The ability to leverage the right content to connect with your customers is arguably the most important marketing skill of our time. Per dollar spent, content marketing generates about 3x as many leads as traditional marketing.
So what is content marketing? According to the Content Marketing Institute, “content marketing is the marketing and business process for 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 like to describe content marketing as the art of creating and distributing content that connects your brand with the human experience. Content marketing pulls your audience into a narrative that has emotional resonance while providing valuable insight and meaningful solutions. Before we dig deeper into how content marketing works and why it matters, let’s take a quick look at where this discipline came from.
History of Content Marketing
A quick search on “the history of content marketing” will result in a slew of infographics and articles about the origins of this marketing practice. Most of them attribute Benjamin Franklin with the creation of the first content marketing piece in the publication Poor Richard’s Almanack to promote his printing business.
Since then, content marketing has taken on many forms. Marketing innovators have been discovering new ways to leverage content for decades, from The Michelin Guide (first published in 1900) to consumer magazines like Weight Watchers Magazine (first published in 1968).
Personally, my understanding of content marketing first developed when I discovered Seth Godin. As a young marketer, I read Godin’s book, Permission Marketing, and my whole perspective on my work changed. I was compelled by the thought that effective marketing delivers relevant content to people who want it. This is a stark contrast to traditional, or “interruption” marketing, which forces us to stop what we’re doing to listen to or deal with marketing messages — such as TV commercials or marketing mailers (aka “junk mail”). Godin described permission marketing as “the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”
Godin actually appears on some of the content marketing history timelines with the offering of his free ebook, Unleashing the Ideavirus. Free content like this is a very common practice in today’s marketing landscape but was unheard of at the time.
Today, free written content like ebooks, whitepapers, and blogs is everywhere. And most people still view the exchange of an email address—as opposed to money—as “free.” But in today’s landscape, marketers have to go further to cut through the noise and see real results from content marketing.
In the years since Godin published the first free ebook, our entire digital world has vastly changed and rapidly expanded. Today we walk around with computers in our pockets and get our news from social media channels. We have given our “permission” to more brands than we even realize, which has led to an epidemic of content shock. So what’s a content marketer to do?
More than ever, it’s essential that brands understand who they are marketing to. In the age of content shock, generalized marketing messages often fall flat, even if there are big advertising dollars behind them. While this can seem discouraging, I see it as an opportunity for small businesses to get ahead by using their understanding of their customer to create highly personalized messages.
75% of consumers are more likely to buy from a retailer that recognizes them by name, recommends options based on past purchases, OR knows their purchase history. Small businesses are often at an advantage here because their marketers and content creators are likely to be closer to the customer than those at bigger brands. Nevertheless, it is important for small businesses to find consistent ways to get to know their customers and gather relevant data to create personalized experiences. This can be done by conducting customer research and utilizing marketing technology – more on that in an upcoming blog post!
Create Visual Content
It’s no surprise that these days, visual content is king. The rise of image-focused social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have changed what consumers expect from content marketers. It’s been predicted that in 2017, video content will represent 74% of all internet traffic. The power of imagery to evoke emotion and connect us to the human experience is pretty incredible.
Small businesses can utilize visual content to share their brand’s narrative in organic and authentic ways. Live video options on social media allow for consumers to peek behind the curtain and be a part of the individual stories that make up your brand. Images of the people behind your brand humanize your marketing and promote credibility and loyalty. There’s no way around it — small businesses must make visual content a priority in order to remain relevant and engaging in today’s marketing landscape.
There is more creativity required from today’s content marketers than ever before. While tools and tactics often take up the majority of our focus, truly creative work is always going to have a better chance to cut through the noise. Content marketers and business owners alike must think outside of the box and take risks if they really want to stand out.
At the beginning of this post, I described content marketing as the art of creating and distributing content that connects your brand with the human experience. While technology and trends will always ebb and flow, the human experience remains constant. At the end of the day, we all want to have meaningful experiences and hear compelling stories. In my opinion, the primary job of a content marketer is to know how to connect with the customer on a deeply human level.
Lindsay is the cofounder of Wiled, a human-centric marketing and experience design agency. She enjoys helping individuals and companies embrace high-level strategy and measurable goals to attain real success and growth.