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Content Marketing Strategy: What Does Relevance Really Mean?

By: dev | June 26, 2013 | 
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Content consumer relevancyI’m going to walk you through a little exercise.

Fire up Google and search for content marketing strategy. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Scanning the first few results, I’d wager two words popped up again and again: Valuable and relevant.

In fact, both of those words are baked into the definition of content marketing presented by the Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

The driving principle behind content marketing isn’t really about marketing at all.

It’s about producing and distributing information-rich content to your intended buyer to make them better informed about the stuff you sell.

The logic goes something like this: If an organization/brand/company delivers valuable information — consistently — to their current and prospective buyer, those buyers will reward said knowledge share with their hard-earned dollars and, perhaps more importantly, their loyalty.

There have been scads of case studies written about the major successes brands of all sizes are seeing through content creation. It’s driving sales, generating leads, and teaching brands some interesting things about what makes their target audience tick — in short, how they behave.

But What About Those Words?

If we take another look at the definition of content marketing above and remove “relevant” and “valuable,” what you’re left with doesn’t look all that different from traditional marketing. Copy that looks like sell sheets, feature lists, capabilities, services — you get the idea. It might be information-rich, but it’s not prompting me to think or behave differently.

That’s the real litmus test for what makes “good” content: If it activates a change in thought or behavior, it is both relevant and valuable.

The Buyer Persona

There are two fatal flaws to any well-intentioned marketing strategy: Mislabeling the target audience and mistakenly thinking “everyone” is your market.

Whenever I sit down with a new client, the very first piece of business (after inking the contract, of course) is fleshing out discrete buying personas/audience archetypes.

An archetype is “a universally understood symbol, term, statement, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.”

Clear as mud, right?

When we’re building audience archetypes or buying personas, what we’re really doing is trying to get into the heads of our prospective buyers, and figure out how they think, feel, and experience the world. We focus on the world they live in, their problems and desires, the things that stop them from getting what they want and — maybe — the things that keep them up at night.

It’s always an eye-opening experience. It surfaces all our preconceptions about how we think our customers behave and what we think is valuable and relevant to them.

The Psychology of Consumer Behaviour

As an illustration, I often tell this story to clients about the unexpected insights that emerge when you really start digging into the psychology of consumer behavior, along with your web analytics: A few months ago, I sat in a board meeting for our local community health center, and a new board member walked up, introduced himself and said, “I heard your podcast last week and love what you’re doing!”

After a brief exchange, I asked him how he’d discovered the show, half-thinking he must read the blog or follow my updates on Twitter. “No,” he shook his head, “I don’t read your blog. It’s not my thing — but your podcast? Man, it’s awesome.”

Turns out he was browsing Stitcher Radio for writing podcasts and listened to my show. A political activist and community organizer, this gentleman wasn’t interested in marketing discussions, Poetry Fridays or any of the topics that I hang my hat upon. None of those things are relevant or valuable — to him.

The lesson: Relevance and value aren’t about you. It’s always about them.

16 comments
lizreusswig
lizreusswig

So in other words...don't ASSUME - because we all know what happens when we do that! ;)

Great post, @jasonkonopinski  I do have one question though - Does "good" content HAVE to create a change in thought or behavior?  To me it seems there are times when it should create a connection, an affirmation or an acknowledgement of like thinking leading to a desire to do "X"...or maybe I just need more coffee?

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

I really like this Jason. 

And I swear I'm not just sucking up. Anytime someone starts talking about the psychology of their audience, I just get all geeked out.

Two adds that I think are crucial: once you've had a deep dig, revisit in short, actionable amounts. In other words, your audiences are continually changing (just like you, personally and business-wide) and you have to stay realistic. 

The other is that people just plain forget to ask their audiences what they want. It's a lot easier than guessing. This doesn't mean you have to bother them, but engage them and find out what matters, both in plain questions and also by setting up structure in your marketing strategy that is flexible and prompts them to tell you what they want and what's intriguing to them. 

I swear the best biz dev or marketing question to ever ask is: what's intriguing to you? Lot of good material comes out of that. 

Marketing Gal
Marketing Gal

I think most companies have a target audience they are looking to "shake their feathers" at and get noticed. However, you should always be reevaluating who may and may not need, used or love what you have to offer. If you dont take the time to reach out to others, you may be shooting yourself in the foot.

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

Pretty sure you said it all in your closing sentence.

belllindsay
belllindsay

I must say, I cringe whenever I hear people talk about "customer archetypes" and the like. It speaks to me of, I don't know, a grade 9 sociology project or something. I know the *whys* around why so many marketers do them, but they really turn me off. I agree, however, that without some focus, how does one market effectively...? I must explore this instant distaste I have for the whole exercise. 

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

So does this story then bring us back to that misconception that "everyone" is the customer? Or are you saying that even after going through defining your customer archetypes and personas there are still customers you don't know about seeking information/answers in ways and places you may not have guessed? Sorry if I'm being obtuse -- just trying to understand the connection.

giesencreative
giesencreative

@belllindsayLindsay, are you using a different way to clarify who your audience is? I think that sometimes the language and context of a specific technique can give you the willies, but the ideas behind the technique can work for you in a different form. 

My tone might be light and conversational on one Twitter account that I run, and more businesslike on another. One way to get around the sociology experiment would be to say: "Account A: fun, Account B: business." 

(Then we get into whether that means focusing too much on what I sound like and not enough on what the customer wants to hear.)

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

@belllindsay Pfft. They shouldn't scare you or give a bad taste in your mouth. 

It's a really valuable branding exercise. Who are we trying to reach? How are we trying to reach them? Is it working? 

Latest blog post: Poetry Friday: Ezra Pound

susancellura
susancellura

@RobBiesenbach My impression was that there are still customers you don't know about in ways and places one may not have guessed. If everyone is the customer, we'll all collapse from trying to please everyone, which we know cannot be done!  :) 

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