You can get a good idea of when an idea really catches on from when it starts to sprout associations. Herr Benz patented his ‘Motorwagen’ in 1886: the RAC was founded in 1897 and the AA in 1905. Cars were obviously here to stay!
On the same basis, it’s revealing that the Content Marketing Institute was set up in the US in 2007 and the UK’s Content Marketing Association in 2012. Content marketing existed before then, but it’s only in recent years that the concept has become mainstream and integral to many businesses’ marketing strategies. So, what is ‘content marketing’ and why its importance now?
The Chartered Institute of Marketing define it as “The process for creating and distributing relevant material, in any format, to your target audience with the express aim of engaging with the audience to drive a profitable relationship.”
An accurate, if rather dull way, of putting it. The key words are “relevant” and “profitable relationship”. “Relevant” means relevant to the recipient: a key aspect of successful content marketing is that it is centred on the needs and interests of the audience more than it is on the desire of the sender to sell (although sales are indeed usually the ultimate goal). “Profitable relationship” reflects that content marketing is a long-term strategy designed to produce a loyal customer following, as opposed to one designed to generate a one-off sale.
It’s a big deal now, like so many things these days, because of the internet. Once the opportunities for handling business online emerged, it wasn’t long before almost everyone was doing e-commerce (or going bust if they failed to). Online marketing in its early days majored on techniques that had been successful offline, so the emphasis was on promoting products as loudly and as often as possible. Soon, though, it became apparent that this was just creating a wall of noise, and consumers weren’t hearing specific messages. What was needed was material that held consumers’ attention – and thus did the content marketing step into the limelight!
This chart indicates the growing interest in ‘Content Marketing’ based on its popularity as a search term on Google.
Rather than sell, content marketing informs or entertains – ideally, both. For example, instead of a lawnmower company just showing customers their products, now it might also produce videos, brochures, webpages and all other manner of items that show how anyone can achieve the lawn of their dreams. It could explore the relative merits of growing lawns from seed versus laying turf, what treatments to apply and – ah yes! – which types of mower are best suited to different sizes and styles of garden. The consumers’ interests are what drives the content. What they want is a beautiful lawn: a lawnmower is just one part of the means to that end.
Providing content relevant to consumers is the key to successful content marketing. If one lawnmower brand has lots of useful information about lawns and gardening in general, that brand will have a distinct advantage over another that just bangs on about its lawnmowers. Consumers will bookmark its website as a useful point of reference for all things gardening. They might even add their own content in the shape of contributions to any forum the brand has helpfully set up. Content marketing is all about creating a community and sharing ideas which in turn lead to brand trust and loyalty.
The bulk of this leading lawnmower company’s home page is devoted not to its products but to useful content – including an invitation to join their gardening club.
Content marketing can take a huge variety of forms: whitepapers, case studies, surveys, videos, e-books, how-to guides – the possibilities are limitless. It works for companies of all sizes, too, whether they want to target consumers or other businesses, offer products (not just lawnmowers!) or services. It just takes a bit of imagination to keep up the flow of ideas that content marketing requires, and a bit of skill to create content that really will engage with your target market.
If you don’t have these attributes in-house, or perhaps just not the time, there are people who can do it for you (and yes, that’s the gentle bit of selling in this particular piece of content marketing!).