When my friend was planning a soiree in her backyard, she sent me links to a blog with entertaining ideas as well as recipes. Both links were from Crate & Barrel (yes, even the recipes). When another friend was considering what to do with her backyard, she sent me links to articles from a local landscape designer’s website. These businesses realize that to attract and retain customers, they need to provide more than just product. They’re using content marketing to provide valuable information that will keep customers engaged.
Content marketing may be a relatively new term to some, but it’s been around for decades. It’s important to note that it’s not just delivered as a blog, although a blog is certainly one way to provide relevant content to customers. It can also be emails, social media posts, games and even print magazines (think Airbnb magazine) and books (think American Girl’s book series).
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action, according to the Content Marketing Institute.
Not only is content marketing effective because it’s popular among consumers seeking valuable ideas they can put to use immediately, it’s often less expensive than traditional marketing methods. Content marketing costs 62 percent less than outbound marketing yet generates more than three times as many leads, according to Demand Metric.
There are two things to keep in mind when developing your content marketing strategy and plan:
- Identify Your Audience. Who are you trying to reach? Generation Z college students who live in an urban area? Or women over 50 who love fashion? The more specific you can be when identifying your audience, the easier it will be to think of content that would be of interest to them. For instance, the college students who live in an urban environment might be interested in the best coffee shops to study in and hang out with their friends, while fashion-loving women over 50 might be more interest in apparel and accessory trends.
- Provide Valuable Content. The content you write needs to be valuable information, not a sales pitch. More often than not, the company name or brand does not appear in the piece. If it does, it’s more of a soft sell. The content needs to be able to stand on its own. For example, the pieces I wrote for McCormick Spice included everything from how to buy seafood to the history of certain spices. We only included one line about the company’s specific spices, and it was usually to a recipe (that, of course, used their spices). In another instance, I wrote about backyard design trends for a landscape architect client and didn’t once mention their company name.
While the general idea is to avoid using your company’s name or the brands you sell as the focus of your article, lightly interspersing products (available in your shop, of course) is fine.
Here is what I ask my clients to consider when we’re creating an editorial calendar for their content marketing articles: is the point of this piece to sell this item or will the reader feel like they’ve read something they can actually use in their life? The latter is content marketing.
Crate & Barrel does this really well. When I was hosting girlfriends at my home and wanted to put out a nice spread, its “Best Food and Wine Pairings for a Girl’s Night In” blog post was exactly what I needed. The company partnered with someone to provide the content while also subtly mentioning products available through their shop, from stemware to tableware. The piece wasn’t gratuitous. It left the reader with clear and actionable ideas to host a party with confidence (did you know you could pair champagne with french fries, for example?), complete with a menu sample and recipes for an appetizer and main dish.
As with any marketing outreach efforts, consistency is key. If you don’t have the time or energy to stick with it, consider hiring someone with experience to map out a solid editorial plan for you and execute it. The money will be well-spent and reap you rewards in both the short and long-term.