Humpty was pushed

Content marketing is definitely the latest buzz word — but the truth is, it’s just a new label for an old idea.

Here’s the story: back in 1998 Seth Godin pioneered the idea that our advertising should do more than just capture a consumer’s attention—it should seek their permission.

That’s because there’s simply too much going on in our lives for us to enjoy being interrupted.

But by seeking to turn attention into permission, permission into learning and learning into trust, companies can convince shoppers to become fans.

And that’s where content marketing comes in.

How Content Marketing Can Win You Friends

Traditional advertising is invasive—it is designed to go to where consumers are and interrupt whatever  they are doing and say, “look at me instead.”

Content marketing is an alternative way of doing things. Rather than interrupting consumers, it seeks to provide helpful information where they want it. That may mean in articles on the company website or in a newsletter delivered right to a customer’s inbox for them to digest whenever they choose.

Traditional advertising is the guy at the party bragging about how great he is—content marketing is a friend who always knows what to say. (Click here to tweet this)

Yet good relationships take work—and content marketing isn’t any different.

If you want your customers to love you you’re going to have to create a content marketing strategy.

How Love = Money

Right now you may be thinking, “Why does it matter if my customers love me?”

Well research shows 63% of consumers need to hear company claims 3-5 times before they’ll believe it. And if they don’t believe you, they aren’t likely to buy from you.

This is so extreme that people in Boston actually turned down free money just because the person handing it out was holding a clip board.

(Don’t believe me? Watch the video below.)

Someone giving out free money was just too good to be true; it made people suspicious. And since the guy handing it out was carrying a clipboard, most people likely assumed he was collecting information or that he needed something from them — they didn’t trust his claims.

For comparison, think about a brand you trust—I’d bet it’s a company you shop with often or whose services you’ve returned to again and again.

When a company or brand earns its customers’ trust it also earns their loyalty; this, in turn, translates to better profits.

That’s because it’s customers that generate sales. A company will sink regardless of how many products or services it makes available if it has no customers; yet if a company has many customers it may succeed, even with only a few products or services.

This is so powerful, in fact, that Coca-Cola has publicly shared via YouTube that it’s content marketing campaigns will be a key component of the company’s efforts to double sales by 2020. Amex operates an online community called OpenForum. And Mint used digital marketing to gain a massive online following before selling to Intuit for $170 million.

Want to see some other companies doing a great job of using content marketing? Check out 10 Companies Doing Online Marketing Right.

So, How Can Companies Establish Trust?

Research from inContact, conducted in May 2011, shows that there are two aspects of earning a customer’s trust: the intent to act in her best interest and the competency to do so (click to tweet this).

Proving Intent

One of the reasons content marketing is so powerful is its ability to establish a company’s intent to act in customers’ best interest.

When a company shares helpful information that solves problems for its customers, even if that information won’t actually help make sales, it demonstrates it has their best interest at heart. That builds it a following—a loyal fan base.

Fans don’t even necessarily have to be customers—instead, fans often serve to help expose new potential customers to the company, even if they don’t need the products that company sells for themselves. That’s actually why social media is so valuable; it can help a company get more eyeballs than it might have been able to capture on its own.

Proving Competency

Of course,  intent isn’t enough—content created with the intent to be helpful, but that isn’t actually helpful isn’t likely to be shared or even read/viewed/paid attention to.

In today’s increasingly crowded online world content is a dime a dozen, after all.

Creating content that’s actually valuable is what establishes competency—and therefore establishes trust. A great example of this is Lowe’s Fix In Six campaign using Vine, which allows you to create and share 6-second videos. They put out content that’s useful for homeowners whether they’re currently working on a DIY project or not.

According to advertising agency BBDO, which created the campaign, within a week the campaign had generated 28,000 mentions across social media.

Warning: Trust Enables Sales, It Doesn’t Ensure Them

But a content strategy doesn’t stop at creating content; it’s called a strategy for a reason. That means you need an end goal for all that content and a plan for converting those fans and followers into customers.

That is, you still need to sell. Content marketing will win you friends and help you influence people—but you still need to know what it is you’re influencing them to do. And you still need to know the path they’ll travel to get there.

It gains you trust that can enables sales; but it doesn’t ensure them.  

What kind of helpful content have you created lately? I’d love to see what you’ve been up to. Share a link to something you’ve created in the comments along with a short description.