Here are two startling facts about online marketing. The first: 70 percent of consumers prefer getting to know a company via content marketing rather than ads, but (and this is the surprising part) brands spend more on advertising than on content such as articles, according to ContentPlus. The second fact: 91 percent of B2B marketers employ some sort of content marketing, but just 36 percent of them believe that content to be effective, according to a study by MarketingProfs and Content Marketing Institute.
Why are those facts startling? Because while content is increasingly a factor in both consumer and business decisions, brands are either uneasy with their content-marketing efforts or are missing the boat entirely.
Why does content matter? Consider how you approach a purchase: Whether you're looking to buy a lawn mower or a health plan, you likely Google options, read online reviews and recommendations and maybe poll friends on Facebook or Twitter. (In fact, that's exactly what I did when I wanted to buy a digital camera.)
Google calls this the "Zero Moment of Truth," which acknowledges that people arrive at a business through multiple online sources. Unlike the old system, in which brands tried to attract us via advertising and other outreach efforts, we are now being led directly to brands via our personal and business relationships.
In today's search-and-social world, businesses should focus on enabling interactions instead of chasing transactions. The key is to create helpful content that's seeded with honest empathy.
"My golden rule of content marketing is to simply answer questions," says Marcus Sheridan, who overhauled the marketing strategy at his Warsaw, Va.-based company, River Pools and Spas. Instead of his previous method of focusing on radio, TV and pay-per-click advertising, he shifted his efforts toward generating sales through informational blog posts and videos.
His success hinged on the nature of that content: He was willing to answer online the tough questions most pool installers (like car dealers and other purveyors of big-ticket items) want to avoid until they meet a customer face-to-face, such as specifics about costs and problems that may come up.
The lesson from Sheridan is this: Too many companies create corporate-centric, rather than customer-centric, content. The former is about you; the latter is about what you do for your customer--a subtle yet critical shift. A good lens through which to view any content you produce involves asking yourself whether your customers will be grateful for this content. In effect, will they thank you for marketing to them? If the answer is yes, then you have gold.
By answering questions, you are addressing specific pain points, demonstrating that you understand customers' specific issues and concerns. Sheridan earned trust among would-be pool buyers. Decide what you wish to subtly communicate to generate leads for your business.
Watch Your Voice and Tone
The way in which you articulate empathy is crucial. Voice refers to the personality you convey in your content, and it's unique to every company.
I'm a fan of websites that communicate in simple, direct language. For example, I like how the U.K. government's site (gov.uk) presents complex policies and guidelines in a straightforward manner, in accordance with its published style guide. Any business can learn a lot from a government agency that suggests its web writers be, among other things:
- clear and concise
- brisk but not terse
- incisive (friendliness can lead to a lack of precision) yet human (not a faceless machine)
- serious but not pompous
(Side note: I smiled at the style guide's suggestion to avoid "Americanisms. You 'fill in' a form, not 'fill out' a form.")
In addition to voice, consider tone. The voice of your website might be snarky, upbeat or fun, but there may be areas where the tone should shift. Customer-service pages--places customers visit when they have a problem--might drop a snarky tone in favor of one of helpful concern.
The search-and-social landscape creates enormous opportunities. The question becomes: What are you doing to take advantage?