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How People Buy Today: The New Content Marketing Playbook

Posted by Mark Hemmer on 7/6/16 10:00 AM

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For years, marketing and advertising have operated on this premise: to be successful, you need to get your message in front of as many people as possible by any means necessary. 

It's a numbers game: the most reach wins. That's how print, TV, and radio sales executives have always positioned their products. But, as analytics become more sophisticated and people begin to examine the numbers and ask questions, the premise becomes flimsier. For example: if a radio station reaches 100,000 people, how many listened to your advertisement? The answer: there is no way to know. Even Arbitron ratings (or Nielsen ratings for TV) are based on self-reported data and devices that attempt to pick up and record what you're listening to or watching (not accounting for what is being played in a store, for example). 

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The same holds true for demographics. They're extrapolated groups based on little information and entirely unconfirmed in practice. There's no way to know for sure if your message is reaching its intended audience or if your message is even on the right channel to attempt it. 

From a validity standpoint, those numbers mean very little. But, that doesn't stop them from being trumpeted and paraded in front of clients as concrete. Even if your radio spot is playing twice in every day part, there's likely a tiny fraction of the quoted audience that is actually hearing your commercial. There's even less paying attention and less than that internalizing and later acting on your message. The same goes for TV or any other traditional channel.

That is not to say that traditional advertising is six below. TV, radio, print, billboards, stadium naming rights, sponsorships, mascots, and even the part-timer waving a cardboard arrow at your store still have value. Traditional advertising is effective at creating brand awareness and that - even if it's not quantifiable - can pay off. However, the old way of reaching consumers (blasting messages at them) no longer works on a large scale. It has to do with consumer attitudes toward advertising and where it is and isn't welcome.

Commercials, on traditional media, are seen as an inherent part of the contract: the consumer is getting programming or music and the commercials are a necessary inconvenience that supports the creation of the product. Even if you change the radio dial every time a commercial plays or use TV commercials as time to visit the bathroom or grab a snack, you're conditioned to accept their being there.

On the Internet, it's more hostile than that. 

As a newer media channel, the Internet is less hospitable (to say the least) to advertising. Roughly 420 million smartphone users have an ad blocker on their device, along with 200 million desktop users. That number figures to increase. Display ads, auto-play videos, drop-down ads, and more drive the majority of Internet users up the wall. They drain data, they're a general irritant, and they interrupt.

You don't have to search long or hard to find articles lamenting the 'entitlement' of the younger generation. That's who absorbs the brunt of the backlash to ad blockers and changing attitudes. They're breaking the contract! They're expecting information, content, and entertainment for FREE, sans ads! For older marketing and media professionals, it's an affront. But, it's also inevitable. The Internet is an unprecedented platform that grants free access to unlimited information, entertainment, and content. Most marketers were slow to take to it for advertising and as a result, ads are not accepted in the same way they are on traditional channels. They're an interruption. 

If, on the Internet, 'reaching' a consumer is seen as interrupting them, it changes everything. The presumed rules no longer apply. Your 'reach' is simply a means to interrupt and create animus with more people. Just as people use the Internet differently than they use their TVs, radios, and newspapers, they also approach buying differently. It's time for your marketing to align with their behavior.  

With traditional marketing in decline, you need a new playbook: a content marketing playbook. 

Content marketing (also called Inbound Marketing) is about creating content that helps consumers and meets them in the buying stage they're in. In contrast to traditional advertising (reach as many as possible, however you can), content marketing focuses on delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. Instead of blasting a message at consumers (with little idea of how many people it's reaching or who those people are), content marketing creates useful content and lets consumers search for and find it. That matches up with consumer preferences and does a number of positive things for the marketer:

1. Establishes Authority

Creating content that addresses consumer concerns and answers often-asked industry questions quickly establishes your company as a trusted authority. When it comes time to make a buying decision, consumers are more likely to opt for the company that they know as a thought leader.

2. Creates Preference 

When a consumer goes looking for information about a product or service and finds the help they need, it's easy to see how a preference would be cemented. When your tire goes flat and someone stops to offer to help you put on the spare, that's endearing. Looking for accurate and useful information about a purchase and finding it can have the same effect. 

3. Attracts Leads

Consumers today buy by first Googling the product or service they're looking for (or, before that, Googling the problem they're experiencing to see what the possible solutions are). If your company is creating original content that answers questions and provides value, you're in the perfect position to attract leads. 

4. Demonstrates Value 

By offering content up front, for free, you're demonstrating knowledge, capability, and value to a consumer. Using Calls-to-Action (additional content offered in exchange for contact info) you can offer even more help and start a targeted, productive conversation with an interested consumer.  

Inbound marketing is effective for every type of business. But, for B2B companies or companies that deal in more complicated (and more expensive) products, content marketing is a must. Original content is an excellent way to educate and help consumers on a bigger purchase. 

Make sure that your marketing strategy matches up with today's consumer behavior. Start building your new content marketing playbook today!

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