This is an extract from Chapter 2 of my new book "Customer Engagement Officer (CEO): Content Marketing and the Realities of Executive Blogging." The chapter opens by talking about how blogging has changed the media industry and how we consume news, then explores the effect of this for companies and marketing professionals...
This change in the way we consume news is all very interesting for media students, but you might be asking how it helps you to promote your business. There are a couple of key points to remember from what you have just read:
1. Blog content can easily bubble into the traditional media agenda;
2. Blogs and corporate content are now included in news streams along with other content of interest to specific readers.
This change in the way that information is consumed has created the possibility for content to be used for marketing. Instead of a company publishing information as press releases, product announcements, or other news that is specific to what the company is doing, the company can also attract interest from prospective customers just by talking more generally about the industry they are engaged in.
In his book The Curve,Nicholas Lovell gives the example of River Pools, a swimming pool sales and maintenance company that serves the Virginia and Maryland area of the USA. River Pools used to spend $250,000 a year advertising on the radio and on pay-per-click web adverts until the company founder Marcus Sheridan had an epiphany.
He figured that when most people want information about swimming pools, they go to the Internet and use a search engine to ask questions. He was already using tools like Google Adwords so his ads would appear when potential customers were searching for relevant topics, but he wondered whether he could just start publishing some common questions and answers - would these answers start popping up in the search engine results automatically if customers were searching for answers to these common problems?
He wrote blog posts answering those common questions, comparing his company to the competition, and even openly debating the pros and cons of fiberglass swimming pools - the product his company is primarily focused on. This change in approach took place in 2009 and in the past five years Sheridan estimates that his initial blog post has generated over $1.7 million in new business.
Because now whenever anyone searches online for information on swimming pools, particularly fiberglass pools, it is Sheridan's company that comes top of the search results - organically. They find that customers will often get in touch for an appointment and they have read thirty or more pages of his blogs about swimming pools. Prospective clients like this are much easier to turn into sales than those who just clicked on an advert - they are interested in the content before they even get in touch to discuss a possible purchase.
We have moved on from just calling this process "corporate blogging." Now we are referring to the process of publishing corporate information, which is not specifically advertising, as content marketing.
We are telling stories, providing information on products and services by talking about the issues rather than hard-selling the solutions.
The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as:
"Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience - with the objective of driving profitable customer action."
The institute goes on to add:
"Content marketing's purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behaviour. It is an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy, and it focuses on owning media, not renting it."
Then the next paragraph in their definition is what I would declare the kicker that nails it:
"Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty."
If you can communicate with your customers and prospects and show that you are the best at what you do without just pitching or advertising then this makes your buyer more intelligent and more likely to work with your company.
In the case or River Pools there is a high value product that customers will want to research extensively before buying, allowing them to build a freely available online resource that can draw customers to their business.
In the case of a common consumer product, like Coca Cola, this would not work so well. Coke is sold because people want a cold soft drink and given the choice of various drinks the customer chooses Coke mainly because they identify with the brand - many brands of drink are equally tasty and can be served just as cold. If the Coca Cola Company published details of their expertise in making beverages it would probably appeal to very few actual consumers of the product.
But this is why content marketing is such a powerful tool for companies that operate in a B2B environment, only ever selling to managers in other companies. This is an audience that really does want to understand your expertise and ability to deliver.
The power of content marketing for the B2B audience extends much further than just the ability to create a body of work proclaiming your expertise in a given business area. Most B2B purchasing decisions are taken by managers after consulting with information available in the marketplace; before one company buys from another they might read a consultant's report, information published by an industry analyst, or even the view of a business journalist.
These influencers are the real targets for a B2B content marketing campaign. If you can demonstrate knowledge of your industry in a way that impresses the journalists who write about your sector, or the industry analysts who compare your company to your competitors, or the consultants who advise your clients which company they should do business with, then you are not just blogging. You are building relationships with the people who influence your customers.
This engagement is what is truly valuable, but it would be hard to achieve without using content on a blog to establish your credibility and knowledge.