Content marketing has exploded. According to research by MarketingProfs and Content Marketing Institute, 90 percent of B2C marketers are using content marketing. In October, 60 percent of respondents said they planned to increase content spending over the next 12 months. Seventy-two percent are already producing more content than they did last year.
With that much noise, how can ecommerce sites use it to stand out in 2014?
Interactivity is Key
Content marketing has its share of critics, and a fair number of them simply fear changes in the industry. But any smart content marketer should recognize that some of the critics actually make very good points. In fact, if you’re so stuck on content that you can’t see what they’re getting at, your marketing journey in 2014 might not offer the rewards you’re hoping for.
I’ve been arguing that media should build their futures around relationships, using content as a tool to that end. I’d say that is even more true of brands…
We’ve all seen this happen on Twitter when we get pissed off at some unfair or unrighteous action by a company; we appeal to sanity; an employee — sometimes the official tweeter, sometimes just a decent soul — rescues us; our relationship with the company is redeemed.
That is the model for brands online. I thought we’d learned that years ago. Apparently not quite. Today not only are brands making content in their own domains but they now want to make content in media’s space; we used to call that an advertorial but now that is apparently called — in jargon that appeared from nowhere — “native advertising.” WTF does that mean?
Whether it’s Microsoft buying advertorials in Forbes or SEOs guest posting like mad for search engine benefit, when you approach content marketing entirely for short-term boosts in traffic and exposure, you are missing out on other opportunities.
Add to this the fact that Newspapers are the fastest shrinking industry, and you have to ask yourself whether content marketers are “following [media] over the cliff” as Jarvis said during a forum on critical PR issues.
A quick look at the most popular sites on the web should also be a bit disheartening to content marketing purists. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo!, Wikimedia, Amazon… are these “content” sites? They use content, sure, but is that what makes them? Don’t the New York Times and Mashable produce better content than Microsoft and Yahoo!? Meanwhile, Facebook, and Amazon don’t really fit into the content mold at all.
Upon closer inspection, we also learn surprising things, like the fact that internet forums are actually more popular than blogs, and that Reddit is as popular as CNN.com (at least according to Alexa).
The reality of the situation is that interactivity is what leads to mind blowing success on the web. Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! are successful because of the email and search tools that made them famous. Facebook, Twitter, and arguably Wikipedia, are successful because of the interactive communities they have built.
The lesson here is one that I can’t emphasize enough. If you are going to use content as part of your growth strategy, interactivity of some kind is an absolute must.
A peer-reviewed study out of the University of Singapore that we frequently reference demonstrates that such interactivity is key not only for popularity, but for sales. The study demonstrates that Facebook only drives sales when the marketer interacts directly with the consumer, or the consumers interact with each other. Merely “liking” the Facebook page does not create sales.
If you learn nothing else from this post, learn this: you can use content marketing to draw an audience, but if you aren’t interacting with that audience, and the audience isn’t interacting with itself, you will not generate sales.
You Must Capture Your Audience
The idea that you should build up an email list isn’t even remotely new, but it’s still surprisingly rare to find content marketers, bloggers, and SEOs placing the emphasis on email to the extent that they should be.
Conversion rates are at least three times higher on email than they are on social networks, and the average order price is 17 percent higher. And if immediate conversions seem too short sited to you, consider the fact that email open rates average roughly 30 percent, while Facebook exposure rates have dropped from 16 percent down to just 12.6 percent. Email click rates are roughly 3 percent, while Facebook pages with over 1,000 fans have paltry click rates, averaging a measly 0.35 percent.
It’s certainly true that Facebook and other social networks can be used to expand the reach of your initial audience, but these networks only give you limited access to your subscribers. If you hope to capture your audience using content, you must make email your priority.
Don’t get me wrong, email usage has declined by 20 percent between 2008 and 2012. The idea that it’s an old-fashioned technology, and that some of its popularity has been displaced, is not completely unfounded. You certainly should be investing in other audience retention channels. Just keep in mind that the numbers don’t lie; email is still the best place to reach the largest portion of your audience.
Of course, people also tend to guard their email addresses more carefully than they guard “likes” or “follows” on social networks. To overcome this barrier, you need to offer value that will convince them to overcome this. Social Media Examiner did this by offering a Facebook training video. Gregory Ciotti built 30,000 subscribers in a year with a series of eBooks, and Pat Flynn grew roughly 10,000 subscribers in a year with an eBook as well. SocialMouths also grew 10,000 subscribers in a year, in their case with a free online course.
The fundamentals of building an email list really aren’t that difficult, either:
- Drive as much referral traffic as possible through inbound channels
- Offer a valuable resource in exchange for an email subscription
- Place calls to action for the resource in prime eyeball space
- Send subscribers valuable information that will build trust and keep them opening your emails, and clicking through to your site, as opposed to unsubscribing, or marking you as spam
- If you choose to start selling to your subscribers, do it carefully, and get as targeted, personalized, and relevant as possible. The best data is behavioral data, not demographics or other surface level categories.
Of course you should also be performing split tests and conducting surveys to optimize the placement, content, and objections for your signup forms.
We’ve discussed at CrazyEgg how viral marketing is a myth, and why retention is the true obstacle to growth. This is why email is a crucial part of any growth strategy.
Expanding Your Reach With Every Post
Once you’ve captured an email list, you can use it to take advantage of social media in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. We recently talked about this over at SocialMouths, and here are a few of the takeaways:
- Email is for hardcore, in depth content, while social media is for bite-size instant gratification.
- Use embedded Facebook posts, tweets, etc. within your blog posts in order to expand your reach on social networks, understanding that these bite-size pieces of content are more likely to get shared than your full blog posts are. Use this bite-size content to link back to your more in depth content.
- Place social buttons within your emails. This can improve click rates
- When it comes to shareability, email and social have this in common: the content tends to be inspiring, novel, relatable, surprising, shocking, funny, cute, or actionable.
- Surprisingly, longer posts tend to be more shareable than short posts in email. The opposite is true for social media.
- It is far more important for content to be visual when it comes to social media.
This twin strategy of email for retention and social for growth is the key to growing your audience as quickly as possible.
To help things along, it should go without saying that the help of influencers is beyond valuable. Guest posts, of course, are the most obvious way to use content to make this happen. However, you can expand your reach just as quickly, sometimes faster, by inviting (or paying) influencers to produce content for your blog. Other, more inventive collaborative projects often work even more successfully.
What it Means to be Unique in 2014
We’ve all known for quite some time that content needs to be “unique.” We’ve also known for quite a while that it means more than just “not plagiarized.” So has anything really changed in this area?
I would argue that the demands on content uniqueness itself haven’t changed much. Instead, what we are seeing is more of a demand for brand uniqueness.
This has always been important when it comes to products, of course. But when it comes to content brands, especially online, the quality levels have traditionally been so low that all you had to do was produce high quality content to stand out. As more and more brands latch onto content marketing, this is changing.
Derek Halpern really latched onto this concept, and it’s paid dividends for him. After creating Social Triggers, he was able to build an email list of 17,000 subscribers, and he did it in just 11 months. His unique position in the idea marketplace played a big part in this. He noticed that there was an interest in psychology and marketing, but that there weren’t any big blogs dedicated to this particular intersection of ideas, and he capitalized on that.
The interesting thing about this is how he approached it. In order to build his exposure, his content outreach strategy didn’t really adhere to what a typical content strategist would call “unique.” Most of his guest posts, guest videos, and interviews were about the exact same topics.
Instead of producing unique content, he reached out to unique audiences, presenting the same message to people in different niches. This allowed him to hammer home exactly what he was about, and how he was unique.
All too often, content marketers get stuck on the need to produce individual pieces of content that are unique, instead of on building a brand presence that is unique. To keep their content ideas unique, they end up with ideas that are scattered, lacking cohesiveness. Their individual pieces of content might be unique, but their brand presence is too broad. They don’t have a unique selling proposition.
While I strongly believe you should avoid becoming a broken record, you need to put brand uniqueness ahead of content uniqueness. Once you stumble across a new idea, it’s okay to keep sharing that idea with as many people as possible.
To see what I mean, consider these two alternatives:
- Let’s say your primary goal is to just come up with a new idea for every piece of content you produce. This means that your core audience won’t see any redundant material and get bored of it. However, everybody who encounters you will have a different first impression. That first impression won’t be based on your best, most unique, or most valuable idea. It will be based on whatever idea you could come up with for that post. Your audience will be based on scattered first impressions and won’t have any shared sense of who you are and what you’re about.
- Now let’s say your primary goal is to give most newcomers the same first impression, an impression based on your most unique, most valuable idea. This means that you will end up repeating yourself pretty frequently, but that everybody who thinks of you will associate you with a very specific, very unique idea that stands out. Some of your core audience members might end up seeing a bit of redundant content, but they will all be united around a common idea that they found interesting.
Of those two options, I believe the second one is the most valuable in the current marketplace.
Of course, you should avoid sending redundant material to your existing audience if possible. A first impression is just that. It’s the first thing people encounter when they meet you. You want your first impression to be as strong as possible, and that means it ought to be your best idea, the one that defines you and sets you apart.
If you think your guest posts and content will be rejected from popular blogs just because it’s a rehash of something you’ve said on your site, think again. This might be true if you’re posting within the exact same industry, to a very similar audience. But most great ideas have fairly broad applicability. Feel free to reach outside of your niche. The sites you reach out to will be happy for the fresh take on their tired old subject matter.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that content marketing is changing. This is a given in an evolving marketplace. To recap:
- Content alone isn’t enough: it keeps audiences passive. You want an active audience. That means using tools and communities to create interactive experiences for your visitors whenever possible.
- You need to keep your audience, not just attract it. Email is the place to do this. Offer something of value in exchange for subscriptions, and keep those subscribers with valuable, interesting, useful content.
- Leverage social media to expand on your initial reach with every post. Remember that in-depth content is a must for your core audience, but that bite-size content is the way to boost exposure through social media.
- Being unique isn’t just about producing unique content, it’s about building a unique content brand. This is best accomplished by sharing your most valuable, most unique ideas over and over again to new people.
That about wraps this up. If you thought this was helpful, we’d love you to pass it along. Go ahead and leave us a comment if you have something to add. Thanks for reading.