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A few things you need to remember about content marketing

It never ceases to amaze me how many people are involved in content marketing – from writers to your IT Director. And it has never been easier to educate yourself about it, with thousands of social media articles posted every day and a plethora of workshops and online courses.

Yet, time after time, I see campaigns that show stark evidence of a lack of understanding of what content marketers really do and what this discipline is truly about: artwork that just misses the mark, copy that shouts rather than speaks, blogs that don't provide the information they promise, or one-off experimental campaigns that cause a bang but are quickly forgotten.

This lack of understanding can’t be pinned on just one person or function in the organisation. So, here are a handful of things that I believe need to be kept front of mind by everyone, regardless of position or level of education, for content marketing to be truly effective.

1. It is not a magic bullet – content marketing takes time. I have often seen marketing activities executed poorly in a rush (think keyword-stuffed blogs, hastily crafted landing pages and an increase in social ad spend) because the person responsible or has been placed under pressure to ‘fix’ poor sales figures. But true, lasting success and repeat business comes from a long-term content marketing strategy that builds trusting relationships with your audience. Creating content, distributing it, optimising and re-purposing across a dozen formats it takes time and effort, but the results are worth it.

2. It needs investment. In times of recession and economic uncertainty, the first line to be cut from the budget is often marketing. Ironically this often leads to an even more startling drop in business and greater expense resurrecting customer relationships when the economic environment improves.

The old adage rings true: you have to spend money to make money. Dipping your toe in the water for something new or producing something substandard because you don’t have the resources will ultimately hurt the value of your brand and lead to disappointing results. If your budget is small, aim for fewer, high-quality activities in your content marketing strategy that you can fully embrace.

3. Social media isn’t free. It requires extensive resources of time and effort from your staff, a constant flow of great images and content, and investment in analytics and distribution platforms. Social media needs its own line in the budget – and when adequately resourced, will provide a return on investment, as it did in this case study.

4. It won’t work if you forget the basics. The four ‘Ps’ are just as relevant now as they have always been: putting the right product (do people want this?), at the right price (will they happily pay this much?), in the right place (where do they prefer to access your product/service?), and promoting it to the customer in the right way (where and how do they like to find information? What is their 'language'?). Spend the time answering these questions, and then ask them again to your target audience. Only when you are completely sure, should you start writing a content marketing plan.

Speaking of basics, when communicating with your customers, remember the ‘who, what, why, where and how’. Yes, in that order! Customers need all of these details: they need to know it’s about them, and they need a ‘why’ very early on before they are inclined to act.

5. It’s all about the customer. This is a hard truth for many to hear: it doesn’t matter what you like – it matters what they like. Marketers, first and foremost, should be steadfast advocates for the customer. Personas and pen profiles can be incredibly helpful – but only if you’ve developed them by speaking to real people! Otherwise, they are just stereotypes and assumptions.

Furthermore, a process of approvals that ends with someone who doesn’t understand the customer intimately will result in messages, artwork and plans that just don’t work. Each person involved in marketing – from the intern to the CEO – needs to have the same understanding of the customer. Period.

6. Don’t underestimate your audience. Customers are incredibly intelligent – just like you. They know when they are being sold to. They know when they aren’t getting the full story. They are busy and overwhelmed with information so they want you to make it as easy as possible for them to engage with you. Although you may not hear it, they are talking about you and may not be as loyal as you’d like to think. Act carefully, and remember to take a walk in their shoes.

The points above are just the tip of the ice-berg. However, they do serve as a timely reminder of who content marketing is for, and why we need to take better care to think deeply about and understand, what we are doing before we act.

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