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How Your Content Marketing Strategy Hasn’t Really Changed

Published: 25/10/18 - Updated: 14/06/21

How Your Content Marketing Strategy Hasn’t Really Changed

There are two big scams in the world: pretending that things change, and taxes.

Given that we’re not in a position to ditch out on taxes anytime soon, let’s talk about the other one. People regularly make the assumption that humans and their activities have fundamentally changed over time – whether that’s a belief that the Ancient Greeks were more sophisticated than modern people or that po-faced Victorians were sterner. Both ideas can be disabused by looking at rude Greek graffiti or photos of slightly less-than-serious Victorians.

Similarly, it’s a false assumption to think that content marketing is a truly new art spontaneously generated from the heads of SEO Managers, or the counter assumption that advertising is dying out, slain by people no longer watching advert-packed TV or clicking on online ads. The only thing we’re really looking at here is a rebrand.

In short, I’m going to let you in on a secret: content marketing hasn’t changed in over 100 years, and you can use the old tricks of advertising for new content marketing goals.

Advertising and Content

At face value, it looks like advertising and content marketing are very different industries. But that’s a misunderstanding: content marketing is an offshoot of advertising that’s going to swallow up its digital side and replace it entirely.

Advertising comes in a few different varieties in this day and age. And although some (like posters on the train or shop-based cross-selling) don’t have a viable digital replacement, banner ads and video clips have very immediate limitations. The foremost among these is that 26% of desktop users and 15% of mobile users browse the web with an Adblocker – advertising can’t work on anyone who doesn’t see it, and the banners in particular only have a clickthrough rate of 0.06% anyway.

Posters at the train station you can’t replace. For everything else, there’s content marketing.

Instead, digital advertisers and those investing in it are starting to recognise the value of building useful and unique content which guides the user to the client willingly and with interest. That is to say, using content marketing. You can read more about this native advertising on our whitepaper on the future of content marketing here.

Content and Advertising

Meanwhile, alongside advertisers dipping into content to bolster their dwindling efficacy, we have content marketers doing the same in the other direction.

For years, marketers have been dealing almost directly with search engine algorithms through SEO metrics rather than people. Before Google started devaluing the purchasing of links in bulk, there was scarcely any need to put in any effort with people at all, apart from clients or co-workers.

But Google has been fulfilling its most basic goal – making the search engine easier to use for normal people. And that’s taken the form of making searches increasingly natural, and favouring results which people would actually want to see. As a result, the algorithm increasingly favours content which isn’t appealing to a computer, but appealing to people – and that’s where advertising comes back in.

Double-Layer Advertising

Content marketing is, at its heart, the art of double-layer advertising. First, your content has to appeal to its eventual readers. If it doesn’t, it’s not interesting, and while you can work hard to sell it (while you’re not technically “selling” anything, I will refer to persuading others to place your product this way throughout this blog post), marketing your content is going to come up dry. Content is itself, in its best form, native advertising for the client, focusing on relevant fields and cementing them as experts in the subject area. For specific ideas on how you can start making content that appeals to its target audience, have a read of some of our blog posts on the topic.

Once your content is primed to interest and appeal, you have to actually tell people – specifically, journalists and influencers – about it in an interesting and appealing way. That is, you have to advertise for your native advertising.

Journalists are, unsurprisingly, people (in most cases). And that brings us back to the idea that things change – they don’t. Hundreds of years since advertising and marketing started, it’s still about selling ideas to people.

Takeaways: Old School Rules

Since we’ve established that a significant chunk of our job is to advertise, primarily to journalists, let’s look at what tools we can use from before digital marketing started, and see what we can use. Spoiler: it’s everything.

Persuasive Writing and EMV Words

Far from just being a section of the modern English GCSE course, persuasive writing is core to the industry. And it relies on words which fascinate, which thrill, which speak to ideas people already want to have.

People want, and have always wanted, to know more about themselves. They want to feel stronger and more in control of their life than they are already. They want to feel like for every one of their problems, there’s a quick and easy fix that they can get if they’re willing to look for it, whether that’s secret magic, snake oil, or a moisturising skin cream.

Picking the right word to sell your content to a journalist is vital, particularly in headlines, which are your first opportunity to grab attention. To that end, you might want to start looking at EMV words.

EMV stands for Emotional Marketing Value, and in short, it’s a way to track how emotionally connected people are likely to be to your copy.

Research began on EMV in the 1960s and 70s, well before computers dominated the marketing stage. But the concepts remain the same, identifying how hard-hitting a headline is before it goes out, without the need to test it on a live audience.

You can test your headlines on the Advanced Marketing Institute’s website here. It’s a good way to get a feel for your headlines and improve your writing ability.

The Elephant’s Child

I KEEP six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

~Rudyard Kipling, The Elephant’s Child, 1902

The above excerpt from a poem is a very simple refrain with a lot of power. Question words have been around as long as language has, but once they started making into literature, they really gained weight.

In our studies on the travel and FinTech sector, we found that headlines about content contained at least one of the words in 13% and 12% respectively. That’s a very significant proportion, and with good reason – people connect well with them, and often more to the point, are likely to find them by searching for the question in the title to get an answer.

Both studies also confirmed that some of the most frequent usages are for “how-to” guides and “why you should” formats – instructional pieces that provide readers with new information or answer a question that they had. It’s good for SEO, particularly with a view to achieving “position zero” featured snippets, the boxes that appear at the top of Google’s search results to answer specific questions.

Offline Connection

The best way to sell something to someone is to know them personally. Effective advertising is based on a familiarity with your audience, and modern double-layer content marketing advertising (see if you can get any more adjectives into that phrase) has the advantage that you’re likely to be selling similar content to the same people on a regular basis – journalists.

By forging a relationship with journalists you contact regularly, you can not only reinforce yourself as a contact of value to them, you can also get a greater understanding of what sort of material they’re likely to be willing to place.

Establishing a relationship can be as little as sending them an email outside of trying to place content, or calling them, or as much as setting up a small, free conference targeted at journalists to encourage networking.

Following Trends and News

It’s one of the simplest features of any advertising or even of social media, but catching on with an ongoing trend or tying content back to the news lends it a human hook that not only works for human contacts, but will also benefit from ongoing news links in the search process – meaning it hits both technical and human sides of the content marketing advertising process.

This particularly applies when articles are considered alongside the nature of the journalists you’re outreaching to. Nothing in life exists independently of context. By finding relevant industry news that’s potentially not making it to national headlines, you can more keenly target a niche – and the more refined the piece is towards a journalist’s interests, the more likely they are to pick it up.

The Commandments of Content Advertising

All it takes to sell content to people is meeting a couple of simple rules.

  1. Every piece of content needs to be looked at and asked, “would my target audience want to look at this?”
  2. Every piece of content needs to be looked at and asked, “would I actually want to look at this?”

The point of these rules is to both get some distance from your idea and also really get into it. It’s all too easy when working to SEO KPIs to forget that content has to work towards human people.

First you need to decide whether your audience is actually interested in your topic. Combining a couple of data sets and making a nice design will give you a high quality data piece, but you might end up failing to place it in any publication because it’s not actually worthwhile to your audience.

Once you have an idea, you need to stop and really take a look at it. Maybe it is interesting to your audience. But is it interesting to you? To sell an idea you have to show that you believe in an idea, even if you don’t. And if you don’t understand it and can’t find something interesting about it, you’ll struggle to pick out points you can sell to others.

But if you can meet these rules, and remember that, ultimately, you’re still selling a story to humans, you can take advantage of the same rules that have governed people since civilisation started. The lines between content marketing and advertising are only going to blur further in the future. Make sure you have a handle on the basics of both now, and you won’t have any trouble when the industry inevitably “changes” again.

Robin L. Newnham
Published on

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