“Your customers don’t care about you, your products or your services. They care about themselves, their wants and their needs.”
That’s what’s known in the common parlance as a ‘truth bomb’. The quote comes from Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute.
His assertion was as true in the pre-internet age as it is now.
Advertisers have always had their work cut out for them trying to come up with campaigns and angles that will make people care. The difference between then and now is that in the olden days there were far fewer competing messages, so advertisers had a better chance of making themselves heard.
Now, millions of messages are going out via the internet every day. People have gotten very good at ignoring the things they want to ignore (largely, ads) and homing in on the stuff they care about. Generally speaking, people use the internet to search for answers to their problems and as a source of entertainment. This, combined with the much-vaunted shorter attention spans created by the internet age, puts traditional advertising on the back foot.
The internet has brought about huge changes in buying behaviour. In 2011, Google coined the term Zero Moment of Truth to describe the way consumers search for information online and make decisions about brands. It determined that people are making purchasing decisions at the precise moment they have a need they want answered online. That means that any brand that can meet a person’s precise need at the time – let’s say, for example, it’s ‘how to get wine stains out of velvet’ – will likely be the ‘winner’.
The advantage content has over traditional advertising in this environment is that the former is what people are likely to find when they search for the answers to their problems. This could be posts on forums or product comparison sites – or your cleaning company’s content hub featuring articles and videos about how to get stains out of various types of fabrics.
And then – bam! You have an engaged potential customer. You’re presenting yourself as an authority in your field and connecting with the reader in the way you want to. In short, you’re controlling your branded message. You’re communicating with them, not crudely selling to them. You’re generating high-quality leads – the reader now has now put your brand on their shopping list. You’ve left traditional advertising in the dust.
Content marketing also feeds native advertising, the placement of content in a contextually relevant space – for example, a social media newsfeed or relevant partner website. A successful native advertising campaign takes the strong, relevant, engaging, valuable content created by a brand, amplifies it, and drives people back to your broader content offering. A poor old banner ad forlornly flashing away can’t compete – because, again, unlike the banner ad, you’re providing people with information they genuinely give a stuff about.
And because content marketing is a long-range project – as opposed to traditional advertising, which uses a campaign-based model – your investment has the potential to reap returns for years to come. Strong content marketing will also give you ‘earned media’ – that is, users and media outlets might share and discuss your content. Then other users will see it and might share it again, generating reams of free brand exposure for you.
There has been much talk in recent months about the ability for iOS9 for the iPhone and iPad to block ads in Safari. This development has truly brought ad-blocking, previously a relatively niche activity, into the mainstream. The impetus for ad-blocking is the simple fact that people find online ads annoying and intrusive. Aside from the fact brands really shouldn’t want anyone feeling that way about them, the reality is that ad-blockers are here to stay, their influence is most likely to increase, and, of course, they’re going to stop people from seeing your ads. That means brands need new ways of reaching audiences.
If you’ve paid attention thus far, I don’t think I need to tell you what the answer is.