Twenty years ago, Alec Baldwin delivered one of the most powerful scenes in movie history when he told Jack Lemmon to “Put… that coffee… down!” and went on to explain why coffee was only for closers (and a whole lot more).
If you haven’t seen Glengarry Glenn Ross, Alec Baldwin’s scene (which was written especially for the film by playwright David Mamet), or one of the countless parodies it inspired, take a minute to watch it now and come back. I’ll wait.
The central theme of Baldwin’s pep talk was Always Be Closing (ABC). Close the sale no matter what. Nothing matters except making that sale. What comes to your mind when you think of this? Telemarketers, stock brokers, used car salesmen? What about pop-ups, pop-unders, spam email blasts, get-rich-quick sales letters? Yeah, me too.
When we’re talking about content marketing, we’re talking about a philosophy that is very much the antithesis of the Always Be Closing mantra. I like to call it the ABE Approach, and I’ve boiled it down to these six basic principles.
1. Always Be Educating
The marketing landscape has changed. With the power of the Internet, consumers are now controlling what messages they receive and how they receive them. Before anything else, content marketing is about providing value to your targeted audience.
Think about this for a moment: the average U.S. Internet user spends 32 hours per month online, with 42 percent of that time spent on social networking sites and reading content. This equates to an eighth of a person’s time in a month (that includes sleeping, working, etc.) spent reading and sharing content online.
As a business, embrace this change and use it to your advantage by developing valuable content that interests your target audience. Start by educating your consumers about the industry, not just your product. Sure, maybe what you’re selling is the best. But because your consumers are actively searching for more information, why not help them find it?
Keep in mind that valuable content is crucial in all three stages of the sales cycle: awareness, consideration, and purchase. Make the most of it in each stage. Be a tool for your audience in the research stage. As you’re educating them on the industry, inform them of other options, but (subtly) let them know why yours is unique and (obviously) the best option.
The final stage — purchase — includes content that aims to sell, like strong reviews from past customers or trusted sources. Educate them on how others have found your product more valuable than the rest.
It’s important to remember that no matter who your target audience is, they are people just like you and me. They have thoughts, ideas, opinions, and emotions. Most consumers are tired of being bombarded by meaningless ads, and are seeking out content that matters to them.
Unlike outbound marketing (yesterday’s marketing of billboards, direct mail, TV commercials, etc.), which relied on one-way communication to spread messaging, content marketing engages consumers by using an interactive and educational approach.
2. Always Be Exceptional
By now, you’re not the only one in your industry who’s seen the shift in the way consumers are making their purchase decisions. Furthermore, you’re definitely not the only one who’s begun marketing to your audience through the Internet.
How will you stand out among all the noise?
Some guiding principles:
• Share, don’t push. Educate your audience. Let them know up front (preferably, in the headline, header image, and/or the intro) that what they’re about to read/view/hear will be well worth their time. Inform them of the value you are sharing with them, and why it’s unique.
• Be novel. Use your industry knowledge and expertise to stand above the crowd. This could be with breaking news, insider info, an exclusive interview. Use your imagination.
• Quality over quantity. A helpful rule to follow (especially if you’re relatively new to content marketing) is to provide a small amount of meaningful information to your audience, rather than bombarding them with useless fodder that could potentially lead to your losing their attention forever.
3. Always Be Executing
It’s not just about creating a bunch of content and hoping something happens. You have to have a plan… and you to have to execute.
As you plan your content marketing strategy and content calendar, ask yourself: “Why am I doing this?” “How does this fit into my overall marketing goals and objectives?” “What impact will this have on the company’s bottom line?”
You should have a firm understanding of all of these facets before moving forward with any tactics. The time and resources you spend now to create a thoughtful and meaningful plan will save you a ton of wasted time and resources in the future. Which means… more time for executing an effective content marketing plan.
4. Always Be Engaging
Imagine for a second that it’s 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday. You’re leaving your office to head home (I know, at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday — right! Bear with me…) You step into the elevator. Who stands there, but the CEO of Acme Products, your number two biggest prospect. You’ve shared an office building with them for years, but they never agreed to take your call, or your offer for lunch, or dinner… or anything.
What do you say to this person? How do you start a conversation? Do you start hammering away at them with questions about their latest product offering, who their current vendors are, how much they’re paying? No. You start a normal conversation. Be engaging, delightful, conversational. Be you. Think of something you may have common with them. Share something they may find useful. (“Have you heard about the road closing in front of the office next week? Here’s an easier way to get to the garage.”)
Now, apply this to your content marketing. Good news is, you’re not in an elevator, and they aren’t with you because they have to be. If a visitor is on your site, it’s because they want to be, or because something (think captivating headline) attracted them. And unlike the elevator example, you actually have more than three seconds to think of how you’ll captivate your visitor over the next 30 seconds. Just make it interesting, useful, and engaging.
5. Always Be Evaluating
The most important question you will ask yourself when launching a new marketing campaign is: What does success look like? What are your communications goals and objectives? What results are you hoping to see? Why? How do you want your audience to respond to your content?
Assign a value to your efforts, and measure, measure, measure!
You may be asking, measure what? Measure the traffic to your site, the number of comments on your posts, the types of comments, conversion rates, click-throughs, etc. Are visitors clicking on a link to a blog post you tweeted with a captivating message? Are they staying on the page? For how long? Are they visiting other pages? Which ones? Why? Are they visiting the pages that you designed your post to lead them to?
There’s a whole host of tools out there designed to help you with this process. Do your research. Pay close attention to your data. Follow your site visitors and social media followers through their journey – from the Facebook post that grabbed their attention, to the last page they visited on your site. See where they land and if it resulted in a phone call, an email, a share (or other micro-conversions), or maybe a sale. This is a great way to evaluate what content works best, and whether or not you’re attracting the right kind of audience with your current strategy.
Before starting, establish a baseline. What’s your current customer base? Know how much new business you take in each year; what your retention rates are like. What are your profits, losses? Marketing expenditures? Most importantly, how effective have your current marketing efforts been? Take all of these into account when measuring the results of your latest campaign.
6. Always Be Enticing
You may not realize it, but your content is one of the top factors in how someone judges (or perceives) your business. And let’s face it, perception really is reality. The good news is, you have control over the content you put out there.
By now, you should have a clear understanding of how to make your content educational, exceptional, engaging, effective, and ultimately, enticing. But are you going to do all this work by yourself? Ideally, your entire organization is involved in your content strategy, at some level.
As a leader in your organization (note: I firmly believe that every single employee in a company is a leader of something), it is your job to establish a company-wide content culture, and get your entire team excited about it.
Brainstorm with your team on all the possible ways any given piece of content will be used to benefit all departments of the company. Not only will you be surprised at what they come up with, but this can also be an excellent tool for educating your team about the industry, as well as getting them better acquainted with what their teammates do day-to-day.
The results you’ll see from your content marketing initiatives are likely to be Enlightening.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.