, its hard to get into much trouble with it. Punditry is taking a strong position that is often an opinion and not provable. It involves taking a stand that some people will object to. It is the antithesis of being that sales or marketing person who never creates controversy because they want everyone to love them. You can see why it is dangerous. If you do it poorly, you’re going to come off as a real jerk and perhaps an idiot as well. Twain says it is better to be quiet and thought of as an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I say!
The Pundit hat is the most powerful because taking a polarizing position is viral. It’s interesting. It’s why the news doesn’t report objective facts. They’re all pundits. They take sides. Because of the dangers, the Pundit hat must be carefully controlled. Very likely only the CEO or perhaps one or two execs can wear it. Some of the most successful CEO’s in Silicon Valley history have been successful in large part through the Pundit’s hat. They say outrageous things. I’m talking about Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Marc Benioff, and those kinds of CEO’s. They understand the viral power of taking a polarizing stand and sticking to it. If you can wield the Pundit’s hat successfully, you will have immeasurably increased the power of your Content Marketing. 37Signals have strong opinions about everything. They are not afraid to wear the Pundit’s hat.
Here are a few guidelines I like to use for the Pundit’s hat, but really, there are no rules:
- I prefer not to use it to disparage competition. If you’re going to disparage, focus on ideas, not people, products, or institutions. Keep it abstract. Obviously some of the famous CEO’s on my list haven’t read this rule, but I think they would’ve been just fine if they had followed it, and they would have left less breakage for their staffs to clean up in their wake.
- Be polarizing. You can’t say “yes” to everyone and everything. Figure out what you will say “no” to early and be very consistent to that. Whomever has disagreed with your Punditry will be keeping score and just waiting for you to slip up on your consistency.
- Be good natured and not mean. Explain why you disagree with the idea, and lend a little credence and understanding for how some people may agree with it.
Use the Pundit’s hat sparingly. It is the most powerful, but it becomes too strident when it’s all you have to talk about. You can’t build a Content Marketing strategy with just one hat. Wield all three. Use the Pundit’s hat to sprinkle much needed spice in every so often and hook new visitors in with the controversy.
There you go. Three hats, three new ways to think about how to get that Content produced.
Links to the Bootstrappa’s Paradise blog series as well as other useful resources for Bootstrappers.