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The Real Key to Content Marketing Is the Friends You Meet Along the Way (No, Seriously)

If you want to your content marketing strategy to succeed in 2018, you’re absolutely going to have to write for your customers.

That may sound obvious — perhaps even condescending — but the sad reality is that few marketers actually have their audiences in mind when developing content. Instead, they write to make numbers on a machine go up so their boss will be happy. They’re the quintessential “I’m not here to make friends” reality TV contestant.

Well, we’re here to set things straight.

You are here to make friends, and the machines are not your friends. Algorithms on platforms like Google and Facebook are finicky by design. You can’t make them happy for very long!

But you can make your human audience happy. The best way to do that is to write things they will enjoy reading. Generally speaking, people enjoy content that answers their questions, helps them learn how to do something better, or invokes an emotional response.

Create content that can satisfy these instinctual needs across their entire customer journey, and you now have a repeatable recipe for building relationships.

And make no mistake: the sole purpose of content marketing in 2018 is to develop a customer journey where you and your audience become friends by the end. It may sound like something out of a sappy Hollywood movie, but marketers that build customer relationships through content can achieve better performance and ROI.

Start Writing Content for People, Not Machines

Let’s start diving into our point by illustrating what you should never do. Give us a moment because we promise this brief tangent is going somewhere.

Anthony Bourdain was well loved, and millions were deeply saddened by his sudden death in June. Naturally, those who read headlines about his death would be curious about the details of his home life and career. In turn, hundreds of thousands of people would Google questions trying to uncover these details.

If you’re a news publisher trying to turn all of this momentum into traffic for your site, your machine-focused inclination would be to churn out dozens of articles that repeat common questions verbatim. That’s exactly what Newsweek did.

anthony bourdain newsweek

As you can imagine, the response was less than favorable. Now, public opinion of Newsweek’s content has likely taken a hit. The company has broken down relationships instead of building them. The machine algorithms on Twitter and Google may have appeared to be satisfied, but the audiences weren’t having it.

Meanwhile, other publishers and brands were joining in on the sincere outpouring of grief for the outspoken food personality. By perfectly capturing the emotions we feel or eloquently distilling why Bourdain had so many fans within all circles, these brands were able to achieve engagement and shares in the thousands.

This example may be extreme, but what we’re trying to advocate here is maintaining a sense of humanity within all contexts.

We’re also tying together all the threads we’ve been spinning on the subject of content quality.

Content quality is a drum we’ve been beating all along, but audience behaviors and algorithm optimizations have been bringing it all to a head. Without a strategy that prioritizes your audience’s needs and expectations, any technical SEO performance gains will be a hollow victory.

Did you know: 90% of B2B buyers say online content has a moderate to major affect on purchasing decisions!

Earn Good Performance by Writing for Audiences During Each Customer Journey Stage

Writing for your customer audience instead of a machine is admittedly harder than it sounds.

You want to give audiences content that’s not just useful but useful as a tool in a specific context.

Your content can function as a practical tool to inform and answer questions. Or, it could act as a diversionary tool to make them smile or evoke their emotions. Either way, content must provide utility within a context that includes both your customer’s needs and their current stage along the customer journey.

Here are some examples of content optimized to provide value during specific phases of the customer journey:

  • Nurture Phase: How do people navigate decisions in your industry sector? What values to people often take for granted as they make purchase choices? Answer these questions while thinking like a blogger, not an advertiser, to ensure your content has a strong, relatable voice.
  • Purchase Phase: Provide in-depth product reviews or information from a standpoint that is 90% brand neutral. For that remaining 10%, cover brand differentiation factors as if you were a well-respected opinion leader or influencer in your niche.
  • Retention Phase: Why does your brand love the things it loves? What passions do you share with your audience? Long-form content can reveal these things to give existing customers and brand advocates something to share that reveals part of their personality.

Relationships Now Drive Content Marketing Performance, Not Technical Wins

The old days of trying to game algorithms are rapidly drawing to a close. Even if you find “success” from a technical standpoint, you aren’t reaching your audiences in a way that leads to a lasting positive effect.

According to experts like Trepoint CEO Bill Carmody, “creating customer loyalty and advocacy” through quality content should be the main content marketing objective, rather than just churning out abysmal content for machines.

True advocacy is hard to come by, and it’s dependent on relationships. “I’ve amassed nearly 1.5 million miles on United Airlines, and yet I have no advocacy for this company,” Carmody explains. “What I’m talking about is getting back to the basics of truly listening to your customers and building in more surprise and delight into their lives.”

If you can produce content people find useful, your brand actually becomes a part of their life during their journey. You develop a relationship where your audience begins to depend and rely on you. In a perfect world, they anticipate your latest content and enthusiastically share it to their friends and social media followers.

Did you know: Companies who adopt content marketing have a conversion rate 6 times higher than those who don’t!

KPIs are a window into how well you succeed, but people’s reactions are the ultimate barometer you want to pay close attention to. You want people to love what you write, especially during the nurturing and retention phases.

Through this process, that wonderful/nauseating feel-good trope becomes true: “maybe the real [blank] was the friends we met along the way?” Yes, that idea is hokey, but it drives a fundamental point home: You want people to like your content so that they will like you as a brand.

If you can regularly say something they agree with or that distills something they feel strongly, you’ve just won a new friend — and not just a customer.

Build Relationships with Humans, Not Algorithms

While staying within Google’s SEO guidelines is important, high quality content will continue to be top priority. At EverSpark Interactive in Atlanta, content marketing is a cornerstone of what we do. Contact us today to learn more about our process and how we can help you reach the customers you want, whether you’re a mom ‘n’ pop shop or a billion dollar corporation.