I know one business owner who hired a content marketing agency because he wanted to build his business.
The agency said it would bring in over a dozen inbound leads per month.
After four months of preparation and two months of releasing content, he ended up sacking the agency because it had not brought in a single lead.
Of course, he’d already spent several thousand pounds with them by then.
So how do you avoid this happening to you?
Tip #1: Understand what content marketing is
At its simplest, content marketing is a way of proving you are an authority in your field.
It makes you more credible: people are more likely to choose you before others.
This means giving people advice so that when they decide they need a product like yours, they’ll think of you first and get in touch.
For example, you might sell an IT system that helps companies comply with health and safety legislation.
If so, it makes sense to offer advice on how the latest legislation is likely to affect them, the trends in the industry, and so on.
In the old days, this was simple. You struck up a relationship with someone in your relevant trade press – or the local press – and wrote articles for them.
That’s still an option. But now you can also get your information out via a blog, downloadable reports on your website or an email subscriber list.
And that’s not even mentioning the various social media.
Then there’s the question of how often you need to create content.
This leads to some important questions:
Do you know your market well enough to write about it convincingly? If not, you need to hire someone to do it for you and they will not come cheap. Come to think of it, if you don’t know your market, you won’t survive long anyhow. And come to think of it again, many peoples’ idea of what their market is turns out to be spectacularly incorrect.
Do you have a clear idea of how best to reach your market? Yes you can write a blog, but if your customers prefer to read the trade press then blogging won’t help you. And if nobody reads your blog – often the case – you’re wasting time anyhow.
Do you know how often you need to put information out? Once a quarter? Once a month? Once a week? Once a day? There is no fixed rule. You need a feel for what will interest your customers – otherwise you can end up wasting a lot of time and money putting out useless content. And you need to be constantly thinking what will interest them. Every time you think of something, communicate.
Tip #2: Don’t believe the hype
Unfortunately, content marketing – indeed virtually all marketing today – is based on fallacies.
The biggest fallacy: that customers are fundamentally different today to how they used to be.
Well, after 54 years in marketing I can tell you that’s rubbish.
Customers today are no different to how they were when I started in this industry in the 1950s. All that’s changed is that there are far more media you can use to reach them.
Statistics are bandied about ‘proving’ that people now have fearfully short attention spans, when actually they always did. With advertising in a newspaper (for example) you only had split seconds to grab someone’s attention before they flipped the page.
If you don’t understand people, and realise that people have not fundamentally changed, you will lose money with your marketing. It’s that simple.
But from the idea that people now have the attention spans of goldfish, many agencies will point to studies showing that people don’t like to have their day disrupted by advertising. They find it annoying.
Let me assure you that people have always found bad advertising annoying. This also hasn’t changed.
Marketing people love easy answers. They yearn for a world where one particular approach – the one they specialise in – will solve all problems. And they are good at proving it to you.
If you don’t apply a little logic you can end up losing a lot of money.
An agency may show you that more money is now being spent on marketing to attract inbound leads rather than outbound leads.
They tout this as proof that inbound marketing is more successful.
However, what they won’t do is show you the revenues generated by inbound versus outbound; only how much is being spent.
As you’ll have worked out already, that’s like saying a Mercedes ad campaign is more effective than a Volkswagen one because Mercedes spent five times as much.
There is precious little proof that inbound marketing is more successful at generating leads or sales. And that should be all you care about.
Tip #3: Find out what works – and copy it
There is no doubt that content marketing does work if used correctly. Here are some examples.
Serial entrepreneur Neil Patel runs three blogs. Each one has over 100,000 regular readers and they are the number one source of customers for his various businesses.
Almost all of consulting coach Ian Brodie’s new customers now come to him as inbound leads.
US information publisher Agora runs a number of daily email newsletters to generate new business.
What do these three have in common?
Each uses the same technique as the cornerstone of their content marketing.
When you visit one of Neil Patel’s blogs, for example, you get a pop up offering you a free report in return for your email address.
If you choose to delete the pop up, you get taken to a page with another sign up box asking you to subscribe to his emails. Only once you get past that do you get to read the blog.
Similarly, at the top of Ian Brodie’s homepage is a sign up box offering you a free report in return for your email address.
And as I’ve already indicated, Agora’s content marketing model is based entirely on getting you to sign up for one or more of its email newsletters. It offers at least half a dozen different ones, depending on your interests.
Examples are all around you when you look for them – even from so-called social media experts.
Mari Smith is a renowned Facebook ‘guru’, yet when you go to her homepage what’s the first thing you see? An email sign up box.
It’s the same for Pinterest ‘guru’ Melanie Duncan. Go to her homepage and the first thing she asks you to do is not to find her on Pinterest – it’s to sign up for her regular email updates.
In fact, you have to negotiate three pop up boxes asking you to subscribe before you can get to the homepage itself.
Why do they all do this?
Because getting people to subscribe to your regular updates is a tried and tested method of increasing sales. Subscribers have opted in to receive your news and advice, so they are more likely to read the content.
And of course, for every few emails offering advice, they slip in one selling something. Or they get you to return to their website or go a landing page that tries to sell you something.
Pop up boxes are surely just as annoying as any other form of disruptive marketing.
I’ll bet that if you asked the visitors to these websites whether they found it annoying, they would say yes. And yet they work.
Tip #4: “Don’t forget the marketing in content marketing”
If you look up the Content Marketing Institute, it tells you that content marketing is “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. Instead of pitching your products and services, you are delivering information that makes your buyers more intelligent.”
The italics are mine. Just think about what they’re saying here for a minute.
That you should be sending out information without actually asking people to buy? Does that really make sense?
From spending millions of my own money – and God alone knows how much of my clients’ – I can tell you it doesn’t.
Trying to sell without selling is just plain stupid.
People are not thinking when they get your stuff. Even if they are intelligent – which many aren’t in the first place.
The entire premise of this kind of content marketing is that people don’t like being sold to. In research they say they prefer articles and white papers and that stuff.
What they think they prefer and what they do have nothing to do with each other.
What works and what people like are two different things.
What they need and what they think they want are two different things.
The quote that forms the heading for this section comes from Neil Patel, who points out that producing content is not enough if you don’t promote it.
Bill Bonner, the founder of Agora, recently explained that, though it may not seem like it, a daily email in which you don’t sell anything is really just part of a bigger strategy to bring home a sale.
As Agora copywriter Glenn Fisher says, “People who like modern terms call this content marketing, but it’s not.
“Content marketing is just a buzz phrase to describe something that’s always existed: it’s just plain old long copy.”
The guys at Agora should know. While there are several estimates around of how much the company makes each year, the most conservative figure is $90 million.
If you try to sell without selling, then guess what?
You won’t sell anything.
Tip #5: Know what your customers need
I can’t stress this enough.
Most of the content marketing I see that fails does so because those producing the content do not know enough about the market they are writing for.
As a result, they get it wrong in two major ways:
They write content that’s too shallow, of the teaching-granny-to-suck-eggs variety. Telling your customers what they already know is not the way to look authoritative.
They write content that doesn’t speak to their customers’ or prospects’ concerns.
You must know what your customers are thinking and worrying about – and write about them. This means you need to do your research. Don’t just read reports on the state of the market, or articles in the trade press.
Speak to your customers directly – or at least some of them. And do so with an open mind. Otherwise your content will never move them to want to act.
If you’ve decided you want to launch your own content out into the market, here’s what you need to do.
Research any agency you consider taking on. You wouldn’t hire someone without checking their references, so do the same if with an agency. Talk to their clients about results – and also what it’s like working with them.
Think about hiring a specialist. Many companies hire trade journalists or copywriters with a specialist niche to write their content, whether in house or freelance. Just bear in mind that real specialists do not come cheap.
If you try to get them cheap, they won’t stay long enough to have an impact. Resist the lure of false economy.
Know your market – and make sure anyone writing for you does too. If you don’t, your content will fall flat. So take the time to research this first. Only if you know the market can you test whether any agency or copywriter knows enough to write good content.
Know what you want to achieve. Many companies jump into content marketing just because everyone else is. Resist this urge. You can do well without content marketing and focus on outbound marketing instead.