Never before has such a self-explanatory term been so misunderstood by those who need and rely on it, and poorly explained by those who do it.
When it comes to small businesses who do their own marketing (or want to understand what their marketing consultant is doing), it’s important to understand the content marketing concept, so I’m throwing my hat in the ring with my very own explanation.
An upfront apology: I get it – garden analogies are trite and cliche. But for anyone wanting to get a better understanding of content marketing, it really does help comparing it with the weekly Sunday morning pottering session.
Content vs. plants
Plants are the things you shove into the ground to make your garden look pretty.
Gardening is a time consuming and often thankless job with no promise of success or guaranteed outcome, but done correctly and consistently it can be exceptionally rewarding.
Content refers to anything from blog articles and social media posts to podcasts, videos, and white papers that are generated and distributed (usually for free) to make you and your business look awesome, clever, and like someone people want to deal with or buy from.
Content creation is a time consuming and often thankless job with no promise of success or guaranteed outcome, but done correctly and consistently it can be exceptionally rewarding.
Prepare your soil
When it comes to gardening, you don’t just stick a plant into the ground. Some sort of prep is usually required, whether it’s clearing weeds, loosening the soil, or digging in a bit of compost.
Likewise, before you even start creating any content, you need to check your various channels to make sure they are optimised for what you’re going to be posting.
Are your various platforms representative of your brand? Is your website geared for SEO? Has your current blog got a bunch of random, outdated posts loaded? You certainly don’t have to start from a clean slate, but you do need to make sure your platforms are properly aligned to your brand and the content you’re going to start posting.
What goes where?
Just as you wouldn’t plant succulents in your fish pond, or sunflowers in the shade of a tree, you’re not going to be posting your newest booty-shakin’ video clip on LinkedIn, or your latest statistical analysis on TikTok.
Not only does your service or product dictate what content you create, but where it is going to get published. If you’re using the 90’s style “spray and pray” approach, you’re wasting time, money, and effort, and quite frankly you shouldn’t bother. The what, where, why, when and how of your content boils down to knowing your brand and your audience.
You can’t just plant a seed and expect to see a flowering plant the next day. You need to constantly feed and water it to make it grow – a process that can be slow and frustrating.
A plant needs to grow roots before it can develop flowers, but the lack of immediate return on investment has resulted in the untimely death of many a germinating seed, as the grower loses interest and stops providing the necessary consistent care.
Don’t be discouraged if your podcast doesn’t grow by thousands of listeners overnight, or your social media campaign doesn’t go viral. You’re aiming for sustained growth and this tends to happen at a slower pace than a “flash in the pan”. If you are creating good, relevant content and posting it in the right place to target the right market, you’re on the right track.
Once your plant has started growing, you need to continually douse it with water and compost to keep it going.
The same goes for everything you do online. Posting the odd blog, or throwing something onto social media every once in a while isn’t going to build legions of fans. Whatever form(s) of content you are using, it needs to be done regularly and consistently.
Much of the digital world thrives on reciprocity and an often overlooked activity is interacting with your audience. Speak with those consuming your content by acknowledging or replying to comments they make, because no one loses interest in you faster than the person who feels like they’re being ignored.
I’ve never understood why weeds are not simply adopted as part of the preferred garden look and layout, as they’re sometimes the only thing that survives. But, they’re not and as such need to be constantly removed so that they don’t detract from the stuff that is actually taking effort to grow.
It’s imperative to regularly review all the content you’ve produced to make sure it’s hitting the mark with your audience. Don’t let a crappy piece of content detract from the amazing stuff you’ve created. If you can’t re-purpose an outdated piece or post, or if something is no longer relevant, get rid of it.
Sometimes plants just die (for no apparent reason)
Judging by your farmer’s tan and the fact you now have chronic sciatica, you’ve really gone all out in your garden. But nature can be a bitch and a simple change in conditions, like a hail storm or drought, can derail all your backbreaking effort.
Sometimes, even despite a near-perfect environment, it seems as though all your plants have signed a collective suicide pact.
Unfortunately, regardless of tireless hours of analytics, research, and preparation, the market appears apathetic towards what you’ve created. Do regular audits of your content by running through your checklist:
- do you have the right stuff in the right place?
- are you creating regularly and consistently enough?
- is your content relevant, informative and/or entertaining?
- are you taking enough care of your audience?
- what has worked? Do more of that!
According to Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Reworking that to fit our garden analogy, “Content marketing is selecting the correct plants for the different areas in your garden, clearing the space of unsightly weeds, constantly feeding, watering and speaking to them so that they establish themselves and ultimately grow into a show so spectacular your neighbour gets jealous.”