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The New Rules for Online Marketing

Content marketing is anything designed primarily to inform the consumer as a means of engagement. It predates the Internet by more than a century, however  because the Internet, and especially inbound marketing, require fresh content in previously unimaginable quantities, it has never been more difficult to create enough of it and make it all productive.

Here are 5 things to remember as you’re creating content for your audience:

1. Speak to your audience

Consumers are overwhelmed by marketing messages. For yours to be noticed, you have to speak directly to your audience and address its needs. That means targeting on a level rarely possible in traditional media. Drill into your sales data to identify your most profitable product or service, then find out who’s buying. A spa client of ours originally defined their target audience as women from 18 to 60 years old. We found that the customers for their most profitable product were professional women between the ages of 35 and 52 who were concerned with “age management.” That level of specificity enables you to choose the best channel for your message and to craft it to grab the audience’s attention.

2. It’s not all about you

People will quickly disengage if your content is all about is your company and its products. Monitor the channels your audience uses to learn about their concerns, then address them. Encourage comments. Ask questions. For the Maine Lobster Festival, we ask, “What is your favorite way to have lobster at home?” It generates lots of feedback, which means we’ve engaged the audience. Get off your own page. Monitor and use other companies’ Facebook pages. Participate in LinkedIn groups and discussion forums for people who use what you sell. Offer advice, a new perspective, or even your services. Consumers are delighted when a company reaches out like that.

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3. Create the right message for the right channel

On your own website, you can set your own style. When posting to social channels, understand the demographics and abide by the lexicons and expectations of the users. How you engage a professional group on LinkedIn will differ from how you approach consumers on Pinterest. This can get complicated, so develop a content plan, outlining what content you will post to each channel, when and why. Every post should have a clear business objective.

4. Answer people’s questions

The fastest way to surprise and delight readers, drive search engine optimization and bring leads to your inbound funnel is to identify questions that readers have and answer them. This includes complex questions. Instead of hiding behind a statement like, “We custom-quote every project to fully meet the client’s unique requirements,” do the hard work. Lay out all the complexities of the subject and address them, in a series of blog posts if need be. Google wants you to answer questions that consumers ask. And users who find it useful will share it. About 20% of searches on Google have never been searched before, so don’t just react. Proactively answer questions to make yours the first answer that pops up when someone asks it.

5. Optimize your content

Create content for readers and craft it for search engines. The human brain can comprehend visuals thousands of times faster than text, so use photos and videos as much as possible. Optimize your posts for keywords and phrases, not only to be a top result for relevant searches, but also to avoid being a top result when you’re not relevant. If you’re a restaurant, for example, you don’t want to show up for every restaurant search in Maine — just the ones concerning your town or region.

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Excerpt from Mainebiz, Oct 14, 2013 edition.

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