Marketing Bootcamp

The Battle for Customer Attention Starts With a Company's Culture

Many people believe that marketing is just advertising or selling. But, in reality, marketing is actually a conversation that you the entrepreneur start by meeting your customers' needs.

Related: The Secret Ingredient for Succeeding at Content Marketing

One of the biggest challenges in marketing we see is executives who resist it by asking, "Yes, but how will this help me sell more?"

Many businesses struggle with just such a sales- or product-focused culture, forgetting that they were formed to solve a customer problem and that the solution to that problem was born of insights gleaned from talking to potential customers.

It's this forgetfulness that makes marketing look less like it's about serving customers and more like it's about (only) sales and advertising. And that's not good.

In fact, for many business-to-business brands, marketing originally emerged from the sales team’s need for more leads in the field. In the consumer space, marketers started on the traditional advertising side, where the game was all about reach and frequency, and where the goal was to get the brand message out to the target audience.

The legacy of such thinking leads to the biggest mistake marketers make: They make the message all about themselves. When I started my own content-marketing journey, I remember, I was always hearing, “How much more stuff will this help us sell?”

Yet the worst way to try to reach your target audience in today’s digital, consumer-led world is to try to sell yourself directly. Businesses that succeed in reaching their customers have stopped trying to interrupt the content their consumers are interested in and instead have started creating, publishing and sharing the content their customers enjoy.

Related: A Guide For Creating Consistently Great Content

Answer customers' questions, and you may earn the right to tell them more about yourself.

But building a company that focuses on helping people versus selling stuff? That’s a question of culture! And culture flows straight from the boss. So, if you’re a CEO, your job is to build a customer-focused culture of content. And here are three questions to pose that help you do just that.

1. What is a culture of content?

Effective marketing is the art of providing the best answers to your buyers’ questions, and that’s a content problem -- which in turn is a job that flows to just about every employee.

Everyone in your business produces content. Everyone has an email address and a few social accounts. Content drives real business value when it connects with your potential customers.

Late last year, Altimeter published a report on how to foster a culture of content, to which I was honored to contribute. The research pointed to education, executive buy-in and employee advocacy as key components of a culture of content.

2. How do you shift away from a culture of selling?

Most businesses believe that the best way to drive new sales is to talk about themselves, thinking that if they’re not outright asking for new business, they won’t get it.

Today, however, customers tune out such promotional messages. They can tell which content is trying to sell. Businesses need to make the customer the hero of their stories, exhibiting empathy in a real and emotional way.

Many businesses forget that one of the most effective ways to use content to drive traffic is to simply answer your customers’ most basic questions. If you sell widgets, the first question your content should answer is, “What are widgets?” And then: “How can widgets help a business like mine?” Once you’ve done that on a regular basis, you can answer why your widgets are best.

There is no magic pill for effective content that drives traffic. The best businesses have a documented strategy for publishing helpful, high-quality content; they drive that strategy by publishing on a consistent basis.

Publishing audience-focused content more than once per day is much more effective than publishing less frequently. And frequency requires a culture of content.

3. How can brands establish a culture of content?

The best way to build a “culture of content” is to help your employees understand what problem you set out to solve. The mission must be bigger than the service or product you sell. The brand is about more than what you sell, it's about people.

Companies that do this well understand the larger world they operate in and how they fit into it; they activate their employees to tell authentic and personal stories about how they contribute.

As a content marketer, I have often found myself teaching others how to write, share on social media and build their personal brands. To succeed takes executives who embody this spirit -- living and breathing the notion that your brand is bigger than what you sell.

Creating and defining a culture of content, then, starts with the CEO. However, it's also the daily job of everyone else. What content have you produced today that will help a potential customer? Have you coached any executives on how to turn their presentations into slideshares and blog posts? Have you encouraged any of your thought leaders to start contributing more often?

It’s time to get started to create this bright new customer-winning culture.

Related: 5 Ways Content Can Make Your Brand a Thought Leader