A few months ago, a close friend, Racheal, was thinking of buying a laptop personal computer good enough to handle her small home business. She didn’t want it for geeky work, so she didn’t need anything with bells and whistles. She merely wanted something slim, fast, light and can handle spreadsheets and word processing. She wanted it to do nothing more than quickly and easily record, process and produce reports for her home small business startup.
The problem, of course, wasn’t that Racheal couldn’t find something to fit the bill. Rather, she couldn’t decide from among the array of choices on the market. Each of the major PC makers (like HP, Lenovo, Apple, Acer, Asus, Chromebook, Toshiba, Dell, Sony, Fujitsu and NEC, and so on) had a product that was suitable. So which was the right PC for her?
A few years ago, she might have flipped through an old paperback issue of PC magazine for some advice, or consulted a cousin that talks all IT at family weekend gatherings. But this time, she started her search online, consulting the PC makers’ own web sites to compare features and read reviews.
She also sought advice from friends and followers on social media networks like Facebook or Twitter. Somewhere along the way, her online search caught the attention of one of the computer dealers on Kampala Road street. Ameen, subsequently reached out to her directly on Twitter to suggest his company’s Dell products and remarkable portfolio. Oh, and if she had any unanswered queries about their pc products, Ameen added, ask away!
It’s cool that the owner of a reputable computer supply company reached out to a single consumer. But what’s really going on isn’t just cool; it’s a major shift in how brands are marketing themselves online. This computer dealer might be on Twitter, but him and other companies are also creating blogs, sharing and publishing images of their products, launching Facebook pages, and more. Ameen knows that he doesn’t have to wait for Consumer Reports to review Dell’s latest iCore line; he can publish the specs himself and help customers come to to his shop.
What’s up with that? Why are companies like Ameen’s, or any of those with online presence, bothering to invest so much in online content? Because it’s both efficient and increasingly imperative that brands create online content as a cornerstone of their small business marketing—for three reasons:
The notion of marketing to your customers by interrupting them repeatedly with advertising or and marketing messages is simply not enough any more. Creating brand awareness through buying mass media or begging some attention from the newspapers, magazines, TV and other media that cover your market is selling your brand short.
The rules of marketing have changed.
“Prior to the Web, organizations had only two significant choices to attract attention—buy expensive advertising or get third-party print from the media. But the Web has changed the rules.”David Meerman Scott in his bestseller ‘The New Rules of Marketing & PR’
Racheal’s approach to buying a personal computer was neither unusual nor unique; you’ve probably done similar research for your own buying decisions. Likewise, your potential customers are going online to search for information about the stuff you sell: everything from fashion to dining to consulting services to electronics to where to find good entertainment on a Friday night.
Your customers read blogs, they google their offline purchases, and they query followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook. They are always educating themselves by researching purchases online before they make them.
Overwhelmingly in Uganda, consumers depend on search engines to help them make buying decisions. Ugandans don’t trust buying online but overwhelmingly search and verify brands online then walk into the mall or your business ready to buy. So you need to get them at the point before they decide to buy or before they know what they really need to purchase.
This means, of course, that your key to igniting sales is to create online content and optimize it so that it appears first on the search results pages when your customers search for you or the products or services you sell.
Everyone is a publisher in today’s connection economy. The availability of cheap technology has enabled the creation of long-tail consumer networks all hungry to produce and consume content. There is no longer a high barrier to publishing online. The ease and continuously dropping cost of publishing via blogs, video sharing, podcasts, forums, and social networks like Instagram and Facebook mean that all businesses can reach their customers directly with relatively little cost.
The idea of publishing content to attract a certain audience isn’t reserved for an educated few who can afford the printing and distribution costs. “Brands have become media,” says Joe Pulizzi , author of Epic Content Marketing. In other words—you are a publisher and the media.
What that really means is that you can reach your potential buyers directly. And, of course, they can speak directly to you as well. You now have the ability to engage in direct conversation rather than wait for them to seek you out.
Let create some signal among all the online noise and define what content is. Wikipedia does a great job on the definition — “In publishing, art, and communication, content is the information and experiences that are directed towards an end-user or audience. Content is “something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing or any of various arts”. Content can be delivered via many different media including the Internet, cinema, television, smartphones, audio CDs, books, e-books, magazines, and live events, such as speeches, conferences, and stage performances.”
If that didn’t get the signal clear, check out Lee Oden’s — CEO of TopRank Marketing — 40+ definitions of content. Otherwise, in simple online marketing terms content is a broad term that refers to anything created and uploaded to a website: the words, images, tools, or other things that reside there. All of the pages of your web site, then, are content. All of the things you create as part of those pages or as part of your marketing—your videos, blogs, photographs, webinars, white papers, ebooks, social media posts, and so on—are all content, too. And finally, all of the things you publish at outposts that are off of your own website—your Facebook page, your Twitter stream, your LinkedIn group page, for example—are forms of content.
Obviously, you don’t have to publish through all of those channels to have a noticeable online presence. Your online content can take countless forms, depending on various factors: the needs and preferences of your audience, your goals, your company’s expertise and brand, as well as available time, talent, and budget.
All matters defined, content marketing requires all brands to infuse all their online content with energy, life, purpose, and value.
“At Smart Marketing, we maintain a specific focus on how to create content for marketing: creating and sharing relevant, valuable information that attracts people to you and creates trust, credibility, and authority (among other things) for your business and that ultimately converts visitors and browsers into buyers.”Charles Nzab, Content Creator – Smart Marketing Agency
That’s precisely the point of creating remarkable online content — to convert website visitors into buyers and customers into regulars or (better yet) rabid fans, ambassadors, and advocates. You do that by deepening your relationship with them, over time, by repeatedly and consistently creating remarkable content they care about and want to share freely with their funs, friends or colleagues, and by encouraging them to engage with you and to sign up for things you publish (like an e-mail newsletter or a webinar) or to download a white paper or an ebook.
“The one who has the more engaging content wins, because frequent and regular contact builds a relationship that offers lots of opportunities for conversion. Advertising is a luxury, but content is survival.”Joe Pulizzi, author (with Newt Barrett) of Get Content, Get Customers.
When done right, creating remarkable online content will position your brand not as just a seller of stuff, but as a reliable source of information. And its benefits compound, adds social media strategy consultant Jay Baer, who calls content an information annuity. (Don’t you love that phrase?)
Unlike other kinds of marketing, content marketing “doesn’t have an expiration date,” Jay Baer says. What you create online will appear in search engines indefinitely. “Content generates Web traffic—via search and social media linkages—and helps remove purchase impediments every day of every month. Your potential customers have questions about your company, your products, your services, your competitors. Creating and propagating smart, optimized content that succinctly answers those questions is the most direct line to sales and loyalty.”
When you place content creation at the helm of your online marketing strategy, you reap the following benefits;
Does it seem weird to talk about your marketing as inspiring or remarkable or trustworthy, or telling a good story? Does it seem a little too radical? Does it make you a bit skeptical and nervous all at once? Why does it tip you off that way?
Perhaps such descriptors are more often applied in other realms—to a favorite magazine or newspaper, or maybe even to a friend—rather than marketing. But why not steer your marketing to another level? Why not create value? Why not provide your customers with a steady flow of high-value online content that, as marketer Len Stein describes, is “packed with utility, seeded with inspiration, and that is honestly empathetic”?
“Anything less will not suffice in a world where consumers can simply click away or spin around and mount a Web-wide counterattack on brands that refuse to walk their talk,”Says Len, founder of New York’s Visibility Public Relations.
In other words, create awesome stuff! And then use what you create as the foundation of meaningful conversations to engage with your customers. Regard your content as something more: as something other than just words and images on a page—as an extension of your brand.
Just as a person is more than flesh and bones and hair and teeth, good content, too, is more than text and graphics and video. It’s an embodiment of your brand. It’s designed to inspire people to read more, or view more, or get to know and love your company a little more.
Good content can quickly become the soul of your brand to the connected world. Online content allows your visitors to get involved—to comment and share and engage and click here.
“If you are consuming old media, you are consuming it on your couch. If you are consuming new media, you are consuming it on your horse.”Says Arianna Huffington.
What Arianna meant was that online content both invites and demands that its participants be engaged, involved, and active—always moving forward. Old media, like TV, FM and other forms of broadcast, just ask that we passively sit, listen and watch.
When content drives conversations. Conversation engages your customers. Engaging with people is how your company will survive and thrive in this newly social world. In other words, online content is a powerful envoy for your business, with an ability to stir up interest, further engagement, and invite connection. And that’s when things get interesting.
This online content piece is only useful if you share it in your network. Go right ahead, share it, comment, or send me an email to let me know your views on online content. I appreciate every one of them.