Tell the Story: Four Tips for Successful Content Marketing

According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), our economy crossed an important threshold in 2015. For the first time, “promoted posts, social ads and search engine marketing (SEM) overtook print/other offline promotion as the paid method B2C marketers use most frequently to deliver content.”

Simultaneous to this development, however, Internet users are becoming more sophisticated and selective about how they filter content, often considering traditional modes of advertising intrusive. Instead of focusing solely on customers, marketing professionals must now think in terms of audiences and how to engage them.

No matter the medium or presentation platform, content must be informative, entertaining, trustworthy and, of course, on-brand. The following principles provide a strong foundation for achieving this delicate balance.

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You Can Profit From “Free”

Is content marketing a soft or a hard sell? The answer is often “neither.” Content marketing actually has more in common with old-fashioned premiums, à la the free toaster the local bank used to promise new account holders. In the digital realm, knowledge is of greater value than any appliance. Home warranty provider American Home Shield’s YouTube channel offers an example of a business “giving away” valuable content as a means of building a meaningful customer relationship. American Home Shield’s how-to videos scrupulously avoid product placements. Instead, these short (typically two minutes or less) clips focus on demonstrating quick, inexpensive solutions to common issues faced by homeowners. The underlying message: American Home Shield knows home repair and is concerned with saving the average citizen money on the upkeep of their home.

Show Off Your Expertise

If your business caters to a narrow clientele or manages a very specific product line, consumer guides, FAQs and Wikis can be useful in transporting your users from general research to product review to actual purchase. As Influence & Co. CEO John Hall writes, “[y]our company has a wealth of internal knowledge that can be used to create content that will help humanize your brand and guide prospects through the buyer’s journey. To leverage these insights for creative content, you need to extract, store and manage your knowledge efficiently.” HerRoom, an online lingerie retailer, prominently features a “Bra Fitting 101” on its e-commerce site, complete with charts, interactive measurement calculation tools and links to specific products within the categories of “The 10 must-have bras you need in your lingerie drawer.”

Put Your Product or Service in Action

You don’t have to make glossy, celebrity-studded videos to demonstrate the value of what you have to offer consumers. Sample House & Candle Shop, a brick-and-mortar retailer of personal accessories and home décor, maintains an active Pinterest presence. Rather than maintain a single “board,” the company categorizes the products it wishes to highlight under headings such as “Back 2 School,” “DIY” and “2015 Color of the Year.” Sample House & Candle Shop has likewise crafted these headings for maximum lifestyle appeal to focus less on merchandise and more on the creative potential customers might realize through brand loyalty.

Make Your Content a Conversation

The popularity of (and huge user base for) sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor offer insight into a fact of life on the Internet: Customer reviews matter, and millennials in particular trust their peers — even when those peers are anonymous — more than they do corporate entities. User-generated content can be a powerful marketing tool. Such content serves as both a call to action and an opportunity to author compelling stories about your brand. Chobani credits its premier position in the highly competitive Greek yogurt sector of the yogurt market, in part, to a successful, social media-intensive “Share your Chobani love story” campaign. Is this copy that “writes itself”? In one sense, yes. But in a more profound sense, user-generated content can provide brands with the tools they need to enter conversations happening in the culture at large. Upscale department store Neiman Marcus knows its most loyal customers are female professionals concerned with issues of equal pay for equal work, the glass ceiling and entrepreneurship. The retailer’s #NMMakeSomeNoise campaign gives those customers a chance to celebrate themselves via Instagram, as well as a company blog dedicated to “bold women with bold voices who are making their mark on the world.”