The second approach is rather less binary. It majors on alternatives, not imperatives. It attempts to educate, to engage and to resonate with potential customers. This, of course, is Content Marketing - in our own words, “a sustained flow of valuable content that positions your company as the ‘go to guys’ in your field.” Or, to paraphrase Salman Rushdie, it is the type of communication that “increases the number of ways in which it is possible to think.” From thought comes action and interaction, and from there, an opportunity to nurture and convert prospective buyers.
But if we think that the Web invented content marketing, we're having a laugh!
Content marketing began when people realised that content could also be valuable when used as a way to subtly promote a product or company (i.e. not in the form of an obvious advertisement).
Let’s take you back to the year 1900, when Michelin published their first Michelin Guide, designed to help drivers look after their cars and find good hotels and restaurants during their stay in France. The guide was valuable and useful to readers - an instant hit – and its primary focus to publicise Michelin, meant the company became hugely successful and well-respected. Indeed, the star ratings awarded in the Michelin Guide remain sought-after to this day.
Fast forward to the Digital Age, and we find a veritable explosion of content; and alongside the educative, thought-provoking, remarkable content online, we have seen an unfortunate proliferation of the mediocre, the banal, nay even “bread van”-esque content, which we – as customers – are forced to wade through. But hark, from an unexpected quarter there might just be a moment of calm in the midst of all this noise. A hiatus of reflection brought to us by a group of genial clerics, who have been engaging audiences with daily nuggets of remarkable content for well over forty years.
BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day. Youweren't expecting that, were you?
Yet, contributors to this tiny, three-minute radio slot – since its inception in 1970 – have consistently demonstrated a deep understanding of just how to deliver interesting, persuasive, compelling messages, which resonate with their audience, and in a subject area that is fraught with subjectivity and emotion.
So what lessons can marketers learn from these excellent orators of the cloth, which could be of use in your content creation? Here are just a few tips, taken from an extensive history of the programme:
- Begin by listening – “Thought for the Day” (TftD) has featured presenters from Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Judaism and Sikhism. What is critical here is not the differences between their points of view, but the similarities. TftD takes the time to look around to see who else can comment on their “beat.” So don't be afraid to go to those of ostensibly different opinion to find unexpected support for your content and to help you challenge the status quo. (After all, even the FT at one time kept a Marxist journalist on its staff!)
- Don't pitch -One of the cardinal (sorry!) rules of effective B2B content marketing is that it should not actively sell. This is partly because people's reaction to an unwanted sales pitch tends to be emotional, not rational. Transplant that into an environment where the subject matter itself is often already explosively emotional – in this case, religion – and you'll understand why you can absorb the full three minutes of Thought for the Day without hearing any kind of 'sell' at all.
- Present other opinions – even if they fly in the face of your own – Amongst some controversy, the BBC gave prominent atheist Professor Richard Dawkins a radio slot to enable him to “market” his own views in the same vein as TftD. And guess what? TftD is still with us and still has its fans. And so does Dawkins. Why not follow their lead, and invite someone to challenge your opinions on your site or blog now and again? You own the medium of communication, so you always have the final right of reply.
- Use topicality – TftD is described as having a need to“deliberately trigger fresh ways of thinking” - and they make extensive use of the news agenda to do this. So jump on a story (newsjack, if you dare...) and work out how you can pull it back to your core messages. That gives you the all-important angle that makes your telling of the story different – and therefore more valuable from the reader's point of view - to everyone else's.
- Don't skimp on the writing! – Often, contributors to TftD are not telling anybody anything they haven't heard before, but they use snappy scripting, humour and knowledge to tell it in a more effective and memorable way (witness, one Rabbi Lionel Blue, renowned amongst listeners for his witty yet poignant anecdotes). Likewise for you, the writing, not the story, will often be your most powerful weapon. Don't put off hiring someone to write for you (or at least sharpen it up) if you struggle with it.
- Keep it short – There's a reason why TftD is only three minutes long – it plays to its “concentration window.” Your content has its concentration window too; around 600 – 800 words if it's a blog. Don't be tempted to extemporise; people have other windows they can shop in and other paradises they can pursue.
Sound lessons indeed for content marketers, where the focus is to build credibility, likeability and approachability above all else. Once you've achieved those, the saleability will come – something that I suspect our TftD clerics understand very well.
Now, more tea, vicar?