I’m tired… tired of the large amount of destructive posts about content marketing that are completely and utterly false.
Two posts in particular, as penned by Hubspot, are clearly written by individuals (no offense here) who do not understand what content marketing really is (here is one and here is the other for your reading enjoyment).
I’m not sure why Hubspot is targeting the term content marketing and misleading its customers in such a way. Do they want to misinform marketing professionals? That is something I cannot live with.
Disclaimer: I am a Hubspot customer (pending future status).
What is inbound marketing?
When the term “inbound marketing” first started to get traction, I thought it was pretty much the same as content marketing. I was wrong.
According to my good friend David Meerman Scott, as published in the book Inbound Marketing (from Hubspot founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah), “Inbound Marketing is about getting found online, through search engines and on sites like Facebook and YouTube and Twitter…”
David is right… inbound marketing is a critical component of the new rules of marketing. Creating compelling and valuable content and distributing that content through a variety of online channels, as well as getting active in online communities, are essential for all companies today.
That said, if you only focus on inbound marketing, you will fail as a marketing professional.
Why you need a content marketing mindset
Content marketing is the practice of creating relevant and compelling content in a consistent fashion to a targeted buyer, focusing on all stages of the buying process, from brand awareness through to brand evangelism. Content marketing, unlike inbound marketing, has been around for hundreds of years, most notably starting in 1895 by John Deere with The Furrow magazine (although I argue that the cave people were drawing stories on walls to sell product). See the video for more:
While inbound marketing (as opposed to outbound marketing) and getting found online by prospects are critical, what do you do with your story once they find you? If content marketing were a football field, inbound marketing would get you to the 35-yard line. Definitely critical, but hard to score from that distance.
After inbound marketing, you need lead nurturing. Once the lead is nurtured and becomes a customer at some point, you need customer service content. What if you want to upsell or cross sell to the customer? Well, that’s a whole set of different content. What if your goal is customer retention and loyalty? Well that’s another content strategy as well. Lots of valuable content spread out around the web will help you reach a few of your content marketing goals, but not all of them. NOTE: Some will argue that lead nurturing is part of inbound marketing. Even if that is true, it still means you have to throw a Hail Mary to score a touchdown.
Content marketing must include strategic planning, content creation, distribution, and metrics for multiple stages of the buying cycle to multiple customer personas. In my view, that means a complete content marketing strategy would incorporate inbound marketing principles, but it would also take a more holistic approach to meeting a business’s overall marketing goals.
Even more importantly, content marketing is channel-agnostic. That means that content marketers should be looking at ALL available channels to engage with customers… print, in-person, and online (including mobile). The outstanding Ritz Carlton magazine, placed in hotel rooms, does not have anything to do with being found; neither does the amazing LEGO Club magazine, which has been produced in print for over 30 years (I received the original Brick Kicks magazine back in the 80s). LEGO Club magazine is not inbound marketing.
The business goals of content marketing
With content marketing, there are a number of overall business goals you could have:
Brand awareness or reinforcement
This is almost always the first thing that is thought of when you look at content marketing. The goal may be that you are just trying to find a more effective way than advertising to create awareness for your product or service. This is the long-tail strategy. Content marketing is a great vehicle for that, as it’s organic, authentic, and a great way for you to start driving engagement with your brand. Content marketing and inbound marketing overlap in this area.
Lead conversion and nurturing
The most basic part of inbound marketing is the conversion metric. How you define a lead will vary — but from a content marketing perspective, this is where you have (through the exchange of engaging content) encouraged someone to give up enough information about themselves that you now have permission to “market” to them. This can include signing up for a “demo”, registering for an event, subscribing to your e-newsletter, or gaining access to your Resource Center. Once you have the prospect’s permission, you can use content to help move them through the buying cycle.
In many cases, you already have a ton of content in this area. This is where, as marketers, we have traditionally focused — the “proof points” to the sale. Examples include case studies you send to your prospects that illustrate how you’ve solved the problem before — or the “testimonials” section on your client page. Ultimately, this is the content you’ve created as a marketer to illustrate to the hot prospect why your solution is better or will uniquely meet his or her needs.
This is where content marketing can really earn its “subscribe” stripes. How well are you using content to create value or reinforce the customer’s decision AFTER the sale? This goes well beyond the user manual, the documented process for success, and the FAQ on your website. These are the best practices for how to use your product or service. How can customers get the MOST out of your product or service? What are the successful, innovative ways that you’ve seen your product or service get extended into other solutions?
Just like you have a planned lead nurturing process to turn prospects into customers, you also need a planned customer retention strategy. If your ultimate goal is to turn customers into passionate subscribers who share your stories, this area needs major attention. Options may be a customer e-newsletter or printed newsletter, a print or tablet magazine, or possibly a user event or webinar series.
Marketing doesn’t stop at the “checkout” button any longer. If you’re particularly good at using content to service the customer in a subscribe model, you also have the opportunity to be effective at creating ongoing engagement for the other products and services you offer. Why stop communicating with prospects once they become customers? Instead, communicate with them more frequently (certainly not in a creepy way) and engage them with additional value. Customer upsell and customer retention goals can work hand-in-hand.
If you can successfully move customers to this stage, you have really accomplished something. Content — and especially content generated by satisfied customers — can be one of the most powerful ways for us to reach any business goal. This is when content marketing starts to work for you exponentially. Apple Computer is the quintessential example of this. Ask yourself what their content marketing strategy is. They have no social media presence. They have no blog. But they have successfully built their passionate subscriber base — and these people create fan sites, write, share, and evangelize the Apple brand. Your ultimate goal should be to create a community of evangelists who are prepared to fight for your brand.
So which of these goals makes sense for your content marketing? Maybe it’s only an inbound marketing initiative and you’re just trying to help drive more leads into the sales and marketing process. Maybe you’re trying to create a program that increases awareness, drives down the cost of organic traffic to your website, and increases your position with search engines. Maybe you are working to improve your customer retention rate. Take a moment now to get your mental juices flowing.
What do you want to accomplish with content marketing?
One last message from the soapbox
I’ve seen way too many presentations and read way too many articles from “gurus” touting that all marketing resources should switch to inbound marketing. Or even content marketing for that matter? For some small businesses, this could be the case. But for smart, growing businesses, we should be leveraging content marketing throughout all our marketing initiatives — even (gasp) traditional marketing and advertising. (Check out this excellent post by Robert Rose about how content marketing is butter, not the bread.)
Yes, traditional marketing doesn’t work the way it used to because the consumer is in complete control. If they don’t want to pay attention, they won’t. Telling interesting stories is a much better way to get attention. But in many circumstances, traditional marketing and advertising can work (Old Spice showed us the power of paid advertising in collaboration with content marketing and social media). The point is, there is no black and white in marketing; it’s all gray. There are no silver bullets. Marketing objectives sometimes need to be solved with a combination of efforts, not by putting all your eggs in one basket.
As a marketing professional, it’s your responsibility to call BS when you see it. I hope you will.
NOTE: If you are looking to see content marketing in action, check out Content Marketing World On Demand, featuring over 40 videos from the leading content marketing experts from David Meerman Scott to brands like DuPont, Intel and Sherwin Williams.