Now that content marketing has become mainstream (93% of B2B companies reported using content marketing, according to a recent study by the Content Marketing institute), everybody is in a mad rush to create more of it.
More blog posts, eBooks, infographics, videos, podcasts. To repeat an overused term: it seems we’re drowning in a sea of content spam.
Just as the rush to social media a few years ago, the rush to content marketing has most of us scrambling to create a lot of content, as if content is the killer marketing tactic of today.
But it’s not.
Let’s consider Google, the most successful internet company in the world. How did Google get to be where it is today? By providing overwhelming value to those of us who are searching on the internet.
With its clean interface and no annoying banner ads flashing at us from all corners, Google killed off competitors such as Lycos, Altavista and Infoseek. By continuing to tweak it’s algorithm to serve us more relevant results, it has thwarted the underhanded attempts of content farms and black-hat SEOs. By providing us free email, free analytics, and free webmaster tools, Google has become indispensable to us.
Yet Google is making bank. 2013 revenues were at $59.825 billion.
Google has nailed content marketing, or at least the underlying principles of content marketing: provide overwhelming, relevant value that helps us with our everyday lives. Then offer some paid services too.
How to Provide Value Like Google
To be successful today, your job is to provide your target audience with overwhelming value.
What has eluded many content marketers is how to change our view of the world and our customer’s world.
We must change from being a random creator of spammy content to becoming a provider of value to our customers, no strings attached.
This value has to be: truly valuable, free (or extremely low cost), without ulterior motives, and consistent.
1. Provide genuine value
The most successful marketers today produce content, services or experiences that provide genuine value. Real, honest to goodness value. Stuff that helps people and solves your customers’ problems. Stuff that offers them answers to their burning questions, and makes their day better.
Let me provide a real world example.
Copyblogger: I won’t deny it, Copyblogger.com is my favorite website, and one of my top 5 favorite companies.
When I was laid off from my corporate job in January of 2009, during the height of the Great Recession, I started searching for info about how to start a consulting business.
I found Copyblogger. The information I found in some of those early blog posts – such as Copywriting 101, a series about how to write sales copy for the web – was really really good. I almost felt guilty that I was getting it for free.
How could they give away such great stuff? I was always looking for the catch, for the sales pitch, but I couldn’t find one.
When I finally did see a sales pitch, it didn’t come as a cheesy, make-you-feel-guilty-or-stupid if you don’t sign up sort of pitch. It was another piece of valuable content that gave me a choice to buy something if I wanted. Very low pressure.
2. Provide this value free of charge, or very low cost
Copyblogger provided me with genuinely helpful services before ever asking me for a dime. I just felt like I was getting genuine value and that they cared for me. I got immediate satisfaction by getting my anxious need to find out how to launch a successful consulting business answered.
Natural ice cream maker Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream provides their up-front value in many different ways. One of the ways is via an ice cream cookbook called “Jeni’s at Home.” Though the book is sold for $18.06 (this is an apparent break from the “free” model I explain above), this is very a low cost way of providing value that’s so incredible it almost seems crazy.
The cookbook gives away Jeni’s secrets to their delicious ice cream recipes. When you buy this book, you too can make the ice cream that has become world famous. The $18.06 seems tiny in comparison to recipes that have taken this startup ice cream maker to between $10 million and $20 million in revenue.
3. Provide value without ulterior motives
Have you ever attended a timeshare sponsored event, such as a tour of Mayan ruins, or a free Las Vegas show? Didn’t you tense up when you knew you were going you go through a Glengarry Glen Ross-like “sit”?
That’s just the opposite of value marketing. Value marketing does not have ulterior motives – just a desire to provide genuine value.
4. Provide value consistently
Finally, purveyors of value marketing provide their free, no-strings attached value consistently. They become an old, reliable, comfortable habit for you. You know you can rely on them because they’ll always be there answering your questions and giving you what you need to be successful.
There are many other examples of this kind of consistency. Smart content marketers follow a regular publishing schedule. We know we can rely on them. We also know we can buy stuff from them too, which leads me to the economic model of value marketing.
How Value Marketing Creates Results
I’ve talked a lot about how value marketers give away valuable and free information, but I haven’t talked about how this can actually make you money – kind of an important topic.
1. The Law of Reciprocity
Robert Cialdini, in his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” talks about the law of reciprocity as a core human trait. Humans prefer to return favors. We feel uncomfortable when we feel indebted to someone.
The Native Americans of the U.S. and Canadian Pacific Northwest understood this, as can be seen by the Potlach ritual.
As Wikipedia says, “The status of any given family is raised not by who has the most resources, but by who distributes the most resources.”
Those who gave the most became the chief of the tribe.
When I come across a company that really does value marketing well, I start looking for ways to support them back. I actually want to buy something from them.
For example, I’m not just a consumer of Copyblogger content, I am a client, having bought half a dozen WordPress themes, their membership site software, and a couple of information products.
By giving away information that’s really valuable (not just regurgitated stuff), you become recognized as an authority in your marketplace. You gain prestige in the eyes of your potential customers.
Your customers will hang on your every word. They will follow your recommendations and suggestions, which is very important when you want to make a recommendation that people purchase your offering.
3. Create Demand for More
Eventually, if you are producing free information that’s valuable to your target audience, your audience is going to want more. The thinking is: “if this company’s free stuff is this good, can you imagine what its paid stuff is like?”
Sean D’Souza from Psychotactics describes this elegantly as “The Bikini Concept.” Give away 95% of what you do, and people will want to pay for the remaining 5%.
4. Getting Invited Into Your Customers’ Email Inbox
When your value marketing efforts become a regular habit for your customers because of the usefulness and consistency of the information you provide, they’ll want to consume your content consistently. If you ask them to subscribe to your email list, they’ll gladly accept the offer.
When you get your customers to subscribe, you have a much better chance of selling them something than if they didn’t subscribe.
Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute says that people who subscribe to their newsletter are:
- More likely to attend their events and purchase their products
- More likely to share their content with their networks, and
- Closed three times faster than a non-subscriber, once he or she entered into their sales process for their consulting practice
Prospective customers will subscribe to you in order to receive your value marketing directly, and they also expect sales offers via email.
5. You satisfy your customers’ demand for information
Because your prospects have 14.3 trillion web pages to choose from, they now have the ability – and the desire – to learn as much as they can about you and your company before making a purchasing decision.
In Jay Baer’s book Youtility he cites Google research that found that in 2010 shoppers across all categories needed 5.3 sources of information before making a decision. In 2011, just a year later, shoppers now needed to consult 10.4 pieces of information.
The more valuable content you create, the more of an advantage you give yourself when competing with others for the shopping preferences of your finicky buyer.
So what are you going to do now? How can you adopt the value marketing mindset so you can become successful in your business?
Think about two things:
- Your target market. Think about who they are, what their worries, challenges, problems and dreams are. What do they need to make their lives better?
- What you offer. What do you offer your customers? What do you know how to do? What can you share with your target market, without holding back, that will help them calm their worries, overcome their challenges, solve their problems, and fulfill their dreams?
I know it sounds easier said than done, but if you change the way you think about content marketing to these two points, your battle if halfway won.
Change your thinking first, and then your content marketing will be successful.