If you’re a marketer you already know content marketing is all anyone wants to talk about these days. Frothy? Perhaps, but not without good reason. The macro trend of media-as-marketing is undeniable, even if it is only in its infancy; the momentum behind that massive trend makes content essential and central, although it is still only a means-to-an end. That is, content is a proxy for (or signal of) buyer intent, and a means to nurture customer relationships through to sales. And sales, after all, is that ultimate end goal for content marketing.
The Demise of Reach
Marketing and media grew up over the past several decades in a world where “reach” was the premium. It was hard to find your customers. If you had a product to sell in Chicago, the only way to reach customers in LA or New York was to send your message to them — on a postcard, in a catalog, or on the pages of a magazine.
Newspapers and magazines (and radio and TV) emerged to solve this reach problem. Their value proposition almost universally revolved around the quality of that reach. “Our audience is better” was the refrain of almost every media magnate, where better quality (typically defined by demographics) implied “more likely to buy your product.” Or so the story went.
Today reach is cheap and easy. You can reach just about any title, any demographic, within any topic on pretty much any web site. CIOs and tweens both can be found on Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Bing and the sea of networks those sites operate and fuel.
(To be clear, I’m not suggesting there is not a place for content-as-content – heck, I even pay for a subscription to NYTimes.com – I’m just saying the old Paid-Earned “reach” model is broken for both marketers and media.)
The Rise of Engagement
If you can reach anyone anywhere, if you can follow them from site to site and get your message in front of them at any time, what’s at a premium? It’s not reach; those days are gone (thus the continuous price pressure on commodity banners and leads). The key today is attracting buyer attention: Engaging customers with content and solving their problems, and then connecting them with your brand and your solution. That’s where the premium is.
Is it any surprise, then, that content is on our minds as marketers?
Content Must Perform
But unless we marketers want to become journalists, content remains a means to an end. As our job shifts from finding our customers to connecting with them, we engage with content to listen and learn.
For us marketers, content marketing is not ultimately about content, but about customers. For content marketing to succeed, it must connect reach with insight-based content that performs a marketing objective. What’s more, content must be tuned to intent throughout the buying process: great top-of-funnel content will not perform for bottom-of-the-funnel customers.
A successful content strategy must be tied to nurturing programs, such as the marketing automation tools to which we increasingly turn. (As my good friend Fritz Nelson points out, Silicon Valley is already well aware of the promise technology holds in delivering the right content to the right customers at the right time.)
Yes, the world of content marketing is a little frothy these days. But as cooler heads prevail, the fundamental, underlying trends remain the same: reach is easy, engagement is harder. Hardest of all is developing content that performs, and nurtures customer relationships. If we can sort out the signal-to-noise ratio, there’s something important going on here.
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