In tropical West Africa, there is shrub that grows up to 20 feet tall – which sounds like a “tree” to me, but what do I know.
Anyway, this “shrub” features a small cranberry-coloured fruit about the size of a large almond. It’s a rather flavourless fruit in and of itself, but it has the most remarkable effect on your taste buds. It’s called the “miracle fruit”.
The miracle fruit gets its name because when you eat it, everything you taste for a short time afterward has a distinctly sweet taste. Lemons taste like lemon drops. Salsa tastes like honey. Goat cheese tastes like cheesecake. Since its discovery in the 18th century, it’s been used for all kinds of purposes – most recently in a food additive called miraculin that acts as a sugar substitute.
In short, the miracle fruit itself isn’t useful unless it’s combined with other foods. It creates the opportunity for other things that you might eat to have a different kind of fulfilment.
Content marketing isn’t a tactic
In Managing Content Marketing – the book I wrote a few years ago with my friend, colleague and podcast co-host Joe Pulizzi – we discuss how to build a successful content marketing process in your organisation. As part of that process, building the initial business case for content marketing is a big step. And, as you might expect, at conferences and workshops, Joe and I are frequently asked how media budgets should be divided to add this new “thing” called content marketing. This is a mistake. Content marketing is not a tactic.
If you start out your business case by thinking that content marketing is going to compete with your PPC (pay per click), events or other tactical spend, you’ll work yourself into a corner from which it’s hard to develop measurable results. Rather, it’s much better to start out by thinking how content marketing can add to the effectiveness of your already successful (or not) existing tactics. Those things may be top-of-funnel activities like SEO, brand awareness or lead nurturing. Or they may be lower-funnel things like customer service, upsell or loyalty. Or the tactics where content marketing can add value may even be outside of marketing – like R&D or product-development improvements.
Screeeeeech… The needle goes off the record player.
What did you just say? R&D? Product improvements? How does that work? Yes, one of the biggest benefits of a content marketing approach is that it can provide the business with unprecedented insight into how your product or service is working. Consider a regional retailer in the United States that uses its 300,000-strong email audience to their online magazine to understand where they might open new stores. They can look at zip codes and see where they’re getting traction. They can see what kinds of topics most resonate in different regions – where they might feature specials due to local peculiarities. Now, yes, this is information they could get from third-party research, but why not save those costs and get them much more efficiently (and with higher quality) from a content marketing approach?
It’s the whole dish, not just the appetiser
Let’s just take a collective breath here and say it aloud: traditional marketing still works. It just does.
Online advertising still works and so does email marketing, direct marketing, PPC search marketing, SEO, event marketing and even print and TV.
And chances are if you’re even somewhat successful, you’ve got a pretty good mix of those tactics working. But let’s be honest – you’ve probably got things that are working well along with things that maybe aren’t working so well. So instead of looking at content marketing as something that has to compete with these other tactics, let’s instead look at how a content marketing initiative can be layered in to enhance your most poorly performing tactic, or even revolutionise and exponentially increase one of your better performing tactics.
Let’s use an example of PPC. You may be purchasing keywords that drive users to a landing page to “call a salesperson” or “download a free trial”. And that campaign may be working quite well for you. Or maybe it’s not working quite as well as you think it should.
What if instead we add a new version of our search ad to those keywords with a call to action to “download this field guide” and we direct these users to download a free “how to” best-practice guide for the type of approach our product solves? In that field guide we provide great, compelling content – and within it we direct people to go to a landing page (separate from our other landing page) to view a webinar or talk live with a “solutions consultant” or “download a free trial”.
Your mileage will certainly vary, but if you’re like at least two companies I’ve personally worked with, you may notice that your CTR (click-through rate) goes down – meaning PPC costs go down. Is that a bad thing? No, because you may also notice that the quality of leads that come through the guide goes way up. Basically, they convert more – meaning CPA (cost per acquisition) goes way down – and the value of that PPC tactic now increases substantially. That’s where content marketing can be your miracle fruit.
And, of course, remember that the field guide you invested in is now an asset that can be used in other ways as well. It might be the fodder for a great blog post, the target for social media or a tool that your salespeople can send to warm prospects they’ve cold called. It just gets sweeter and sweeter.
Content marketing has the potential to be an innovative piece of your marketing mix – not as just another tactic, but rather as the miracle fruit to make your entire recipe book that much sweeter.
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