Content marketing is the new frontier in the digital world. Well, it’s really not new. People have been filling the world wide web with content since its inception. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the volume of content available and the myriad forms it takes. Small businesses need to think like the big boys and stay ahead of the trends if they want to stay viable in the future.
In the past, it was only the larger players in any given industry that produced content on any scale. Small businesses had websites with little more than a basic “about us” page and contact information, if they had a website at all. You rarely saw a blog or informational content being put out by “Mom and Pop” operations. In fact, content marketing was generally unknown to small business owners.
To some point, this is still true today. I often stumble across small business websites that look like a throwback to 2003. While that certainly doesn’t mean that these business aren’t successful, they are definitely behind the curve. That may not matter in the short term. However, over the long term, businesses without a content marketing strategy will be doomed to small, local markets with little hope for growth beyond their neighborhoods.
We all consume content in some form or another. But, the way we consume content has changed. This is why we have to look at content marketing through a different lens than we have in the past. Let’s add a little perspective:
25 years ago:
> The internet was in its infancy.
> Looking for a job meant reading newspaper classifieds and hitting the bricks.
> Buying stuff meant going to brick and mortar stores, ordering over the phone or sending away to order from a mail-order catalog.
> Researching anything meant going to the local public library or poring through an expensive encyclopedia.
> Social networking meant attending a dinner party or meeting your friends at a bar.
Things are very different today. The internet literally changed the world in less than a generation.
> All the world’s information is at our fingertips, accessible from a smart phone that is less of a phone and more of a handheld computer.
> We search for and apply to jobs on Monster, Indeed and Linkedin.
> We buy everything imaginable on Amazon or any number of the hundreds of thousands of ecommerce sites. These purchases are then delivered to our doorstep, sometimes in a matter of days or even hours. And we do this without ever leaving our homes. Or even putting on pants.
> Researching anything is as simple as visiting Google and typing a few keystrokes. Or, simpler yet, you can search from your phone using voice recognition technology. This has become so simple and effective that Google has become a verb.
> Many spend half of their waking hours on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and/or countless other social media platforms.
> Whatever it is that you need, there’s an app for that.
We now consume much our of content in the form of photos, infographics, audio (podcasts) and video (YouTube, Vimeo). This has changed the focus of content producers. For years, an effective content marketing strategy was limited primarily to written content. Digital platforms hadn’t quite figured out how to rank content that it couldn’t “read”. All of that has changed.
Now, the Googles of the world have “deciphered the code” and understand how to rank just about everything. They use everything from social signals to AI to determine the value and usefulness of our content. This has dramatically changed the fundamentals of content marketing.
There are now exponentially more opportunities for businesses to reach their target audience. This benefits small businesses especially because it has leveled the playing field. Spending large sums of money and using the expertise of a pricey marketing agency is no longer required. Anyone can produce content for the masses at little or no expense and they can publish that content on any one of the thousands of digital platforms available.
It has also dramatically increased the competition for attracting users, for the same reasons. Because of this, producers need to put much more effort into creating content for their users. Users are looking for information. One thing that I learned many years ago is one of the most important things I’ve every learned about business. That wonderful advice is to remember that customers want a solution to a problem. To echo/paraphrase Gary Vaynerchuk, if you provide that solution to a user, they will eventually become a customer.
The key to content marketing is to provide value without expectation.
Provide value without expectation and you will establish loyalty amongst your target customers. This also happens to be an effective way to establish yourself in the real world, not just the digital one. This is because solving problems for people gives you instant credibility and people like to tell their friends when they find something great.
Written content will likely never go away. With that said, it’s become so ubiquitous that you must establish yourself as an authority if you hope to rank with any digital platform. Gone are the days when you could pump out relatively short, simple articles that would convince the search engines to send content-hungry users your way.
To be an authority, you must add value. 300-500 word, keyword stuffed blog posts won’t do it. This is because Google is much more sophisticated than it used to be. Content is king. Content has always been king. The difference is that with the advancement of the aforementioned “digital intelligence”, becoming an authority requires real effort and ability. As a result, is would be more appropriate to say that authoritative, long-form content is king.
Long-form content has overtaken the keyword-rich, optimized pages of yesterday. This is because long-form content actually provides value. Short, keyword stuffed blog posts talk about something but don’t really provide much in the way of useful information. As such, they don’t provide value the way detailed, well written long-form content does. This is why Wikipedia ranks well for almost everything.
Content Marketing That Provides Value
Again, effective content marketing is all about providing value. People are hungry for information. Regardless of what form it takes, your content should solve a problem for your target user. Tell your user something that they don’t already know. Don’t just talk about something. This is the essence of providing value.
Tell your user something that they don’t already know.
Your content should also engage your users. Not only should you tell people something they don’t already know, it needs to be about something they care about. Figure out what information your target audience is clamoring for. Identify what problem they need to solve and focus your message on solving that problem.
In a rapidly changing world, we have to think beyond how people are consuming content now to how they might in the future. This includes photos, infographics, audio and video. Perhaps in the not too distant future we’ll consume content subliminally, in our sleep or directly though implanted microchips. None of us can predict the future but it’s important that we watch for signs of what’s to come. We need to stay on the leading edge of content marketing trends to make sure we can reach our target audiences tomorrow and into the future.