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Cracking the Content Marketing Code

Everyone’s talking about content marketing. It’s what you should be doing in order to stand out, you hear; all the while you wonder what the heck it is. Something to do with developing content, obviously. And marketing. Well, scratch your head no longer: content marketing is the process of giving valuable information to your target customer.

You already know who your target customer is, right? If not, stop reading, go figure it out, then come back. You can’t even begin to deliver valuable information to them if you don’t know who they are and what interests them.

The other side of the equation is the content itself—it has to actually be valuable to your target audience. Unfortunately, the majority of content produced for these ends has a veneer of value, a click-baity tease that dissolves the moment you dig in.

You want to understand what is the best type of life insurance; instead you get platitudes such as “do your research,” “ask for references” and “tap your contacts for referrals.” Naturally, it’s written by an insurance agency; naturally, they conclude with a not-so-oblique plug such as “If you’re considering an insurance agency, don’t even think about working with them if they don’t have x years of business experience and y certification. And oh, by the way, we have both.” OK, Einstein, you think as you close the browser tab. I feel so enlightened now.

Then there’s the good stuff. The save-to-your-bookmarks, email-to-a-friend stuff. You find an article that compares and contrasts term life and whole life, cites multiple third-party sources, and makes no pitch, oblique or otherwise. In the byline you note that the article was, in fact, produced by an insurance agency, but you genuinely appreciate the level of care that they put into their research. When you are ready to buy, who do you remember?

People remember others who add value to their lives. Value, though, can come in a variety of packages. It can entertain, inform, inspire or instruct. Or some combination of those.

For example, the founders of Tortuga Backpacks produce the “Power Trip Travel Podcast” focused on “the intersection of travel and entrepreneurship.” Honest Company, maker of home and beauty products, gives DIY instructions for making lip scrub, scarves and desserts. Australian financial services firm The Naked CEO takes a quirky approach to industry thought leadership. Lastly, Chase spent two years developing a sophisticated content strategy that includes documentary storytelling and a variety of other features, all designed to humanize the brand.

I head research and marketing for US Translation Company, headquartered in downtown Salt Lake City. Content marketing is my job. Since we serve corporate clients in the aerospace, life sciences and manufacturing sectors, I research those industries extensively. I ponder what my target demographics read, study, search and ask. Or what they don’t study and ask, because it hasn’t occurred to them, but will give them an aha! when I present it to them. Then I research, interview experts and write.

I blog on our company site. I publish in national trade journals and local business magazines. Currently, I’m working with GOED on an article that explores logistical and cultural differences between Asian countries from the perspective of the U.S. exporter; another series of three articles examines the intricacies of overseas distribution partnerships; another reports on government attempts to simplify the tangle of aerospace compliance regulations. A recent publication reveals the tremendous opportunities for U.S. medical device manufacturers in the Turkish market. Though these subjects might not thrill you to your core, they do interest key decision makers in the audiences for which I write.

All of these efforts require extensive research and development. Great content stands out precisely because it’s so difficult. Say a computer retailer produces a monthly consumer report analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of the top five computers in each class across a variety of categories (gaming laptops, detachables, notebooks, etc.). Meanwhile, a competitor blogs vapid pieces like “5 Things to Ask Before You Buy Your Next Computer” (key questions include such gems as “Can I afford it?” and “Does it have enough RAM?”). A customer of reasonable brain capacity and some understanding of modern technology will probably appreciate the consumer report and feel patronized by the listicle.

In addition to the difficulty factor, businesses are daunted by the delayed payoff of content marketing. It’s a long game—you’re not going to publish a blog post and watch sales pour in. However, if you produce quality content consistently over time, dollars will eventually follow. And, to offset the slow initial burn, a long digital afterlife can be the gift that keeps on giving. That labor-intensive blog post that disappointed you by not bringing in sales? It may land a big customer four years later. Such so-called evergreen content remains relevant, accumulating links, searches and indexing by Google, Bing and the like.

In short, content marketing is where it’s at. Aside from actual word-of-mouth and the building of personal relationships, content marketing is the single most powerful approach to building relevancy, establishing credibility and gaining visibility. So you’d best get to it.

If you’ve got a talented writer/researcher on your team, congratulate yourself and get them on task. If not, hire one. Or explore other content avenues. Start a podcast in which you discuss your intimate industry knowledge and follow trends. Produce a how-to video series. Offer to speak and share your knowledge at local business events. You have options you’re not even aware of; you’ve just got to unearth and polish them. Do something, anything, as long as it’s insightful and well-prepared.

Jacob Andra heads industry research and analysis for US Translation Company, an SLC-based firm that helps Utah companies customize their materials for overseas markets.