By Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler
Most marketers just don’t get it. Twitter is not a fax machine. A PDF is not an eBook. Brands aren’t inherently interesting. Millions of people rely solely on smartphones to access the web. And nobody—except maybe your boss—checks your Facebook page in hopes of discovering your latest product announcement.
In just a few short years, the marketing landscape has changed dramatically—but most marketers haven’t. It’s not entirely their fault. Change is hard and humans tend to resist it. Even marketers.
Today’s consumers live in a rapidly-changing marketplace of products and ideas. They are active, digital omnivores snacking their way through a buffet of content morsels. When they need information, they seek out tasty content goodness from places where they have found it before (Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, The Huffington Post, Forbes), often on multiple screens. And they discover new content delicacies by following the recommendations of those they know and trust.
They don’t need your help to find content of value. And, chances are, they don’t want what you’re offering, anyway.
That’s because most marketing campaigns in the digital age are little more than crusty old ideas shoved into shiny new distribution channels. What’s lacking is imagination — and a little science and mathematics. In the new world of marketing, content must become more than a channel for official messaging. Instead, content must be re-imagined and re-designed so it acts as a magnet, pulling in an always-on, socially-enabled, mobile, global world of prospects.
What’s needed is “professional-grade” content marketing.
What is Content Marketing, You Ask?
According to the folks at the aptly-named, Content Marketing Institute, “[C]ontent marketing is a marketing technique; a way of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience, with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
Simply put, content marketing is the art of communicating without selling. It’s about providing content of value, while resisting the temptation to slide into the pitch.
“Professional-grade” content marketing adds science and mathematics to the mix. To measure the success of our efforts — driving profitable customer interactions — we must be able to measure the fruits of our labors in meaningful ways. It’s not enough to count clicks, downloads, likes, friends, fans, followers and retweets. In order to be successful, we must measure what matters and be able to demonstrate (calculate) return on investment (ROI).
Deciding what to measure is critical. For instance, retailers should be measuring how much content creation costs compared to the amount of revenue it brings in. That ROI calculation is needed in order to make informed business decisions, to adapt campaigns that fail to meet expectations, and to replicate those that exceed them.
Case in Point: A Revolution in Product Documentation
One savvy company, Dozuki, saw opportunity in the do-it-yourself movement and decided to take a fresh approach to solving the problem of less-than-useful product documentation while simultaneously carving out a profitable new business model. Their efforts led to the creation of iFixit.com, a free, online community designed to help mere mortals successfully accomplish great feats of repair while simultaneously selling tools and parts.
“We’re starting a revolution in documentation,” says Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit.com. “Technical documentation shouldn’t be an afterthought. It shouldn’t be a dumping ground for legal disclaimers. Documentation should be vital to companies. It’s an opportunity to teach people how to do what you’re passionate about. And, if we’ve learned anything from iFixit.com, it’s that people really appreciate good instructions.”
At first, iFixit.com was little more than an online catalog of parts and tools.
“Early on, we tried to sell products, like PMU boards, without a ton of success,” says Wiens. “The need was there, but the expertise wasn’t—only those who already knew how to replace a PMU board bought one.”
Wiens and crew quickly realized that the traditional approach to marketing no longer worked. They decided to change the paradigm and to focus on publishing relevant and valuable information that drives profits.
Part online catalog, part repair university, iFixit.com was designed to attract customers by providing some of best repair guides around. They’re consistently structured, well-written, and illustrated with large, beautiful photographs. They’re optimized for mobile devices. And, they’re free. They make repairing smartphones, tablets, laptops, game consoles—even cars—seem so unbelievably easy that many people rely on the service to help them fix things on the cheap.
“When people with no repair experience are able to get their computers up and running again because they read a manual, they tend to tell people about it,” says Wiens. “We have a pretty dedicated fan base that spreads the word about iFixit’s free repair manuals.”
The approach works. Today, iFixit.com is the largest free, online repair manual on the web. The company has empowered over 15 million amateurs to fix complex electronic devices. And, they’ve sold many of their site visitors the parts and tools they need to do the job, landing the company on the Inc. 5,000 Fastest Growing Company list for the last three years.
From a content marketing perspective, iFixit.com is a brilliant idea that marries the best aspects of community (membership, camaraderie, a sense of belonging) with technical documentation (relevant information), marketing (engaging content), social (sharing, rating, commenting) and eCommerce (sales). It allows iFixit.com to sell parts and tools at the point of need. And, it’s a perfect example of “professional-grade” content marketing done right that’s being replicated by others.
O’Reilly Media makes use of the approach in Make Magazine to teach people how to make cool DIY projects. A bicycle accessory company, Lezyne, uses the approach to teach people how to use and repair bike parts. Crucial, a computer upgrades company, uses online manuals to teach their customers how to install RAM and memory upgrades. There’s even a site dedicated to documenting veterinary surgery for e-learning purposes.
Professional-Grade Content Marketing
What makes the iFixit.com approach “professional-grade”?
First, the company understands that both the content they produce—and the experience it provides visitors—is content marketing. By re-imaging the service repair manual as a visually-rich, interactive, socially-enabled, mobile-ready marketing product, the company changed the paradigm. No longer were manuals provided as an afterthought, a necessary evil that accompanies a product purchase. Instead, they used the new-and-improved content experience to drive sales.
Second, iFixit.com knows something most firms have yet to discover. They are publishers. Sure, they exist to sell parts and tools. But, they publish compelling, valuable, accessible content in order to do so. They aren’t spraying their content all over the social web, begging for likes and praying for clicks. Instead, they create relevant content people want to share with others. And, they optimize that content for mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, and various Android devices.
Third, iFixit.com is not just a set of free, online repair manuals, it’s an online community that encourages visitors to rate, share, monitor, and help improve their content. They empower visitors to create their own repair manuals, share stories of repair success, help one another, and gather together in groups. And, they make it easy to do so.
Fourth, by including content created by their customers, iFixit.com is optimized for search. Search engines like Google and Bing reward the site for having a robust, relevant vocabulary that includes both the official vocabulary words used by writers employed by iFixit.com, as well as the words customers choose to use.
And last, but certainly not least, the company can tie revenue directly to each piece of content they create. It’s baked into their digital DNA. Because each repair manual has its own URL, the company knows which content has earned them the most revenue and provided the highest return on investment. For instance, the company might pay $1,000 for someone to create a set of instructions designed to help consumers replace a broken iPhone screen. Because the company knows the cost of content creation, and which parts and tools were sold to people who visited the page, they know how much revenue each piece of content has earned the company. They can calculate return on investment anytime. They can prove their content is selling product.
Can you say that about your content marketing efforts? Probably not.
A New Definition of Victory
It’s time to end the content marketing “amateur hour.” Toss out your psychic-powered, old-school marketing approaches and start thinking differently about what you do and how you do it.
It’s not enough to tally up your clicks, retweets and likes and declare victory. In order to be successful in the digital age, you’re going to need to create amazing content of value and make it easy to find, retrieve, access, share and rate. And, you’ll need to collect metrics that are meaningful and use them to make actionable—defendable—business decisions.
What are you waiting for? Get busy.