A client of our agency recently asked me to explain the importance of online content marketing; to give him “the long and the short of it.” Here’s what I told him (you can choose which version you prefer to read):
THE LONG OF IT: We as humans require content and context to form meaning and connection, i.e. to make sense of our world. Used in this sense, content can be defined as a tangible object or concept- any “thing” that we come across in our daily lives. Our brains immediately and semi-consciously try to assign meaning to each “thing” we encounter in order to judge its meaning and relevance to our existence. In doing so, we are forming context.
Therefore one could say that without content there is no context; without context, there is no meaning or relevance.
Finally, humans require some degree of meaning or relevance in order to form a connection with some “thing” or some “one”. Without such meaning or relevance, there is no connection.
So how does this relate to online content marketing? You are trying to form meaningful connections with your target audience. Before you can do this, you need to provide some kind of context to your target audience so that they can form a relevant and meaningful connection with your brand.
Online content is the “thing” you are using to provide context to, relevance and meaning for, and ultimately, form a connection with, your target audience.
THE SHORT OF IT: By providing online content marketing, you are giving your target audience a reason to connect with your brand.
HOW IT WORKS
“That sounds great,” our by now exasperated client said. “But how do you do it? How do you actually use online content marketing to connect with your target audience?”
This is what I told him:
Given everything I said before (above), it is critical that you provide online content that aligns with:
a) Your overarching business goals
b) The needs and wants of your target audience: what they find informative, entertaining, or otherwise meaningful and relevant.
To do this, you first need to understand 5 things about your target audience:
Who is your target audience? You cannot possibly provide relevant or meaningful online marketing content to an audience you haven’t clearly defined. You might as well be trying to sell ice to Eskimos.
If you haven’t yet defined your target audience, you need to do so asap. A good place to start is to create buyer personas for each differentiated segment of your target audience. Buyer personas are essentially representative personifications of each segment of your target audience, i.e. “Marketer Mary,” or “Techie Tom.” For more on this, check out this blog post.
Once you figure out who your target audience is, ask yourself why they might be interested in consuming your online content. Are they information driven or entertainment driven? What does this say about their ultimate reason, their “why,” for interacting with your online content? This is where it is important to be mindful of how your online content aligns with both your target audience’s needs and wants AND your end business goals.
For example, if your goal is to sell a lot of widgets, you want to attract Internet users that need or want to buy widgets either now or at some point in the future. Some of your widget buyers may prefer to consume online content that is more informative than entertaining, while others may be the opposite. To further confuse things, your audience may tend to be more entertainment-driven when they think about widgets, but more information driven when searching online for other products, such as insurance.
This is fine. All you care about is why they are consuming your widget-based content. Viral videos and humorous info-graphics entertain, while whitepapers or how-to blogs inform. To the extent you understand why your target audience is interacting with your online content, you can tailor it to match their wants and needs. Doing so will also likely boost leads and sales efficiencies.
Where does your target audience tend to be when consuming your online content? Are they at work, at home, or on the go? Are they on PCs or mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets? Given the massive consumer adoption of mobile, it is becoming harder to make assumptions about PC usage. While most people are still using their PCs at work, many are using their mobile device to access the Internet at home.
Understanding where your audience is most likely consuming your brand’s content can greatly affect your online content marketing strategy. For example, if I know that 95% of my target audience is accessing content via their mobile or tablet device, I may have more luck connecting with them with a viral YouTube video rather than a 5000-word ebook. This can impact your social media marketing strategy as well.
Speaking of social media, how will your target audience find your online content? Currently, there are two ways people go about online content discovery: 1) They perform an Online Search, or “Google” it, 2) They find it on social media through some means of social search or personal discovery. The latter might be a recommendation from a friend or family member, a user-generated review, or even some kind of social ad such as a promoted post or sponsored story.
In general, those who use an online search engine are in an “I’ll find it myself” mindset, whereas those using a social platform are taking an “I’ll ask someone else” approach. Given that most online problem-solving and need fulfillment begins with some form of seeking out, understanding your target audience’s approach to search is extremely important.
Though we consume online content in different ways at different times, if given a choice, most of us gravitate toward either a visual or written medium. I tend to prefer written content over visual. What about your target audience? Would they be more likely to read a blog or watch a video? Do they prefer info-graphics over white papers? Might they prefer YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram over Twitter and Reddit?
Many of us consume content on many different media on any given day. I might watch the world news in the morning, catch up on industry news by reading blog posts, and interact on Pinterest before bed. Again, you want to think about what your target audience might do when interacting with your brand.
CONTENT AS A BRIDGE TO CONNECTION
To succeed, your online content must form a connection, a bridge, between your business goals and the wants and needs of your target audience.
Recalling the beginning of this post, in order to form such a connection you must provide relevance and meaning. If your goal is to be the preferred reseller of premium widgets, your online content marketing strategy should focus on becoming the best single online resource for those in the market for premium widgets, period.
By providing content and context you create relevance and meaning, two things necessary to build lasting connections with your target audience.