Marketing is a centuries-old practice, likely dating back to the earliest days of commerce and trade.
It makes sense when you think about it. If you’re one of a dozen artisans selling clay pots at the local bazaar, how do you differentiate yourself from the crowd? While your first instinct might be to assassinate your rivals (not recommended) or smash their clay pots to kingdom come, a more sensible option is to inscribe your pots with a unique design that tells potential patrons, “This is my brand.” If you’re a purveyor of fish sauce – as was Aulus Umbricius Scaurus in ancient Rome – you might etch containers with some details about the origin and quality of your product (which he did).
Today, marketing is a full-fledged professional discipline, with entire departments, consulting firms and degree programs devoted to it. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.”
That’s a lot to wrap your head around, which is why I much prefer this definition from HubSpot: “Marketing refers to any actions a company takes to attract an audience to the company’s product or services through high-quality messaging.”
The Age of Inbound Marketing
Marketing has evolved in lockstep with technology.
The invention of the printing press in the 1400s paved the way for print advertising. With the expansion of the U.S. mail system in the 1800s, direct mail (i.e. catalogs) became a thing. The emergence of radio and TV in the 1900s gave rise to powerful new forms of advertising, while widespread adoption of the telephone made it possible for marketers to reach out and touch their potential customers in the most irritating ways.
And now we’re living in the digital age.
The rise of the internet, social media and e-commerce – in tandem with advances in wireless connectivity and mobile technology – have radically changed the way people shop. Today, most consumers start the buyer’s journey with a Google search. It’s been estimated that up to 90% of the buyer’s journey is complete before they even reach out to a salesperson!
This seismic shift in consumer behavior has upended traditional marketing models.
Nowadays, marketers no longer can rely exclusively on outbound marketing strategies (such as ads and cold calls) that push messaging to potential customers. While those strategies still have their time and place, savvy marketers are embracing inbound strategies that provide educational value to their customers and connect with them in a more natural way.
“Inbound marketing is a strategy where you create content or social media tactics that spread brand awareness so people learn about you, might go to your website for information, show interest in your product and potentially make a purchase,” Brian Halligan explains in a blog post for HubSpot.
I love the analogy Halligan uses to illustrate the difference between inbound and outbound marketing.
Traditional marketers trying to reach new customers are like lions hunting for elephants (customers) in the jungle. When marketers first learned to ply their trade, they could count on elephants being in the jungle. Now, though, those elephants are gone. That’s because the elephants have migrated to a watering hole (the internet) in the savannah.
Inbound marketing is the equivalent of turning your website or social media platforms into a watering hole – so the elephants come to you.
Content Marketing: King of the Jungle
How do you create that proverbial watering hole for your potential customers? Content marketing.
HubSpot defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing and business process focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience, and, ultimately, to drive profitable action.”
Content marketing is a fundamental inbound strategy, and it’s all around you. Here are a few examples:
- You notice a puddle of oil underneath your car in the garage, so you Google, “Why is my car leaking oil?” Among the search results, you click on three articles that explain the possible causes of an oil leak. The sources of these are articles are a local repair shop, a regional quick-lube chain and a national motor-oil brand, respectively. While all three articles are helpful, none of them makes a hard sales pitch.
- You want to adopt a cat from the local animal shelter, but you’re worried about how your dog will react to a furry new roommate. Before bringing the cat home, you watch a YouTube video and read a detailed blog post with helpful tips on how to make the dog-cat introduction without the furballs flying. The video and blog post were created by a popular pet-food brand.
- You decide you’d like to try your hand at changing the spark plugs in your vehicle. After a Google search, you watch several how-to videos on YouTube – one by a national parts retailer, and the other by a spark plug manufacturer. Thanks to the step-by-step information in the videos, you successfully replace your spark plugs!
- You want to renovate your kitchen. Through a Google search, you stumble upon a helpful podcast produced by a company that provides kitchen-design services. You also download a whitepaper offering 10 tips for creating your dream kitchen, published by a manufacturer of kitchen cabinets. You even sign up for a webinar on the basics of kitchen design.
So why on earth would your company invest the time and resources to create free content that doesn’t make an explicit sales pitch? Because today’s buyers are different.
Buyers at the Wheel
With so much information at their fingertips, today’s consumers are in control. They want to connect with you on their own terms. They’re learning about your brand via Google, and they’re paying close attention to what people are saying about your brand on social media. No matter how hard you’ve worked to build a bulletproof brand identity, one negative comment on social media – or one negative Yelp review – can turn them off in a nanosecond.
Whether you know it or not, people are talking about your brand online. Content marketing is a powerful strategy that helps you shape that narrative. That’s why HubSpot offers an alternative definition of content marketing: “the art of business storytelling.”
Through videos, podcasts, e-books, whitepapers, webinars and other tools, content marketers provide valuable information that addresses their customers’ concerns, questions and frustrations. The end goal is the same as traditional outbound marketing – to drive profitable action – but the approach is much different. Content marketing is about building relationships with your customers, providing something of value (with no strings attached) and creating a sense of community around your brand.
Ultimately, content marketing can elevate your brand reputation by establishing your company as a thought leader in your specific line of business – not just a peddler of products and services.
“Publishing quality content gives you the opportunity to flex your muscles and show audiences your expertise in your field,” Shawn Byrne explains in an article for Forbes. “When your articles, blog posts, infographics, videos and other types of content answer your audiences’ questions and help them solve specific issues, you are positioning yourself as an industry expert worth their attention. And audiences will always remember the business or brand that gives them the information they need.”
When done right, content marketing cultivates trust, loyalty and engagement with prospects and customers in ways that outbound methodologies simply can’t. While that might seem too abstract to sell to upper management, make no mistake: It produces quantified results as well. Content marketing has been shown to generate high-quality leads, improve SEO, boost conversions and drive revenue.
Whether you’re selling clay pots or mufflers, it’s something you should explore.
According to 2022 HubSpot research, 70% of companies use content marketing. If you’re among the 30% of businesses that don’t, there’s no need to fret – Babcox Media can help. Our state-of-the art video garage and podcast studio are just a few of the resources available to help you create content that positions your brand as a trusted source of education and information for your prospects and customers alike.
Interested in creating a video, podcast or webinar? Contact us today or talk to your Babcox Media representative to learn more!