Does effective content marketing earn you a spot among the gods? To find out, Mahlab editor and real-life ‘son of a preacher man’ James Chalmers is here to guide you through the Seven Heavenly Virtues of content marketing.
Diving into the world of content marketing can seem intimidating. There are so many different approaches out there it seems like no two companies are doing it the same way. Luckily though, one can find some divine inspiration for content marketing, thanks to the Seven Heavenly Virtues.
This is at the very heart of content marketing, which to some onlookers can look like nothing more than simply giving away the benefits of your expertise and experience for free. But just as volunteering to, say, wash and preen tiny penguins in the aftermath of an oil spill bestows many benefits on the volunteer (warm and fuzzy feelings, a chance to meet attractive fellow volunteers, a way to pad out the Other Interests part of your CV with something that is actually true), content marketing gives plenty back to the marketer.
It gives you a way to establish authority and relevance with an audience that every single day becomes less able to be reached by conventional marketing. It also vastly broadens your reach. It provides tools with which to convert casual browsers and lukewarm prospects into paying customers.
Charity doesn’t mean giving away your secret recipe or working for free. But it means not hiding away the fruit of your expertise for paying customers only.
For instance, Virginian pen obsessive Ben Goulet used to have a one-man business selling fountain pens online. And then he started pouring all of his enthusiasm and knowledge of pencraft into a series of online articles and videos, offering reviews, how-to guides, tips and insights. Within three years, that strategy had grown his business to a 21-person operation. By sharing his expertise, Goulet was able to convert a world full of potential customers into paying customers.
Traditional marketing campaigns are often built around quick results. For example, saturate the market with print and televisions ads, promise a balm for the nameless longing your customer feels, watch the uptick in that quarter’s sales results, buy a new boat.
Content marketing is different; it’s a long game. If you post your first blog and then sit back waiting for the phone to ring, you’ll be waiting a long time. Content marketing is not designed to convert leads instantly. It is designed to build long-term relationships with customers, keeping them engaged with your brand so that when they do decide to do business, you are the obvious choice. The more time they spend interacting with your content, the more firmly established you become as a leader in the field.
So how long are we talking? It of course varies but in our experience a minimum of six months is not an uncommon length of time to start building a useful following. When you’re just starting out, that might seem a long time to slog away on a task that is having no immediate impact on your bottom line. But if your patience is ever being tried, just ask yourself: Would I like my company to be the Red Bull of my industry?
Its core business may be peddling over-caffeinated sugar-waters but, since its launch more than 25 years ago, the firm has stamped its dominance on the over-caffeinated sugar-water market with an indefatigably energetic content marketing program. Stunts such as building an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine involving world-class athletes or sending a sky-diver to the edge of space have delivered it an audience of hundreds of millions.
Of course, the patience of a saint won’t do you any good if you’re not posting regularly and posting often.
That means not letting tumbleweeds blow through your blog before you suddenly remember you’re meant to be posting so you quickly hash together three bits of content and throw them online, where they sit unaccompanied until a few weeks later when the same thing happens.
The most obvious reason for this is that you want your readers to feel assured that they can check your website regularly and always find fresh content. If they visit and things are the same as they were the last two times they visited, why should they visit a third time?
But frequent publishing also pleases the all-powerful gods of Google, whose search engine rewards websites that publish regularly and frequently.
Research by Hubspot showed exactly how powerful this effect can be. They found companies that blog at least 15 times a month get five times the traffic than their non-blogging counterparts.
Of course, if you’re a small business, it’s easy to look at that figure and think: “15 times a month? That’s every two days. I’m so busy my cat has forgotten what I look like. How am I supposed to write two or three pieces of content a week?”
But consider this: Hubspot found that the smaller the company, the bigger the traffic gains they receive from regularly posting content. If you’re not maximising your content marketing opportunities, who’s to say your main rival won’t? Do you really want them ahead of you on Google?
So let’s imagine you’ve been charitably, patiently and diligently crafting, polishing and publishing your content, and now you’ve built an excellent following of potential customers. Now’s the time to bombard them with exhortations to Buy!, right?
Alas, no. The hard sell is not part of content marketing. It is not about building an audience you can then command to buy your services; instead, it’s about funnelling leads into the pipeline and keeping them there until they are ready to buy, with your business as the obvious choice.
By all means, give people ample opportunity to buy. But always remember that people very rarely enjoy being explicitly sold to. If people start to feel like your content is designed just to sell things to them, they will switch off in droves.
Yes, people are reading your content because you know more about the subject than they do. But that doesn’t mean you know it all. And if you want to grow your audience and your influence, you have to be able to take off your shiny ‘thought leader’ cap and talk to the people who don’t read your content.
In publishing, it’s easy to focus solely on your current audience. You know what sort of content they like, so you keep offering up that sort of content. You might run a reader survey, asking people what part of your content offering they like the most, or what they think it might be missing. This is all well and good. But these people are already on your site. If they took the time to fill out a survey, they’re probably already among your most loyal readers. You’ve got them locked down.
But what about all the people in your target market who aren’t regular readers? This is where your growth will come from so it is vital to find out how to appeal to them and what it will take to get them regularly reading your site. Find people who don’t read your blog or subscribe to your newsletter and find out why.
To do this, you could run your own informal market research or you could bring in some professionals to perform focus group testing. Regardless, you need to be able to recognise that whatever success your content marketing is bringing does not mean your formula is perfect. Constantly looking for ways to tweak and improve your content strategy will both broaden your reach and keep loyal readers engaged.
Let’s be honest. Chastity has never been fun. Which is why we think chastity is actually the last thing a virtuous content marketer should be practising. Instead, you should be loose and experimental. Try new things. Maybe start using a video camera to spice up the action? Or perhaps bring in some new collaborators.
If you want to be a vibrant, growing brand, you’ll need to mix things up and occasionally be bold. Just because a certain approach has worked in the past, it doesn’t mean it will always work in the future. Don’t let yourself be too wedded to the way things have always been done; have the bravery to push boundaries and innovate.
Of course, if you’re going to innovate, you have to be prepared to fail sometimes. And when that happens, it’s important to show some kindness to yourself. The failure of one part of your content strategy does not mean your content strategy is bad or that you are a poor content strategist. It’s simply the price of playing the game.
Instead, learn all you can from the experience and appreciate the fact that you are now even stronger for having that lesson.
It’s true that virtue and business success do not always go hand-in-hand. But injecting a few of the above into your content marketing program is sure to bring reward.