Chapter 1: Content Marketing: It’s Legit

Content marketing is legit--it's arguably driving more leads at less cost than any other channel. Here's how it evolved and where it's going. Plus, you're gonna love the Content Marketing Timeline.

Jill sat in her office early last year, absentmindedly fiddling with her iPhone while staring at the nearly bare walls of her cube. Only on the job as a marketing manager at Mergere for a couple of months, Jill mulled over the simple mandate for which she was hired: help Mergere grow. Mergere is a global manufacturing consulting, analytics, and market intelligence firm with a history of excellence. Named one of the “100 Great Manufacturing Partners” by American Manufacturing Association for ten consecutive years, Mergere has offices in North America, Asia, Europe, and Australia and has a history of working with Fortune 100 firms. By almost any measure, Mergere was a bona fide success. But Jill knew that to generate more sales leads, Mergere needed to expand its reach. To Jill, this meant embracing the digital world through content marketing.

It was a tough sell. Prior to Jill’s arrival at Mergere, the executives had never used Twitter, LinkedIn, or had ever written blogs. Mergere typically engaged in relationship selling — one-on-on, executive-to-executive. When Jill first approached the executive team about her proposed approach, it was understandable that they would be a bit hesitant and skeptical that content marketing could actually work. And the results Mergere first got mirrored their hesitancy. That year, the team got a paltry three blog posts published, and the executives lost faith in the initiative. Jill was worried.

But, she didn’t give up. Instead, Jill again went to bat with the executives, asking them for six months to do one blog post a week. She also asked the leadership team to repost the blogs to spread the word. It worked. The net result was a 65% increase in leads. A big win for Jill. An even bigger win for Mergere.

More importantly, the process of engaging in content marketing changed the culture at the company. Content marketing allowed Jill and the Mergere team to own the conversation about the firm a bit more, and they had control about who was in the conversation. Through content marketing, Jill was able to achieve a new level of collaboration among various team members, which helped communicate the culture at Mergere. Content marketing put Mergere’ culture on a stage. No matter how the sales leads came in, Jill created a tremendously powerful growth effect through content marketing–and earned herself a promotion to Global Marketing Manager inside of a year.

Most companies are where Mergere used to be: Their websites have anemic-looking blogs that don’t offer anything to the conversation about their brands or communicate anything of importance about their cultures. By inviting more people into the conversation, any company can achieve similar results to those at Mergere. The time to start is now.

Write2Market’s survey on B2B marketing trends indicates that this is a watershed time. Top B2B marketing leaders are going to make bold moves that separate them from the pack of mediocre performers. They may well feel like outsiders among the B2B marketing folks grinding out the same-old, same-old. The survey indicates that content emerges as a proxy and pathway for cultural and social proof with customers. And, thought leadership within industries moves further away from B2B trade associations and toward content-rich B2B companies. Even more incentive to embrace content marketing right now!


If growth is one of a company’s top three business objectives, content marketing must be a priority.

There is no time to wait. In today’s world of hyper-fragmented audiences, content marketing is the only way to create a perception of pervasiveness within an industry. Clearly many companies are already catching on to this fact. According to MarketingProfs, 71% of B2B marketers currently use content marketing to generate sales leads.
Let’s go back for a minute to marketing in the 1950s. It was pretty straightforward, right? There was TV. There was radio. There was print. If customers could see a company’s ad on TV, hear it on the radio, and clip its coupon out of the paper, a company was considered a pretty pervasive brand.

Now, marketing channels are getting deeper and narrower — all due to the fact that consumers can now decide how and when they receive information.

As media has become digital, everything from a marketing standpoint is getting chopped up. For example, who would have envisioned five to ten years ago that Netflix and Amazon would be creating original programming alongside traditional players like NBC and HBO? But, they are. And, their creative efforts have spawned hits like House of Cards and Transparent. The opportunity to surprise a person with a particular corporate message has been slimmed down.

While it’s truly fantastic that people have more control of their lives and can choose among the messages pointed at them, the digital age has changed how successful marketing is executed. In today’s world, the communicator has to add value to people up front to get them to listen.

Consider how Blue Apron provides free coupons to a customer to share with a friend or how Uber gives customers their first ride for free. These are examples of a business adding value in the front of a relationship with a new customer in order to cut through the clutter. Content must carry value either explicitly, through goods and services, or implicitly through valuable information, content, or insights.

So, the question is: How does a company get into the life stream of people who are potential customers?

The answer is very simple. Give them real value. Content marketing is one of the most cost effective, scalable ways to accomplish this and track the results, and the time is now to create a culture of content marketing mastery for B2B businesses.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is an evolving discipline that allows marketers to share valuable information to their industry and customers in real time, where their customers already are. The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “the approach of creating and distributing valuable and consistent content to a targeted audience, with the objective of driving some profitable action.” By offering important information to an audience up front, a company is able to build loyalty and trust over a long period of time. As the Content Marketing Institute points out, this creates opportunities to increase sales, save money, and acquire long-term customers. It also allows companies to measure customers’ responses to their communications and see the results, learn from what just happened, and do it again.

Content marketing did not start with the dawn of the digital age. It’s as old as human culture itself. From primitive drawings by the earliest humans, to the recently deciphered, 1300-year old Egyptian codex, to the famous Michelin Guides first published in 1900, content marketing has been around as long as humans have attempted to communicate. Take the Sears catalog. It quickly became the physical embodiment of the American dream for Americans on the frontier. In the 19th century, if a family worked hard enough, it too could afford that deluxe dining room set or fancy Schwinn bicycle. Fast forward to 2015. Blendtec, which claims to sell the world’s best blenders, distributes an excellent form of content marketing, called “Will it Blend?” The company posts short videos on its website, testing whether all sorts of objects, from the Elsa doll from Disney’s “Frozen” movie to an Apple iPhone, will blend in one of its blenders. The viewer gets entertained up front. But, Blendtec uses the videos to reinforce the notion that its blenders can handle almost anything.

In fact, now might be a great time for you to review where we’ve been, and take a look at the Content Marketing Timeline.

Content marketing is so pervasive; it’s embedded in the collective consciousness of humankind. They are pieces of content to be sure. But, they are also symbols of culture. Content and culture are inextricably linked.

Today, many companies use the shape of content marketing, but they haven’t yet mastered the PURPOSE of content marketing.

And, they end up getting very mediocre results. Let’s use another example from Netflix. In 2011, Netflix decided to enter the digital streaming market with a service called “Qwikster.” In addition to making things confusing for customers by offering both a mail order dvd service and a streaming service, and increasing prices by 60% on consumers who wanted access to both services, Netflix didn’t realize the Qwikster twitter handle was already owned by a pot smoker who discussed boredom, partying, and and smoking. The net result in the introduction of Qwikster was, according to CNET, a loss of 800,000 subscribers and a 77% percent drop in the company’s stock price in four months.

The common mistake most companies make is that they don’t understand content marketing it’s a cultural conversation happening in real time.

It cannot be applied with purely a content lens; it also must be applied with a cultural lens. A straight up example of a marketing offer is a sale, like when a clothing designer offers 20% off a specific dress. But if a company communicates to a customer how to wear the dress and look like a knockout on her next date, that is content marketing. The company is offering value to the customer up front, the offer is embedded deep within the content, and the customer doesn’t feel “sold to.” There is value coming to the customer up front and for free. In a sense, the company is operating within Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs; how much can you show the customer how you can help them by meeting their needs for love, self-esteem, or self-actualization?

Like a river…

The customer in his or her natural state is ever changing. Therefore, a company’s content marketing must be a fluid, dynamic, and adaptive discipline. A company’s content marketing efforts have to mirror the person the company wants to reach and take into account changes within the culture and within customer segments. Good content marketing invites the consumer to participate in something in which they already find value. That is the highest goal for good content marketing – getting people to participate.

Content marketing is personal. It’s dynamic. It’s inviting participation by real people – letting them become engaged with a company and its brand. The most exciting thing about content marketing is the culture it projects on behalf of a brand. The first step in creating a culture of content marketing is figuring out where a business’ current status is with content marketing. Is it dynamic or static? Here is a link to a free questionnaire to help start the process of answering that question.

By projecting a company’s aspirational cultural attributes, a company can attract its tribe.

By knowing whom its target customer is, what attributes he or she has, and what matters to him or her, through content marketing, a company can speak to that customer directly. And in the best-case scenario, a company can convert that customer into an advocate for the brand. The overarching goal of content marketing is to create a pervasive culture, where a company is part of the world of its target audience. Many growth-stage brands are really doing this well persistently–by following a few simple principles you can learn too. When you incorporate dynamic content marketing into your mix, you see leaps in cultural connectivity, inbound leads and opportunities for your company that literally don’t come any other way.

Let’s go ahead and dive in on how to kick up the content marketing opportunities for your company. Check out Chapter 2.

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