The Press, September 2014

Most of us are looking forward to Saturday’s election simply so all the noise can stop.

What has been remarkable about this election is the increased role of the internet and how ‘‘content’’ has driven campaigns as much as traditional party promotion, from the Dirty Politics book and video parodies to the Kim Dotcom announcements yesterday.

There are lessons in this for all marketers.

Not that you should hack people’s emails and put them on your website to drive traffic, but that ‘‘content’’ – information that is interesting or useful to an audience – is becoming a driving force for modern marketing.

This is because people are increasingly resistant to traditional marketing through advertising and other promotions such as email, direct mail or telemarketing. They still want information which helps them understand and evaluate the goods they wish to buy.

What is content? It is any sort of information that helps a customer with the process of meeting a need, from early research through to a detailed evaluation of products.

It could be a book, an instructional video, a graphic, an audio recording, a white paper, a checklist, a smartphone app.

It could even be a simple old information seminar at your local chamber of commerce.

Basically anything that can help a customer inform themselves. This approach is in the grand old tradition of the Edmonds Cookbook, one of New Zealand’s first content marketing plays. First published in 1907, it generated a 30 per cent increase in Edmonds Baking Powder sales.

More than 3 million of the recipe books have been printed since. Thomas Edmonds’ content worked, and continues to work, because it was a genuine attempt to provide something useful to consumers. And it was closely and logically aligned to a product that Edmonds wanted to sell.

According to a study from the Content Marketing Institute this year, more than 90 per cent of the business-to-business marketers in the United States are using content marketing as part of their promotional mix.

And 73 per cent were producing more content than the year before.

New Zealand’s top technology firms are using this as a core way to attract new customers and add to the satisfaction of existing ones. Small business owners can get free advice about hiring people from the website of accounting software provider Xero. Retailers can visit point-ofsale software company Vend’s website to obtain tips about preparing for a holiday season.

Technology buyers from larger public-safety agencies such as police can get the latest insights on digital radio standards from Tait Communications.

The great thing about this approach is that, as a marketer, you can actually feel good about your marketing activity, rather than having that slightly uncomfortable feeling that you are trying to trick people into looking at your product with advertising.

A concern being expressed about the content marketing movement is information overload. So much data is being forced upon hapless customers online that ‘‘content shock’’ is setting in and we will all soon be immune. Information overload is not a new phenomenon.

‘‘Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body,’’ was the biblical complaint in Ecclesiastes 12:12.

A recent academic study from Northwestern University in the US found people actually responded positively to the internet age: ‘‘We found that the high volume of information available these days seems to make most people feel empowered and enthusiastic.’’

How do you start with this content stuff?

The first place as always with marketing is being crystal clear about who your audience is, then understanding what the primary need or problem your product addresses for them.

What are the functional, financial and emotional issues they want to address?

Your content then needs to be aimed at those problems, and giving them tools, ideas and data to help them to find solutions.

If part of that solution is your product, that is perfect; if not, at least you have still provided some help. The test of any good content is that, if you remove your name and logo, and any reference to your product, will it stand alone as a useful piece of data for your target customers?

It does not always have to be produced by you.

Finding industry studies or presentations by industry experts and sharing those can be a valid approach. What is important is not handing your content development completely to the marketing people.

They can help produce it, package it and promote it, but the real ideas must come from the experts in your business. This is particularly important with complex, technical products.

The mistake some companies make with their contentmarketing strategy is treating it as yet another advertising gimmick.

It is seen as a way of shoving their marketing messages down a customer’s throat rather than providing value.

Great content is about real insights and real ideas, not marketing fluff. We will be looking forward to consuming something more illuminating than electioneering nonsense from next week onwards.

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