23 January 2016

How content marketing differs from traditional advertising

Content Machine: Use Content Marketing to Build a 7-figure Business With Zero Advertising
After I posted an article on content marketing audit in my Facebook wall, a friend asked me: "What is content marketing?" I clicked on the reply button, typed a sentence, then another, until the whole thing became a paragraph. But I felt that it's still an incomplete definition. I really need to contrast content marketing with traditional advertising. So I deleted my reply and wrote this post instead.

A. Traditional Advertising

Picture this: It's a Sunday evening and you watch your favorite show in TV, such as football, drama, or cooking.  After a few minutes, poof! The show is gone and you see a gorgeous car, a lovely lady, a soap, a milk, or a a presidential candidate--all having nothing to do with the show you are watching. Your brain declares a red alert: it's an advertisement! You scrambled for the remote, and switched channel, hoping to find something interesting to see for a few minutes, before you go back to the show you love. And by that time, the advertisement should have ended, or so you thought.

This is an example of traditional advertising: trying to catch people's attention when they wish to watch or hear or do something else in order to sell them your goods. Advertising does not only happen in TV. The streets are littered with advertising from billboards to pamphlets. Magazines have inserts showing you the latest tablet PC or that high-precision gold watch. And of course there's the websites, selling you those great shoes and shirts on the side bars, banners, and pop-ups--even if the news article is about the impeachment of a president or the suffering in the aftermath of a typhoon.

One primary characteristic of traditional advertising is rented platform: advertisers go where the crowd conglomerates. Advertisers then rent a space or platform or stall, and shout to the passers-by to buy their goods. That is why advertising can be expensive.  According to the Ad Standards Council rates, radio advertising slot for non-members is about PHP 1,500 (USD 31) per minute while that for TV is PHP 3,000 (USD 63) per minute. Even if you only target 10 slots a day, that's already PHP 15,000 (USD 314) for radio and PHP 30,000 (USD 628) for TV. In one month that's PHP 450,000 (USD 9,427) for radio and PHP 900,000 (USD 18,854) for TV. If you combine the two, you get PHP 1,350,000 (USD 28,281).  This is already more than a million pesos!

C. Content Marketing

Unlike traditional advertising which focuses more on renting platforms in order to sell, content marketing focuses on establishing your own independent platform in order to sell your company's products.  This requires hard work, since the audience initially does not yet exist. You have to build the audience from scratch through growth hacking:
Growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups which use creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure.[1][2] It can be seen as part of the online marketing ecosystem, as in many cases growth hackers are using techniques such as search engine optimization, website analytics, content marketing and A/B testing. Growth hackers focus on low-cost and innovative alternatives to traditional marketing, e.g. utilizing social media and viral marketing instead of buying advertising through more traditional media such as radio, newspaper, and television.[3] Growth hacking is particularly important for startups, as it allows for a "lean" launch that focuses on "growth first, budgets second."[4][5] Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Airbnb and Dropbox are all companies that use growth hacking techniques.[6][7] (Wikipedia: Growth Hacking)
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of techniques (white hat or black hat) used to make the website rank higher in search engine results, e.g. Google page ranking. Website analytics determines how many read each article or click links and buttons. This can be done via Google Analytics, Blog stats, or website heat maps. A/B Testing is genetic algorithm applied to marketing: try out different website designs, headlines, posters, and photos and see which ones have the more impact than the rest in their respective categories. After this, adopt the winners.

Search engine optimization, website analytics, and A/B testing are tools to fish more visitors to your site, analyze where they are coming from, and how they use your website. But without a good solid content, the visitors will just bounce away after a second or two. So this is where content marketing comes in: Content marketing would make the reader stay longer in your site, increasing the chances that he'll browse around and buy something from you.

Why will visitors stay longer in your site? Here's the secret: readers don't care about you; they only care about themselves. So the article that you wrote or the video that you've made is judged by its relevance to your web visitors. Well, you can't please everybody. So you cater only to a very narrow audience who would be potential customers for your products. You talk about their "joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties" (c.f. Gaudium et Spes). And then you share the good news: your products would help them alleviate their griefs and anxieties, so that they can achieve what they hope to enjoy. And a conversion process kicks in: the reader believes in his heart what you are saying is true, and he buys your goods.

Not only that, in the following week, he visits your website again to see what new thing you talk about, what problem you solved, what product you offer. You have gained his trust and a relationship is formed. Why would he buy from other companies, when you are already there--an expert who knows his problems more than even he himself? Later he subscribes to your blog and gives his email address. You have already gained one sure audience for your blog. Soon, you'll gain more audience like him--still interested in their own problems, but they turn to you for help. It first comes in trickles, then the word of mouth kicks in amplified by social media. Your articles gain traction as they gets shared more and more and read more and more. You can jumpstart this process by promoting your posts through advertisements in Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. But if you are short of cash for advertising, organic growth is a slow but sure path to growing a community.

Content marketing need not to be all in the form blog posts. Content can also be in form of photos, posters, slides, tweets, white papers, e-books, podcasts, and videos. You need to define your over-all content marketing strategy that would unify these content scattered in different blogs and social media that you own.  That unifying theme is your branding, which may be summed up by your company's tagline, such as "Just do it" for Nike or "Impossible is nothing" for Adidas.

Without a consistent branding, without a consistent adherence to the company's tagline, content marketing fails. If this happens, take a break, go to a 30-day retreat with your staff, and rethink your content marketing strategy.


The author is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for him to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.