Despite dominating yearly marketing trend reports and advertising industry listicles, Content Marketing is anything but a flash in the pan. It’s a paradigm shift. In an era of ever-encroaching display advertising, corporate-sponsored social media, and 32,000 flavors of promotional emails, it’s little wonder that oversaturated consumers are tuning out. Need convincing? According to an August 2015 report from Adobe and PageFair, global usage of ad blocking software is up 41% year-over-year between 2014 and 2015.

Dire, right? Actually, we think it’s pretty exciting. Consumer backlash to traditional advertising offers an incredible opportunity for companies willing and able to execute a thoughtful content marketing strategy and provide meaningful value to audiences.

Easier said than done—but we’re here to help.

 

WHAT CONTENT MARKETING IS NOT:

It’s not promotion. It’s not sales. It’s not advertising. It doesn’t interrupt. It doesn’t pitch. It doesn’t persuade.

 

WHAT CONTENT MARKETING IS:

Everyone has a different definition, but our favorite is adapted from illustrator Mark Armstrong“Content marketing is any communication from an organization that is so useful, interesting, or entertaining that the target audience consumes it voluntarily.”

When companies offer valuable information instead of—or even in spite of—self-promotion, they earn the trust of consumers, who in turn reward them with their business and loyalty.

Which brings us to our one — and only — rule for successful content marketing.

 

Rule #1 (of 1): It’s Not About You

That’s right—there’s only one rule.

And to really understand it, we have to accept the harsh reality that consumers don’t care about us, our services, or our products. Tough love, but it’s true. They care about themselves, their wants, and their needs. While we may know that our products and services can satisfy their desires or solve their problems, they’ve grown too sophisticated to accept that at face value.

So where does that leave us? In a great position—if we can pivot our communication strategy to acknowledge our audience’s wants and needs, answer their questions, and empower them with information—without asking anything in return.

This means we’ve got to stop talking about ourselves. We’ve got to start demonstrating our expertise and earning influence by showing instead of telling. It takes incredible confidence for a brand to prioritize sharing valuable information about the issues and interests of their audience over pumping out self-serving information about their services and solutions—and that makes audiences pay attention.

 

A FEW EXAMPLES:

Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective student at ABC University or a potential customer of XYZ Bank. Of the following contrasting pairs of possible content pieces, which would you be more likely to click on?

 

An article featuring winners of XYZ Bank’s small business grant competition thanking the bank and discussing plans for the funds OR An article featuring the grant winners each sharing their top tips for success when starting a business — or humorous stories of how they learned from their failures
A series of short videos featuring successful alumni attributing their booming business careers to ABC University coursework and networks OR Videos offering tips on business challenges from successful ABC University alumni (i.e. “How to manage up” or “How to foster innovation”)
An infographic from XYZ Bank illustrating YoY growth in home equity loans by branch in order to demonstrate strength of the local housing market OR An infographic, co-authored with a local realtor or contracting company, outlining the top 10 home remodel projects that provide the best return on investment
An infographic illustrating the high percentages of ABC University MBA candidates who receive financial aid and are employed upon graduation OR A downloadable guide to affording an MBA, featuring advice, third-party scholarships, and common mistakes (and no mentions of ABC University aid)

 

Once you see the two different types of content side by side, it’s easy to understand which one an audience would prefer — the topics on the left immediately read as promotion of the Bank’s or University’s offerings, while the topics on the right provide useful or interesting information.

 

Six Questions to Make Sure It’s Not About You

In order to keep us faithful to our one and only rule, we’ve come up with three questions we ask—and answer—when developing ideas for Content Marketing initiatives:

1. What expertise do we want to communicate?

2. Who is our audience? What problem do they want to solve?

3. How can our expertise solve their problems?

 

And three questions we ask about each piece of content to confirm that we’re successfully jettisoning self-promotion in the interest of providing meaningful information to our audience—and it’s crucial that we’re ruthless when answering these:

1. Could this piece of content provide standalone value to a consumer outside our service area?

2. Does this piece of content reach our audience when and where they want or need it?

3. Is our audience smarter, better, or happier for having consumed this piece of content?

 

In summary, Content Marketing provides a unique opportunity to connect, but only to those willing to forsake self-promotion for information that is genuinely useful, interesting, or entertaining to their audiences. It can be a challenge, but this magnanimous strategy builds not only awareness, but incredible trust, preference, and eventually loyalty.


In order to better illustrate how the process works, we’ve created a case study on the Content Marketing initiative we developed for Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. Please click here to download the case study, or feel free to get in touch with Jesse Strawbridge at jstrawbridge@forgeworldwide.com or 857.305.3429 for more information.