Thing 1: Customers aren’t looking for your sales materials any more.
Strange as it may seem, there was a time when people reached for the yellow pages and contacted a company when they needed to solve a problem. Now people spend longer online, and get information from each other, before contacting vendors. A person with a problem to solve is likely to do 12 searches before engaging on a specific brand’s site.
Personal and professional networks interpenetrate offline and online, so buyers are often influenced by their peers and employees. Buyers might be anywhere from two thirds to 90% of the way through their journey before they reach out to a seller. Will they be finding your content in that 90%? It has to show up in the places they are looking.
Thing 2: There is no internet, there are only feeds. Are you in them?
The internet doesn’t really exist – not as a coherent user experience at any rate. Thanks to search and social algorithms, our media experiences are specific and diverse, creating a web of personal media landscapes that changes daily for each of us. This is the Personal Web: a media experience assembled live and algorithmically from hundreds of content sources as we go about our day, delivered directly to the screens in our pockets and on our desks.
Effective communications today means understanding the principles underlying the Personal Web and getting your content pushed by those algorithms.
Thing 3: Your audience’s attention is finite. And they know it.
Content is functionally infinite, but attention is finite. And members of the public are realising the value their finite attention has. Average ad CTR is 0.06%, which means you have better odds of drowning or dying in a house fire than you do of clicking on an online ad. Even so, Adblocking software is growing quickly in popularity. There’s only one answer to this: don’t interrupt the content they’re consuming with ads. Create the content they want to consume.
So how do you do that? In the era of abundant content and finite attention, how can we ensure that your content appears in the Personal Web of the people you need to see it? How can we ensure that they seek it out and share it?
Thing 4: You need good intelligence.
First we build a detailed understanding of the interests and habits of our customers, and the influencers our customers listen to. We can only create content that works if we understand what the target audience is discussing in detail.
Thing 5: You need a content strategy.
You can’t just start publishing any old thing. Good content must be relevant to brand values and business goals, of course. But that’s useless unless it also resonates with the audience. You have to work with videos, text, photos or video games depending on what your audience engages with the most. And you have to create quality content, something fun or interesting in its own right and carrying your message.
Ideally you’ll start with a master content narrative that all content ladders up to. This should lay out the themes of your content based on the overlap between your target audience’s interests and your ownable areas of expertise.
Thing 6: You need a delivery strategy.
Creating excellent, entertaining or informative content is one thing. It’s another thing to get it in front of the people you want to see it. You should be spending at least as much effort on your distribution strategy as on your content itself. How is it going to get into the Personal Web of the people you want to reach? Paid, Earned, and Owned and Social each have a role to play.
When all four or these are properly integrated and deployed, the result is that the people you need to reach see your content every time they go online, authentically embedded in their online experience.
Thing 7: You need analytics.
The days of guesswork and circulation figures are long gone. Today we have the capacity to measure how well our content is doing very precisely. This is great for two reasons. First, it allows us to make sure our message is reaching the right people. Second (and just as important) is responsiveness; the ability to learn from content performance and make the campaign better as it progresses. With referrals, bounce rates, social media stats and much more we can get a very good idea of what people think about the content we share with them.
Bringing it all together
Understand these seven things and you’ll be making powerful, emotionally engaging content, based on a genuine understanding of what your audience is thinking about. Best of all, they’ll get it through their Personal Web – a seamless experience. With the right analytics in place, you’ll be adjusting and tracking this content, making it better over time.
Customers are becoming harder to reach, the media landscape more complicated. Against all this, content marketing offers an opportunity. Based on the right strategy, good content can rise to the top of key minds and get your message across with power and elegance.
A version of this post first appeared on the Edelman UK Magazine.
For more on content marketing and a full outline of the four-stage approach, see my article in the latest issue of Admap.