Content Marketing Isn't for Everyone. Or Is It?

Content Marketing Isn't for Everyone. Or Is It?

Six questions to ask before manufacturers embark on a content marketing initiative.

For B-to-B marketers, content marketing can be a real challenge, thanks to a variety of factors – each of which can be daunting on its own. It takes time; it takes research; it requires having systems or procedures in place to properly mine information and to respond to customers and prospects. And, on top of it all, it can take money.

Don't feel out of it if you wonder what, exactly, is content marketing. It goes by several different names -- custom publishing, custom media, branded content, inbound marketing, corporate journalism or branded media. According to the Content Marketing Institute, it's "a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience."

In plain English, it's communicating with customers and prospects without blatantly selling. Instead of pushing your product or service, you are providing information that is helpful and of interest to your buyer. Hopefully, over time, it results in inquiries, sales and customer loyalty. Content marketing is a pull, rather than a push, strategy. Done properly, it doesn't interrupt, it attracts.

IBM is often held up as the holy grail of good B-to-B content marketing. The technology giant conducts extensive research, slices and dices it a zillion ways and then parses it out to targets through traditional PR, digital outreach and, yes, the old standby – direct mail.

Surely, IBM spends a fortune on its content marketing initiatives. It's taken a real commitment from the company's top management and down the line to the various product groups. It brings them big exposure and, one would imagine, many engaged leads that end up becoming customers. If it didn't bring results, IBM would have pulled the plug on content marketing long ago.

Most business marketers, of course, aren't in IBM's league. They don't have the budget, manpower and, probably, the commitment of top management to undertake a serious content marketing program.

But small and mid-size business marketers shouldn't simply throw their hands up in defeat. There are ways that smaller companies can effectively utilize content marketing without spending a fortune.

Before You Embark

There are few questions to consider before you begin the content marketing journey.

1. Who are your target prospects and what information might be of interest to them?

Your targets are all of your key stakeholders: clients/customers, current and prospective; employees and prospective employees, and anyone else you’re targeting (depending on the nature of your business).

Chances are, they will want useful information that helps them do their job more effectively and efficiently. They’ll also want to keep up on news in their industry and how that news impacts them.

2. Can you create useful content?

The biggest challenge generally facing any business using content marketing is the creation of the content itself. This could require the ongoing input from the company's ad agency or PR department. Or it might be assigned on a project basis to a freelance writer.

Creating your own content is time consuming. In addition to original content, you can also curate content; use content developed by others (magazine or newspaper articles, for example), wrapping your own commentary around it and linking to the original article in the text of your commentary. A good mix of created and curated content will keep things interesting and up-to-date.

3. Can you keep it timely and fresh?

Adding new content when it makes sense is the best approach to keeping things fresh. If you have something to say, by all means say it. But don’t just post content for the sake of having something new on your site. Be sure it’s relevant and interesting to your audience. New posts should be put up once or twice a week. Less than that and readers will lose interest and stop visiting your site to see what’s new. And if you post every day, your posting may start to look contrived.

4. Will you keep hard-core sales pitches to a minimum?

If there is one hard and fast rule when it comes to content marketing, it’s this: Do not use it simply for self-promotion. There can be a fine line here. If there is news about your company that your customers/clients need to know, share it. But be careful how you couch it. Don’t brag, and keep it in perspective. Also, what’s a big deal to you may not be so important to your clients.

So tread this line very carefully or you will lose credibility. Remember, the goal of your content marketing program is to create value for your target audience, not talk about yourself.

5. Will you be able to optimize your reach via social media?

You should already have a presence in social media. Then, when you post new content, whether original or curated, you can use social media to announce it to your target audience! Tweet it out over your Twitter account, post a link to the content on your Facebook page, share it with your LinkedIn contacts and groups – and utilize any other social media venues to help spread the word.

6. Will you connect with relevant communities online?

If you regularly read blogs in your industry or the industries you target and it seems relevant for you to post a comment and link to one of your created or curated comments – then do it! Posting meaningful comments on social media sites other than your own is a great way to connect with relevant communities. But be sure to do it with caution and avoid blatantly self-serving comments.

In-house vs. Outsourcing

Each method of creating content has its pros and cons, and the final decision will depend on your company's culture, manpower and budget.

In-house: Your fingers are on the pulse of your organization 24/7. You know what’s going on and what’s news the minute it happens. Resources, both people and other types, are at your fingertips. You’re already on the payroll, so there’s no extra cost involved, as there would be if you hire someone from the outside.

Outsourcing: The person is dedicated to your project, so you’re certain the work will get done – on time. An outsider also brings an outside perspective that can be fresh. The biggest “con” is paying someone else to do something that can be handled in-house – if you have the talent and time in-house.

Whether you call it content marketing, branded content or one of the other buzzwords that gets bandied about, it can be a powerful sales and loyalty-builder. And it's not just for marketers with the biggest budgets in the business world. It can be right for many industrial companies.

Lynn Taylor is president/CEO and majority owner of Keiler (www.keiler.com), an independent, strategy-driven marketing and advertising agency located in Farmington, Conn.

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