It May be Content, but is it Marketing?

I am honestly losing count of the number of SEO agencies that are producing articles extolling the virtues of content marketing.  Fancy that! There’s more to on-line marketing than search rankings and organic traffic.

content marketing
Are you telling me content has always mattered?

Just be be clear, I’m not saying that rankings and traffic don’t matter. And a good technical SEO expert can still help your business – a lot! And I know that many SEOs do understand content marketing and the bigger picture of digital marketing. But, I do have some concerns about how the content ‘solution’ is being presented.

What worries me about some of the latest converts to the cause is that they can create the impression that content marketing is a substitute for SEO tactics that Google has started to frown on. Some of this possibly stems from SEO agencies being led into the world of content via link building initiatives or by a historical view of web content as a vehicle for keywords.

Content marketing is so much more than an optimisation and traffic generation tactic. It’s also so much more than just publishing content!

Which takes me to my second concern: there’s a danger that businesses get the message that publishing content is the answer. In fact, with the number of articles, seminars and discussions on the subject it could be hard to avoid getting this message.

As a result businesses could easily start publishing content without really thinking through what they’re trying to achieve: no objectives, no clear targets, and no clear messages.

So, how do you know if what you are doing is content marketing, or just ‘publishing content’? Here are a few ways you can tell the difference.

1. Know your customers

How clear is your picture of the people you want to engage? If you had to write down 5 characteristics of each of  ‘persona’ you want to reach could you do it?

If you had to list the things that matter most to these personae, (purists will love that plural) could you do it?

If you can’t do this, you are almost certainly just publishing content.

2. Know yourself

What does your business stand for? What are the unique values and characteristics of your business that will appeal to your target market? What is it that drives you to do what you do? Have you really understood where your expertise overlaps the needs of your potential customers?

Have you developed your values into consistent themes and messages that you weave into your content and throughout your on-line presence?

If you haven’t identified these values and you’re not using them consistently in what you publish, you are probably just publishing content.

3. Know your voice

Every organisation needs a voice or ‘tone’. It has to be representative of your business and it has to appeal to your target audience.  You have to think about the impression and the emotional reaction you want people to experience through your content and how your voice reflects that.

If you don’t understand how your voice needs to sound, you are probably just publishing content.

4. Know the journey

Content marketing has a clear picture of potential customers at each stage of the journey from awareness, interest, active consideration and through to the decision to purchase.  It understands the questions that have to be answered and the objections that have to be overcome at each stage.

Content marketing has a schedule for publishing content that addresses these critical issues and decisions at each stage of the process. Content marketing is configured to move people through the process by gentle persuasion.

If you haven’t mapped out the journey and haven’t addressed the needs of your potential customers at each stage, you are probably just publishing content.

5. Know where it fits

Content is one part of a marketing jigsaw.  How is your content publishing integrated with your activities to build your on-line reputation and influence? Is your social media strategy part of your content marketing strategy, or is that managed somewhere else? Do you have a plan to build your on-line networks and influence to promote your content?

Is your content strategy aligned with your other sales and marketing plans, including email marketing? Is your sales team fully engaged in the process and using the content you produce to cultivate leads, opportunities and relationships?

If content stands on its own, you are probably just publishing content.

6. Know what works

Not everything goes the way you planned or has the effect you intended. Content marketers review what works and what delivers the results they were after. Measurement and refinement is part of the process.

If you don’t know the subjects, headlines and approaches that are most effective at engaging and converting your audience, you are probably just … well you know the rest.



Photo Credit: hehaden via Compfight cc

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  1. Thanks Richard, but what if have different customer types? I have athletes and coaches who have worked with me for years. I have concerned parents, but I also have the “drop ins” who want the answer to a specific question.
    I try and provided for all!

    • Hi James, Some excellent questions. Of course there’s no simple answer. It really comes down to analysing the information needs of each group and planning content accordingly, based on what you are actually able to deliver. For many businesses this means making some tough choices about the product or service lines they will promote. I always advise thinking about future rather than current profitability.

      Then there’s the question of promotion, as different channels (eg different social media networks, different on-line publications) will work better for different groups. At a very basic level I know that many businesses still don’t even have segmented email lists to get the right content in front of the right people.

      Hopefully, over time, the drop-ins should be less of a problem if you have a searchable repository of content giving them the answers they need.

      Sorry, I know some of this is a bit of a ‘pat’ answer but it comes down to detailed analysis and planning.

  2. Sean Humby says:

    Reading this super article and I kept thinking of the quote from a song “It’s life Jim, but not as we know it” (never said in a film or the TV series!) and I think content is the same “It’s content but not as we know it” – different types of content can be used in different ways but they are not always marketing. Some content is just great for sharing – as “sharer” are you signposting to you or the person who’s content it is? Some content not only informs but can showcase expertise – yours included – is this marketing – possibly yes? My view is that we are inundated with “content” and we produce our own and how we use it is our prerogative but by sharing good practise, knowledge, ideas, tips, advice et al we should always look for a win-win situation which is I’m sure what marketing is all about?

    • Sean, you raise some really pertinent points. Content does fall into many categories, as you say, and we may sometimes publish purely informational content that is not directly linked to a selling aim. However, my contention is that all the content we publish as a business should be considered as marketing in some form. The critical thing is to know where each piece of content fits in the process and what you expect to achieve as a result.

      The other reason that helpful ‘informational’ content will matter increasingly is the evolution (or possibly revolution) that is currently under way in how internet search works. We will progressively be served results that reflect the reputation and trustworthiness of the authors behind the content, and which best meets our needs, rather than the stuff that does the best job of matching specific keywords and has the most links.

      Earning reputation and authority through the content we publish will become the determining factor in the success of our on-line marketing in my view.

      And I never knew that line never appeared in the show BTW.

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