There’s nothing new about content marketing—forward-thinking companies have been doing it for years. Catalog retailers, for example, learned many decades ago that wrapping stories around product pictures led to increased sales. Nowadays, of course, the center of activity has moved online, and with it, marketers have access to volumes of data.
“Content marketing is so effective because it’s giving without the expectation of getting anything in return— that’s how the best brands think of it,” says Chase Jarvis, chief executive officer of CreativeLive and award-winning photographer, director, artist, and entrepreneur.
Although the term may conjure up images of flashy infographics and “sponsored content” masquerading as editorial, the best content marketing is much more than that—it’s genuinely helpful, valuable information, and it’s evolved into a key marketing channel for companies in all industries, from fashion to health to technology.
Jarvis shared six insights on what it takes to create content marketing that cuts through the noise of an increasingly crowded media landscape and builds genuine relationships with audiences.
- Insist on telling an authentic story. Simply throwing pictures, videos or graphics onto a website isn’t enough. “Content” is only engaging when it tells a story, and that story has to be firmly grounded in a core truth that resonates with the audience. This is a concept that’s been well understood long before the Internet came along, Jarvis says. “The term ‘content marketing’ may be new but people have been using content to market forever. Fundamentally, it’s just great storytelling with a product or service woven into it. Think back to soap operas—they were started as mechanisms for marketing consumer goods,” he says. “Or if you opened up a Patagonia direct mail catalog 10 years ago, there were great editorial pieces around the products they were selling—stories that connected with their audience because they were like looking in the mirror, showing the products in the context of the lifestyle their customers were immersed in every day.” While the medium has changed dramatically over the decades—from printed catalogs to streaming videos—the pivotal role of authentic storytelling remains the same.
- Execute at 110%. In a world in which the volume and quality of content are both accelerating rapidly (with no signs of slowing down), only truly great content earns the attention of audiences, and remember that they define what’s great, not you or your marketing team. “You can’t just assume your customers will look at anything you give them. If you look in your YouTube or other social feeds, content is embedded deeply into our lives, and the quality of what we’re seeing is incredibly high. There are now broadcast television-level budgets put behind social content. To be crystal clear, budget isn’t synonymous with quality, but it is an indicator of how much a brand believes in their content and audiences pick up on that,” says Jarvis. “Great production helps, but it’s not enough on its own—you have to be better and The fight for attention is real. To cut through all that noise, you have to be really good and have something to say.”
- Follow your customers. The CEO of your company may love Twitter, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the right platform for your content marketing efforts—you’ve got to be where your customers are and have the humility to engage them on their “Many marketers put content out on a channel that they’re comfortable with, as opposed to where their customers actually are,” says Jarvis. “If you’re a company that sells wallpaper, a platform such as Twitter may not be the best choice for your content marketing efforts. Twitter is not a heavily visual distribution channel. You should think about something like Pinterest or Instagram. Understand where your customers are, meet them there, and build a genuine relationship with them—content marketing should be a conversation.”
- Make education your mission. “Education is the most powerful form of content marketing,” says Jarvis, who knows a thing or two about the value of education since his company, CreativeLive, is the world’s largest live streaming education platform. “Education is authentic, it’s useful, and there’s a utility there. It’s a massive trend and we’ll continue to see education become the definitive form of content marketing,” he adds. And education is something every company—from manufacturers to scientific concerns—should consider. “There is an opportunity for literally any business to use education as content marketing, helping the customer via education always creates value for the brand,” Jarvis says, adding that all companies will benefit from educational approaches. “Whether it’s from a ceiling fan company or a high-end cosmetic brand, if you watch their videos on how to cool a house or how to do contours, when it comes time to pay for that product or service, a consumer is going to choose the company who helped them, who educated them. The best content marketers know that if they’re putting out really high-quality pieces of information—in the shape of learning and teaching—they’re going to earn lifelong customers.”
- Use data as a means, not an end. Content marketers have an abundance of data, from viewing and buying habits to location and demographic information, as well as a seemingly endless array of other properties. And while this wealth of data can be useful, it doesn’t create great marketing on its own—and marketers should be careful not to let the tail wag the dog. “Data is not a thing in and of itself; data for data’s sake isn’t productive. Data simply helps measure our effectiveness,” Jarvis says. “When REI or Patagonia, for example, started using ZIP codes correlated with buying patterns, they knew that a customer in Utah or Colorado was probably more likely to buy a down jacket than if he or she lived in Hawaii. Data helps companies be much more effective in how they execute and measure the results of their decisions, but it’s not an end in itself.”
- Embrace the idea of giving away your content. While it’s natural and understandable for companies to be hesitant to give away content that they’ve invested substantial resources in, understand that this is the nature of the content marketing economy—the brands who get the most value are the ones who create great content and aggressively give it away. “There’s this misguided belief among some companies that they shouldn’t give away too much stuff,” says Jarvis. “They want to hold back as much as they can because they feel if they give away too much, they’re not going to have anything to sell. But the best, most successful companies in just about every industry are willing to give stuff away and ask nothing in return because they know that someday when someone does have that need, they’re going to remember who provided this knowledge.”
Read more about how CreativeLive and other small businesses are using content marketing to their advantage in Publish or Perish.