By Kerry Oliver, Guest Blogger | 8.22.16
The one truth that everyone in our industry can agree upon is that traditional marketing has changed dramatically. Nothing demonstrates this change more vividly than the growing power of Content Marketing.
First, a definition: Content Marketing is the strategic approach for creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a specific audience, with the ultimate goal of driving a specific customer action.
Although most people associate Content Marketing with the development of the internet and mobile devices, its history actually precedes the internet by about a hundred years. It just wasn’t called “Content Marketing” back then.
One of the earliest examples of Content Marketing dates back to 1895 when the John Deere Plow (now Tractor) Company began to publish and distribute its “Furrow” magazine to farming families. It was packed with useful information, advice and tips designed to support the working needs and lifestyle of American farmers and ranchers. (By the way, “Furrow” is still in print today.)
Another early example introduced Jello to the American public through a series of free recipe books and cookbooks printed and distributed beginning in 1904.
Even in the past, content took advantage of new technologies. In the early 1950s, the TV soap opera was created (although soap operas originated years earlier on radio). Developed as a means of delivering TV commercials for soaps, cleaners and detergents to an audience of female homemakers, soap opera programs offered a much-needed respite from the drudgery of household chores and – in the case of many of the early TV commercials – useful information about how to maintain the home and simplify those daily chores.
Once you understand what effective content is, it’s easy to look back and spot some powerful pre-internet examples. I vividly remember (being a young used car owner at the time) the Shell Oil Answer Book Series that were published from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. Each issue featured useful driving tips and auto maintenance advice, all of which came in handy in an era of finicky carburetors, fouling spark plugs, DIY oil changes and cars that seemed to break down if you looked at them the wrong way.
These days, the challenges of Content Marketing are so complex and the options so diverse, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But as these pre-digital examples demonstrate, the basic rules driving effective Content Marketing haven’t changed over the decades.
First, know your audience.
Second, know your audience.
And third, know your audience.
What does your audience worry about? What problems do they face? How do they go about solving those nagging issues?
Your audience isn’t sitting up nights waiting to hear about your latest product or service. They’re waiting for a solution to a problem – in their lives or in their businesses.
And no, the solution isn’t a cute puppy video.
The goal of Content Marketing is to give people solutions: solutions that eventually lead to your product or service. But in order to do that, you first have to know and understand who these people are and what their problems are.
Creating a marketing persona is a good place to start, but it’s not enough for your persona to simply describe your audience and give them a clever name like Patty Sue or Billy Bob. To be useful, a persona should capture attitudes, the decision-making process and criteria, and the steps that a person takes in deciding which solution is better for her or him.
A great persona has little to do with demographics and psychographics. Instead, it should be a snapshot of real life that reveals channels of communication, opportunities for timing, and suggestions of topics of information that your audience finds valuable.
Once you have a handle on those factors, you can chart the buyer’s journey. This can take the form of either a written description or a visual chart showing everything that impacts your customer as she realizes her need, determines her options, evaluates those options, and makes a purchase decision.
Like a great persona, a strong buyer’s journey is grounded in the real world and accounts for a myriad of touchpoints – some of which you as a marketer can impact and some of which you can’t. Your strategy will be determined by recognizing the difference between the two.
Content Marketing – like all great marketing – is blend of both science and art. It clearly has the potential to change the future for brands and companies with the vision to realize its potential.
And just as Red Bull, Lego, BMW and other contemporary leaders in Content Marketing demonstrate every day, the best guide is – and always will be – the customer.
A native Texan, Kerry Oliver has worked for major regional advertising and marketing agencies in Houston, Nashville, and Reno. He currently serves as Director of Content Strategy and Integration for GS&F.
His experience encompasses practically every industry category: casual dining, industrial, real estate, lottery and gaming, financial, insurance, healthcare, retail, travel/tourism, packaged goods, fashion, entertainment, sporting goods, energy and more.
During his career as Copywriter, Creative Director and Creative Strategist, Oliver has received countless major awards as well as industry recognition for creativity in advertising. His work has been awarded and/or recognized by the following: national Clio awards; international London Advertising Federation; OBIE awards; Art Directors Club of New York awards; local, regional and national ADDY awards; Communication Arts magazine’s awards; Print magazine annual; Creativity annual; Art Direction magazine awards; STEP In Design magazine awards; Texas Monthly magazine awards; national Telly awards; Chicago Art Show awards; Dallas Art Show awards; Business Publications of America Association awards; Craftsmen Printing awards; Printing in America awards; and others.