The following is taken directly from my e-book B2B Content Marketing 101: Becoming Your Customer’s Trusted Advisor. To obtain a full copy of the e-book free of charge, click here.
A 2014 study by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) found that 93% of B2B marketers are now using content marketing as part of their strategy. 73% of those marketers are producing more content than they did a year ago.
So what is content marketing? Well, CMI put it like this:
“Creating & distributing valuable, relevant & consistent content to attract & acquire a clearly defined audience – With the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
A very accurate description, but it’s a bit ‘management speak’ for my liking.
The idea is that you provide valuable information, or content, to your customers for free. By doing so you forge an ongoing relationship that’s beneficial to everyone. You could give them white papers or case studies, e-books, videos, research reports, podcasts.. the list goes on.
Rather than getting hung up on specifics, I prefer to define content marketing like this:
Content marketing is the process of becoming your customer’s trusted advisor.
Does that sound a bit grand? Bear with me.
Let’s look at some of the traits that a trusted advisor might have. They would:
1) Have a personal relationship with you
2) Provide something of value
3) Be an expert in their field
4) Be a leader in their field
5) Be likeable
6) Provide help without asking anything in return
And here’s something a trusted advisor definitely wouldn’t be:
7) A sleazy salesman
So how achievable is this ‘trusted advisor’ status? To answer that, let’s take a look at an excellent example of content marketing in practice – Cisco’s Internet of Everything.
In case you didn’t already know, Cisco are a huge multinational corporation that provide software and hardware solutions. Who do they provide them to? Well… everyone from home users to Governments and other multinational corporations.
To give you an idea of their size, in the final quarter of the 2013/14 financial year, Cisco took over $12bn in global revenue. Yes, that’s over $12,000,000,000 in a 3 month period, which amounted to 6% year-on- year growth.
The Internet of Everything is a website that Cisco have built to share their content with new and existing customers. Within the site you can find white papers, case studies (both written and video), news articles, blog posts, personal bios for senior staff, and all sorts of other useful and interesting stuff.
So what are Cisco doing well?
They provide a wide variety of media content
Cisco’s customer base is vast, which makes it difficult for them to know what types of content will be well received. The solution? Produce content in dozens of different ways and see what works.
This tactic also adds credibility to the ‘newsroom’ look that they’ve gone for. Traditional news comes to us in many forms, including video, text, audio and more. Cisco have done a great job of making their site look and feel like a mecca for business and technology news. In fact, that’s exactly what it is.
They tell stories and name names
People love stories. Think about the evergreen popularity of books, newspapers, films and theatre – Whether it be real world events or works of fiction, nearly everyone likes an interesting story.
Glance through the Internet of Everything and you’ll find case studies, newscasts and reports on all sorts of events. There are good news stories, bad news stories and everything in between.
Not only that, the stories have characters. Real people. Cisco go out of their way to introduce us to real people. Why? Because without actual, relatable characters, stories are boring.
We can become emotionally involved in a story – even something as business-like as a case study – so long as we relate to the characters.
Present a potential customer with a spec sheet for your latest product and they probably won’t even read it to the end.
Now present them with a case study – One where the ‘hero’ has a problem very similar to their own. By working with your company they were able to solve the problem and save the day. If you’ve done a good job of making the story both interesting and informative, they’ll be excited at the prospect of working with you.
They give away valuable content for free
This is important. Some of the content on the Internet of Everything could be charged for. People need and want information like this, and they’d be willing to pay for it.
But Cisco don’t ask for money. In fact, they don’t ask for anything.
If you spend some time browsing the Internet of Everything, and I suggest that you do, you’ll find that every so often one of Cisco’s products is mentioned. Perhaps there’s an article on solving certain networking issues, with a gentle reminder that Cisco offer troubleshooting and repairs as a service. There are probably a few links to case studies demonstrating how Cisco solved similar problems for other companies.
Notice what you don’t find? Long, sleazy sales pitches. That’s because the reader already knows that Cisco are the experts, so they’re the obvious choice if she needs that kind of service.
They demonstrate their authority rather than claiming it
How many times have you seen a company claim to be experts in their field?
Did you take their word for it? Of course not!
I imagine you checked out their website, looked up some reviews, and generally did your best to make sure it true. If you weren’t convinced, you probably went somewhere else.
This sort of scepticism is a problem for businesses – Most people simply will not take their word for anything without doing some research.
But now let’s think about Cisco. They certainly want to be known as the experts in their field, but they’re not asking us to take their word for it. By providing all this content for free, including examples of their past successes, Cisco demonstrate their authority – they don’t just claim it.
This puts us at ease, because we know right away that we’re in good hands.
It’s equally important to look at what Cisco don’t do –
Scream their sales message
Or in fact…
Ask for anything in return
I’ve touched on this already, but it really is important. Customers are not stupid, and they will see through thinly disguised sales pitches. If at this point you’re trying to imagine a way of distilling your sales catalogue into ‘information’ form, I’m afraid you’ve missed the point.
Before we move on, let’s take a final look at our list of ‘trusted advisor’ characteristics, and see how Cisco are doing.
1) Personal relationships – We’ve got loads of stories about real people and real events. Considering that we’re talking about a vast international corporation here, I’d say that we have a surprisingly personal relationship on our hands.
2) Providing something of value – Let’s be fair here, Cisco are providing nothing but value. If you’re after business and technology news and solutions, you’ve come to the right place.
3) An expert in their field – I don’t think anyone would question this. The quality and sheer quantity of information provided is outstanding.
4) A leader in their field – There’s a distinction between an expert and a leader, but Cisco are clearly both. Check out their Corporate Overview document and you’ll find that they’re the overwhelming market leaders in the global networking industry. They’re also making great strides in teleconferencing server technology. Long story short – Cisco are leading the way.
5) Likeable – It’s difficult not to be grateful for this resource, particularly when we’ve been introduced to the real people who provide it. Again, Cisco are a huge corporation which makes it difficult to be genuinely likeable, but I’d say they’re doing a damn fine job.
6) Providing help without asking anything in return – There are no thinly disguised sales pitches here. In fact, Cisco seem to be on a mission to prove that the old adage “If don’t ask, you don’t get” is simply not true in the content marketing business.
And it goes without saying that Cisco don’t commit the cardinal sin of content marketing –
7) Being a sleazy salesman – I won’t flog a dead horse. They don’t do it, and neither should you. ‘nuff said.
For the next chapter on how content marketing works in practice, and indeed for the full e-book, click here.