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.