The Case for Better Content Marketing

Marketing is Driven More & More by Content & Context


Better Content Marketing is a Must-Have Skill

Since the advent of YouTube, Facebook, and all the subsequent iterations of content-driven media platforms, marketing has evolved into content-driven storytelling.  It isn’t really a willing transition; it’s more of an ugly-cry, tantrum, dragging-along transition for most marketers.  But here’s the best case I can make for better content marketing

I love all my fellow marketers, but let’s face it – many of you are stuck in old ways of thinking and doing, and your refusal to admit reality is becoming comical.  As a small business owner, your number-one task is to eject all the flat-Earthers on your marketing squad and look for people to support you who have embraced everything that’s great about marketing in what is already being called the “Roaring ‘20s.”  Let’s hope they start roaring soon…

It’s Time to Get On-Board the Content Marketing Train

In 2011 when I took my PhD year to immerse myself in digital marketing, and as someone who feels there is always something new to learn (and un-learn), I was stunned by the contrast of neo-marketers, technology-driven and lacking any real foundation in sound consumer behavior theories, and traditional marketers, heads in the sand looking down on the steamroller headed their way.   The total lack of respect, one for another, has really made this transition a lot more confusing, time-consuming, and fraught with pitfalls than it really had to be.

Truth is, neo-marketers had a lot to learn from the traditional guys, and vice versa.  Had they really found the common ground to work together we’d all be better for it.  Sadly, we’re not.  And it’s kind of turned into a metaphor for life as a lot of other aspects of our technological revolution seem to have met the same fate.

The reality is that consumers have become so accustomed to experiencing life through a series of emotional moments reflected in social media we are no longer attracted by “advertising” in the traditional sense.  There is still a place for price-and-promotion advertising, but it’s very limited.  Yet, since a lot of traditional marketers still have that to sell, they sell it, it doesn’t do what clients want, and “advertising” keeps taking credibility hits.

There is no singular tactical formula for marketing today that existed 30 years ago when I was a little baby marketer.  But for my own willingness to grow and evolve, I’d have been left in the dust a long time ago.  What is “singular” about modern marketing is that each business has a unique story to tell, and going about telling that story is the mission of every marketer.  Go back to my basic formula:

Targeting + Messaging + Reach = Results

From the perspective of content-driven marketing, that means we need to think about the unique story of your business and then decide who needs to hear it (for whom is your story relevant), how will we tell your story (messaging), and in what context will we tell your story over and over again (reach).

Content Is King

To reach consumers in any meaningful way, content is king.  Content is a word that gets thrown around, used, over-used, abused, and bastardized in all sorts of ways.  Suffice it to say that I view content as anything you develop (written word, video, photography, graphics, etc.) that tells all or part of the unique story of your business.

Whenever you post on social media, that’s content (good or bad).  Whenever you add anything to your website, that’s content.  Emails and text messages you send to customers are content.  Anything you put out there in the world can ultimately be considered content.

Just Having Content Isn’t Enough

This is the point where some people misunderstand me and just go racing out there to create as much volume of content as possible.  Yuck.  Stop.

I also get asked a lot about “going viral.”  Can you make me go viral?  How do things go viral?

Here is the nature of virality in as simple an explanation as I can muster:

Successful content is original, interesting, & engaging.  Here’s who decides that, and how…

Every time to add something to your website or post something to social media, platforms like Google® and Facebook® know about if within seconds, or even faster.  And they begin by making a split-second analysis starting with “Have I seen this before?”

If the answer is “Yes,” then your content is dead in the water.  It’s the equivalent of the Internet giving out a loud chant of “Bbbboooooorrrrriiiiinnggggg!”

If the answer is “No,” then your content has met the first hurdle: Originality.

Now, platforms like Google and Facebook will typically become more interested in your content; well, they’ll at least give it a second look.  But the bar now goes up quickly…

Next question, “Are people finding this content interesting?”  They determine this by considering how many people look at it, how long they spend looking at it, and even how many times they willingly look at it.

If the answer is “No,” then your content is dead in the water.  It’s the equivalent of the Internet giving out a loud chant of “NNNiiiiccceee Ttttrrrryyyyy!   Internet OUT!”

If the answer is “Yes,” then they’ll typically become very interested in your content and you’ve met the second hurdle:  Interesting.

If your content survives to the third hurdle, the next question is, “Are people engaging with it?”

If the answer is “No,” then your content may still see some luke-warm interest.  “What ‘evs…”

If the answer is “Yes,” then your content just cleared the third hurdle and has made it to the big leagues.  In fact, over 99% of all content never makes it this far.

Now, platforms like Google and Facebook will show your content to a wider group of people who look a lot like the people you’ve already engaged.  They do this as an experiment to see if other people like it as much or more.  To the extent that the new people find it engaging, the platforms will keep showing it to a wider and wider audience; thus, “going viral.”

Being Original, Interesting, & Engaging Isn’t Easy

The skillsets necessary to make being original, interesting, and engaging look natural are fairly rare.  For most of us, it’s not something that just happens without practice; for many of us, it’s just not ever going to happen.

My own professional experience has been that maybe 1 in 100 clients has both the ability and willingness to even try.  Some realization that “this isn’t my wheel house” is the number-one factor that drives business owners and marketing managers to seek out professional help with marketing.  It’s also a very subjective thing.  That’s why marketing feels so much more complicated today than it has in previous decades.

If it was easy, everyone would do it.  If it was easy, there’d be a lot more on social media than what we had for lunch.  If it was easy, cat videos wouldn’t be the most popular thing on YouTube.

However, it’s not impossible.  And it’s totally worth it.

A Real-Life Example Where Better Content Marketing Could Make a Huge Difference

We recently engaged a new orthodontist client, and in the process of conducting an initial audit we realized that all the orthodontists in that area had jumped into a Google AdWords bidding war.  In fact, it was the primary (and just about the only) tactic we uncovered.

Searches for terms like “orthodontist” and “braces” were yielding the maximum ads from local orthodontists, but Google was left with very poor choices for organic responses.  In fact, because the digital footprints of local orthodontists were so bad, Google was left to highlight a Wikipedia definition of what an orthodontist is and does.  Other than showing some orthodontist offices on a map, Google showed ZERO orthodontist websites on the first page of results.

This represents a HUGE missed opportunity for orthodontists and leaves us wide open to be wildly successful for our client.  Why?

Because 94% of the time, people DON’T click on the paid ads in a search result – favoring organic results instead.  That means our orthodontist rivals are duking it out to bid each other up for only 6% of possible leads!

The simple solution to dominate the competition here is to be the ONLY orthodontist who is investing in being original, interesting, and engaging while everyone else bids for clicks.  You can ALSO dive into that bidding war and dominate that, too.

If you’re the only one investing in dominating organic search results, you’re the only one focusing on the 94% of people who place much higher value on that than paid ads.

Oh, and by the way, you’ll also pay a lower cost per click (CPC) or conversion on Google AdWords and other SEM, too, because SEM is not a pure auction in the sense that the highest bidder automatically wins.  Search engines will gladly take less money in favor of a better outcome for the searcher.

But It’s Totally Worth It

Since the inception of YouTube, the most-watched videos on the platform have been cat videos.  What is your version of cat videos?  What is it about your brand story that captures peoples’ attention and connects with them emotionally?

The answer sometimes requires experimentation; other times it’s fairly easy.

We have a client who treats lice.  Yes.  Head lice.  They have a clinic where people come to get head lice physically removed.  It’s not a planned purchase, but it certainly has a short lead time.  My kid has lice.  Get it out!  Get it out!  Get it out!  Aaaaahhhhhh!

Our goal from a marketing standpoint is not to isolate on people who have lice, but rather tell a consistent brand story to moms so that when lice inevitably make a visit she knows exactly what to do, who to trust, and – most importantly – who to call.

We get mom’s attention with strong visuals that are pretty easy to make viral.  When the clinic removes lice, they put them under a microscope and make videos of the little buggers running around on the slide.  It’s gross.  Wonderfully gross.

There are also a lot of myths running around the Internet about how you treat lice; everything from mayonnaise to petroleum jelly to olive oil.  None of those work, BTW.  So we create a lot of content about de-bunking these myths.  It’s an opportunity to help mom feel more educated about the problem and tell our brand story at the same time.

We’re doing some work for a new business pioneering the idea of cleaning and sanitizing trash cans.  After the mediocre performance of some other options we found the most disgusting pictures of stinky, gross trash cans we could find and simply added the tag line “Trash Can Giving You Dirty Looks?”  Bingo!

It turns out, grossing people out can be extremely effective.  I don’t recommend it for a restaurant, but we’ve also done it for dentists, oral surgeons, crawl space and basement waterproofing, and other situations where you’re “getting rid of the gross.”

Why Google & Facebook Will Reward You for Your Trouble

It can often be worth your time and money to be consistently original, interesting, and engaging.  Why?  Because Americans spend 57% (and growing) of all their time spent on-line with either Google or Facebook.  Since both platforms rely on advertising as the primary revenue source, they’re now much like television and radio in that they rely on how frequently people “tune in” and how long they spend whenever they’re there.

Advertising platforms need audiences.  And modern-day platforms like these don’t make their own create, they rely on user-generated content to make it all work.  So if you essentially concentrate on being a user who attracts a lot of attention from other users, you become valuable to them.  Some, like YouTube, will actually pay you to be original, interesting, and engaging.  The rest of Google and Facebook® haven’t yet crossed these lines, and would prefer to never have to resort to that.  Why share if you don’t have to?

My editor just deleted the rant I had here about all of that…

The point is, you won’t have to buy your way onto these platforms if you invest in being original, interesting, and engaging.  Remember earlier when I talked about the old newspaper-age adage that having an article written about you is 11 times more valuable than buying the equivalent amount of advertising space?  Well, this is the modern-day equivalent of that.

It almost always costs less to invest in great content that will move organically through these platforms than build crappy content and then pay to play.  And even when you do decide to pay to play, great content will play cheaper than junk.

We Can Help

If this makes sense to you but you’re not sure how to proceed, we’ll invest our time to give you some free advice and learn more about what success looks like for you.  Book a free consultation here.  It’s just one way we invest in you long before you invest in us.

Whether you seek help from us or not, remember that content marketing is the natural evolution of advertising.  And once you commit to content, start thinking about context.  You’ll be hearing more and more about context soon.

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After 3 decades as a professional marketer, serial entrepreneur and business consultant Steven Ludwig shares his best practices for small business marketing for owners, managers, and marketers with limited time, money, and expertise. Steven started his professional marketing career in broadcasting in the early ‘90s in Chicago after attending Valparaiso University. After a brief stint at an advertising agency specializing in entertainment and sports marketing where he worked with radio and television stations, movie theatre companies, record labels, musicians, and professional sports teams, he moved to Nashville to form The Marketing Group with his long-time business partner, Jim Wood. Having worked with some of the largest brands in the world, in 2010 he returned to local marketing primarily out of an interest and excitement for working with small business owners to build stronger companies. That desire comes out of early days in radio, where he worked closely with everything from car dealerships to restaurants, insurance and real estate agents, banks, home services companies, and specialty retailers of all kinds. Over the past decade, he has been on the bleeding edge of digital marketing technology, constantly seeking to understand complex strategies employed by giant corporations and then translate those capabilities into tactics small businesses can execute at a local level. Today, in addition to other business ventures with his wife and other long-time business partners, he still lives outside Nashville in Franklin, Tennessee and currently serves as Executive Chairman of EmpowerLocal, a digital marketing company building a nationwide network of digital, hyperlocal news and lifestyle publishers to provide efficient advertising opportunities for local, regional, and national brands.


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