In the past few years, there’s been a real transformation in the way people consume information and communicate. Fueled by the mass adoption of social platforms, this transformation in consumer behavior demands that the ways we market also evolve. This is especially true in business-to-business where brands compete in a content-flooded environment with countless information sources to capture buyers' attention.
We’ve gone from a world where a handful of publishers control the flow of most information, to one where anyone with an Internet connection can have a voice. While this has created new opportunities, it also makes it more difficult to hear and be heard. With consumers more sophisticated and the landscape more crowded, connecting with your audience is more complex than ever before. Buyers are not persuaded by advertising alone. They’re using the web, search, social networks, and more to educate themselves on potential purchases. Research shows consumers are 60% through the buyer’s journey before reaching out to brands for help on available options.
This is where content marketing comes into play.
While a clear brand strategy is vital in any content marketing effort, it takes a great deal of momentum to drive discovery and engagement. Relying on the old model of periodic campaigns is no longer enough. Today the brand “voice” takes a front seat, while the hard sell takes a step back, and artfully communicating to your audience is critical in a feed-based advertising landscape that is here to stay.
In 2012, content marketing was the leading tactic for 18.9% of marketers worldwide. In 2013, that percentage has grown to 34.8%. I’m seeing this trend in action with more and more of my clients balancing out their traditional marketing efforts with content marketing campaigns.
They do this by building custom communities on the LinkedIn platform like Citi’s Connect: Professional Women’s Network, or through targeted sponsored updates currently being tested by GE and Xerox. They spend their time on our platform creating and feeding content which will resonate with their base, and in turn, build committed followers from which they can glean insight.
Methods for achieving success through a content marketing effort can vary, but here are a few suggestions for best practices to help advertisers kick-start their programs:
Don’t Just Sell, Add Value
Offer useful content that will earn you credibility with your desired audience. Give them information that will make them smarter, more productive, more successful or the first in the know. Helping them shine will work in your favor in the long run.
Ask Them What They Want to Hear
There are a myriad of ways to gain greater understanding of your audience, but there’s no better barometer than the conversations you hear on the platforms where you have a constant stream of information. This isn’t to say you should put all your eggs in the content marketing basket, but it’s not something you can afford to ignore.
If done right, a winning content marketing strategy will enhance consideration of your brand and generate leads. It’s an opportunity to engage through authentic conversations at scale, and capture metrics that can be used to develop content that will work. Having clear targeted messaging will foster invaluable relationships, leaving a lasting impression and goodwill.
Experiment and learn from your hand-raisers and fine-tune your campaigns as you go along. Keep track of the metrics that really encourage your audience to engage or inspires them to share. These will be important so you can quickly adjust your plans without losing sight of your goals.
Find ways to incentivize without blatant self-promotion and don’t shy away from humor. Its appeal is universal and a bit of lighthearted banter can go a long way. Doing so shows that your brand is invested in more than the sale, making you a trusted source when purchase decisions are made.
In time you’ll find real value in your investment through the engagement you see, the relationships you built, the amplification of your messages and ultimately, the impact on your revenue.
--Jonathan Lister oversees the North America advertising sales and operations organization for LinkedIn, working with brands and advertising agencies to help them connect with LinkedIn’s audience.
[Image: Flickr user Ryan Berry]