Content is the nucleus of inbound marketing, the tactic of attracting customers to your business rather than going out and pushing a sale on them. SEO, PPC, Social – they’re all integral to bringing leads in, but inbound doesn’t work if there’s no content for people to arrive at and derive value from.
Content marketing is changing and people are scared, but before we start inspecting the current state of content marketing, let’s take a trip back to remind us when inbound was still a pipe dream and small businesses were at the mercy of outbound marketing…
- The Consumer’s Outbound Experience
- The Marketer’s Outbound Experience
- The Shit Bit
The Consumer’s outbound experience
‘The era of outbound marketing, they were some dark days. Cold calling at dinner time, witnessing television ads about detergent at age thirteen, newspaper adverts for mobility scooters – the chances of being exposed to actually relevant advertising were often limper than a boneless skeleton. Our entertainment was interrupted by marketing, and it pissed people off.
So naturally we rejoiced when the power to discover and enjoy things that interested us was consolidated on the World Wide Web. Content was rich, choice and information were ample. The consumer was empowered and extraneous outbound ads became easy to avoid.
The marketer’s outbound experience
‘The era of outbound marketing – they were some dark days. Small businesses would spend large amounts of their budget for simple print ads and it was hit and miss. Unless you were a huge business, it was tough to market yourself cost-effectively.
Word of mouth was good but difficult to instigate. With a limited amount of channels to promote yourself on, prices were high and exposure unguaranteed.
So naturally we responded to the internet’s ability to circumvent outbound marketing with a kind of bitter acceptance. Outbound was a troubled aspect of marketing that isolated businesses that weren’t huge enterprises. Also, pissing off potential customers with interruptive ads is never ideal, so marketers watched as outbound slipped out of fashion.’
…But marketers don’t sleep, ever, except for at night.
In those formative years of the web, the marketing industry peered out of its digital window and saw crowds foraging the online landscape for content, seeking what was entertaining and informative.
It became clear that individuals would be drawn to locations that published the content that satisfied them the most. The authors of such content were heralded as figures who “posted some pretty cool stuff”. Trust and value was established.
In response, marketers decorated their online platforms with their own content – tailored to provide real value, not just sales pitches – in the hope that it would attract consumers to their brand and foster loyalty.
Through social media, the public could discover and follow enterprises that posted interesting material. Content marketing became the key to establishing relationships with potential customers.
And so started the golden age of inbound marketing, complete with informed consumers, great content and sturdy public relations.
twitter has become an echo chamber
The Shit Bit
Is the golden age starting to appear gilded? Is content marketing in danger of being consumed by itself?
While the concept of content marketing is excellent, the sheer volume of material that is uploaded to the internet on a daily basis means it’s more likely for published content to simply get lost in the thicket – a dozen or so shares before it gathers dust and settles down for the long haul, like some sort of disillusioned vampire going to sleep, or something.
Does the cream really rise to the top?
The idea that creative material is a meritocracy – high exposure and praise correlating with high quality – is a comforting thought.
Yet consider this scenario:
A virtuoso pianist has spent the last five years burying his or her head in music theory. They haven’t had time to publish any of their content online until now. They post a video of their skills to their Facebook and Twitter and get a handful of likes and favourites, that’s all.
On the other hand, social media profiles with large followings (often in excess of hundreds of thousands) can post a gif of a majestic primate and tens of thousands of people will not only witness it, but engage with it too.
Similarly, businesses will often feel frustrated at the lack of exposure their great content receives compared to a competitor whose half-arsed blog is being shared everywhere.
Clearly then, not only are we suffering from content saturation where the consumer is overwhelmed by choice, but the same problem is being exacerbated by the current methods of promotion, where bad content is inexplicably shared despite better alternatives.
It’s time to change your mind set
I’m afraid a reality check is in order. For 99% of the population, success is not an overnight affair. For businesses, success is measured in years, not months.
But we’ve just been over how crucial content is, how can we harness it to bring in clients and such when audiences are already inundated with information?
Always be targeted and your relative exposure increases
No matter the size of your market, it’s vital that each piece of your content has a specific, nuanced and targeted audience.
Not only should market research be an ongoing thing, but an atomised audience profile should always be a precursor to content creation.
You could argue that the more inclusive your content and the broader its audience profile, the greater its potential to reach out, right?
Well, no, because as we’ve mentioned, there’s a lot of content out there already. The wider your landing zone, the smaller your impact and the more impacts you have to compete with from others.
The effectiveness of pandering to the broadest audience possible is similar to squeezing washing-up liquid into the ocean and hoping for a bubbly reception.
You want bubbles? You want a bath that’s modestly sized. That bath (I regret this metaphor already) is your audience.
The more separate details you can define your potential audience by, the more targeted your content can be, reducing the size of your competition and increasing impact.
Look ahead, always ahead
If you keep up to date with your industry (which you do, right?) you’ll have a good scope of where it’s heading. By crafting content based on a topic that’s relevance is likely to grow, its timely publication will appear prescient, improving your brand image – good huh?
More importantly though, content that is predictive in nature is also provocative. Making claims about something’s trajectory will always inspire others to chime in, either in disagreement, agreement or appraisal.
Being topical is important, yet big developments in the industry all have a common response: ‘What will the consequences be?’
If you can reflect on your knowledge and come up with ideas of what these consequences are, you’ve got content gold right there. Such content is not only unprecedented but also timely and in demand.
It goes without saying that you should research your industry and stay on top of ongoing changes. Don’t shy away from making predictions – even if many disagree, it’s cause for a lively discussion, and ultimately, exposure.
Know when to transition from creation to circulation
It’s too easy to brood over content and obsessively edit it with the febrile hope that just one more tweak and it’ll be so perfect it’ll shake the world. As we know, no matter how full of virtue your material is, there’s no guaranteeing it’ll get picked up by the masses.
So you need to be realistic. Often, you can determine the completion of something when you’ve taken away all you can while still retaining its core value. Beyond this point, disseminating your content should be your new objective.
The objective of sharing out your work naturally enters the realm of PPC, social media management and other digital marketing techniques, but it still has crucial effect on content creation. For one, it means your productivity isn’t being hindered by sentimental editing; the longer you spend on one project, the less time you’re spending on the next.
Content, no matter how much it has been tweaked, cannot be a valuable part of inbound marketing until it has left its draft stage and become a package for those other realms of marketing to distribute.
I don’t care how you do it – Be. Novel.
The irony of how unoriginal the saying ‘be original’ is duly noted. But it doesn’t matter, because Rihanna, Mark Zuckerberg and Aristotle all said it. It’s a notion that is in a permanent state of validation.
But it’s hard; you might argue that factual, industry-related content is impossible to create a wholly original piece of content for.
So what do you do?
Spin. There are infinite angles to approach every subject, and your angle is your novelty when the discipline you’re writing about is already well defined.
Take our blogs for example. “SEO tips” summons a cool eleven and a half million results on Google alone, that’s a lot of content to contend with. So Instead of going with the conventional angle our Head of Search, Sam, created a substantial SEO starter guide for how to destroy your new website in 3 actionable steps.
Topics that are already rich in content elsewhere are best approached from odd angles.
Know that social media is fallible
Despite the competency of your own inbound strategy, there will always come times when you find it blown away by average content with an unholy amount of shares and engagement on social media. As frustrating as it is, remember that social media has its faults. Followers and engagement can be bought, retweets can be negotiated and the popularity of posts often appear misstated.
Measuring the amount a piece of content has been shared goes far beyond simple Twitter and Facebook shares. An awareness of other avenues (instant messaging, for example), as well as using more descriptive metrics – such as Google Analytics – is a much more valuable and satisfying tactic to measuring your inbound success.
So, what’s the state of affairs?
Considering the joys of interruptive outbound marketing, content marketing will always be a step up.
However, The difficulty of achieving good exposure is becoming more apparent as content creation gives way to the limits of consumption. Content saturation and the discrepancies of social media sharing have challenged us to rethink what good content is. This is a good thing. By confronting these problems, we can change our approach to remain functional.
So, to remind us, how do we avoid being a bit shit at content marketing?
- Perform hyper-targeted audience profiling to ensure your content resonates with the right people
- Be predictive, provocative and unafraid of commenting on your industry
- Challenge the conventional approach to well-trodden disciplines
- Measuring success with rich metrics – not simply social shares