June 06, 2018 @ 12:00am

In business, there’s no magical solution for success. So when someone brings up “content marketing” as a way to increase everything from brand awareness to profit, you’re probably thinking they’re selling you something.

You’re right to be suspicious.

Content marketing isn’t for everyone. Let’s first define content marketing, then see if it’s right for you. 

What is content marketing, anyway?    

If you look up content marketing, you’ll likely get a few different definitions. Here are three things, though, they all tend to share:

  • Online or printed content (blogs, videos, social media, etc.) that does not explicitly promote your brand
  • Offers real value to consumers, not a thinly-veiled sales pitch
  • Strategically made and strategically distributed

In essence, content marketing is original content created to offer actual value to a specific customer base. It works because you give your targets something other than a sales pitch and that helps build your credibility. It’s not random Facebook updates or occasional videos, either—It’s carefully planned to satisfy a given strategic goal and it’s aimed at a particular audience. It can educate them, teach them how to do something new or just be entertaining.

The allure of content marketing is that it can feel “free” because you don’t necessarily need to buy media in order for it to work. For businesses that have invested tens of thousands in radio and TV spots that may or may not have had measurable impact, that can be pretty seductive.

But here’s the rub: Content marketing needs to have real value and it needs to have a strong strategy behind it. In addition, content marketing isn’t necessarily an “invest today, see results tomorrow” idea. It can take time to build an audience and to reap the rewards. And that at least takes some time and it often takes some money.

So, the real question: Does your business need a content marketing plan? Or, more particularly, will content marketing actually benefit you?

Is content marketing worth your time?

Content marketing works for businesses of all shapes and sizes. But will it work for you? Answer these three questions to find out:

1. Are you willing to invest in the infrastructure it takes to make content marketing powerful?

If you don’t have a website, or if your website is not responsive—optimized for display on desktops, laptops, tablets and phones—it can take a significant investment to update. 77 percent of Americans own a smart phone and half own a tablet. Smart phones passed desktop as the primary tool for internet access years ago, so if you’re not prepared to develop responsive content, content marketing will not be as valuable an asset for you. However, if you work with a web developer to update your online presence, it’s a win-win: You give a better user experience to your customers AND easier access to your content.

2. Do you know your customer base, or are you willing to invest the time and resources necessary to learn about them?

There’s knowing your customers and there’s having analytics and data on them. For example: Does the demographic you’re targeting even consume online content at a rate that will make content marketing worth your while? If you don’t know, it would pay to find out. What are the benefits of knowing? First, it ensures your content is reaching the right eyes and ears, placing the right message in the right spot. Second, it reflects well on your brand: People are inundated with marketing that doesn’t matter to them, and if you can find a way to target someone with content that’s actually useful, it will stand out. Take this spot from YETI, which first aired on its website. 

They have a clear target in mind, and it isn’t the family looking for a picnic cooler. They want outdoorsmen and women, people who hike into the backcountry and expect high performance from their product. While your everyday cooler-user might get a laugh, the outdoors folks get that laugh and they get a look at a product that can stand up to bears.

3. Are you willing to invest the time and energy it takes to update your content and keep it relevant?

Having a social media account and not using it can be worse than not having one. In my hometown, there was a hardware store with a window display. Puzzle boxes, tools, books. As I grew up, the display never changed; it was those same puzzles, same tools, same books. The colors bleached out; the rubber cracked on the tools’ handles. It gave the business the feeling of decline and carelessness: They didn’t bother, why should I? Having a blog where you make one post every now and then is the digital equivalent of that hardware store’s dusty front window, and the same goes for all other content. Can you commit to a schedule?

In addition, content that isn’t promoted can simply die on the vine. How will you get the word out? A great place to start is curating an email list you can use to stay in touch with interested customers, letting them know about your content and how it could help them. You can also leverage your social media accounts to help spread the word.

Complex, right? But don’t stress: There are many degrees of success. Look across Facebook and you’ll see businesses who effectively engage their customers with very simple things like new product announcements and personal interactions, albeit in very small ways.

AARP is a great example of bigtime success. As an organization, they boast 37.8 million members. They publish a magazine covering topics and personalities their unique readership can relate to. At last count, they found greater than half their readers have read three or four of their last four issues. That’s close to 16 million people reached with one piece of content.

Contrast that with the blog you’re almost finished reading, because, yup, this is content marketing too. We’re trying to provide real value to a fairly specific reader with a strategic goal in mind: Establishing ourselves as industry savvy. Our goal is certainly not to reach 16 million readers. Instead, we’re hoping to prove that we’re worthy of your trust as a client, or as a fellow professional.

If you do choose content marketing, here’s a great way to approach it: Of the companies that do use content marketing, 92% view their online content as a business asset, something they invest in to see a return on down the road. That’s the right attitude: Think of content as an investment that will pay off in time.

About the author: Micah Riecker

Micah Riecker has been 6AM Marketing's Copy Jedi and Chief Wordsmith since June of 2016. A graduate of Knox College, the University of Illinois and Madison College, he specializes in using copy to wake up tired advertising concepts.

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