The 6 Rules of Content Marketing

“Real content marketing isn’t repurposed advertising, it is making something worth talking about” Seth Godin

Ask someone in business to define the word ‘content’ (go on, it’s fun). Head-scratching will ensue. It’s one of those great words that everyone knows but few can nail down. It means anything and nothing. It means stuff.

Consultants love words like content. An empty vessel into which they can pour their own brand of snake-oil. It sweeps the marketing industry like wildfire and pretty soon everyone is talking about it. Once I heard someone say without a flicker of self-awareness ‘he gives good content’.

Like a lot of buzzwords there’s a lot of crap spoken about content marketing. But also like a lot of buzzwords, its popularity is rooted in sound business benefit. So how do we sort through the guff and cut to something that can grow a community, build brand loyalty and drive leads?

The question you’re asking though is not whether or not it’s important. You clicked on this link, you know it’s important. The real question is what is it and how do I start doing it?

After all,  content marketing is seen by over 70% of UK adults every month, Over 50% say it positively impacts purchase decisions and 61% describe how it improves their perception of the brand. It now accounts for more than 20% of marketing budgets.

Rule #1: If you’re talking about yourself, it’s sales collateral. If you are talking about your audience, it’s content marketing.

Savvy marketers deal in the interests of their audience, not their business. They address the daily issues and challenges that beset their customers, not their management team.

Rule #2: it’s more than a blog

What is content marketing? It’s a video, e-guide, animation, brochure, social media post, slide presentation, infographic and much more.

We’re helping our audience, remember? So it is a best practice guide, a how-to video, insights from research or a technical white paper. It’s also travel photography, behind-the-scenes footage, whiteboard explainer clips and thai food recipes.

Rule #3: the form it takes is never as important as the story it tells.

This is where a good content marketing agency really sets itself apart.

Because let’s be honest. When was the last time you said to a friend, “Hey I heard a funny piece of content last night.’ People aren’t moved by words or pictures, they’re moved by the stories they convey.

Content is merely a delivery mechanism for a story. And stories, in turn, are the way we humans communicate things that are important to us.

So in a business context, a story is the way we explain our message. It humanises companies which would otherwise seem dry, cynical or outlandish. Stories are the sugar that sweetens the pill of our corporate objectives.

Rule #4: Regardless of the content you create, your audience needs to derive value from it.

Value is of course a personal measure – someone’s pleasure is someone else’s pain. But you can hit as wide a mark as possible by fulfilling a few basic human needs:

Educative: Will your audience learn something new that helps them in their life or job?

Deep dive: Will they be able to immerse themselves in rich content to do with their job or hobby?

Insights: Will it help your audience understand their world better? Does it give them context that helps them make better decisions?

Delight: Will it take their breath away?

Rule #5: Content marketing bridges the gap between what your business wants and what your audience needs.

If it packs a creative punch and has a strong call to action, it will deliver brand awareness, positive perception and increased revenue. It’ll do this by giving the customer what they want: insights and entertainment.

Rule #6: Learn from your elders and betters

Like a lot of overnight phenomenons content marketing has been around forever.

In 1900 the Michelin brothers published a guide for motorists in France which included hotels, petrol stations and repair tips. This helped popularise the car and created demand for the tyres that the brothers happened to sell.

Ever since, brands have been publishing guides, books or brochures which don’t overtly sell their own products and services. Take airlines and their inflight magazines. They are full of jaw-dropping hotels, restaurants and museums in destinations that they just happen to fly to.

The advent of digital means traditional printed media has given way to more easily digestible, cost effective and shareable content snacks.

One company bossing their content marketing right now is Hubspot. They’ve built an impressive and ever-expanding library of how-to guides, top tip blogs, best practice case studies, webinars and short videos on inbound marketing. This has helped position them as industry experts, driving leads and enquiries.

Summary: so what is content marketing again?

First, it’s a powerful way to build a brand and create interactive, long lasting bonds with your audiences. It’s arguably the most effective way to deliver a company message because it’s wrapped in a story.

Second, it’s fun. It’s fun because you’re creating stuff that your audience actually wants to engage with. Let’s be clear, if you’re feeding them sales and marketing messages via traditional collateral they’re tolerating it. At best!

Finally, when combined with a clear call to action it drives traffic, leads and, ultimately, revenue.

Seth Godin is famous for having once said Content marketing is the only marketing that’s left.” While that may be pushing it, the idea that brands will only get what they want by giving audiences what they need is definitely here to stay.