Content marketing is not really a special thing. It is common sense for any enterprise or organization. It is also the thing that will save your business in the coming years.
Ads are less and less effective
Ads are problematic. They always show up in the wrong place, bots click on them, and retargeted they follow you around long after you made the purchase. Ad blockers are getting more popular every day. Most of your potential customers never see your ad. And too many ads are shown where no one pays any attention to them, e.g. when you log onto a free WiFi service, or pop up on media websites where they are quickly clicked away. Programmatic advertisement works -- if you are a spammy B2C brand.
Digital ad agencies, as well as digital media companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn are trying to convince you that ads work, because they want your money. They rarely do. But targeting of ads simply does not work well enough to ensure a reasonable ROI. They are one part of the marketing mix, but ads should never be your only strategy. Think about it, how often do you really see an advertisement that interests you in any way?
With ads being less and less effective, you will have to embrace content marketing sooner or later.
So then, what is content marketing?
Content marketing is about showing your brand, your products, your solutions, in an interesting and engaging way. It is creating interesting articles, images, videos etc. about the utility of your business. What are you doing to add value to your customers' life? How are you using your products to improve other companies' bottom line. Simply said, content marketing is the answer to the question, why should people care?
Let's say you are an engineering company. There are plenty of cases where your services have solved tangible problems. Write about them, show images, create videos explaining what and how you did for your customer. Document your efforts and celebrate your success.
If you are the world's largest maker of garden furniture, don't push ads for wicker chairs to people who don't have a yard, but create an Instagram account with awesome images instead. If you are making cycling equipment, start a cycling club in your target market and show stories of individual success in the sport. If you are in factory automation, write a blog about future trends, implementation of new technology, and solutions to problems manufacturers face. If you are a school, show how your latest teaching efforts improved the lives of individual students. Do it on Facebook, LinkedIn, on your own website or blog, or do it in print magazines. But definitely do it.
I am interested in machinery. Facebook and Google know that. So I keep getting shown ads by CNC manufacturers all the time, even though I will never buy a CNC machine. I would much rather read an informative article about the latest trends in manufacturing technology. If you can't showcase your products in that manner, you are not doing a good job at marketing, while wasting massive amounts of money on unappealing ads.
Doing content marketing right
Content marketing is probably the most misunderstood concept in all of marketing. It goes against the grain of every traditional marketer, especially in B2B where companies still confuse "content" with "product spec sheet." Content marketing, as fancy as the name sounds, is essential branded journalism. That's why marketers use the term "story telling".
Content marketing is necessary, because people are spending more on more time on digital platforms. They don't see your bus ad anymore, and they never paid much attention to your television commercial anyway. As we move towards the adoption of AR and VR technologies, the ad industry will lose even more eyeballs. In other words, you cannot afford not to produce engaging content.
If you don't start doing content marketing now, you will become invisible.
Content marketing is the backbone of funnel creation. Interested consumers will read or watch your content and start paying attention to you. They may sign up for a newsletter or follow your corporate page. At one point, they may become customers.
In the B2B space, companies like GE and Siemens are very good at showcasing the results of their efforts in the real world, with engaging stories and sometimes fantastic photography.
Yes it is hard to measure exactly what your ROI on content marketing is. But think of it that way: you are saving tons of money buy not wasting money on ads, while at the same time improving the overall image of your enterprise (if your content is good). Content marketing is usually cheaper than advertising, but can be more expensive. It all depends on how hard you want to work on improving your brand image.
Content marketing and digital assets
Content marketing is also about ownership of digital assets. In the coming years you will see a lot of big brands acquiring digital media companies. Electronics companies buying magazines and Facebook pages for example, or sports brand snapping up Instagram accounts. That means that apart from investing in content creation, you must also consider buying or creating digital assets where potential customers can find you. That's because you can't build a house on rented property. Just think about it that way: it is entirely possible that a global food brand like Nestle would acquire a major Facebook channel like Tasty. Do you think a competitor would then be able to showcase products on that channel?
Companies constantly need to rethink their marketing strategy. But the most important step is to understand that traditional business development and advertising must move aside for their new cousin.
So my suggestion for the future: cut your ad budget in half and hire a journalist instead. Or a good marketing agency. It will pay off.