I admit I was deliberating trying to be cute when I wrote the headline to this article. I wanted to make the point that the English language can be perplexing for both native speakers and individuals for whom it is a second language.
I admit I was deliberating trying to be cute when I wrote the headline to this article. I wanted to make the point that the English language can be perplexing for both native speakers and individuals for whom it is a second language. Words like “content” are spelled the same, pronounced differently, and have two different meanings. Some words, like “cleave,” are spelled and pronounced the same, but have completely opposite meanings. Other words, like “arm” and “bark,” are spelled and pronounced the same, but can be used either as a noun or a verb. In this article I want to discuss the content (i.e., the subject matter) marketers use in marketing campaigns. I also want to make sure marketers are not content (i.e., satisfied) with lackluster efforts. Jim Granat (@JimGranat), Head of Small Business at Enova International, observes, “[Companies] need to find the right customers, convince them to make a purchase and keep their interest so they continue to come back. But how do people find out about your business? How can you show how useful your service is to the right people? And how do you keep existing customers interested?” His answer: Content Marketing.
“Content marketing,” Granat writes, “involves all the material that’s created for a specific audience to help build your brand and engage your audience.” According to Peter Altschuler (@peteraltschuler), CEO of Wordsworth & Company, content marketing has been around for a long time under a bunch of different names. He explains, “Content marketing is not new. Only the term can be considered to be recent. The creation of targeted information — about companies, products, services, and just about anything else — has been around for generations … just under different names. Collateral, sales aids, product literature, brand books … all were the earlier monikers for what’s now lumped into ‘content’.” Altschuler believes marketers need some historical perspective about content marketing so they don’t think it was born along with social media. Good content marketing, Altschuler writes, involves answering four intertwined questions: Why is this information being developed, who is it for, how will it be offered, and what are the expected results? He adds, “That isn’t a marketing process. It’s not a sales process. It’s a combination of the two, and it needs a certain (or a lot of) discipline. And collaboration. And commitment to helping each other succeed.”
Although I believe the importance of good content marketing is obvious, Granat explains, “It merges your brand messaging with your audience’s desires and needs to create an experience or an emotional connection. Each deliverable has a particular intent; your purpose may be to notify existing customers of a new feature, to educate prospective customers of your product’s uses, to increase brand awareness or to accomplish something else entirely. This means that, ideally, content marketers address all stages of the customer life cycle and buying funnel.” I’m not sure content marketing needs to create an emotional connection — some consumers are like Dragnet’s Sergeant Joe Friday who famously said, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” At the very least, content marketing needs to be useful, truthful, and compelling. Journalist and self-described eCommerce enthusiast George Beall (@GeorgePBeall) asserts, “In marketing circles it is well understood that the foreseeable future of customer engagement is content.”
Beall goes on to explain, “The public is wary of advertising, particularly younger generations. … Content is less salesy. By presenting interesting information or entertainment, a brand can put its name behind something that customers enjoy. Better still, they can put themselves right in the middle of a good story.” The way companies put themselves in the middle of good story, he explains, is by using native advertising — content promoted in an online publication that resembles the publication’s editorial content but is paid for by an advertiser and intended to promote the advertiser’s product. The idea behind native advertising is to inform, not deceive.
When you are considering content marketing, you would do well to heed the following advice from Altschuler: “Will the material — the ‘content’ — be used to generate inquiries, fill the pipeline, help qualify leads, overcome objections, differentiate your stuff from ‘the other guys,’ help with conversion? It could be all of those … but not in a single piece of anything.” In other words, you need to know what you want to accomplish before you set out to achieve your goal. Once you’ve established your goal, you need to figure out the best steps to take towards your goal. Kristian Jønsson, Head of Growth at Sleeknote, explains, “We are all after content that converts readers into customers, gets shared, builds backlinks, and ranks high in search results. Those are goals worth seeking, but there’s one problem: Focusing on the ends can make you neglect the means. The simple truth is, you cannot achieve any of those results unless your content manages to engage your target audience.” He suggests nine things to keep in mind when developing content:
1. Don’t Tick Consumers Off Even Before They Read a Word. According to Jønsson, the best way to tick consumers off, when they are on the digital path to purchase, is to have a slow-loading website. “For a delay of a single second,” he writes, “the bounce rate increases 56%. … So, before you learn the art of writing engaging content, you must get your site in order.”
2. Package Your Message in an Appealing Way. Your message must be appealing. Jønsson writes, “Science suggests that we ‘see’ the flavor of food before we ‘taste’ it. The same goes for the content. We see the quality of content before actually reading it. … Readers will not engage with your content if it’s difficult to read.”
3. Hook Them from the Start. Most authors spend a lot of time on the first line of their novel because they want to catch the reader’s attention and hold it. For example, the opening line of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 reads: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Jønsson writes, “Middles and endings are important, but it’s the beginning that sets the tone. Both your headline and your introduction should make it hard for them to stop reading.”
4. Use Visual Aids. Wikipedia notes, “‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is an English language adage meaning that complex and sometimes multiple ideas can be conveyed by a single still image, which conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a mere verbal description.” That’s an idiom we have all heard and understand. Jønsson writes, “Your content will automatically engage more people if you are using visual aids, such as images, illustrations, screenshots, and charts.”
5. Embrace Video Content. Jønsson asserts that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth many more. He explains, “Pages with videos get an 88% higher engagement than pages with text and images.”
6. Make It More Convincing with Data. One purpose of content marketing is to convince consumers about the importance of your product or service. Jønsson believes data can help achieve that goal. He writes, “There is a long list of citations and references at the end of all scientific studies. It’s what makes them credible — and it can do the same for your content.” Even though we live in an age in which politicians create “alternative facts” and their supporters create fake news, hard facts are important and half-truths should be avoided.
7. Tell a Story. The late Secretary of State George Shultz said the best advice he ever received from President Ronald Reagan was to tell compelling stories when trying to make a point. Jønsson writes, “Research suggests that stories can put our brain to work, increasing the likelihood of engaging with the content.”
8. Solve Problems. The late Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen liked teaching about the Theory of Jobs to Be Done. In his book, Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice, he and his coauthors Karen Dillon (@), Taddy Hall (@), and David S. Duncan, use the Theory of Jobs to Be Done as the foundation of their thinking. According the book’s introduction, that theory helps companies understand their “customers’ struggle for progress and then [creates] the right solution and attendant set of experiences to ensure [they] solve [their] customers’ jobs well, every time.” In other words, innovative companies are problem-solvers. Jønsson writes, “The easiest way to grab someone’s attention is to provide the solution to one of their problems.”
9. Use the Right Tone. The COVID-19 pandemic had marketers scrambling to find the right tone to sell products during a crisis. Jønsson believes showing genuine concern or true understanding almost always allows a company to use the right tone. He points to the advice given by the late Dale Carnegie in his best-selling book How to Win Friends and influence People. Carnegie listed six ways of getting people to like you, and, Jønsson asserts, these tips apply to writers as well: Be genuinely interested in other people; smile; remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language; be a good listener (encourage others to talk about themselves); talk in terms of the other person’s interest; and make the other person feel important. Jønsson concludes, “Smile through your words. Maintain a positive tone and show that you care. Be genuinely interested in your target readers.”
It may seem counterintuitive to launch an advertising campaign that does not specifically promote a brand or product; but, in some cases, that is exactly what content marketing is about. Content marketing involves the creation and sharing of online material (e.g., videos, blogs, and tweets) intended to stimulate interest in products or services — often without specifically promoting them. Many analysts believe content marketing is the next big thing in advertising because millennials and Gen Zers want to be informed rather than being pitched to. If your company or brand becomes the go-to source of good information on a specific subject, you create unmatched brand loyalty. Altschuler concludes, “It’s a fascinating undertaking because there’s always something new to consider, someone new to win over, some competitor that’s sure to be a threat. There will also be new media to use, technologies to adopt, and processes to modify to ensure that you’re giving people the information they need in the form they prefer at the time that they want it.” That’s why you can never be content with your content marketing.
 Jim Granat, “What Is Content Marketing, And How Can Your Business Use It to Sell?” Forbes, 1 October 2019.
 Peter Altschuler, “Content Marketing: The New Name for a Well-Established Discipline,” MarketingProfs, 9 February 2021.
 George Beall, “Why brands are getting serious about targeted content,” The Next Web, 16 November 2017.
 Kristian Jønsson, “Nine Ways to Invite More Engagement With Your Content,” MarketingProfs, 3 October 2017.
 “A picture is worth a thousand words,” Wikipedia.