The Confidence Gap In Content Marketing

It’s a new-school world, when it comes to content marketing in 2011, but it’s one full of old-school worries.

Here’s what the latest statistics tell us about business-user confidence, when it comes to online content marketing (via 69% think social-media is ineffective and 60% doubt the effectiveness of blogs. By comparison, 72% believe it is still the in-person event that clutches a conversion.

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Remember, this data isn’t reflective of some nascent, no-money marketing model. These are figures coming out of what the Custom Content Council measures to be a $40-billion-plus industry.

Certainly, predictors of doom love this stuff.

Bloggers at sites such as slip in iceberg-to-Titanic suggestions and then wonder if it’s not a “worst-case scenario,” that “content-marketing investments are just not worth it.”

Except online content marketing via blogs and other social media is merely seven years old. Microsoft launched what is thought to be the first corporate blog in 2004 (see: A Brief History of Content Marketing, Aprix Solutions, 2011). That’s a pretty short period of study, if you’re going to go around prognosticating total destruction.

In a marketing milieu that is still so young, maybe the generalizations need better qualification.

How about probably not every content-marketing investment is worth it? Companies do need to focus their content-marketing effort on something highly relevant to their customers. They need to not blast 2-D cut-and-paste blog content onto an Internet already full of it. The metaphor isn’t icebergs, it’s logjams …

Want a ray of hope? Here’s an example of content marketing at its best, and it doesn’t even come from the digital age (a relevant lesson is timeless).

When Frank Woodward, the inventor of Jell-O, watched his product take a nosedive in 1904, he figured out a very specific content marketing plan.

Woodward wrote up Jell-O cookbooks. He gave them to his salesman, who then handed them out for free, thus making his then-shaky product part of a concretely usable resource. With illustrations and recipes, women saw what they could do with this strange new product. By 1906, Woodward was doing $1 million in sales. (PDF: A Brief History, slide 6)

Look how it might translate. For the gadget-pricewatch site, in 2011, for example, Woodward’s “cookbook” might be a blog containing answers to common format and compatibility questions. These could make a natural entrée into the site’s cost-comparison components. 

Or, for a home decor and design firm, the Woodward method could translate into how-to blogs on interior projects, backyard fix-ups, whatever it takes to help show where the line is between DIY and the kind of services a professional could provide through the site.

If there’s a takeaway to all of this, maybe it’s the same one from the turn of the last century. 

Content marketing, online or not, is about amplifying your exposure to new customers by attracting them with relevant ideas and tools. Your customers will come away from your materials feeling favorable toward your product and/or service.

So, when it comes to bridging the content-marketing confidence gap, the question could very well be: What would Woodward do?

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