Last week, I let you in on a little-known secret: Outbound Marketing is still effective. But let’s not forget Outbound Marketing’s hipper younger brother—Inbound Marketing.
Like all obnoxious little brothers who think they’re cooler than they are, I have a problem with Inbound. Not that it doesn’t work; but because its fanboys tend to portray it as the panacea to all our marketing woes.
Here’s inbound marketing’s dirty little secret: by the time you wade through all those impressions, click-through, and conversions, the number of people who actually became a customer is no higher than the percentages produced by traditional advertising and marketing.
That’s why both ought to be on your marketing team. Don’t be lulled into the inbound only “silver bullet” approach. Marketing is more effective when it operates like a team rather than a shotgun.
Content Marketing 101—the Basics
In case you’re new to this, Content Marketing is the most common form of inbound marketing. Here’s a great definition from Copyblogger:
Content Marketing means creating and sharing valuable free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell; in other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you.
This isn’t a new concept; it’s the reason I bought Bazooka Joe bubble gum as a kid. But all content marketing should have one goal in mind—to get people to buy your stuff. Establishing yourself as an expert by “educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you” is the means to that end.
In case that sounds too Machiavellian, let me qualify it. I believe having people like and trust you requires genuinely caring about helping them. If your sole reason for engaging in content marketing is to milk sales from your audience, it’s my strong opinion that your audience will eventually realize this and move on.
Conversely, if making money from content marketing isn’t a priority, by all means feel free to help people out of the goodness of your heart. Just be sure it doesn’t take too much time away from what does make you money.
Notice in the definition above that there are two parts to the content marketing equation: creating and sharing. Let’s talk about each.
Creating Valuable Content
If you’ve ever read anything about content marketing, you’ve probably been told that you must create “unique content.” But with an estimated 1.94 billion pages, it’s a safe bet that anything that can be written on a given topic already has been. So how can any of us write anything that’s truly “unique”?
But unique doesn’t mean “content that’s never existed before.” (If it did, we’d all be in trouble.) It means you need to create original content, and not plagiarize or duplicate existing content from around the web. But more than that, you can and must add your creative spin and unique voice to the topic. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. After all, there’s only one of you, and that’s … well, unique.
Creating unique content—or any content, for that matter—can be a challenge when language arts isn’t your strong point. If that’s you, consider using a freelance writer or copy editor.
Sharing Valuable Content
It goes without saying that you should be sharing the content you create. Great content sitting on a website that no one visits is useless. That’s where social sharing goes hand-in-hand with content creation.
But don’t just share your own content. Become a curator of other people’s great content. Building an audience requires knowing what content they find valuable. If that audience is your customer base, that shouldn’t be too tall of an order. If you provide a product or service related to something people are passionate about, count yourself fortunate. Let’s take a veterinarian as an example.
Even if you aren’t a vet, you know how dog owners feel about their dogs. So as a vet, I’d blog about all things dog—health care tips, grooming, behavioral training, product reviews. I’d use social media to build followers that I could send to my blog, so it’s important to choose social media channels that your customer base uses. In the vet’s case, I’d focus on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
But chances are, you’re not a vet. If you’re reading this, you’re most likely in the web industry—or perhaps a salesperson, looking for ways to reach more prospects. (If a freelancer, you’re both.) Yet, strategically speaking, it’s the same approach. In an upcoming article, I’ll be discussing specific strategies you can take.
But the tactics you employ—what content to produce and share, and what social media channels you’re active on—will differ significantly from a vet’s and must be unique to your industry and client base. Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ will be your social media of choice.
Tactics also involve specific tools you’ll need to make your content marketing life easier. A contractor has his collection of power tools because he works construction all day, every day. Me, I have my set of screwdrivers and wrenches for the occasional around-the-house repairs and maintenance. So if you’re going to do more than dabble in social media, you’ll need professional-grade equipment. But don’t worry—most are free. So next week, I’ll talk about the tools and the workflow I use to stay active on social media without it becoming a full-time job.
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.