In 1996, Microsoft Founder Bill Gates coined the famous adage, “content is king,” in an article discussing the future of the Internet. Gates speculated that companies and advertisers needed to greatly differentiate the content they produced for print from the content they wished to run on digital mediums. Gates predicted that:
“If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.”
Gates postulated this more than 17 years ago and yet there are still companies and advertisers out there today that do not produce engaging and valuable content for their consumers. There are still companies that think the secret to being discovered online is to pay for as many links to their site as possible and spam countless and often irrelevant keywords in the hopes of bumping up the ranks in a search result. While links and keyword optimization still play an important role in optimizing websites (read my post on SEO here), good ol’ Bill got it right in 1996 – content is king.
So just what is the purpose of content marketing? I think that Brian Clark puts it best in “The Business Case For Agile Content Marketing” when he says that “the true allure of content marketing is to build an audience… An audience puts your business into an entirely different space within your industry.” Obviously, other objectives of content marketing are to create a customer and drive sales (objectives common to almost all forms of marketing), but by putting a focus on establishing and maintaining an active audience, these other objectives can be realized as byproducts. Brian Clark mentions that “how you sell is more important than what you sell.” If you sell through mediums which include engaging and valuable content that is relevant to your audience, such as email newsletters, blogs, community forums and well-designed landing pages, you are not only more likely to funnel in customers, you are more likely to retain them as well because they will see value in your company and will have established a relationship with your brand.
I talk about ways to create engaging and valuable content in my blog posts on inbound marketing and social media, so I won’t rehash that. One thing mentioned in “A Content Marketing Strategy That Works” by Brian Clark that I have not touched on is authority. Humans have a natural inclination to believe and respect authority figures more than other individuals. By being an expert on the topic your content is created around (or even by making yourself seem to be an expert), you can establish credibility and trust between your audience and your brand that can then be transformed into a mentor-mentee relationship and into future purchase decisions. The Brain Clark ebooks themselves are a good example of the appeal of authority in content marketing. While both “The Business Case For Agile Content Marketing” and “A Content Marketing Strategy That Works” are essentially promotional materials for the content marketing software solutions of Scribe and Copyblogger, by the time the reader gets to the actual sales promotion section of the ebook, the content creators have established enough authority for the readers to trust and believe in their services more so than if Scribe or Copyblogger went about advertising their products in a banner ad or some other traditional form of paid media.
I will conclude this post with three examples of excellent online content marketing, picked from The Content Marketing Institute’s “100 Content Marketing Examples.”
#1. My Starbucks Idea – Starbucks
My Starbucks Idea serves as a customer outreach and feedback forum for the coffee giant, Starbucks. Customers can log into the site and suggest new product and service ideas to the Starbucks team. Starbucks monitors the ideas to see which ones are popular and will occasionally take a customer’s idea and implement it in their stores! This is a great example of content marketing because it engages the audiences and makes them feel important. My Starbucks Idea is an example of how content marketing can tear down the perceived communication barrier between consumer and business and let the customer play a vital role in the development of a company and brand. Awesome.
#2. Navy For Moms – The Navy
Navy For Moms is brilliant because its purpose is to field the worries, issues and questions of mothers with children currently in or being recruited by the Navy. Other Navy moms can go on the site and post entries testifying to their children’s experiences in the Navy and how they Navy was able to help them out in their life in career. For mothers with children about to join the Navy, this site is great because a mother is going to be able to relate and communicate more effectively and relaxed with other moms in similar situations as opposed to Navy recruiters. This is an excellent example of aligning yourself with your audience and showing them that you care.
#3. The Inception of PC Viruses Video – F-Secure
Mikko Hypponen, the chief research office for computer security company, F-Secure, had a brilliant idea of going to Pakistan and filming a documentary on the creation of the world’s first computer virus, BRAIN. Hypponen did just that and F-Secure ended up making the documentary it’s own promotional website for the company. The use of the documentary in F-Secure’s content markeitng strategy is a great example of developing unique, authentic and educational content that engages the audience and establishes authority for the brand. Check out the documentary here.