What is Content Marketing?

Content Marketing. What is it? Why is it a critical strategy for any business? Part one in a series explains why Content Marketing is important and throws in a little historical perspective (Content Marketing is not new).


Hello smack happy, design blog readers. My name is Jon Hjartberg and I’m doing a guest blog entry for Nicole Hanusek, who runs Smack Happy Designs. I’m very happy to do it. I’ll jump right into it.

This is a presentation that I gave at a BNI meeting a few weeks ago. It runs about ten minutes, maybe just a little bit more. It’s not going to be encyclopedic. We will be doing more short videos that you’ll see on Nicole’s blog.

Content marketing, it’s the buss word of the moment. It’s sort of like the weather to paraphrase it, everybody’s talking about it but what exactly is it? I think it’s important for anyone to understand content marketing. If you’re trying to get the word out about your business, even your team or division.

It’s starts with a story from my past. I was brought in a few years ago to a financial information company. It had bought a very sophisticated market analyses and predictive engine. It had bought a little company that had done this.

They paid five million dollars for it. As happens with acquisitions sometimes, the business had atrophy down to about half a million dollars in annual revenue. It had a staff of ten. It had offices all over the place. It was losing money big time. It was being marketed aggressively. They were spending money on marketing, but wasn’t having the impact that they wanted.

I came in and we saw it as our task to rethink the entire business. The aggressive marketing, come to us we’re better, we’re lower priced, we have this great product, just wasn’t doing the trick. For those of you who don’t know anything about financial information, don’t worry but it’s a very, very competitive market. It’s very difficult to show where you have an edge. We decided to take a completely different tack focused on content.

Now this is a few years ago, it’s before content marketing became a buzz word, so we didn’t call it that. We reasoned with this product that a new approach might be successful. It was focused on teaching. We were going to build a new department that would teach our market, out target market, individual by individual how they could succeed using the product. Then we would stay with them after the sale.

Our solution was to create a constellation or a network of content and support. We had classes, live and online classes. The internet makes it very cheap to do that. We had mentoring. We would do one on one in small group mentoring. Again, most of it done online. Our experts were sitting in the office, in a cubicle next to me.

We published books. We published white papers. We put out lots of online resources. We even published a physical book, if you can believe that, and gave it away as part of our content marketing, or what we called our content strategy.

Then we continued to build a library of evergreen online videos, that users, and prospects, and subscribers could go to anytime, and engage with us.

We did almost zero active quote/unquote selling. I’ll explain that a little bit more. Here’s one of the experts that we hired. He gave me his permission to use his picture. This is a great picture. This is Ernest. You can see how complex this software is. This looks essentially like a Bloomberg terminal, that you’d see at Credit Suisse or on a trading floor of a big bank. This is what we were marketing and selling. It’s extremely sophisticated. It’s actually quite good software, but very sophisticated, complex, with many nuances.

You couldn’t just sell it, it was an expensive product. It was four thousand dollars. You couldn’t just sell it and have somebody come download it or open the shrink wrap and install it, and expect people to on their own, pick up and understand how to succeed using it.

By shifting to classes, here’s class, and here’s a class schedule, this is a live class, we produced quite a nice delta.

When I came in, we were just under half a million dollars in annual revenue or run rate. Eighteen months later, we thought our goal was to do this in a year, it took eighteen months. Building the team took a little bit longer than six months. We were up to a three and a half million dollar run rate, and created a product that was very successful, had a great reputation in the market, and highly profitable.

The choice is, do you go to head to head? Do you compete against the multi-million dollar marketing budgets of the industry big guys or people who have more money and are able to spend more than you can? Do you implement a content thought leadership strategy and build search engine and social authority based on real and useful information on meaningful stories? Frankly, I think humor works really well too. You tie that to calls of action, and not direct selling.

There’s the concept of touching people with the right content at the right position of where they are in the funnel. We’re not going to get into that today, but that’s also very important. This all ties into that. We’ll talk about that in a future blog entry.

Whether your business is birth photography, or web design, or financial services, you’re a real estate agent, or maybe you make belts for men and women, it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing.

In fairness, I don’t think this strategy works absolutely for everybody a hundred percent of the time for various reasons. It’s a solid way to approach the market. The goal with content marketing is a really good one. It’s to connect with prospects and clients in real and meaningful ways.

One reasonable question would be, is content marketing new? Well, not exactly. In 1950 Walt Disney has a crazy idea. The studio, Walt Disney Productions was only just recovering from the lean days of World War II, which almost killed them because they lost the Asian and European markets because the world was at war. After the studio bounced back and began putting a little hay in the barn, as it were, Walt decided to embark on a completely new enterprise. It was something he and the studio had no experience doing.

He told everybody, I’m going to build a theme park in an orange grove, in the middle of nowhere, way down in a place that most people hadn’t heard of called Anaheim, California. His brother, who was the financial head of the studio said, “No way. The studio is not touching this. It’s too risky.” His wife thought he was crazy. Amusement parks she said, they’re filthy and they’re filled with all these sketchy characters.

What did he do? He mortgaged his house to develop the plans, drawings, and concepts. He would sell it by drawings predominantly.

Then he took the idea to the new media of the 1950’s, which was television. It had just come out. There was a little no name network that was getting zero traction, had no audience. It was called ABC. Walt, alone, among all the studio magnates of the time, went on to television. He would entertain, but more importantly, when he launched his TV show back in the 1950’s, he would explain what he was doing and why. He would show people, this is the crazy idea I have. This is why it’s different. This is what we’re building.

He even tied the physical park to aspects of the show. The various segments of the show would be tied to what would be the lands. You might watch a program on Frontierland and Davy Crockett, or Fantasyland, maybe a Disney movie, or Tomorrowland in an exploration of space. Walt would explain that then when you went into the park, you would live in that land, which was paralleled from the show into the park that he was building.

This show ran on various forms on NBC, ABC, and CBS for over fifty years. In the process Disney became the largest media company in the world. I mean when I did this presentation a couple of weeks ago, it was capitalized at over a hundred and sixty billion dollars.

I’m sure some of you are saying, “It’s not 1955 anymore.”

The fact is though, you cannot fake out the search engines. The trench warfare between the search engines and the people who are trying to fake them out is real, and the search engines are going to win. They have the money and they have all the incentive in the world to make sure that real content and real connections between people and what they’re searching for happen. That’s what pays the bills and drives the profits at these companies.

You need to build something real. In the end, I always think, isn’t that more satisfying? It’s harder, but it lasts. It’s better karma.

Let’s look at just one really, I think a really neat example. It’s something that I bought and I want you to look at how they’re marketing it, and what they’re doing in this one single piece of content marketing.

Once in a blue moon, something comes along that works so damn well, that you don’t need to fuss over appearances. It reminds us that above all else we just want something useful. Jason Freed said, “You need to get the fundamentals right. Fun wears off. Cool wears off. Useful never wears off.” When we’re rolling down the highway of our lives, what is it we want people to see? A rebel? A trendsetter? A man of wealth and taste? There’s a funny old saying from Mark Twain, that goes, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” Sometimes designers come along who are the rebels. They remind us that above all else, we just want something that can be used.

I think that’s just a terrific piece. It’s showing how this product is useful. It quotes Jason Fried, who I greatly admire, talking about the usefulness of things as opposed to cool and flashy. It quotes Mark Twain, bringing in a historical perspective. I think it’s just highly effective at in a nice light way, getting in touch with potential prospects for this product.

It’s followed by standard responsive website that does give you a little more detail in the regular belt. It talks about how they’ve got them for men and women.

While there’s no single cookie cutter approach, content marketing is available to any business, in any market. If you’ve like to know more or like I said, if you have any comments or questions about this presentation, give me a call.

My contact information is on the screen. Thanks so much.

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  1. uttara info tech on August 21, 2016 at 11:54 pm

    Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

  2. Tim on August 23, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Awesome presentation!
    I think content marketing as brilliant as it is is not new. Content marketing is what fueled initial blogging, e comerse, user experience.

    Brilliant belt as well

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