What “content marketing” really means and why your business needs it

The term “content marketing” has been a marketing buzzword for years. Digital marketers say it’s the holy grail to business success, SEO folks depend on it for site optimisation, and content people like me are launching companies that specialise only in this area.

But if you’re a business owner or marketing executive who kind of knows what content marketing is but isn't entirely sure what it entails, I promised you, you’re not the only one. I’ve written this article to help clear the haze in under 15minutes. Here, I cite examples of companies big and small to help you understand how businesses are using this marketing approach to drive sales and revenue.

Decoding the definition

Let’s start with official definitions. According to the Content MarketingInstitute, content marketing is a strategic marketing approach that is focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract a clearly defined audience.

What a mouthful. Essentially, what it means is that you create content that your audience needs and over time, your audience would learn to trust you as an authority in the field, and that eventually drives consistent business to you.

Note: People think promotional content is content marketing. They're not the same thing. "Come and buy my furniture because it's long-lasting" is promotional content. "Here's a guide on the hardiest woods that furniture makers use and learn the pros and cons of each type" is content marketing.

I know many business owners who struggle with this idea and I completely get where they're coming from.

When you’re weighed down with business realities, like having to catch up on sales targets, it’s hard to see how creating content for your audience can help you. Aren’t you better off spending effort creating promotions that drive quick sales to your business?

Yes, promotions do indeed give you quick result but discount tactics are short-term or do not create long-term value for your customer. That is the biggest benefit of content marketing – keeping your customers engaged for longer without you having to constantly drop your pants.

Enterprising businesses have been doing it forever

Let me give you a great early example of content marketing. Long before the term became popular, enterprising businesspeople were already using this approach, especially those in the health food industry.

I remember following my late mum some 20 years ago to her favourite health food store in Singapore, Nature’s Glory. At that time, it was a tiny shop in a mall.Every time she stepped into it, the owner would hand her two to three pieces of literature on various health foods, from “The miracle of brown rice” to “Why lecithin loves your heart”.

To me, these were the early, non-digital forms of content marketing. Those pamphlets were valuable pieces of content, delivered consistently to a customer like my mother who desired the knowledge.

Over time, through the sustained distribution of such content (primitive pamphlets notwithstanding) the shop established itself as a source of authority to my mum, who eventually turned to it to find solutions and products for every ailment in the family.

Today, when distribution of that same content could be magnified 1,000 times through digital channels, imagine the impact you can make as a business if you got your strategy right.

3 reasons why businesses need content marketing

If businesses 20 years ago felt they needed to use content marketing as a tool, what more businesses today when consumers are reportedly receiving a daily average of 5,000 ad messages? This statistic applies to the USA but even when I adjusted the number down proportionately for the Singapore context, the number of ads is 87 per person, per day. That's still a LOT of noise to cut through.

As mentioned earlier, while discount-driven promotions can help you achieve targets in the short term, they’re probably not the marketing tactic you want to use for the long game. This is where content marketing as a strategy is worth considering for your business, whatever its size.

Here are the top 3 benefits of using content marketing for your business.See if you find any of these valuable.

Let’s look again at the earlier example of the health food store. One of the reasons why the health food industry needed to use content marketing early on is because people are generally resistant to buying anything you have to ingest. Because of the high level of distrust, health food businesses have needed to educate and convince people that their product is safe and reliable before even beginning a sales conversation.

With all businesses today facing stiffer competition, the brand that seeks to earn consumer trust is the one that wins in the long-run.

You don’t earn trust by simply saying, for eg, that your furniture is hardy and long-lasting; you earn trust by bringing your consumers content (articles, videos, posts, etc) of your factories testing out wood hardiness or providing regular updates on new manufacturing techniques that increase stress-test levels. 

With time, customers know you are committed to delivering goods and service sat the highest levels, and the trust that comes with this will not be easily broken.

When every competitor of yours is saying that they’re the best and most qualified in the business, you need to find a way to actually show that you are an authority, and content marketing is one of the most effective ways to do it.

Try creating content that shows the processes that go on behind the scenes or interview one of your most experienced staff members to show how she or he contributes to the finished product or service.

If you’re feeling gung ho and want to develop a more elaborate content marketing strategy, here’s one of my favourite approaches:  Create content around an experience that involves your product.

Say you’re in the business of selling dining tables, consider creating a content series on your channels called “Happy Dinners” that features photos of families and friends gathered for dinner. Offer tips on the best shape of tables for a family of six, or the best table materials for hardcore party throwers. Over time, consumers will start to see you as the authority in practical yet exciting furniture.

Here’s an example of how a larger company has done it: I’ve liked surf-wear brand Rip Curl since I was a teen but it was their content marketing initiative that’s got me obsessed with the spirit of the brand. In the 1990s (yes, that’s how early they started content marketing), the brand launched The Search, a campaign showing short films about great surf adventures. Today, it’s developed into its own content site featuring people all over the world and their searches for the next big wave or the next breathtaking sunrise. As you skim through the photo galleries of unbridled living and tousled beach hair, it all just makes you want to go out and own apiece of Rip Curl, and hang on, you actually can right this very minute cos there’s “Shop Now” in the website menu!

Now, that's what I call content marketing magic - when great content helps to create customer intent and eventually, sales conversion.

When the content you put out is truly useful to an audience, they’ll keep coming back for more whether it’s for guides on the best nutrition for your baby or news on the latest developments in gaming headphones technology. And there is no funnel like an engaged audience, that also trusts you as an authority, to drive sales conversion. At this stage, your audience is ripe to be sold something. Anything! This is where every business should aim to be but you’ve got to work hard to get here.

Content marketing is not necessarily expensive to execute but it is time-consuming and requires a commitment on your part to provide content that is valuable to your consumer for the long term. The pay-off is a targeted audience that is highly likely to convert and support your business, and that itself should make the case for giving it a go.

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