The internet continues to radically change the way companies do business. As new technologies emerge, consumer trends wax and wane, and companies are in a constant flux of figuring out how to effectively reach current and potential customers. Indeed, entire industries exist to analyze consumer habits, predict trends, and tell businesses the best ways to communicate with their target markets.
As a result, businesses can engage in a myriad of activities that fall under the online marketing umbrella. Tweet This These strategies include many different mediums: PR, paid ads, videos, email, blogs, white papers, eBooks, social media, SEO, etc. Regardless of the medium, however, the message that companies usually communicate boils down to, “Hey, we’re great—check out why!”
This marketing strategy is ineffective. As consumers, this is not the message we seek. We constantly search for information—real, unbiased, unadulterated information—not ad copy. And because companies constantly bombard us with “we’re great” content, we’ve become adept at tuning out “check us out” marketing, much like we’ve learned to tune out banner ads.
How, then, do companies market themselves and effectively engage potential customers? Let’s learn from one of the original online content marketers: Robert Stephens.
Case study: The Geek Squad
In 1994, Robert Stephens started the Geek Squad—the tech support company that eventually attracted the interests of the retail giant Best Buy. Shortly after creating the Geek Squad, Stephens began to upload videos on how to fix minor computer issues. While others questioned his strategy, Stephens knew that focusing his content marketing on helping others would, in turn, help his business. To the critics, Stephens replied:
What you have to understand is eventually everyone is going to be out of their depth. At that point whom are they going to call? Someone out of the phone book, or are they going to call us, whose videos they’ve been watching over and over with our logo in the corner?
Stephens understood what many are still trying to grasp: effective marketing is creating helpful content for consumers, even if they aren’t your customers. Why? Because marketing should be about creating relationships, not about making a sale. Once those relationships are established, that’s when the sales happen.
Focus on people
Focusing on people is the key to content marketing. Tweet This The paradigm shift from “Yay, our company!” to “How can we solve problems, educate consumers, and create relationships?” is turning content marketing into the future of online marketing.
Consider the following examples:
Nikon can market content that explains how their technology is the latest and greatest, which we will probably promptly ignore. Or Nikon can market content about tips for shooting in low-light situations, which we will probably read. Photo tips are extremely relevant to Nikon’s target market and readers will now be connected to Nikon.
In a similar vein, as we lie in bed and realize that our mattress isn’t as comfortable as it used to be, we don’t pull out our phones and click on a marketing message from Serta about how their mattresses are the best in the universe. But we may click through to an article on the Serta website that explains how to know if we need to replace our mattress. And when we find out that our 15-year-old mattress needed to go a long time ago, guess where we already are?
We become more reliant on web search features with every new update and gadget. Smart businesses are those who create the content their potential customers are searching for.
Call to action
Focusing on helping consumers does not mean content marketing should not include calls to action. Focusing on helping consumers means content marketing should not focus on calls to action. If you are an accident lawyer, write a blog post about steps parents can take to help their teen avoid texting and driving. Include your contact information at the end. But write the post with the goal of helping mothers, not generating leads.
The Future of Online Marketing
The future of online marketing is being where your current and potential customers are. Tweet This It is creating and marketing content that consumers are searching for, not that they view as a distraction in their search for information. It is content marketing.
Remember these questions as you create and market your content:
- Does my content solve a problem?
- Does my content educate consumers? (This question does not refer to educating consumers about your products.)
- Does my content create relationships?
None of these questions focuses on sales or email lists. However, as you shift your mentality to focus on helping consumers, you will build relationships and consumers will trust you and your products/services.
Content marketing can be done effectively through many different channels. This article only gives examples of two: videos and blogs. What channels have you found to be most effective in helping consumers and why? Let me know in the comments below!