If today’s marketers were put on trial for selling a service or product that wasn’t as good as advertised, you and I both know that the jury’s starting assumption would be “guilty until proven innocent.” It’s a reputation that’s not easy for marketers or brands to overcome, but it can be done—and I believe that the best way to do it is by making content marketing a pillar of your marketing approach.
Many of us learn early on to view marketing with suspicion. When I was 13 or 14 years old, my parents bought me what was then a cutting-edge personal computer for gaming. Every week thereafter I would look at the new releases being marketed heavily at the local video game store, and I’d spend the money I’d earned from delivering newspapers on something shiny.
Probably around 50 percent of the time I’d get home, play the game for 30 minutes and be hugely disappointed with my purchase. On a number of occasions I took the games back to the store, explained my dissatisfaction and asked for a refund. “Tough luck,” I was told.
I still think about this and often ask myself: Why, back then, didn’t the gaming companies engage in the most minimal content marketing? Why wasn’t it possible to play a quick and shortened version of the game before I parted with my money? Was it, perhaps, because they knew I wouldn’t buy their product if I had the chance to sample the content?
I have come to see content marketing as a sign that a company is both confident in itself and in its products or services. A brand that says to a consumer, “Go ahead, have a peek under the bonnet, and press the accelerator a couple of times; we’re sure you’ll love it,” and then backs off, leaving the consumer to make his/her own decision, also demonstrates that it will treat people respectfully when speaking to them (the polar opposite of being hassled by the pushy car salesman of old).
This is a brand’s way of saying, “Of course I don’t expect you to buy me just yet. I’m happy for you to hang around for a while, and I’ll only begin to thrust the rest of my marketing prowess upon you once you’ve understood who I am, and you’re sure that we’re right for one another.” It’s recognition that this is going to be a relationship rather than a transaction.
At The Economist, we build our marketing approach around the premise that getting prospects to click on provocative ad units linking to editorial content is the best way to warm up a big pool of prospects. Years ago, we may have simply presented these prospects with “12 issues for £12” price-led ads. But now we take note of where consumers are in their relationship with the brand and use content as one way of acknowledging that.
In internal meetings we often talk about “why, try, buy.” If we are going to successfully convince someone to buy our product, we often first need to tell them why. But perhaps the most crucial step of all is the inclusion of “try.” Surfacing some of our content for our target audience to read, watch or listen to for free, as part of a wider content marketing strategy, subtly shifts the balance of risk that is involved in a consumer forming a relationship with a brand back onto the brand itself.
Conversing with prospects cleverly, using cutting-edge technology to personalize communications, creating content that people will want to share, and being relevant are all vital to a holistic content marketing approach—as is consistency. Content marketing cannot be a one-off campaign or else consumers will see through it; it needs to be a concerted, ongoing, always-on commitment.
This is a commitment that pays off because content marketing isn’t just good for consumers and brands, but also for the marketers who work on behalf of these brands. As a marketer, seeing that a brand is engaged in content marketing is a sign that it understands the concepts of customer funnels, journeys and buying cycles. It is also a signal that you will be surrounded by a management team who will be patient and accepting of the fact that you need to take customers along the journey from cold prospect to warm lead to fully paid-up advocate. And that’s a good place to ply your trade.
One day, when the vast majority of brands have embraced content marketing, marketers might not be presumed “guilty until proven innocent.” They might just be subject to the same “innocent until proven guilty” rules that those accused of much harsher crimes are subjected to. But I guess that’d just take all of the fun and controversy out of marketing, right?