Many in the content marketing fraternity are intently focused on creating content that gets found in search engines and leads prospective buyers down a constructed ‘marketing funnel’.
This is sensible and smart thinking as it can be a pretty powerful way to market one’s business; I know some individuals and companies that have benefited tremendously from such a strategy. But it’s not necessarily the be-all-or-end-all for a range of businesses.
If you run an online store, for example, yes, it’s important. Increase traffic to your website – get people there for the right reasons – improve your online systems and processes and tweak and tweak until you maximise the conversion ratio. And, if you can get people on your emailing list and build rapport with them over time, that’s a good thing too.
Ditto a software-as-a-service brand, especially in the business-to-business space (HubSpot is the poster child here).
But there are still plenty of other types of businesses where sheer traffic isn’t necessary to be successful, where having less traffic – but attracting the right people to your blog or website – is considerably more important.
It might also be worth noting here that for some businesses, having prospects finding your company after a Google search is not always desirable as there’s every chance they might be the wrong type of client or customer. A consulting practice springs to mind here. By way of example, I know of one PR firm that used to appear on page one of Google and the prospective clients who found them this way were more trouble than they were worth. By the way, I’m referring here to more general solutions-oriented Google searches e.g. “PR agencies Melbourne”, not your business or personal name (for which, of course, you do need to come up high in search rankings).
For many businesses, word of mouth referral is the most effective driver of leads, sales and revenue.
For example, advice-based businesses, professional services practices and solo consultants – many of these types of businesses rely on word of mouth within their industry or local community. People hear about their services from asking around – their reputation precedes them for all the right reasons (hopefully!).
But here’s the kicker: The prospective client will check out their website. The thing is, what will they find?
This is where the content published on your site serves as a critical point of VALIDATION.
VALIDATION. This is not a word I hear often – if at all – from the mouths of content marketers.
Will prospective customers (or partners, suppliers, investors, employees, donors etc) – after checking the content on your site – be sufficiently validated in their minds that you’re the right company/organisation for them, based on what they’ve heard in advance through word-of-mouth recommendation?
Useful and helpful
When it comes to content marketing, one size does not fit all.
Some businesses want to be seen as useful and helpful, to publish information that answers people’s questions and addresses any pain-points they may have, relative to their business and area of expertise. I love this type of content marketing – it’s respectful of the audience and, rather than interrupting people with a message all about you and your brand, it actually contributes value for the reader (or viewer or listener, depending upon the medium used).
For other businesses, however, their goal might be around building a thought leadership positioning in the community or marketplace in which they operate. Yes, the content they produce still needs to be interesting and relevant – heck, it might even be useful for some people! – but it might also be thought provoking; it might challenge the way people think about a particular topic or issue (and in doing so, make people feel uncomfortable within themselves).
Or, it might be content that’s aspirational, that inspires people to take action that impacts positively on their personal or professional life.
Profile and reputation
This type of content is about moving people with your ideas!
It builds profile and reputation, and often can – over time – help earn valuable editorial exposure in traditional and new media outlets such as newspapers, radio programs, blogs and online publications, and podcasts, thus increasing the reach of your message and story. This is also the sort of content that gets shared more often on social media.
So before you embark on a content program – or if you’re on the way but want to re-energise what your business is doing in this regard – stop and prop for a moment; think this through, and discuss with your colleagues.
Are you blindly following a content path that’s more akin to ‘inbound marketing’ (and I reiterate, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it may not necessarily be suitable for what you’re trying to achieve) or should you adopt a more strategic PR mindset and create content designed to elevate your brand by building trust, authority and reputation? (I will note here that your more helpful utility-based content – the stuff that answers customers’ questions, for example – can also build trust and reputation, it just does it in a different way.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with taking either path, or indeed publishing a mix of utility-based and thought leadership content.
But it is important to know what you’re trying to achieve as a business as this will determine the type of content you should be publishing to help you reach those goals.