Larry Chase's Web Digest For Marketers

The Content Marketing Manifesto

Self-absorbed advertising with its grandiose claims has pretty much worn out its effectiveness and welcome, as you know. The challenge for most marketers is figuring out what's going to replace those intrusive and unwanted ads.

Content Marketing

The new rules for marketers demand that if you want your audience to pay attention to you, you're going to have to reward them immediately with something of value. In other words, the marketing message itself must deliver value. More often than not, this value will be content.

You can look at this new world of content marketing through two different lenses: Editorial Content and Commercial Content.

A. Editorial Content: Editorial content is the type of content traditionally received from well-known publishers of periodicals, such as newspapers, magazines or trade publications. Nowadays, anyone can start a media property online. I've done it myself and have a subscriber list approaching 50,000 (at the time of writing).

A subset of editorial content is what I call hybrid editorial content. Sponsored research papers, Webinars and email tip sheets and white papers offered directly from advertisers are examples of this hybrid. It is a hybrid because it is created for commercial purposes specifically, as a very cost-effective way of opening up a dialogue with a target audience. The trick is figuring out what to say. More about this later.

B. Commercial Content: Classified ads, catalogs, directories and Yellow Pages are all examples of commercial content. Yes, people really want commercial content sometimes even more than editorial content. I see examples of this weekly when the ads in my Web Digest For Marketers email newsletter get clicked on more often than the editorial links.

An offer of "0% financing" on a Honda Accord is also a type of commercial content, since it's giving you a piece of information that is valuable to you should you be in the market for that car at the time you see the message. Clues for a treasure hunt sweepstakes where you can win $10,000 is another type of commercial content. More on this in a moment.

With commercial content, timing and targeting are key. When you get a sales letter in print that offers you something you don't want, you call it junk mail. Direct marketers hate this term. But that's what it is, because it offers no value to the recipient at that time. But when that nautical lighting catalog hits my mailbox, I'm all over it to see what's new. Though people seldom admit it, they like to be pitched to, so long as the pitch is well-targeted and well-timed.

Engagevertizing

Whether it's editorial or commercial content, the intention of a content marketer is to engage the target audience in a conversation or some type of interaction. Since advertising is perceived as a one-way monologue, I prefer to call the practice of this two-way marketing "engagevertising". With that in mind, let's now look at 8 ways to execute content marketing online.

1. Creating Compelling Content That Generates Inbound Links to Your Site:

What could you put on your firm's website that would inspire other sites to point to it? I now have between 415 and 16,500 inbound links to the Web Digest For Marketers website (depending on which search engine you query). In large part, they point to my site because it serves as a major resource center for tens of thousands of Internet marketers.

I can tell you that I get much more traffic from those thousands of websites than I do from any one search engine. In addition, the search engines see all the relevant sites pointing into me and take this into consideration when they rank me in search results.

When creating compelling content for your site, it might be a good idea to create "evergreen" content that holds up well over time, rather than news (which gets stale fast). Try to repurpose content from one channel to the next when appropriate so you get more mileage out of your investment. The reviews of marketing sites first published in my Web Digest For Marketers email newsletter then get posted to my website and soon into an RSS feed.

At the end of the day your site's content has to be so good that hundreds or thousands of other websites willingly send their traffic to your site at no charge.

2. Creating Content With SEO In Mind:

Information design is part science and part art. Sure, you want the search engines to rank you higher in organic results. But you also have to weigh that against the user experience of people who visit your website.

Share with your writers and editors the keywords that are most often used to find your site. Do your homework. Use a few different keyword suggestion tools to verify what keyword phrases people are really looking for. Then use those words in your content, but don't overdo it, because it will make for a more tedious user experience. Use some of those keyword phrases in link tags, in title tags and don't forget to submit your site map.

When devising content for your site, you first want to know what type of content people are looking for in your niche. From there you want to know what keywords they're using to find that which they seek.

3. Outbound Content:

Some content is housed on your site and is written with SEO and link popularity in mind, while other content is pushed out into the world through email newsletters, RSS feeds and the like.

If you're sending out an email newsletter, think about what content (commercial or editorial) will inspire people to forward it. I know from my Web Digest For Marketers email newsletter that 2 to 3 times more non-subscribers read each issue than actual subscribers. People are forwarding the newsletter to colleagues. I get the most subscriptions each week on the day I publish my newsletter, because many people get it forwarded to them, read it, and then subscribe themselves.

If you're going to start an RSS feed, think carefully about what you're going to call it and the types of keywords you'll use in that feed's "wrapper" which describes your feed. You only get one shot at this.

Also, with RSS feeds you need to commit to publishing your content frequently. When you search for RSS feeds like the one you're going to furnish, notice the last date published. If it was weeks or months ago, you know you're not going to bother subscribing. But if it's minutes, hours, or a couple days ago, you will. Freshness counts, not only to the end user, but to the search engines that you will notify each time you send out a feed. Yes, RSS/blog feeds have an impact on your search rankings, which is truthfully one of the major reasons people publish both. Frequency of publication is becoming more and more important to search engines when ranking your website. After all, they want to serve up the freshest and most relevant search results to their users.

4. Contest Content:

For certain audiences, running a contest, promotion or time-sensitive event might be the right way to engage your audience. The clues, tips and instructions for participating in such events are forms of commercial content.

A couple years back, Budget Rent-a-Car ran their 'Up Your Budget' campaign in 16 cities around the US. The prize was $10K per city. Budget fed daily clues by way of video shots posted on their corporate blog, which indicated where registered participants could find the Budget 800 phone number in a given city. Additional, exclusive clues were fed out through an email list to those who subscribed.

Budget got over 1 million unique visitors to its site with this campaign. Participants had to post their own video online proving they indeed found the spot where the 800 number was posted. When participants found the actual 800 number in a city, they would call it to verify the number had indeed been found in that city and they were the one to find it. It was very interactive. Very engaging.

The playfulness of this campaign was picked up by trade publications and general media outlets alike. Over 300 blog postings and articles were written on this campaign in such outlets, including the LA Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Talk about buzz marketing. The whole campaign was done for what you might spend in production costs for a single TV commercial.

Check Postopia.com for another example of engaging gaming. On this site, kids enter the Postoken code from a box of Post cereal to start participating in a game. They then wind further and further into the site, picking up more clues as they get more deeply involved. Is this successful? When I last checked, this site's Alexa rank was 7,411.

5. Cross-Platform Content:

Some marketers initiate contact with their audience in a one-way channel like print or TV and invite the viewer to then engage in a two-way interaction online. This is what Dove has done with its much-heralded 'Campaign for Real Beauty'. One of the first TV spots in this campaign emphasized to women that you do not have to be a size 2 to be beautiful. A later spot featured woman over 50 celebrating their age and their feelings of confidence and beauty.

You can go to the site, register, and comment on current or previous ads. It is a pretty active site when last checked. What I especially liked about it is the site managers who reviewed comments before posting them publicly allowed people to be skeptical. One woman doubted the woman featured in a spot was really over 50, while a man suggested publicly that Dove use some of the profits to support women's shelters and take the campaign out to people who really need help. To me, allowing these posts to go through lends credibility to the site they have not sanitized it to the point where it has no soul.

There are legal ramifications and long term commitments to such a campaign. It must be paying off. Oprah talks about Dove often on her show. I'm covering it here, and many women I know are very familiar with this campaign. I seriously doubt these women could recall any other health and beauty aid advertising they've seen over the past year.

Another good example of cross-platform content is found at NabiscoWorld.com. Here you enter in the UPC code from a box of Nilla Wafers or Oreos, or what have you, for a shot at winning a trip to Miami to attend a Nascar event. Nabisco turned the utilitarian UPC code found on every box into a marketing tool that drives people to their website. You might say they thought outside the box for this campaign. Last I checked there were 1,079 inbound links to this site according to Alexa.

6. User-Generated Content:

A good example of user-generated content about a company's product is housed on the Adobe website, where you will find a forum for Acrobat developers for peer-to-peer learning from each other. Adobe makes it clear that this forum is not the company talking. and that there are separate support services from Adobe offered for fee and free. As already mentioned above, this takes a serious staffing and technical commitment, the costs of which in particular marketing circumstances are no doubt justified.

On the consumer side, Harley-Davidson taps into the brand loyalty of their customers by offering a Ride Planner tool on their website, where customers can create and plan the route they want to take on their next Harley-powered excursion. They can then share the route on the Harley site and arrange to meet up with other Harley aficionados along the way. Last we checked this site had an Alexa rank of 13,419.

7. Video Content:

At the time of writing, Burger King (along with other major brands) had a "profile" on MySpace (big brands also have a presence of this kind on YouTube). Burger King's profile featured its goofy "King" character that you've in their TV commercials. At the time of writing, King had over 120,000 MySpace friends. Mr. King's friends are entitled to download episodes of the TV show 24 and have other groovy privileges.

"Yeah, right," you say. "People are really going to interact with a fictitious character online." Well, at the time of writing, they are. And they appear to be real people with profiles and pictures and the rest of it. They don't seem to be actors playing real people on the Internet.

So what's happening here? BK's King wants to be your new best friend and opens up the new relationship with some content offerings. Interesting that the TV show is a Fox property, as is MySpace. What the relationship is between BK and Fox is not readily clear. But tens of thousands of people seem perfectly fine not needing to know.

8. PR Content:

This is the biggest no-brainer that ever was. Once upon a time, press releases sometimes had some news value. The smilers and dialers who pitch me to run a story have typically never even seen my newsletter, so how newsworthy is their story really going to be? How relevant is their PR pitch to me? Not very. But what would happen if a press release really did have content value? It does happen, typically from research houses and the firms that fund that research.

Some of the most popular pages on my website are from articles that were part of a PR campaign. One of the most successful and least expensive promotional campaigns I ever ran was for my "Top 10 Trends for the Next 10 Years for Internet Marketing". In the press release I featured three of the trends, with a link to rest back at my website. That page is still one of the most viewed pages on my site. The point being that the release of a piece of interesting content or news will get read and picked up by other media outlets. Someone getting promoted to a Senior Vice President won't.

Mapping Your Content Marketing Campaign

If you've read this far down in the Content Marketing Manifesto, you're probably convinced or at least intrigued that this is an inevitable trend in marketing. If you believe that the trend will dominate in your category, you might as well be the first to employ it. In this way, you'll assume a leadership role, and that itself gives you a competitive edge (see my article on "Thought Leadership Marketing"). When time permits, I consult with clients on how to launch and sustain a content marketing campaign.

Your traditional ad agency may not be able to help you with content marketing because they're mostly commission-driven, and this project is labor-intensive. I think it more likely the case that many big budget advertisers will take this function in-house (much the same way many catalogers publish their own catalogs) and outsource for those skill sets they don't have internally.

If you take this operation in-house, it's a good idea to have a trusted outsider review what you have in mind before you move ahead. You want to be very sure that you aren't just falling in love with your own ideas and that they really make sense out there in the marketplace.

Insider's Tip

Content Packaging: Now that anyone can publish content for public consumption, there is entirely too much out there for people to reasonably absorb. We live in a world now of content chaos. Think about how your content can bring order to this chaos. There is a great value in that.

Another clue to defining what content you may provide your target audience is to see what content in your niche is available for a fee and then offer a similar type of product at no charge. The toughest challenge is to define what content would be attractive that is currently not available at all. Assuming that you yourself are a cohort of your target audience, ask yourself if you would honestly read the new type of content you're proposing.

Time is more valuable than money: Remember, even if your content is offered gratis, you are still asking your target audience to pay with their attention. The currency you seek at the beginning of a commercial relationship is first time, and the money comes later. This concept of time being a very specific value is lost in most marketing messages out there. Make sure your content richly compensates your audience for their time spent with you. Good luck. LC

Larry Chase
Publisher: Web Digest For Marketers
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