One of today’s trends in marketing doesn’t look anything like marketing – and it’s actually been around for more than 100 years!
Today it has the name, “content marketing” or “information marketing,” and whether your business is web-based or brick-and-mortar, you would be wise to take advantage of this effective medium.
The idea behind this form of marketing is that you supply your prospects and customers with some kind of material (information) that doesn’t specifically refer to selling the product or service you offer. The information is like a bonus or a gift that you provide free of charge.
Doing this provides many advantages to you. It establishes a relationship with your prospects. It cultivates warm feelings, product or company loyalty, and a sense that your business is a valuable resource to the person. It keeps attention focused on you in a very favorable light. And it therefore keeps positive attention on your product, in a roundabout way.
A look at the early history of this marketing approach reveals how it works, and why it works so well.
One of the first examples of content/information marketing was provided by August Oetker, who manufactured and sold baking powder in the late 1800s. In 1891 he started printing recipes on the back of his packages, which became quite popular. These recipes, which were created in the company’s test kitchen, were extremely helpful, especially to novice cooks.
In 1911 he started publishing and giving away a standalone cookbook. This cookbook had a global reach, and taught millions of new cooks how to create delicious baked goods. Of course, when these home cooks went to the store to buy ingredients they naturally reached for Dr. Oetker’s baking powder and other company products.
By investing in publishing and giving away cookbooks, Oetker created a loyal customer base that likely extended over generations of family members as mothers taught their secrets of baking to their daughters.
Many food companies copied this brilliant idea by also providing recipes for free. Today, cooks all over America have cookbooks on their shelves from Hershey’s, Jell-O, Bisquik, Pace Foods, and countless others.
And if you’re thinking that a publication is expensive to create, print, and distribute, consider this: today many marketers are putting their content on-line. They send customers a link to a free report or an interactive website of some sort (“See how you would look in different hair-dos!”), and customers are delighted with the information – and with the company that provided it.
The Possibilities Are Endless
No matter what business you’re in, and no matter what your product or service, there is some form of information you can provide that would be valuable to your customers. Here are some suggestions you might consider.
How-to guides are always welcome. These could be directions for using your product, or different and clever ways to use it. If you own a home construction firm, you might provide a home-decorating guide, a list of rules for selecting paint colors or flooring or counter materials, or suggestions for how to talk to your contractor (with a glossary of construction terms).
Any business could provide handouts with Frequently Asked Questions, trouble-shooting directions, brochures on different kinds of equipment or services, calendars, etc. If you have enough information to create something larger, you could put together something called a “white paper,” which is an extended report on some aspect of your business.
For example, if you are a doctor, you could put together a series of white papers on different kinds of medical procedures or medical conditions. If you don’t want to write these yourself, you may be able to find companies that have ready-made brochures that you can have them publish with your name and office information.
Sometimes the information provided could just be fun. There are stock publications available with jokes, trivia, and human interest stories that any company can buy, imprint with their own name, and then distribute to all its customers. It may have nothing to do with anything the company offers. It’s just a gift.
Think About What’s Possible Online . . .
As mentioned earlier, a more economic way to go is to put your content online, especially if you already have a website. You can put a whole library of free reports, photos, infographics, e-books, etc., and then just provide prospects with links.
Interactive sites can be very appealing. Quizzes and games are fun. But you can also have helpful tools. For example, if you sell paint, you can have standard pictures of houses that prospects can “paint” different colors so they can see what color combinations they prefer. Or a medical office can have people go through a symptom tree to help diagnose an illness, or see if symptoms are severe enough to warrant an office visit.
Give it some thought and you may come up with many great ideas for getting people to your site. Just getting them there and providing something valuable to them will establish a relationship – and chances increase that they will come to you the next time they need your product or service.
A Few Things NOT to Do . . .
The whole point of your content/information marketing is to reflect well on your business and ultimately increase sales, so don’t provide content that will interfere with these aims.
First, make sure your information is appropriate for your business and customers. If you run a funeral parlor, it’s best to stay away from humor publications. If you provide home remodeling for houses in the $500,000 range, don’t provide information appropriate for houses in the $200,000 range or the $2,000,000 range. Don’t use inappropriate language or hip hop downloads if your audience includes highly educated and mature individuals. Think about what will be seen as valuable to your target audience, and that’s what you should provide.
Second, make sure your information doesn’t look like a poorly disguised ad. Be subtle. Make sure the information is valuable in and of itself, and isn’t just a sales pitch for you. If people feel tricked into reading your sales copy, they won’t like it.
Third, don’t give away what you’re trying to sell! If you sell courses on how to trade commodities, you might give away a glossary of commodity terms, or a risk/reward calculator, but don’t give away a complete discussion of the trading techniques you want them to buy from you. That will be counterproductive.
Make It All Work Together
Content/information marketing is just one aspect of your overall marketing plan. It can be part of a customer loyalty program. Or, you can offer a free report as a bonus with purchase included in sales pieces that go to new prospects.
Put some thought into how you can integrate this idea into your existing and future marketing plans, and watch as this marketing technique heats up your sales.