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FutureNow Article
Friday, Mar. 27, 2009

The Value of Content Marketing

By Bryan Eisenberg
March 27th, 2009

After the first dot-com bust, “content is king” was the rallying cry of any competent Web worker. Back then this revelation was novel online. Soon after, this mantra became a cliché. As it often goes with clichés, they start out as something true and meaningful. Eventually, the words become common, outlive their value, and are so overused that they’re easily ignored.

Saying content is king is the equivalent of saying money is valuable; it’s true but obvious. Tell that to the even the most mentally challenged Web marketer today, and you’ll likely get a, “Duh, where have you been?” in return.

Nobody needs to be told content is of value. But how valuable is it?

Because there isn’t a $1, $5, or $10 denomination stamped on the front of Web content, it’s often difficult to know exactly how valuable content is to your company. Also, knowing content’s value isn’t the same as knowing how to create it, or even how to use it.

What Is Content?

This is a critical question that often goes underexplored. If you ask most marketers, they’ll answer that it’s the copy on a Web site. While this answer is certainly true, it’s inadequate. Content is more than copy.

We can debate the nuance of the possible answers to this question. But a good starting place is to think of Web content as the public conversation that happens between you and the visitor, whether the conversation is one-way (from you to the visitor), two-way (between the visitor and you), or conversation among visitors.

Content includes but is not limited to:

  • The copy on your Web site
  • Blogs and reader comments
  • Content widgets (check out recently released ContentWidgets.com
  • Product/service reviews
  • Forums
  • Videos, demos, and animations
  • Tweets
  • Facebook/MySpace fan pages and groups
  • E-mail newsletters
  • Articles and other intellectual property or knowledge sharing
  • Whitepapers, case studies, Webinars

The more this content causes, persuades, or woos visitors to take a profitable action on our behalf, the more valuable it is. If it doesn’t do this, it’s more like bad entertainment.

Content Now Worth More Than Ever

The economic forecast remains rough for at least the near future. It’s easy to make a case for leveraging existing content for all it’s worth. I would also encourage you to determine the costs of content creation strategies (if you have in the past, revisit them now). You’ll likely find that content creation is becoming more affordable. Many of our clients are easily making room in their budgets to try at least a few content-centered marketing tactics.

Using content as a marketing tool is obvious for those with compelling intellectual property, but it isn’t just for those types any more. Almost any company or service can find a content-marketing strategy that will work for it.

An employee of mine has been looking for a home in a new area, and was impressed to find a few Realtors tweeting. He followed them. He was able to meet with one, walk through a property, and find he was from the same area as the real estate agent. Since he didn’t yet have a Realtor, whom do you think he is going to choose?

Getting Started With Content Marketing

  • You don’t have to start from scratch. If you have content already, look to your analytics to identify popular content and find other uses for it. Rewrite it, update it, and send it as a newsletter. Even tweet it as an oldie but a goodie. Or have it formatted for mobile browsers.
  • Crowdsource. Sometimes your customers will create better content than you can buy from a content creation firm. Why not use specific reviews or forum posts as landing places for campaigns or even as ads?
  • Find the passion. Somebody in the company interested or fluent in a particular social media, or has been itching to write a company blog? Now is the time to let him loose. Let his passion be a lighthouse for potential customers. While it may not be polished or on message, it is likely not going to be sterile and flat like most polished, on-message marketing efforts. To get a sense of what this evangelist might do for you, check out my interview with Betsy Weber, chief evangelist of TechSmith:part one and part two.
  • Let content come from your company’s strength. We have a client where almost everybody in the company participates in the forum. Every employee is knowledgeable about the service offered, and they all become part of the marketing vehicle, giving tips and comments and escalating customer issues. Not only is it transparent, it’s content marketing at its most organic.
  • Content marketing should ultimately be a two-way conversation between you and your customers. While an e-mail newsletter or a static Web page with persuasive copy is technically one-way, it shouldn’t sound like it is. Talk more about them and what they get than talking about yourself. Those who do nothing but talk about themselves just end up “wewe-ing” all over themselves. Try our online calculator that tells businesses how much they talk about themselves in their copy; it is one of our oldest content marketing vehicles and has remained popular for years.
  • Don’t be pressured to reinvent the wheel. If you don’t already have one, start a simple e-mail newsletter. Don’t feel forced to pick something new and shiny like Twitter or the latest social media frenzy.
  • Content that isn’t relevant to at least one profitable segment of potential customers isn’t content, it’s spam. Spam is boring. Creating relevant content often requires planning.

Final Say

Ultimately, content marketing is about optimizing the dialogue between a company and it customers. The better, more interesting the conversation is, the more attention it attracts and the more your customers are compelled to talk and buy.

How is the conversation going with your customers?

Add Your Comments

Comments (45)

  1. We’re on the same wavelength, Bryan. And today we’re probably in sync, too. People focus so much on the tools that they forget content that is relevant and useful comes in many forms.

  2. Some really good points Brian. Your ideas on getting started are great; you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you do need to make it relevant and you need to empower passionate people to create content and start conversations. Getting board level agreement for this and motivating people to do it is another issue!

  3. Well-written post. And a rally-cry for today. You are right on about starting conversations and asking others about posting, repurposing and co-creating interesting, relevant content. Thank you.

  4. Thank you for this great article. In our company, we call this work content design, the value of which is much less understood than visual redesign. We see many calls for visual redesign (which we also do) that are really unnecessary. They are the result of folks making decisions about their web vehicles based on the visual presentation alone. When they don’t ensure solid content design both at the time of launch and thereafter, they often are dissatisfied with the outcome in 3-6 months, and then they begin the visual design process all over again! So thanks, again, for this helpful article about content’s value!

  5. I think it’s important to remember that in this day and age, content does come in different forms. Many people associate content strictly with website copy. However, that is not the only source of content anymore, thanks to widgets and gadgets and videos and podcasts and blogs and things that previous generations only dreamed out. But now the challenge is greater, because all of that content must be GOOD!

  6. Nice overview. I like that you discuss that content marketing starts with listening, the first step in any powerful online conversation. Seems obvious, but most corporations go straight to the telling or talking.

    Well done.

  7. [...] GrokDotCom [talks content marketing]. Related [...]

  8. Great discussion.

    Once the value of content as a strategic marketing asset is accepted, the question moves from WHAT and WHERE to HOW. Very few companies have the necessary infrastructure to support ongoing, quality production and delivery of this kind of content. Outsourcing isn’t always the answer, especially when your products or services require in-depth knowledge and expertise.

    I always want to talk about content strategy (the PLAN for getting content – what, who, where, how, why) in context of content marketing. It’s critically important to recognize that “doing” web content isn’t nearly as straightforward as cranking out traditional marcomm or advertising.

    For more on content strategy:

    http://www.alistapart.com/issues/274

    Also, on Slideshare: http://tr.im/hPPX

  9. [...] 27, 2009 And I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m an information junkie, so content marketing makes my heart go pitter-patter. It’s such a smart marketing strategy — be a source of [...]

  10. [...] GrokDotCom discusses the value of content marketing. [...]

  11. Good overview, and often what’s missing in company content is personality. This requires that a real person show up as author of content. Yet most companies hide behind “we” and “our”. Readers don’t want to have a conversation with a company or reply to copy written by committee or a marketing department.

  12. Love this. I always love to hear people talk about the importance of content, rather than just “the message” or the brand or the advertising as seperate entities. Everything on the internet is content.

  13. …and in a world rife with ad blindness, good content is the thing that gets through and convinces people to act or believe or buy in or take out the credit card…

  14. Great to read such like-minded arguements. Well structured. Wouldn’t it be even greater if more marcoms people started to understand this rather than ‘messaging’ websites up to the hilt and not realising that people choose to visit sites to get something done? People want content that’s relevant, useful and current.

  15. Conversation and value! Great post… Content has to deliver value and be a conversation… not a one way broadcasting medium! Thanks so much for this great post! looking forward to more! :)

    Dbk

  16. Nice summary Brian, reviewing some of the challenges of content marketing. In the early days of the web, we focused on creating content to appeal to the search engines–top listings were the measure of success. In the next wave, we focused on creating content that motivates the sale or lead generation, and improves conversion rates in a more scientific way. Now we’re finding that what wins the war of words on the web is conversational content, content that connects with readers and prospect customers, content that solves problems, content that engages readers and keeps the coming back for more. It’s an art and science Brian, and you’re clearly in tune!

  17. Great post Bryan. I really enjoyed the read. The one point that really stood out to me (and should be obvious but many times it’s not) was about content that isn’t relevant. All too many times I see websites stuffed to the gills with content that adds no value. The most important part of content marketing is developing something that is valuable to the end user, not just compiling garbage to “help” with your own marketing efforts.

  18. Great article, and timely, too. Content is very misunderstood. Last week a prospect told me that my proposal only offered “copy editing” (I pitched a press release, Top 10 Tips download and targeted email campaign after they were featured in a national magazine.

    I was incredulous.

  19. Content is King…but only after you’ve captured an audience. What I mean by this is if I am starting from scratch and I just start posting good content, but with no structure, design, layout, tools, ect. It truly is difficult to get people to even give you a chance in todays world. If your not attractive right away they might not read your content. User’s like pictures, movies, widgets & additional resources.

    Another lesson that we just learned the hard way is to use the right tools to help your content get found. We recently started a blog and build the system from scratch, over 8 months we were still struggling to get much attention and traffic even though we had a good amount of unique content posted almost daily. We’ll be transferring over to a WordPress platform which will allow the tools to go to work for us and help our content be more easily found.

  20. content = visitor = money

  21. Excellent! Yes, content is king…but traffic is queen!

  22. Since I caught on to the content marketing bug on Junta42 recently, I have closely followed every article that will give me more insight and assist me run with the “gospel” of content. This is the best so far! Bryan you just simply made it look like a piece of cake…it is (isn’t it?) I really want to push this in my country Nigeria, we have not caught on to it yet. Anyhow, thanks and great work.

  23. [...] is one reason we highly recommend catering to early stage buyers and developing a content strategy for them.  And for more info on how to do that effectively, [...]

  24. Definitely important to get the content established. A big problem as you have shown is that many people do not understand the importance of content or in fact what the content should be. You have outlined the facts here pretty well which should assist those who were previously in the dark. Cheers

  25. The web is bloated with content and that will continue to grow. If you are not already a destination site, chances are that content you put up on your web site is not going to be discovered all that much. to the extent that I agree with Bryan, I think the hard part for someone without an audience is finding one versus the content creation process.

  26. I think it is more that you need to get a correct mix of relevant and interesting content to make sure you are part of the bloated content currently out there. Definitely it is hard to find an audience but if you have nothing interesting to give anyone there is not likely to be an audience either.

  27. Optimizing is exactly the right word Bryan. Most written content that crosses my screen seems to contain all the relevant information though rarely is it in the most effective form for communicating proactively with the customer. Starting and maintaining an ongoing ‘conversation’ with your customers and clients is a sure-fire way to maintaining their interest over the long haul. Most of us a deluged day in and day out with irrelevant information. Getting a hold on your customer’s attention and keeping it is worth it’s weight in gold!

  28. Totally agree. without content it is always difficult to attract traffic.
    80% content 20% link building and you will always be going in the right direction.

  29. I seem that also google now will give more credit to page with excellent content, most test of google caffeine (before the closed down the beta version) indicates that pages with lots of content get ranked higher.

    anybody can confirm this?

  30. I couldn’t agree more. Content is everywhere now but if it links back to your website it is, in a sense, a part of your website just a bit distant.

  31. Great interesting post! Yes we need to keep our content valuable. Writing good content is your best way of bring life to your blog through traffic and visitors.
    Writing great content is the foundation of a blogging. It should be creative and interesting for both you to write and your readers to view.

  32. Quite a few really good factors Brian. The tips about starting out are great; its not necessary to reinvent the actual wheel, a person do need to help it become relevant and you need to encourage passionate folks to generate content and begin conversations. Obtaining board level arrangement with this along with motivating individuals to do it is actually another problem!

  33. Great post the idea of content being 2 way and no just about you and the company is different to what i have been told in the past.

  34. They are the result of folks making decisions about their web vehicles based on the visual presentation alone. When they don’t ensure solid content design both at the time of launch and thereafter, they often are dissatisfied with the outcome in 3-6 months, and then they begin the visual design process all over again!

  35. I myself am an accountant and have historically tried to value websites – it is a very difficult thing – but it should take into account standard principles – ie discounted cash flow, market rate etc etc – simply looking at potential is a recipe for disaster

  36. Content is the biggest asset that any website has no matter what the theme or industry of the website is.

  37. Content is the key , read this line many times.Great content less bounce rate , more visitors. thanks for good post

  38. Good point on content being all inclusive of tweets etc, think that commonly gets forgotten. Also fits with Google’s recent focus on content that adds value.

  39. reinvent When they don’t ensure solid it relevant and you need to empower decisions about their web vehicles based on the visual it become relevant and you folks presentation alone. content design the wheel, you do need to make need to encourage passionate

  40. The post is very useful, However i suggest the content in which your revenue will be increased. Use Google Adword tool for that. Hope you will enjoy that :) !

  41. More than web design, tools, products offered etc., content is the most important asset of any website. Content is definitely king but traffic is queen!

  42. Totally agree. Devices such as the iPad and particularly the new Kindle Fire open up new opportunities too. Distribution of digital content via Amazon for their reading devices opens up a whole new opportunity. Self-produced eBooks and the commercial benefits of selling content clearly will encourage content producers.

  43. Before this, I believe that content is important only for review sites. Is it important for e-commerce site too?

  44. [...] [...]

  45. Bryan , Content is king everwhere! I wholeheartedly agree with the obvious truth but it is sad that there is an ugly side to it. the job is now of keeping up with SEO’s along with ctrl+C and ctrl+ V……

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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