Let me lay my cards down. I’ve never worked for a publicly traded company. I’ve not experienced the unrelenting pressure to improve numbers that feed a higher-up whose sole career purpose is pleasing shareholders so he or she doesn’t get rightsized to another publicly traded company.
I get it. But I also get what works whether you’re a publicly traded company, a privately owned business, a professional membership society or a tax-exempt public charity. What works is useful information, an effective way to get that useful information to a desired audience and a commitment to distributing that useful information to a desired audience that lasts longer than the next quarterly earnings report.
Let’s start with the first part—useful information. Brands need to position themselves as providers of useful information to customers and prospects. But, what’s useful information to a targeted audience isn’t necessarily the definition of useful information used by your brand’s sales department. The most common content marketing fail for brands is defining useful information as detailed descriptions of (and links to) products, services, tools, tool kits, tool boxes and the all-encompassing “solutions.”
If a customer or prospect wants to know about your product, service, tool, tool kit, tool box or solution, he or she will search for it or go to your website and click on it. Rather than selling stuff, a brand should sell itself as a provider of useful information. Useful information is information your audience needs or desires to help it do what it does better. If I want to grow more flavorful tomatoes this year, tell me how I should improve the soil in my garden. Don’t tell me that you sell composted cow manure. If you keep telling me useful things that improve my vegetable garden, I will trust your brand and, when it comes time to buy composted cow manure, I will buy it from you.
The second part—distribution—is about how your audience knows you have useful information that can help it do what it does better. The second most common content marketing fail is not having a content distribution plan before a brand starts creating content. Like your favorite restaurant that no one knows about, your best content may not attract enough customers to stay in business. A website optimized for SEO—like word of mouth for a restaurant—only goes so far. Useful information needs a comprehensive distribution plan if it’s to meet the brand’s business objectives. That starts with knowing how your users consume useful information and actively distributing your content via those preferred platforms and channels. That could be video on YouTube. That could be blog posts on LinkedIn. That could be white papers during webinars. That could be e-books on Twitter. That could be curated news in e-newsletter. That could—and probably should—be all of those. Publishing a column by your president and CEO and hoping someone finds on your site provides about 48 hours of job security.
Speaking of job security, it’s really the motivation behind the third most common content marketing fail, and that’s not sticking with the plan for more than three months. You have useful information, you have a comprehensive content distribution plan, but the fate of both depends on the next quarterly earnings report. Effective content marketing isn’t about quick wins. It’s about committing to a plan that will take a minimum of six months and more likely two or three years to move the needle in the right direction. It’s about developing a long-term relationship with customers and prospects based on trust—trust that the information is useful, trust that the information will be available when and where it’s wanted and trust that the information will be there years from now.
Brands that decide that content marketing is essential to the future success of their business must commit to creating useful (not sales) content, to actively distributing (not building and hoping people will come) useful content and to staying (not pulling the plug after three months) the course will reap the business benefits. Absent making the commitment to all three, brands shouldn’t even both because what they call content marketing will flop.