Johns Hopkins University conducted a study to find out which Super Bowl ads were the most popular and why. It turns out people felt a greater connection to the stories in the ad, rather than any supermodels or celebrity endorsements. That’s one of the reasons Content Marketing has become so prevalent on the Internet. Instead of going for the quick sale, marketers seek to build a relationship with their audience. The thinking is: build their trust in your brand, and they will eventually buy it.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Where advertising says to ‘buy now,’ Content Marketing takes the long view approach to selling.
Content Marketing is not a new concept.
Rather, it has evolved with the times to take advantage of the latest technologies. For example:
According to the Content Marketing Institute, Benjamin Franklin printed copies of his Poor Richard’s Almanack as a way to promote his printing business. He routinely sold over 10,000 copies each year it was published. Fast-forward to the age of technological entertainment and you’ll find radio soap operas as chief among popular programming. You’ll also find Proctor & Gamble’s cleaning products sponsoring many of those shows. And if your great-grandparents had a TV in 1946, they could have seen pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers acting as one of television’s first sponsors, backing the travel series Geographically Speaking.
Obviously, the Internet has been the next great leap for content marketing. Blogs began appearing on websites in the late 1990s, which gave writers direct access to share their thoughts and opinions with their audiences. This forum has only grown more popular over the years, with research from Statista.com in 2017 estimating there were around 350 million blogs on Tumblr alone. A number that increases by approximately 25 million blogs every six months.
Today, we see social media as the latest tool for people and marketers to share information. And the numbers are staggering. Consider:
- By the end of 2018, over 2.3 billion users were active on Facebook
- There are over 1 billion Instagram users
- Over 326 million people use Twitter each month
So, get your message out!
Content Marketing has always been about speaking to the masses. But how do you cut through the clutter of today’s online landscape to claim a piece of the Internet?
To promote your product or service online, you first have to harness your expertise and then show yourself to be a trustworthy source of information.
Stephen Smotherman has turned his career as a successful Amazon.com reseller into a second successful career as a subject matter expert, coaching others on building a lucrative resale business through the online retailer. His website, fulltimefba.com, explains the Fulfillment By Amazon program and offers a wealth of free information to encourage people to sell through it.
Fulfillment By Amazon allows sellers to ship their inventory directly to Amazon warehouses, where the retailer stores their products and takes care of packaging and shipping items when they sell. The process saves the reseller time, and they no longer have to worry about having space to store their inventory.
On fulltimefba.com, Smotherman offers his blog and other free information—but he also sells instructional programs. Juggling free content with paid products is a bit of an art form. How do you remain a mentor without becoming a huckster?
Take a master class in selling.
Smotherman has become adept at converting visitors into customers without the used-car salesman approach. His firsthand knowledge builds trust between him and his audience. “I don’t just teach people how to do things, I’m also doing what I teach,” says Smotherman.
He decides what’s free and what’s paid by asking two simple questions: Why? and How? “Most of the things I talk to people about, I’m answering the “Why” questions,” Smotherman says. He answers why some things are important and why something is a good or bad idea. The paid content is the actual “How.” How to do this important thing, how to do the right thing instead of the wrong thing.
This is where the art comes in. “I need some of the “How” stuff in the free content to get people to come back for more,” says Smotherman. “I’ll give away the beginning steps of the process, and if they’re curious about how to take it to the next level, they can purchase the paid course.”
By balancing the two forms of content, he can meet people’s needs with the free information they need to get started, and the paid step-by-step instructions they can use to aid their success.
Generate Valuable Content
One of the disadvantages of Content Marketing is that your content can become stale and dated in a short amount of time. Smotherman has found that his visitors and customers create ideas for his new content for him, giving him an almost endless supply of topics.
“Right now, I have an email list, a Facebook group, and a YouTube channel,” he says. “People email me all the time, post questions on Facebook, and leave comments on my YouTube channel.” His YouTube video for How to Start an Amazon FBA Business for $500 has over 163,000 views and 331 comments – a veritable treasure trove of topic ideas.
The content creates a snowball effect for new ideas. If he sees people asking the same question, he’ll prioritize those questions to answer first. “They’re usually questions about things I’m talking about, and if someone is asking a question, I think other people are asking the exact same questions.”
Plan for the Future
Selling doesn’t just happen when you’re dealing with free and paid content. It takes a lot of planning. “I think our most successful campaign only lasted about 10 days for our audience,” says Smotherman. “From my perspective, it actually lasted about two months.”
Smotherman began by posting a blog that introduced the topic to get people thinking about it. He discussed the beginning steps on how to do it and why they’re important. Then, he shared the information with his Facebook group and posted videos about the topic on his YouTube channel.
“I show success about something before I even tell my audience there’s an opportunity to purchase a course,” he says. Once he launches a campaign, Smotherman usually offers a limited-time coupon code. He’ll give his audience 10 days to buy the program at the reduced rate. Keep in mind, though, the success of his paid course began with free content.
Tips for Success
Smotherman has some tips you can apply to your own Content Marketing initiatives.
On social media, Facebook gives him the greatest impact. “Facebook gives you a really great format for interacting with your audience,” he says. Members are only admitted to the closed group by answering several questions to ensure they’re part of the target audience, which helps weed out spammers and bots. He rates his success on Instagram as “pretty good,” and says he doesn’t have much luck on Twitter. Smotherman says, “I put most of my time and energy into Facebook, so that’s probably why it’s been most helpful. I think the grass is greener where you water it.”
You also need to do an after-action review of any posting. “With my email campaigns, I like to go through and look at which subject lines get the most open rates. And I know through blog comments and Facebook shares that we’re hitting a nerve,” Smotherman says.
He also sees room for improvement. “I’m learning more about Google Analytics and how many people are sticking around and reading the blog posts and how many end up being customers,” Smotherman says. “I know we’re successful, but I haven’t been able to get to the nitty-gritty of that information.
Ask yourself: are you looking for a quick sale or a lifelong customer?
Content Marketing gives you the framework to create a community around your product. Take time to evaluate your market and determine how you can best connect your story to their lives. Because if they trust you, they can trust your product.
Scott Schrecengost is a freelance writer based out of Central Florida. Formerly from Pennsylvania, Scott settled in the Sunshine State and promptly landed a job at Walt Disney World, where he met his wife Bethanne. After graduating Magna cum Laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Advertising/Public Relations, Scott and his wife spent a year teaching English in South Korea.
In addition to his freelance writing, Scott enjoys cooking, gardening, and other manly endeavors. He is an avid environmentalist, having traveled several times to Guatemala to support the Alliance for International Reforestation, planting trees and building fuel-efficient wood stoves. In his spare time, you can find Scott with his wife, two kids, two dogs, three cats, and six chickens.