When talking about the shift that marketing is taking from a short term, campaign-centric approach, to a long-term audience building mindset, it’s helpful to look at it from an historical perspective. For the most part, marketing has been done the same way since its first inception. Up until very recently, marketing has been one-sided with brands and news sources publishing and pushing information out to people.
From Cave Drawings to Content
Because marketing had existed for so long in an immobile state, its practices and methods were not questioned. Only in recent years could people really weigh in at scale and have an impact beyond their town or really small social setting. Now, we’re moving into an era of audience building and creating an atmosphere where we’re having more of a conversation with our audiences. During a recent episode of our FOUND Series, I talked with Joe Pulizzi, Founder Content Marketing Institute, about the current state of content marketing and this idea of building an audience. Here’s what he had to say:
“It takes a long time to build an audience – a real, loyal audience,” stated Joe, “Marketers have a campaign mindset and think, ‘Okay, we have a nine-month campaign around this new product and we’ve got to see results right then.’ We don’t live in that environment anymore. It’s up to the audience. The audience is getting inundated with all this different content and you’ve got to break through that clutter somehow. Sometimes it takes a while and then we’re not consistent about it. Marketers really start to create some interesting content on the blog for six months and then they stop.”
The problem is that the campaign mindset takes over and when one campaign is complete, all the content efforts associated with that campaign stop simply because that’s the way it has always been done. Unless you’ve lived in a cave all this time you know that marketing doesn’t live in that environment anymore. Now, instead of creating materials for specific campaigns in isolation from other campaigns, marketing is moving to creating a relationship with an audience and providing a customer journey. With that mindset in place, marketing is about telling a story and creating experiences for people that may not have anything to do with the actual product. Yes, I’ll say it again, a story that doesn’t have anything to do with the product or service. Get the cavemen off your back and start telling a different story.
Tell a Different Story
Telling a unique story means creating a corporate personality and voice that differentiates your brand from your competitors. Creating a personality and thought leadership persona used to be a big thing with publicity and publicists 15, 20, 30, and even 50 to 100 years ago. Creating a singular corporate personality became difficult as everybody started to know everything about people’s private lives. The idea of a singular persona became fragmented as the company was associated with a variety of personalities. Although your brand may have several faces, there is still room to create a corporate personality with the tone of your content. It’s not just what you’re saying, it’s how you’re saying it, and depending on who’s speaking, that changes people’s receptiveness to the message.
“If you can take your content and change the logo or change the subject line at the top, and you’re not able to tell that it’s your story, you’ve got a problem. You have to create a different story, not just the same story as your competitors, but incrementally better. It will make more impact if you create original material,” recommended Joe.
As marketers move from cave drawings and direct mail, the evolution must be toward creating ongoing customer experiences that have nothing to do with the product or service offered by their brand. Marketers need to start thinking about what kind of story they want to tell and how they’ll tell that story.
“Look at Red Bull. Red Bull is like the poster child for this, remarked Joe, “They create all kinds of content experiences in video, print, digital, and in-person events that have nothing to do with their energy drink. But they’re creating it around a certain type of person that likes risk-taking or whatever. I think that’s the way to look at it. How can we create an experience with our target audience that has nothing to do with what we sell?”
Create a Unique Audience Persona
A lot of B2B companies go wrong when they start out targeting their content to every person on the planet that could ever be remotely interested in their product or the space around their product or service. Starting out with a number of different personas and trying to create content in a variety of channels for a variety of audiences is just setting yourself up for failure.
“Focus on one persona that you can create amazing content to, create subscribers in, and really make a difference in their lives, jobs, or careers, whatever the case is,” advised Joe, “Focus on that one persona and when that’s working and that’s hitting your business goals, then you go to the second persona, and then you look at something else. But don’t do anything until you have successfully reached that one.”
The idea here is find your niche and target that niche with a unique story. Once you’ve established a relationship with one cohort group, then it’s much easier to move your winning strategy over to create content for another group. The truth is, most companies do not have just one marketing strategy. They have one strategy for each of their audiences. While it’s a winning mindset, it’s not easy and possibly part of the reason this journey from one-sided marketing to customer conversations has been such a hard transition for many marketers.
2015 Marketing Trends: Long Form Content
Here’s a revelation: content marketing is about coming up with new things, original thoughts of your own, responses of your own. While this may be super obvious, there is so much content out there that could really belong to anyone and to any brand. Part of that problem may be aggravated by the forced brevity of the snippet we have all come to love and over use. An exciting trend in content marketing is a resurgence of long form publishing.
Long form publishing gives people an opportunity to live outside of the 140 character snippets. You can do some great interactive things in print and magazines with little bits of information, but you can also intersperse some long-form content in there to create thought-provoking, deeper understanding of subject matter. Lately, we’ve gotten into a mindset that our audience doesn’t have the attention span for long form, but it’s not just a matter of attention span. Think of it this way, whenever you get really engrossed in a book, you’re not thinking about having your attention held. You’re wanting to be in that book, you don’t want to put it down, and you’re very excited about that. It’s time that brands, marketers, and publishing to get back to creating content that people can’t put down.
“It comes back to one of the predictions I always talk about,” stated Joe, “This year, print is coming back. It’s so much easier to cut through the clutter on print than it’s ever been in my lifetime. We want to get our audiences when they’re not in their work environment. Let’s get them when they’re in their thinking environment, in their new ideas environment, and help them come up with really good questions. If you need an answer, you go to the web, but where do you go to find all the questions? That’s what print is great for and always has been.”
While the snackable, 140 character content is not likely to go away, it’s not the only way to reach an audience. In fact, there are huge opportunities in long form besides print. One of these is the revolution in podcasting. Just like print, you can cut through the clutter and reach out directly to your audience personas with exactly the content they’re looking for.
“We have all this new opportunity where you’ve got somebody with a smartphone device where they could easily get a podcast now and you’ve got this commute time. Either on the subway, or train, or in their car. They have time to learn, but they’re not going to read. They need to get it in an audio format, and they’re not going to watch a video,” stated Joe.
Podcasting is a great way to reach out to B2B audiences because it fits so well into their day. You have the opportunity to catch them when they have time in their day to engage with your content. The kind of people who would listen to a podcast are probably highly engaged people because downloading and listening to a podcast requires real desire to get the information. In the future, more cars will be set up with the ability to get a podcasts in one click, providing a huge opportunity for the podcast market. B2B marketers, especially, have the opportunity to make a real impact on the target audience from their podcast. The key will be to keep the podcast material targeted. It’s not for everyone. It’s not for all 20 personas in your marketing mix. Know the one persona you’re targeting. This is an opportunity to create those brand evangelists who want everything you have to give them.
Try these mediums for your long form content:
- In-house publications
- External publications focused on long form
Whatever from your content takes, make sure it’s targeted to an audience persona and that it’s part of the story you’re trying to tell. That story should lead your audience on a journey and ultimately create highly engaged evangelists for your brand.