Content Marketing: How to Get it Right

Content is king.

That’s the mantra that is circulating business marketing circles these days. If you want to be successful at online marketing, then you need to have an effective content marketing plan in place. This advice is repeated over and over by every marketing consultant and business magazine out there.

So why am I writing about it?

Because despite all the content marketing advice out there, so many business owners still get it wrong.

You see, having an effective content marketing plan involves more than just publishing content online. There are important aspects like the quality of the writing, and how consistently new content gets published, that determine how successful your content marketing campaign will be.

And there is one aspect of content marketing that I see small business owners get wrong time and time again: focusing the content they develop on promoting their own business instead of helping their customers.

The “Me, Me, Me” Mistake

One of the most common mistakes I see small business owners make, with both content marketing and social media, is focusing on their business instead of the customer. Their blog articles, social media posts, and other content they develop are all written as a self-promotion piece. They use this content to advertise who they are, what they provide, or try to convince customers to buy from them. Sometimes they even use the content they develop to try to convince the customer that they should change the way they think or shop, and buy from them instead.

There is a word for this kind of content: advertorial.

Before the Internet became what it is today, newspapers and magazines would publish advertisements that were disguised as just another article in their publication. These “articles” became known as advertorials.

And while the article looked just like any of the other articles, it was written with one goal: to advertise the company or product that paid for that space in the newspaper or magazine. The text of the article was carefully crafted to seem like a legitimate news story about the product or company, but as you read deeper it shifts from unbiased text to aggressive sales copy.

But this “article” was nothing more than an advertisement.

As the years have passed, consumers have become more adept at detecting thinly-disguised advertisements. And while advertorials were once an effective form of marketing, today’s consumer can see right through them.

And yet, many small businesses still treat content marketing and social media like an advertorial.

Nobody Likes a Self-Absorbed Snob

Imagine for a moment that you are at a local chamber of commerce networking event.

As you work your way through the room, you meet a guy, we’ll call him John, and start a conversation with him. After talking with him for a minute, you realize that all John is interested in talking about is what he can sell you. He talks about his company, how long he’s been in business, his personal experience, the products and services he sells, and how he can sell you exactly what you need.

The problem is that he hasn’t taken the time to get to know you, so how could he know what you need?

More importantly, he hasn’t given you the opportunity to get to know him. Not his company. Not what he sells. But John, himself…his personality, his sense of humor, etc. There was almost no small talk, he never asked any questions about you, and didn’t talk about anything that wasn’t sales related.

He never gave you the chance to know, like and trust him…the key ingredients to a purchasing decision.

What would you do if you met someone like John at a chamber of commerce event? My guess is you would find a way to politely exit the conversation, or look for some excuse to get away from John.

Why? Because no one likes a person who talks about themselves all the time.

And yet, that is exactly what so many small businesses do to their customers through misguided content marketing and social media tactics. They keep talking about their company and what they sell….and never give the customer a chance to know, like, and trust them.

Being a Helpful Resource is More Effective

Let’s look at that situation with John from a different perspective.

Imagine that you’ve met John at the same local chamber of commerce event, but this time, he’s completely different.

He greets you with a smile, asks questions about who you are and what you do, and actively listens while you talk. He also provides you with useful information, and helpful tips that solve a problem you’ve been having in your business.

You’ve had the chance to get to know John. You’ve seen how helpful, knowledgeable, and kind he is. You’ve been able to experience his personality, laugh at his jokes, and feel at ease around him.

You had the chance to know, like and trust him.

And that experience causes you to naturally want to know more about what John does. What is his business? What does he sell?

So you start asking John questions.

And that is John’s opportunity to sell himself, his company, and his products/services.

The difference is: now you are willing to listen, and are more likely to buy from him.

That is how content marketing works when done right.

Content Marketing is About Building Relationships, Not Selling

The purpose of content marketing (and social media by the way), is to give your customers a chance to get to know you, develop a relationship with your business, and establish trust. It also helps showcase you as an expert.

But selling is secondary in content marketing.

Focus on developing content that is useful to your customers right now, not just after they buy from you. Instead of trying to sell to them, provide valuable help and information to them. Show them that you’re real, you value them, and they are important to you…not just their money. Be a trusted resource they rely on, and watch that turn into sales and referrals.

Most business owners are familiar with network marketing, so I will use that as an example.

In network marketing, the goal is to build relationships. Inevitably, those relationships turn into referrals and sales. But you have to take the time to build the relationships first. You can’t go into network marketing with a “sell at all costs” attitude and expect to get anywhere.

It’s the same with content marketing.

Provide your customers with strong, consistent content that has REAL value to them, and the sales and referrals will inevitably follow.

7 Questions That Will Prevent Content Marketing Failure

Thankfully, creating great content for your marketing, (that connects with your customers) is easy if you follow a few simple guidelines.

Before you publish your next piece of content marketing, ask yourself these 7 questions:

  1. What specific problem does this solve for my customers?
  2. Does it contain information, tips, or ideas that will make my customers’ life better today?
  3. What is my goal with this piece of content: selling myself, or helping my customers?
  4. What specifically makes this information valuable to my customers?
  5. Is the writing itself high-quality and well-written?
  6. How does this content fit my overall brand strategy and brand personality?
  7. Have I included my website address and contact info?

You’ll notice that numbers six and seven in the list are marketing related. There is a specific reason for that. Even though content marketing is about building relationships instead of direct selling, you still need to make sure people know the content is coming from you. So it is important to make sure that the content fits your brand strategy, and has basic contact info (like your phone number and web address at least) on it. That way, if a potential customer is interested in learning more, they have a way to contact you.

If you examine each piece of content you publish under the microscope of these seven questions, it will help you ensure that your content marketing is doing its job.

The Bottom Line

Content marketing is really popular right now, and when used properly it can be an effective way to get noticed. However, it is critical that your content marketing is focused on bringing real, tangible value to your customers instead of directly selling the products or services you offer.

So the next time you’re getting ready to publish new content to your blog, social media accounts, or elsewhere online, ask yourself this question…

“Am I publishing this content to help my customers, or just to sell myself? Is it for them, or about me, me, me?”

About Edward

Edward is the Owner & Creative Director of Bear River Art Studio, and an international award-winning artist. He also happens to be in love with Northern Michigan. Maybe that's because he spent his summers up here as a kid. Or maybe he's just nuts about being surrounded by the natural beauty of Northern Michigan. And when Edward isn't in the office creating impactful marketing for our clients, you'll usually find him running all over Northern Michigan with his camera in hand, taking pictures of his favorite place on earth.