Advertising is fading, and fast. Never before has the expression "content is king" rung so true.
This realization hit me in the middle of a routine workday. Gone are the days when someone on my marketing team had the word "advertising" in their title. Now, instead, at oDesk, I have a content marketing manager clacking on her keyboard just a few feet away. "Content marketing" was not a recognized term -- let alone part of anyone's title -- a few years ago.
You know there's a seismic shift afoot when one of the world's largest traditional advertisers, Coca Cola, defines its marketing mission as Content 2020.
So what is content marketing anyway? In short, it consists of building a relationship with your audience through genuinely useful, captivating communications.
What's causing this shift?
It's the Internet!
How many times have we heard those words? Content marketing is yet another area in which Internet use is disrupting a traditional industry.
For much of the twentieth century, people read the same newspapers, watched the same TV shows, and heard the same radio broadcasts, along with the same ads. While we could go into the kitchen to make a sandwich during the commercials, we often sat patiently through those we didn't care about. And, let's face it, that was most of them.
Today, we live in personalized microclimates of media -- we assemble our own digital newspapers by reading scattered articles across the web, watch videos our friends share on social media, fast-forward through commercials, and ignore banner advertisements on websites.
The result: businesses have to work harder to earn -- and I emphasize earn -- customers' attention.
Today's brands no longer win by buying interruptions along with a paid message. Impressions, the number of people estimated to have seen an ad, are no longer how we measure marketing success. Now we measure engagement --whether it's a share, comment, download, purchase, recommendation or something else that advances your customer's relationship with your brand.
Customers are taking control
The Internet did more than just bring us personalized media microclimates. It also provided consumers with oodles of information; so much information that it has transformed how we buy. We can research and compare at any hour with a few keystrokes.
What does this mean? It means many of your customers are making decisions without talking to you directly until late in the buying process. And they often come with strong leanings and impressions.
So it's about your customers' agenda, not yours
A common mistake when developing materials is promoting your product/service, instead of putting yourself in your customers' shoes and providing content that is genuinely useful or exciting to them.
Do you know anybody who heard of marketing software maker HubSpot because it purchased a great ad in the newspaper? Of course not. Many customers discovered Hubspot because their content is so darned helpful that people share it widely. I mean, take a look at their amazing blog, tailored to help marketing professionals succeed. You can't help but love a brand that provides such useful content. The same is true of moz; I read some fantastic posts about search engine optimization before deciding to explore -- when I was ready -- what moz actually sells.
Of course, it's not all about blog posts
The digital age is rich with communications options like video, images, social interactions, infographics, and more. If your content is genuinely useful, you will ignite or advance a relationship with customers over your shared concerns. If you hit it out of the park, like one of the most viral videos of 2013 by Dove, people will naturally share it, creating spillover connections to your brand that traditional advertisers could only dream of.
And in this digital world, some of the most authentic, exciting content comes from customers, or from interactions with your customers. For example, home services site Redbeacon's "Ask the Expert" section enables homeowners to get free advice from Redbeacon experts. By asking their community what issues are most important to them, Redbeacon can provide relevant content to their target audience.
We're all learning together
I'm really inspired by the examples above. Do you have any content marketing stories that knocked your socks off? I'd love to hear about them.
Follow Jaleh Bisharat on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jalehbisharat