The concept of content marketing has been in use for more than a century, however, today’s businesses have taken the concept and turned it on its head with the aid of social media and other marketing advancements. According to the Content Marketing Institute, the formal definition of content marketing is “the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” A content marketing strategy can leverage all story channels (print, online, in-person, mobile, social, etc.); be employed at any and all stages of the buying process, from attention-oriented strategies to retention and loyalty strategies; and include multiple buying groups.
One of the earliest campaigns dates back to 1904, when Jell-O burst on the scene with its ready-made gelatin with flavor, making life easier for cooks across America, who up until that point had been making gelatin from scratch. Its ads touted this simplicity, but sales were not taking off like the company hoped. In order to boost sales, Jell-O door-to-door salesmen gave away recipe books for free, an approach that put the cookbooks in millions of customers’ hands and is credited with saving the company and making Jell-O a household name.
Jell-O also employed another clever tactic several years later by combining print ads featuring a recipe book offer. After requests started pouring in, the manufacturer combined the cookbook offer with an invitation to readers to send in ad drawings, thus creating a reader-advertising contest. The winner received $200 and had their ad drawing published. As a result of these marketing tactics, Jell-O had developed another way to interact with its key audience.
That was an early 20th Century version of today’s “Will It Blend?” — a YouTube viral marketing campaign created by Blendtec to demonstrate the power of its mighty blenders. In the videos, the company’s founder puts various objects into the blender and asks, “Will it blend?” Objects include anything from golf balls, to credit cards to food mixtures and each video has one of two disclaimers, either encouraging viewers to try it at home or discouraging them from doing so. (Disclaimer: I would perhaps recommend not trying any at home!) When the campaign first launched, fan requests started pouring in and Blendtec obliged consumers by testing out many of them. The company confirms the campaign has had a tremendous impact on sales and as of March 2013, the Blendtec “Will It Blend?” series had a total of nearly 290 million views on YouTube.
Taking a cue from these and countless other successful campaigns, it is easy to see how this type of marketing can work wonders for a brand. Today’s consumers are more engaged than ever and they expect companies to give them interesting and usable content that also provides value — either a tangible incentive or perhaps just sheer entertainment.
The Value Proposition. With content marketing, businesses connect and communicate with their current and prospective customers through valuable content without directly selling to them. In fact, many may already be doing this without even realizing it.
The content companies share with current and prospective customers should be closely related to what they sell. However, the information companies share also should be sure to focus on education, brand awareness, and establishing trust and interest so that customers will turn to them when in need of products or services, such as professional pest control.
Trust is at the core of content marketing as savvy consumers have become more distrustful of the hard sell and traditional direct marketing methods. According to a recent Forrester Research study, it is the issue of trust that poses challenges to businesses looking to implement this type of marketing strategy.
The study found that text message marketing ranked quite low — with just 9 percent of U.S. consumers trusting texts from companies; 12 percent trust mobile apps; 18 percent trust email marketing messages; 46 percent trust consumer-written product or service reviews; 55 percent trust professional reviews; and overwhelmingly, 70 percent trust recommendations from friends or family.
It is for this lack of or limited trust that companies are turning to content marketing, which Forrester defines as “content developed or curated by a brand to provide added consumer value such as entertainment or education.”
Consumer-Facing Businesses. The main purpose of content marketing is to build a relationship between a company and its customers.
Now, some may wonder what else could possibly be done to reach customers after plying them with mailers, emails, newsletters and the like. This is not the hard sell, but rather the exact opposite. Much of content marketing should be visual in order to appeal to consumers who are overwhelmed with the number of marketing messages they receive on a regular basis. This is especially true when using social media platforms, since the public has become conditioned to digest information faster than ever before. When using visual messages as part of marketing communications, companies increase the chances of a message being absorbed.
The best way to capture audience attention is to use engaging content such as infographics, photos and videos. Here are some easy ways to jumpstart content marketing efforts:
Blogs. The beauty of blogging is that posts can (and should) be fairly short, offer visuals whenever possible and are easily shared via social media. Let’s say a pest management technician completes a call at a home suffering from a severe infestation. The company could write a quick post about what they saw in the field and why those conditions are hazardous to people’s health. Similarly, a company could take a current and odd pest-related news story and offer its own professional thoughts on the subject, such as a new spider species being found in India or the invasion of giant African land snails in Florida.
Lists. Whether companies rank the Top 5 most destructive pests or the Top 10 ways travelers can avoid bed bugs, materials can be repurposed in a variety of ways through social media posts, as press release fodder or in mailings to prospective customers. This tactic ties directly to the concept of offering educational or interesting information to target audiences that is of value to them, thereby making companies’ goods or services also more appealing.
Photos, Videos and Infographics. Photos, videos and infographics add a visual element to stories and can be shared on websites and social media platforms. For example, with Vine — a new mobile application developed by Twitter — users can create and post six-second videos to Twitter and Facebook, making a videographer out of all of us. Similarly, Instagram allows users to take photos and enhance them through a variety of lens options, giving everyone another app to creatively use for business purposes. Technicians could take photos of common and uncommon pests, post approved content on company social media platforms and use them in mailings. Companies can also use infographics to illustrate survey findings, pest information or market trends, or other data that lends itself to visual representation.
Case Studies. One of the best ways to establish expertise and consumer trust is to tell a success story — of how a particular company helped solve a pest problem. Short of retelling the story in person to prospective customers, case studies can get that information across just as well and perhaps more efficiently. Writing a short one-page document outlining a particular problem and how the company helped resolve it will confirm credibility and quality.
Testimonials. Nothing rings more true and louder than a glowing customer endorsement. Testimonials are a powerful tool that companies can use to help reach prospective customers. By reading what others in similar situations have said, customers will feel a sense of comfort that there is a real person who has received satisfactory service from a business.
It is important for companies to be vigilant about collecting testimonials in order to build a solid, up-to-date roster from which to sample from. Testimonials can be posted in full on company websites, newsletters, etc., or used in abbreviated form on social media. Sharing kind words highlights good customer service and also shows appreciation for customers’ feedback.
Making Content Marketing Work. To achieve an effective content marketing strategy, businesses must find the perfect mix of message and delivery. Companies should take stock of all their current assets such as photos, videos, mailings, press releases and tip lists, as well as the type of posts that have been put forth on social media platforms, and begin with one tactic. Consider converting tip campaigns and Top 10 lists into Facebook status updates to spur conversation and interaction with fans. Task technicians to take pictures of unusual pests and infestations in daily service calls for use in mailings or posting on social media. There are many creative possibilities, however, tailoring the content to the medium is important. For example, a photo works perfectly by itself on Pinterest and Twitter, while a blog offers an opportunity to tell the story behind the photo and Facebook gives companies a chance for interaction with its fans about the photo.
To create a successful campaign that tells a story and engages with its customers, companies must create content that reflects its business and shows value to consumers. In turn, this campaign not only will inspire consumers to remember that particular business, but also to share the company’s information with others in their lives. Lastly, companies also must figure out a measurement process for these strategies in order to make any necessary adjustments along the way.
Whatever a company’s current marketing success is, it may behoove them to turn their attention to content marketing. As the lines between businesses and consumers blur through social media and other means, it is even more important to be viewed by consumers as a company that provides them with something more than just service.
The author is executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.