To have the opportunity to discuss content and the role it plays with one of the creators from one of this year’s truly insightful books, was always going to be an interesting chat.
Sonja Jefferson is co-author of Valuable Content Marketing, a truly valuable book from 2013 that helps others understand the importance of content in today’s world and how we can turn prospects into buyers and buyers into advocates of our businesses.
Sonja is also MD and founder of Valuable Content – a Bristol-based marketing communications firm that helps businesses win work from the web.
Our chat looked at the growing importance of content if businesses want to stand out in their marketplace.
What does content marketing mean to you?
In the days before the web, the word ‘content’ didn’t really exist in the same way. It has become an important word in our online world. Content is now a crucial aspect of the buying process.
Marketing with content is about providing the right type of information for your particular audience so they know, like and trust you, and remember you when the time comes to buy. If you get it right, you will win more business. It’s about creating a strong story as a starting point = one that is meaningful to those you want to do business with.
Content matters. Here’s a simple example. I was looking for a personal trainer recently and picked up two business cards from my gym. I went straight to their websites. The first trainer was no doubt an excellent runner. The website’s emphasis is on her running achievements. The second trainer’s website was based around a blog – he answered all the questions that I had e.g. how do you fit exercise around a busy working day. I trusted he could help me. I chose the trainer with the website that answered MY questions – the trainer with a website full of what we call ‘valuable content’.
Is content marketing about changing a mindset?
Buyers are increasingly becoming mistrusting of overt sales messages. As businesses we need to be aware of this.
When it comes to marketing, the key is to look from the customer’s perspective, understand their challenges and answer them in the information we share. It’s about building relationships in the first instance. You have to earn people’s trust before you sell. This means a change of attitude for many people. We need to dispel the myth that marketing is about propaganda. Here at Valuable Content we have a mantra that runs through all our customer communications: help, don’t sell; talk, don’t yell; show, don’t tell. We find that useful to keep us on track.
When it comes to your content, generosity and creativity win the day. Give some of your knowledge away for free. This helps to ignite interest and start the conversations that can lead to sales.
How is a company recognised as ‘doing it right’?
It starts with a laser focus on your customers and their needs. Content that gets it right is customer focused, not company focused. That’s the simple truth at the heart of good marketing. Anchoring your content efforts with a meaningful message – a consistent story that runs through all you create really helps to draw the customer’s interest and get remembered.
I’d aim for the 80:20 rule of content – that’s the balance between sales pages and ‘valuable content’ on your website (see http://www.valuablecontent.co.uk/the-8020-rule-of-content/). And I’d have a mix of what we call ‘stock and flow content’ (see http://www.valuablecontent.co.uk/stock-and-flow-content/) on the site (more heavyweight guides or whitepapers or video tips that a visitor to your site can take away + more frequent, ephemeral blog articles). It’s about creating content that helps the customer at every step of the sales process – from ‘just researching’ to ‘just about to buy’.
Doing some keyword research upfront and creating content around the real terms your type of customers are searching for is very important if you want to get found via search.
Quality wins out over quanity when it comes to getting your message heard in an increasingly noisy content-fuelled world. Design is hugely important here if you want people to engage with your message.
But ‘getting content marketing right’ doesn’t end with producing great content. You have to do the work – take it out there and promote it. SEO, starting a permission-based email list, sharing your useful content via social media – these all really help to build awareness and engage. But the ‘old’ ways are still so important too. Sending valuable content as a way to start sales conversations has far more impact than brochures. Pointing someone to one of your relevant articles as a follow up to meeting them at a networking event works too. If you get your content right it supercharges all your sales and marketing efforts, because it’s useful.
So content marketing that works goes much wider than your website.
Is keeping with ‘tried and tested’ marketing ie. advertising, DM, with today’s technology a recipe for disaster?
‘Traditional’ communications methods still have a role to play. The ‘old’ and the ‘new’ work together as I’ve mentioned above.
What matters is that the information you share is relevant to your target audience – great DM still works if it is meaningful. PR can spread your message to a wide audience – and it’s much easier to get PR if your website is stacked with great articles already!
How important is it to be seen as an influencer?
Having a wide network of people who like your ideas is of course useful. I’m not sure what is meant by an influencer, and I’m not that keen on the word ‘thought leader’ either. I rather like this quote from web guru Chris Brogan: ‘the difference between an audience and a community is the way you face the chairs’. It’s not about being an untouchable sage. You earn influence by generously sharing great ideas and taking that message out widely.
Thanks to Sonja for her time. Valuable Content Marketing is packed full of advice, tips and knowledge on how to implement a working content marketing strategy for your company. Click here to get your hands on the book.