Is Content Marketing A Subtle Sales Pitch Hidden In A Cleverly Written Blog Post?
Not exactly, but it could play an integral role in your digital marketing strategy.
If you do a quick search on Google on what ‘content marketing’ is, you would get the following results:
“a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.” — Google’s Dictionary
“marketing that tries to attract customers by distributing informational content potentially useful to the target audience, rather than by advertising products and services in the traditional way” – Dictionary.com
Conventional marketing methods involve reaching out to the audience, attracting them, convincing them, and hopefully converting them into customers (therein lies your marketing funnel). In comparison, content marketing avoids this direct route of persuasion and instead engages the target audience by giving them valuable, related content, without coming across as a sales pitch of your product.
The confounding part is when content marketers create these “engaging”, “evergreen”, and “valuable” materials, and then throw in a CTA (call-to-action) at the end of each article, which might come across as a direct sales pitch. For example, a listicle on the benefits of running might end off with a CTA to check out the company’s shoes and running accessories. Is this then just another marketing tactic (to attract, convince, and sell) or can this be considered content marketing with a twist?
What Is Your Marketing Goal?
Perhaps the simplest way to resolve this is to consider your company’s goal at the onset of your marketing campaign. Is it to promote and educate, to attract and convince, and sell your product whilst at it? Is it a brand positioning tactic? Is it a community building or customer engagement tactic?
Yes, the ultimate goal of marketing is to increase sales revenue, and this could be done either by getting more customers to buy the existing product(s) or to get the same customers to buy more of your company’s offerings. For example, a F&B business that specialises in drinks can aim to sell beverages to even more customers, or they could start selling accompanying mains, snacks, or desserts to their current pool of customers.
How does that affect your marketing tactics? In the former, you probably want to target new customers that have similar demographics or preferences as your current customers. This can be done by increasing the reach of your advertisements, using targeted advertising, and going for high-conversion and lower-cost-per-reach channels.
In comparison, if you are trying to sell other affiliated products to your existing customers, you probably want to build customers’ loyalty, create engagement amongst them, and aim for repeated business from the same pool of people. That is when your marketing tactics involves brand positioning, providing informational and educational content, and building trust and rapport with your target audience.
So how does content marketing come into the picture?
What is Content Marketing?
The rationale for content marketing probably stems from the intent of not making a direct sales pitch to the customers. Given the extent to which consumers are bombarded with advertisements today, if you present them an ineffective or weak marketing message, they might ignore the ad or become wary of the caveats.
Hence, some marketers adopted content marketing as a sales method to subtly and indirectly weave in their company’s products or services, and hope to indirectly influence the target audience’s purchase decision. In a way, it is a form of product placement, and your brand is now embedded within a useful and insightful blog post.
However, content marketing is a powerful tool that can do much more than just convert viewership into sales. It can play an important role in your digital marketing strategy by:
- Bringing value to your target audience (and thereby building trust) by providing them with educational and informational materials.
- Continually engaging your target audience, and thereby perpetuating the company-customer relationship.
- Positioning of your brand as an industry expert or thought leader.
- Using in-article keywords and links to optimise your website for search engines i.e. SEO (search engine optimisation) .
- Bringing in organic traffic, and creating backlink opportunities through social sharing of content, which further enhances SEO.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that companies are increasingly looking out for content marketers as content marketing is a viable long-term strategy to establish their brand presence online.
Using Content Marketing To Drive Sales?
Traditionally, marketing could be putting up a banner advertisement, which may include an informational or promotional pitch, be it on print mediums, the television, or websites. It could also come in the form of a flyer or EDMs (Electronic Direct Mailer), product placement in films, affiliate marketing, or search engine marketing to attempt to reach your potential customers.
Similarly, if you were to write a piece of informational, convincing, and engaging content and subsequently include a sales CTA at the end, it can be a viable form of marketing. The difference is that you are doing more than just attracting and convincing with advertisement copies with that post.
Assuming that you provide a thoroughly researched, comprehensively linked, and well-covered article, you are doing much more than just selling. You are helping your potential customers, building trust, and positioning your brand at the same time, which can all be very beneficial for your brand.
The tricky part comes if you are measuring the effectiveness of your article solely by the conversion metric. That is to say, if you are trying to determine how effective that “content marketing” article is in driving sales, you will probably compare it with the effectiveness of other marketing channels, but the results do not paint an accurate picture.
Your target audience might not be buying after they read the articles, but the inbound traffic and shares might have bumped up your website’s credibility and increased your ranking on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). You might have reinforced your brand position with the articles but sales might have come in via other channels, rendering the articles and your content marketing efforts “ineffective”.
Marketing It SMART
As most people would have known or read, it is important to make sure your objectives are SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. This applies for your marketing objectives as well.
What are you trying to achieve in producing that “content marketing” article? If your goal is to drive sales, perhaps you can invest in less costly (less time or less money) methods and evaluate them first. On another hand, if your goal is to improve your website’s SEO, content marketing can be a viable tactic, alongside improving your site architecture, optimising your web copies, building backlinks and other SEO tactics.
If you are extremely good with words, or already have a talented writer in your team, producing articles can be cheap for your company and it could be an effective sales channel. Otherwise, you really should consider other marketing channels. The key is to measure and optimise your marketing dollars, so as to try to generate more revenue with the same dollar.
The bottom line is to know your objectives before embarking on content marketing (or any other marketing initiatives). That itself would set the premises and measurable for your content marketing efforts.
How You Can Embark On A Content Marketing Strategy
- Determine overall marketing goals and objectives
What are you trying to achieve? Is it to increase sales, to increase brand awareness, or to educate your customers?
- Establish your content marketing goals
Are you trying to drive traffic, engage your customers, or position your brand by writing relevant articles?
- Set SMART content marketing objectives
If your goal is to engage your customers via newsletter, how are the read-through and click-through rates across a stipulated time? If SEO is your goal, how has your SERP ranking improved over a period of time?
- Research keywords for SEO
Use Google Keyword Planner to find the keywords that you want your brand and your website to be ranked for. The relevant keywords should be included in your articles so that they can be found and sorted by the search engines.
- Brainstorm and build an editorial calendar
A content calendar helps to keep you on schedule with your blog posts, and if you use Hubspot’s method of building pillar and cluster content, it also helps to categorise your content and structure your blog for SEO.
- Implement, track, and measure.
Create a routine, get cracking, and track the metrics you have set out to measure. Is it reach, engagement, or conversions that you are after?
- Promote, share, and build backlinks
What other channels can you distribute your content to? Is it social media, guest blogs, or editorials? Share your content on the channels that are most relevant for your customers and try to reach more potential customers.
- Evaluate effectiveness of content strategy.
How are your articles performing over time? Are there particularly popular ones? Who are the people that are most engaged? Find the common themes and the popular content; it might give you an idea of what content appeals to your target customers and what other products might interest them.
- Evaluate overall marketing strategy
Which channel is driving the most sales? Which channel is optimal for your marketing dollars? Have you improved your website or built an audience?
When you hit a milestone, it would be useful to take a step back to evaluate the effectiveness of your campaign over the past period. Ideally, your marketing dollars would have generated some sales while your content marketing efforts would have helped you learn more about your target customers.
Moving forward, what should change in your marketing and content marketing plans? Double down on what works and make tweaks to the less than ideal tactics. Whether it is focusing on particular topics, writing more widely, or perhaps even scraping the whole content marketing efforts to focus on search engine marketing, you have to adapt to thrive.
Just like your business, your digital marketing strategy should be a continual process where you periodically evaluate and make changes so as to maximise the effectiveness of your marketing tactics. Good luck!
I am not a content marketing expert, so feel free to comment and share how you work differently. I am just an aspiring digital and content marketing writer and my goal in writing this article is to share some knowledge, and hopefully it inspires someone or triggers some discourse. I am not selling anything but perhaps you might have bought into some of my ideas.
So, if I end off this article with a CTA to check out my digital and content marketing services on my website, will you then consider this a marketing pitch, part of my content marketing strategy, or is it just a piece of knowledge swimming in the world wide web? You decide (: