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What is content marketing?

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Content marketing is so hot right now but what is it exactly? Answer: content marketing means that marketers are using content – eBooks, factsheets, whitepapers, blog posts, podcasts, videos – as a way to lure people. Usually that content is delivered online. You know the deal (see below).

what is content marketing

Sign-up, sign-up.

Once the customer is lured by the content, the marketer seeks to exchange the information for money or more commonly, freely for an email address. Once the email address is secured an eMarketing relationship is begun. The marketer’s goal may be to sell something or simply to inform and gain deeper support.  Content marketing is used by commercial enterprises and nonprofits.

Isn’t this what many of us have always done? Maybe. But probably not. 

Hootville has utilised content marketing since before the term was coined. We’ve given away free content (hopefully relevant, helpful, engaging) for 15 years.

Most professional service agencies do not do this. Their websites are little more than brochures with no free advice, comment or listings. Can you go to your accountant’s website for general information about superannuation changes? Can you visit your doctor’s websites and find answers to your frequently asked questions? Can you get a guide to planning your kitchen from the builder’s website? Usually not. They are all take, no give. In a world where there is so much free content, those that fail to provide valuable content are seen as unhelpful, out-dated and mean-spirited.

Nonprofits and community groups are often generous with their content but they fail to be true content marketers and reap the rewards. Too few NFPs blog engagingly with conviction on current news, too few peaks provide comprehensive listings of  jobs, events or resources. Too few stocktake their content and repackage or update it to make it more alluring. Few really push their content to readers and far too many simply give away their content without gaining even a humble email address. This is a fail for both marketers and those they target.

Why does content marketing work for both them and you:

  • it immediately provides value to the reader;
  • it creates an opportunity to exchange your content for an email address;
  • it asserts – and demonstrates – authority and expertise;
  • it quickly sets you apart from those that do not provide such value;
  • it increases appreciation in the reader – thus there’s more chance they will use / support you;
  • you can stay in touch longer;
  • it keeps people on your site / in your world longer;
  • creating content is usually cheaper than marketing alternatives such as direct mail or advertising;
  • it’s a positive cycle – the more people download your content, the more emails you have to promote the next piece of content and so on;
  • good content will keep luring readers years after it is created.

So what do we mean by “content”?

Content goes beyond words on paper: sure a short email is content. How about a series of automated short emails a month apart? How about an eBook? A factsheet? A series of videos? A slideshow? Infographics? Podcasts? Blog posts? Q&As? All of this is content. Use whatever works for you and your audience.

So where do I find all this content of which you speak?

Mine your current content – fact sheets, videos, Q&As, transcripts, blog posts, brochures and see what you already have that can be relaunched or refashioned. Eg: can you combine six blog posts about what to expect after diagnosis into one eBook? Create something useful than can be easily understood and consumed.

Beyond your existing content, draw up a list of content to create. This is more labour-intensive but allows you to start from scratch and create series of content that can be sent over an extended period. What are your FAQs, big issues, myths in need of busting? Create content around these.

The value proposition: a carbohydrate-based example

content marketing advice

You were powerless to resist their doughy charms.

Have you ever bought six bread rolls that were bagged together when you really only needed four? Why?

  • Well you were already there for bread anyway so why not buy a little more than planned?
  • They looked fresh and good.
  • They were keenly priced.
  • They were prominently displayed on a table in front of the counter.
  • The process was quick – no waiting in a 10-minute queue.
  • The bread was available for you to take home and consume immediately.

Do you see what we’re saying?

You have to package, promote and facilitate the exchange for it to work well.

Example: take six blog posts about one topic, bundle then into the form of an attractive eBook, prominently display it on your homepage and make the process frictionless and you’ll have success. Or you could wait for the reader to find and read those six blog posts themselves. Good luck with that.

Rules for content providers:

The attitude: growing databases of email addresses are a hugely valuable asset – content marketing helps grow your database in a way that makes everyone feel good. Reader receives valuable content, we receive an email address. From there we build a relationship to whatever end suits us. This is how we do business.

No more giving it all away for nothing. Your readers happily give over their email address to all sorts of organisations for far more mundane purposes. Your content is valuable. Lock under the nearest stairs anyone who says: “we can’t expect people to give us an email address for our free information.”

Content must be valuable. Not just informative – be helpful, practical, urgent, specific.

You have to give until it hurts. Only then can you ask for support or a purchase.

podcasting as content marketing

Consider creating a podcast. They are back in vogue.

Experiment with different formats – from eBooks, to single page factsheets, to video or podcasts. Venture beyond written words.

Recognise that content is only part of your challenge. Content must be presented well, marketed aggressively and be accessed in a seamless, elegant way.

Page design of the page on which people provide their details (AKA the “squeeze page”) is hugely influential. This is the squeeze page for our free PDF eBook Event Savvy. We’ve kept it short and simple. We’ll explain more about this soon.

More appealing content gets more readers: there was a time when newspapers were black and white, image-free, densely filled with words and yet people read them. Today that would not work.  Today, a newspaper website will have a mix of full colour articles, slideshows, video, Q&As, infographics, listings, clearly demarcated sections and cartoons. All of this makes their content more appealing. Do likewise.

Monitor your results. And boast about them to superiors. What is the metric by which you will judge success? Total the costs involved and divide by the amount your content has been downloaded / subscribed to. For our Event Savvy eBook we want to build our brand, gain new email addresses and secure speaking or emcee gigs for Brett.  On day one our eBook Event Savvy was downloaded 89 times at a cost of $3.14 per download including design costs and some Facebook promotion. With no ongoing design costs that cost per download goes down with every single download. How low will it go? We’ll keep you updated. Suffice to say the economics will work out a treat.

Serious fundraisers know how much they are willing to pay to acquire a donor based the average lifetime return per donor. Have you got something similar for an email acqusition?

Series of content are better than one-offs because they keep you in front of readers over a longer period of time. Don’t write one massive eBook. Consider a series of six documents each one or two pages in length. This may be more enticing to the reader. Don’t do one video – do a series.

So if content marketing is so smart, why do so few do it ?

  1. Content marketing is hard. It’s hard to conceive and create content.
  2. Quality writers with genuine news sense are rare. Writers are being kept busy on the obligatory stuff – newsletters, annual reports and the like. We guarantee that creating a series of suitable content will yield better results than your next annual report.
  3. Writers are yet to see themselves or be seen as content creators. They are still stuck in the idea that words on paper are king. Contemporary writers need to transcend this which is why we tackle content creation in our writing workshop Copy Savvy 101.
  4. Skills. If it’s easy it gets done; if not… How easily, quickly and affordably can you conceive, write, design a document, infographic or podcast? Can you shoot and edit simple videos in the office? Learn the skills and outsource the rest.
  5. Too few marketing departments really take pride in building email addresses. Too few really analyse what options deliver the best ROI. Printing and mailing costs will usually cost more than online content marketing.
  6. Coming up with content – especially on an ongoing basis – is intimidating.
  7. Very few marketers are rewarded for coming up with a fresh idea – such as content marketing – and pursuing it
  8. Creators are too busy with their next post or Tweet.
  9. The technology required is baffling. Just how do you automatically send a document in exchange for an email address? More on this soon.

 Help I’m stuck for ideas:

content marketing training

Ideas most often occur in the brain region.

Consider simple, short, list-based documents which we’ve listed before such as:

12 ways to…
7 mistakes to avoid when…
How to…
So you’ve just been diagnosed with…
Subject X – the facts.
An introduction to…
Meet 9 people just like you.
The combined wisdom of last year’s class.

We’ll be adding to this in coming weeks. Meanwhile – please share it.

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Stay in touch. We mean it.

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Advice on staying in touch, growing email databases and content marketing.

A recent trip to the Hootville post office box uncovered a quarterly alumni magazine from a secondary school attended for eight months several decades ago. The next day a quarterly appeal letter from a hospital appeared. Brett had spent three hours at the hospital six years ago, two of those hours unconscious. Despite the historic and transactional basis of the ‘relationships’ the school and the hospital act like it has a bestie in Brett. They do not but they are staying in touch anyway. That’s good marketing.

email for marketers

Once you come into contact, never let them go. Even if they have the United States of America to run.

The erstwhile marketers at these institutions (both private, elite operations in search of money) know that it’s easier to keep a relationship alive (no matter how weak) than start a new one with a stranger. Once a well-marketed organisation comes into contact with someone, they never let them go. At least not until the recipient severs the relationship.

An important question – think of all the people who came into contact with your organisation over the last three years. We’re talking about clients, ex-staff, students, those who attended events, called the helpline, volunteered, inquired about employment or made a donation. We’re talking about reasonably significant contact. Add all the fellow professionals met along the way at conferences or during joint projects. Now add politicians, bureaucrats and journalists you’ve dealt with.  

What percentage of these people do you regularly contact? 

If your answer is less than 75% you need to read this. Hell, read it no matter what your answer but if your answer was below 40% we really need to talk but don’t feel bad – we recently trained a VET education provider and a secondary school each of which kept in contact with 0%.

It’s easy to presume that once met, you’ll never be forgotten. That ain’t so. Even donors who specifically choose to support you can forget about you. Former casual staff can forget to recommend you to the right people at the right time. For event attendees, clients, journalists and fellow professionals the truth is that you will quickly be forgotten if you don’t make the effort – and have the confidence – to stay in touch.

Some rules about staying in touch:

You needn’t stalk people but less than four contacts a year is probably too few. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder.

You needn’t overwhelm people when you make contact – a quick light touch is enough.

Do not worry about annoying people – people who deliberately cut off contact with you for ‘over-communicating’ were unlikely to be true supporters anyway. Organisations with something to say, pride and a desire to gain influence communicate.

More on over-communicating:

Content marketing

The NAB know you want to hear from them.

Does anyone here think that the marketing team at NAB worry that they will be over-exposed? People HATE banks, are FORCED to use them, are LOCKED in to banks due to mortgages and direct debits yet NAB will STILL find new and expensive ways to stay in touch. You will never hear its marketing czar say: “Well we’re a household name, we have 4200 branches, TV, print and radio advertising, an online team, sponsorships of sporting teams and entire competitions and we mail out 1.2 million pieces of direct mail a week. Maybe we’ll ease off a bit.”

Nor should you.

What’s the best way to stay in touch on a light but regular basis? You want an option that is cheap, quick to execute, effective, measurable and effective. Social media? Good luck with that – are you really going to get everyone to follow you on Facebook? Anyway you know from previous posts that Facebook HATES spreading your content to the people who like you. Twitter? Puh-lease – most people aren’t on it anyway. Direct mail is an option but it is costly and doesn’t allow you to see who reads your content. And putting together a print publication is usually a saga akin to childbirth. Maybe you could telephone them but that can seem intrusive and is labour-intensive.

Nope – this is a job for email – affordable, simple, measurable and commonly-used email which brings us to our next question:

For what percentage of people do you have email addresses? If it’s less than 80% you need to look at how you gather email addresses. 

how to build email list

There are many ways to grow the base.

The graph on the left is compiled by Marketing Sherpa and shows how your fellow marketers gain and grow their email database.

Far and away the winner is “registration during purchase” which means that as part of the process of buying / registering / booking an email was provided. (Airlines are great at this.) Do you ‘encourage’ this during your transactions? And does the marketing team get access to the emails?

You can have a artfully designed template, attention-grabbing copy and offers a-plenty but your eMarketing efforts will never live up to their potential unless you actively seek to grow your database. Databases need a champion. Growth should be publicly measured. Marketers are excited to see growing Facebook likes and Twitter followings but email databases can stagnate with little loss of face.

Content marketing

One strange omission from table is “content marketing” by which we mean that an email is gained as part of the process of a website visitor downloading a resource – often a free eBook or whitepaper. This form of content marketing represents a HUGE opportunity for organisations such as yours which has expertise, credibility and a mission to help. And as we said – people are only  too willing to give an email address as part of an exchange in which they see value. Why give away your fact sheets without an email in return?

content marketing advice

You have knowledge. Offer something of value. Watch the emails stack up.

You can’t depend on people registering themselves on your website. At best this will be a slow trickle. You need to lure people into adding themselves and free, helpful, practical, quick-to-read content is a great way to do it. Content creation is hard but can be outsourced. And remember that the right content can be luring new subscribers to your databases for years.

Consider list-based documents such as:

  • 12 ways to…
  • 7 mistakes to avoid when…
  • How to…
  • So you’ve just been diagnosed with…
  • Subject X – the facts.
  • An introduction to…
  • Meet 9 people just like you.
  • The combined wisdom of last year’s class.

Be helpful, not boastful. Be visually appealing, with images, graphs and captions. Make content easy to read with less text and simple summaries. 12 pages is plenty. An alternative to a publication is a on-demand webinar or slideshow.


Stay in touch.

Use mass email to stay in touch.

You should get the email addresses for 90% of the people you contact over a given year. Find ways to achieve this – send people pre- and post- surveys or questionaires. Send receipts and notes via email. Take bookings and payments online. Just ASK.

Send short, sharp, useful email contacts.

Accelerate database growth by offering content in exchange for an email address.

Finally: the Hootville Lowdown is an example a short, useful email that keeps an organisation in touch. Trust us – it works. Now for goodness sake – if this story was any use to you, please share it.

Need content? Think lists.

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Your website’s visitors and Google both want content – probably much more content than you are providing right now. Some organisations labour under the misapprehension that they don’t have content worth publishing. That’s wrong, unless you have no expertise, no opinions and no advice in which case you have bigger problems than finding web content.

One trick of copywriters that started with lifestyle sections of newspapers and magazine that has spread like syphilis to the online world is the list story.

list based stories for copywriters

List stories offer quick bitey, news nugetts.

The list story is just that – a list devoted to a topic. Brett used to churn some of these out when writing for The Melbourne and Sydney Weeklies. You know the sort of thing: 7 ways to beat the heat this Summer, The four hottest acts of the comedy festival, Three ways to land that big promotion, Six ways to add thousands to the value of your home. And on and on…

The TMW / TSW editorial team would devise a list story when deadlines were tight. It got the job done and no one got hurt.

List stories are everywhere, nowhere more so than online.

Free yourself by using the list format on a regular basis. Sit down, preferably with some smart colleagues and tally up a collection of possible list stories – that’s right a list of lists.

Five ways to reduce your chance of an asthma attack today.

Four ways to talk to your kids about your illness.

Six places you can contact for help if you lose your job this year.

You have the knowledge in your organisation; so use it.

Now in a post-modern twist we have a list-based story from BlogSpot that gives advice on – you guessed it – list-based stories. And no, we won’t now list three reasons to read it. Just read it and if you oike it, share it with the buttons below.

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