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Content marketing – old wine in new bottles?

Effective content marketing is based on a genuine desire to help potential customers – and can, when implemented, lead to fundamental change in company culture. But old wine is old wine…

Content marketing is currently espoused as the treatment to cure weak and ineffective marketing. But it’s not quite that simple. If we don’t understand the basics of the diagnosis then the treatment won’t be effective – and aggressive communication on a company’s own terms has had its day. In its place, I advocate effective and trustworthy content marketing – turn down the propaganda and turn up the credibility.

To release the full potential of content marketing, it helps to understand the recent and profound changes in buyer behavior in both B2C and B2B, especially with regard to information retrieval, decision-making and purchasing. It’s these changes that threaten to erode your marketing ROI, and if you haven’t understood what the changes mean or are able to use them proactively, a superficial commitment to content marketing will hardly save your company. The opposite, if anything.

Buyer behavior has changed (…and what to do about it)

Firstly, it’s about the Internet, about the explosion in accessible information and the ability to confer and share knowledge with peers. Imagine the following scenario: A buyer from a company is looking for a product just like yours and she begins to search for it, but instead of visiting your website or contacting your sales department (or your competitors), she examines other industry-related platforms and forums. She’s looking for reviews as well as “expert” opinion and other user experiences. She might ask colleagues from other companies for advice on LinkedIn, or she may fire off a question or two on Twitter. She is in the process of identifying needs – without you even realizing it. There are a number of steps and paths in her process and the closer she comes to making a decision, the more in-depth information she seeks. Through all stages of her research, she builds her knowledge, and her awareness of your company, your brand and product (and those of others) takes shape, is strengthened or changes. All this may be achieved before she even visits your website, and it’s in this process that the basis of her decision is made.

We make far more decisions today without consulting a company’s sales people, but we do consult our own trusted sources. This of course changes the rules for the type of information that we seek. In the past, the premise was that a buyer made contact with your business or website to find the product that best matched her needs – and to seek advice. The perception was that she was receptive to the classic angle of attack, ‘close the deal’, so that she could be presented with product-oriented information with a focus on technical specifications, which incidentally were produced on your terms. (“We can move 100 tonnes from A to B in 10 minutes”). It’s just that today she’s made her decision long before she’s in the ‘old-fashioned’ communication range, and this isn’t about data and products, rather it is perspective, insight and informed choices that are important.  And this happens long before the actual product is on the radar. In this situation, it’s about providing information on the customers’ terms and accepting a more equal relationship. We need to talk with the buyer and not to them. For the customer, it’s about the supplier’s knowledge, credibility and the shared experiences of others.

Develop the right company culture to embrace change at all levels

It can be daunting for many companies – who for years have communicated “inside out” – to have to think along these lines. And it’s not unusual that an ongoing conversation with buyers and the market at peer level, based on the customers’ needs and wishes, will have a profound impact on many aspects of company culture. This is a development that we should welcome, because a company that can conduct this type of dialogue has greater potential to develop the right products and services and make them attractive.  I would even go so far as to say that this is beneficial for a company’s culture. An organization that is sure that it delivers precisely what the customer wants, will benefit from much higher employee and job satisfaction.

If you can deliver reliable information that gives customers a better insight into their problems, inform them of their options and, in the process, make them aware of factors that they may not have realized were important, the result is a more motivated and well-informed customer who is able to make an informed choice. You will have built trust and respect, and even if you’re not initially chosen as a supplier, you will have established a relationship that will pay off in the long run – the customer will keep coming back to you for information, and they might not make their next purchasing decision without first seeing what you have to offer.

However, if your product or services are a poor fit to the customer’s needs or your strategy is simply a rewrite of your existing “propaganda communication” and content marketing initiatives do not spring from a real change in company culture, you will not achieve the success you hope for. It will, as they say, be “old wine in new bottles”. With this in mind, I would like to encourage everyone who espouses content marketing to take a long, hard look in the mirror and be honest about what you see. Cheers!

How do you see the current discussions and initiatives surfacing around content marketing in your industry? Let us know in the comments.

Guest post by Jens Victor Fischer. Be sure to connect with Jens Victor on LinkedIn to continue the discussion.

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Jens Victor Fischer

Jens Victor Fischer is Business Development and Global Marketing Manager at Palsgaard A/S, a global Denmark-based food ingredients manufacturer specializing in emulsifiers and stabilizers. He has led product management and marketing in international organisations including Bang & Olufsen and Coloplast for more than 15 years. Jens Victor holds an MBA from Henley Business School (UK).

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