If you're reading this, you're likely already aware of this famed quote from marketing guru Doug Kessler:
"Traditional marketing talks at people. Content marketing talks with them."
The quote is so well-known because it hits on one of the biggest paradigm shifts in contemporary marketing - digital audiences no longer want to listen to traditional advertising efforts. In fact, they no longer have to, instead, they can easily engage with content from brands across devices, across channels, across their days. Content falls seamlessly into the rhythms of their lives, becoming useful in a way that keeps the brand relevant and necessary.
We live squarely in the age of content marketing, and we're lucky to do so. The meat of your marketing strategy is the content you create and curate. It's what attracts and compels your target audience. It represents your brand's beliefs, and resonates with the beliefs of your customers. The connection made via good content is what marketers do it all for.
Creating good, compelling content, however, is easier said than done. All the common digital strategy steps - honing in on your brand purpose, setting marketing goals, understanding your audience through personas, and targeting specific channels on which to reach them - are all essential to the process. But once you know what you believe, what your audience believes, and where they're hanging out, then you're truly ready to deploy your content.
I also like to use the "Three Cs" as a barometer to gauge the potential success of my content. Any piece of content you create - a whitepaper, a short video, a podcast episode - should meet these criteria:
- Is it consistent?
- Is it customized?
- And is it constructive?
The Three Cs
Is it consistent?
One of the biggest rookie mistakes when it comes to content marketing is ignoring consistency in your content creation. If you're active on several channels at once, there's a tendency to create content for each that has messages that aren't in line with content on the other channels - or even your own brand beliefs, for that matter.
If you've already spent time zeroing in on your brand promise, you should then extrapolate on that to articulate a couple of key messages that you want to be associated with. Any more than three or four messages will likely confuse your audience, so start small, but try more than one, as you might need a variety to resonate with different audience segments.
For example, your brand promise for your non-profit might be something like:
"We believe that everyone should have access to clean water, and our goal is to bring education and resources to small villages in West Africa so that their water supply systems may be healthy and sustainable"
One of the messages you might want to be associated with might be:
"Water education leads to innovation and freedom."
Therefore, when you're thinking about the kinds of tweets that curate content from other sources, you're going to want to look for innovative infrastructure examples from across the world. When you're thinking about short videos to create, you're might show a clip of a water system you've helped build in use in a village. When you're considering guests for your podcast episode, you'll want to look for innovation experts who can discuss long-term effects of a access to clean water.
What you shouldn't do is convey a message of lighthearted humor on Twitter and then use shocking photos on Instagram. Not only are those messages not consistent with each other, but they aren't consistent with your brand promise, either.
Aha Media Group's blog post on content values is useful when crafting the kinds of messages you want to convey with your content. Aha says content values aren't necessarily about how your content sounds, but what your content stands for.
Is it customized?
Know thy channel. Customize your content for each specific channel or risk looking like an amateur. You need to identify which channels are best for your brand, and once you've discovered your channel mix sweet spot, you can start tailoring content for each individually. The key word there is "tailor" - don't create a piece of content and then expect it to be easily distributed across channels without customization. Audiences expect different kinds of content on different channels, and if yours doesn't fit in with (or innovate within) the channel standard, your content will be overlooked.
If your clean water nonprofit creates a whitepaper - which is a good idea, as it provides lots of useful content off the bat - you should then look at how you can break out parts of that whitepaper for different channels. Perhaps the part of the whitepaper that explains nuts and bolts of the organization's efforts can be turned into an engaging how-to blog post. Perhaps the parts that discuss results can be turned into an infographic that would be good for sharing on Facebook.
What you definitely shouldn't do is use parts of the whitepaper word-for-word across channels. What the classic whitepaper audience expects and likes is not necessarily what the classic Facebook audience expects and likes. Understanding what kinds of audiences hang out on which channels will help guide how to tailor existing content for specific channels.
Is it constructive?
Remember, good content marketing talks with your audience. Talking with them means not only talking about what they're already discussing, but answering the questions they're asking, addressing the pain point they don't know how to solve. Any good piece of content is good because it's useful and constructive for the target audience. Its use could come in many forms - it could be funny, poignant, or hip. It could contain knowledge about how to do something. It could contain results and statistics in the form of a case study. It could be a conversation-starter, fostering community and discussion. It could simply be entertaining. But whatever the content is, its constructive use should be clear to you before you distribute it across channels.
If your clean water nonprofit wants to create content that has a clear use, make sure to add a call to action somewhere in it, where your audience can sign-up to advocate or donate. If your constructive use is educational, make sure to promote your content with snackable bits of information, statistics or facts that your audience will remember. Along those same lines, make your educational or informational content shareable. If something is shareable, it's useful. People like to share content that their friends find interesting, and if you create something that looks nice, has a catchy headline, and clear takeaways, its shareability factor goes through the roof.
What you shouldn't do is create content with no clear goal in mind.
What's your content going to do? Why will your audience click on it? Why will they continue to read it? What part of it will make them share it?
If you can't answer all of these questions before distributing your content, it's likely not going to be useful for your audience.
We're in the midst of a content arms race right now, and those with the most engaging, compelling, and useful content always win. In one way, it's made digital marketing more cutthroat - when everyone has a voice, the voice standards are raised. In another way, it's made marketing more fun and exciting than ever before. When you get to create content that truly communicates your brand beliefs and brand promise, real connection is possible. You're no longer bound by traditional marketing and advertising formats. You have permission to think outside the box in an effort to get inside your target community.
Consider the content the part of your digital strategy where the art of marketing is really on display.