A few weeks before the start of the New Year I led a workshop on content marketing for about 50 small-business CEOs and operations managers. They came from all different industries. Some were consultants. There was a plumber and a representative from an HVAC company present. Pest management? Check. A few small manufacturing companies, a nonprofit, and a jewelry store rounded it out. In other words, it was a diverse group of companies.
What wasn’t diverse were the ways they were marketing their companies. Most had e-newsletters. All of them had Facebook pages. Every one of these senior leaders was concerned about search engine rankings.
Another consistent characteristic? Not one of them was happy with their marketing. This is not unusual. It’s predictable that senior leaders are often disappointed with their marketing. Why? Mostly because they believe it should be easier than it is. They also feel they are just one secret-sauce answer away from Utopia. I mean, how hard could it really be? (Don’t answer that.)
And that’s what I heard about their content efforts as well. Their blog posts weren’t getting much traffic or converting. Their email newsletters weren’t getting opened. Their customers were ignoring them on social media. Finding themselves on the first page on a search engine listing was equally hard.
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I’d heard enough. After the last complaint, I stopped my presentation. This is something I don’t normally do. I’ve been doing this particular workshop for a while, and the flow works well with small businesses. The last thing I wanted to do was alter course.
But I did alter it with this one simple question, “Is the content you are creating and distributing for your customers any different than anything else out there?”
I looked around at the business leaders. You could have heard a pin drop.
I repeated the question.
“Is the content you are creating and distributing for your customers any different than anything else out there?”
I then rephrased and asked the question to each one directly. I asked the jewelry store executive with the e-newsletter if what they sent to customers was any different. They sent coupons and articles that you could find literally anywhere.
I asked the plumber. He promoted content from the manufacturer on his YouTube page and his blog. I also found out that about 300 other plumbers used that same content.
I asked the financial consultant. He said he purposely kept his articles general because he didn’t want to give away any intellectual property without compensation. “How’s that working for you?” I asked.
“Not very well” was his response.
At one point in the workshop, I told them that if they aren’t going to take this seriously, they should all just go out and buy advertising (and I meant it).
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Why should your customers care?
For the rest of the morning, we focused on answering one simple question: “Why should my customers care?”
That e-newsletter you are sending out. Why should they care?
Your Facebook post? Why should they care?
Your blog post, video or (God help us all) Snapchat?
You get the point.
Our job, as marketers, is not to create more content. It has never been about that. It’s about creating the minimum amount of content with the maximum amount of behavior change in our customers (hat tip to Robert Rose). For that to be possible, what you are creating has to be valuable, useful, compelling and, yes, different.Marketers: Create the min amount of #content with the max amount of behavior change in your customers. Click To Tweet
The content tilt
Somewhere along the line, we marketers became infatuated with the tools and less concerned about what we put inside them. This, my friends, has got to change.
Of the six-step process of the Content Inc. model (from my latest book), the most important step is the second, the content tilt.
The content tilt is that area of little to no competition on the web that actually gives you a fighter’s chance of breaking through and becoming relevant. It’s not only what makes you different, it’s so different that you get noticed by your audience. That audience rewards you with their attention.
The content tilt is what will separate you from everyone else in your market area. Andrew Davis, author of Town Inc., calls this “the hook” – a simple twist on a familiar theme designed to entrap or ensnare your audience. Without “tilting” your content just enough to truly have a different story to tell, your content will fade into the rest of the clutter and be forgotten.
How to find your tilt
The real goal of this little story was to get you to ask the question – Is my content different? The majority, like over 99% of marketers, do not have differentiated content. They are not telling stories that are different.
If you are like most marketers, then, your next question is “How do I make it different?”One question marketers should ask before creating #content: Is my content different from my competition? Click To Tweet
This is easier said than done, but it is possible to tell a different and compelling story looking at different data points. Here are some things to consider:
- Audience – Are you really niche enough with your audience? “Pet owners” simply is too broad as a target audience. What about “homeowners who like to travel with a dog in their recreational vehicle and live in southwest Florida”? That may be too niche, but probably not. To be truly relevant with your story, you need to focus on a very specific reader. As Stephen Kings says in On Writing, you should think about this person every time you create content.
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- How you tell the story – Content marketing has been around for years and has been called many different things. But we at the Content Marketing Institute were the first to call it content marketing. That made a difference in how the audience responded.
- Platform – One of the HVAC contractors in the workshop told me there are a thousand blog posts a day on energy efficiency. We also learned that there were few, if any, podcasts about saving energy. Opportunity? I’m not sure, but it’s worth a look.
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- Subject matter – Using tools like Google Trends, you can uncover breakout terms for which there are few instructional resources. Take this quote from Jay Baer as an example:
It’s like, ‘Hey I like knitting, and I’m going to start a knitting blog.’ Really! There are 27 other knitting blogs. Why would anybody read yours? What is different? What is unique? What is interesting? Why would anyone stop reading the knitting blog that they’ve been reading for the last three years and read yours ever? And if you can’t articulate that, you need to go back to the drawing board. And most people I find who haven’t been doing this for a while just don’t go through that competitive calculus, and it’s dangerous.
From the subject matter standpoint, knitting might be too broad. Are there certain types of knitting that are underserved, where you could be the leading expert in the world?
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What if your content was gone?
Let’s end with this thought.
Let’s say someone rounded up all your content and placed it in a box like it never existed. Would anyone miss it? Would you leave a gap in the marketplace?
If the answer to this is no, then you have a problem (and this article is directed at you, bub).
We want customers and prospects needing … no, longing for our content. It becomes part of their lives … their jobs.
Today, it’s harder and harder to buy attention. You have to earn it. Earn it today, tomorrow, and five years from now by delivering the most impactful information your customers could ever ask for. “Good enough” won’t win the battle for customer attention. Be great.
Your unique brand story is one of the five core elements for running successful, scalable content marketing operations. Read our 2016 Content Marketing Framework: 5 Building Blocks for Profitable, Scalable Operations for an overview of the full strategic blueprint.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute