Content marketing is when a company produces something useful, interesting or entertaining for potential customers. This might include Youtube videos, social media output, infographics, blog posts, or even a mini-series. Here we explain why it's so important, and how it could help you.
In 1997, Seth Godin put into words what many marketers were beginning to realise: there's just too much stuff out there. When he was writing - and this was before the internet - the average person would see about one million marketing messages a year. That's 3,000 adverts every day.
What can you do to be heard above the noise?
This is what content marketing is all about.
If you were trying to persuade your friend to buy something, how would you do it?
You probably wouldn't jump out on a street corner and wave in their face. Nor would you get in the way of them watching a Youtube video, or interrupt their favourite tv show every 10 minutes.
And yet, this is how so much marketing tries to persuade us to buy their product. It's annoying, and we learn to ignore it.
This is what Godin termed 'Interruption Marketing' - the approach that relies on interrupting people, getting in the way and snatching their attention.
The alternative? Permission Marketing.
Permission Marketing is totally different. It's a way of thinking about a future customer as a friend to be made rather than a stranger to be caught. Would you jump and dance in front of your friend's face? Well, maybe you would - but it's not the most subtle or effective way of marketing.
Instead, Permission Marketing is based around turning strangers into friends, and friends into customers.
One way to achieve this is to offer strangers information or resources that are genuinely useful, entertaining or interesting to them. This idea wasn't invented by Godin in 1997, even if the term 'permission marketing' was. It actually dates back to 1891, and Dr. Oetker's recipe pamphlet.
'Backin' was a brand of baking powder, but instead of trying to persuade customers to use his baking powder over others, August Oetker provided an useful method of using his product: he put little recipes on the backs of his sachets.
The recipe is both helpful and generous, treating future customers like friends. This age-old technique is still used today, such as in Philedelphia's Youtube recipes:
This content does offers something of genuine value to potential customers. Hence, Philedelphia's recipe's 800,000 voluntary views.
Content Marketing gives customers the opportunity to voluntarily and actively engage with your product, rather than involuntarily and passively being interrupted by it. Marketing ceases to be invasive, intrusive, and annoying, and becomes something you're grateful for. This allows customers to conceptualise your product in a positive and proactive way.
This can achieve several objectives:
1. Build a community of friends and followers
Get friends first, convert them into customers second. This reversal of the marketing process is the founding principle of content marketing.
Bolster your social media following, drive traffic to your website, and cultivate a community of friends that see value and purpose in your brand. There has to be some give and take, like any friendship.
2. Show, don't tell
Philedelphia, by providing recipes, shows that it can be used for much more than an accompaniment to salmon in a bagel. It can help you make cheesecake, carbonara, and much more - all of which we know from its content marketing.
If they were to tell us to use it this way or that, we'd be robbed of the personal and active choice; we'd be being told what to do.
And, controlling how your customer uses your product is a phenomenally powerful thing.
3. Necessitate your product
By showing people how to do fun or useful things with your product, you can present it as a necessary part of doing the things your customers want to do.
Philedelphia therefore cultivate the idea that their product is not only desirable, but necessary.
Now, I know what you're thinking: you're not selling Philedelphia. And you're probably not selling anything that can be put in a recipe, either. How can you use content marketing for your product?
Twitter is a great example of a platform for free content marketing. Lots of brands simply write funny, engaging or interesting tweets. Taco Bell, for example, doesn't use its Twitter to tell us why Taco Bell is great, but simply makes us think it is by producing funny content:
And similarly, with nearly 50,000 retweets, Denny's clever visual tweets make its customers identify with the brand, build an affection for it, and appreciate its avoidance of coercive, interruptive marketing.
The website builder SquareSpace even went so far as to build a website called Dreaming With Jeff, which plays an entire album recorded by Jeff Bridges with soothing spoken-word tunes to help you sleep. They didn't tell us that SquareSpace can build websites like this, they showed us, and gave us some great tunes in the process.
In today's advert-saturated world, this approach to marketing is extremely powerful. And, increasingly, it's becoming the only viable method.