Travelblather

What is content marketing? And who cares?

The term content marketing gets bandied around all over the place these days. Behind all the smoke and mirrors what does it *really* mean?

I was invited to the inaugural Travel Question Time event hosted by DataArt a week or so back. The panel consisted of a heap of smart people from the world of online travel – Hugo Burge, Chief Executive Officer, Momondo – founder of Cheapflights.com; Alex Gisbert, Chief Marketing Officer, Lowcostbeds; Stuart Nassos, Chief Operating Officer, Totalstay; Paul Godman, Industry Manager, Travel at Google; Dmitry Bagrov, Senior Vice President, DataArt.

One of the questions from the floor concerned Content Marketing – what did the panel think about it?

To my surprise most of the panel struggled to even define or describe the concept, let alone comment.

For me as content guy, I feel like the whole world is always talking about Content Marketing. But obviously not to the point that senior decision-makers in big online travel businesses know about it. Followers on twitter will know I hate the phrase… but anyway… for the benefit of any CEOs and anyone else who doesn't know about it... here’s my definition:

Content marketing is about applying the principles of marketing to the content you create. It’s a balancing act between two poles - you could call it Yin and Yang.

1) Yang - The ‘marketing’ bit means

- Using data to really understand your audience – to help you decide what you write about and how you write it. (Or what images you post or videos you create).

It’s not enough to just hire an editor to come up with cool ideas that he reckons will work for your readers. You need to use analysis to inform your content ideas from the outset. This isn’t something I’d do slavishly, but at least consider stuff like exactly who your audience is, what kind of stuff they like to read, buy and do, where they live, what their income bracket is, who they like to spend time with, what they watch on TV. Marketers have long created ‘persona’s – a kind of imagined typical reader  often described in surprisingly precise detail. It sounds a bit naff but it's actually really useful to be able to focus on an imagined reader when you’re creating content. Would they read this – if so, why?

2) Yin - But the ‘content’ bit means

- Writing for people who want to read interesting stuff – not people looking to buy stuff.

It’s not enough to let your PR team bung stuff on a blog and think you’re ‘doing content marketing’. That’s about hammering people with sales messages – that’s advertising in all but name in my opinion. That’s what I HATE about the phrase. People forget the role of the writer – they drain the life and creative soul out if it. The content bit is about using the creative juices and experience of a seasoned journalist to find the right tone and voice for the words and images on your website and to make it fun, entertaining, striking - and to give it balance and authority. To make it human and personal. People are increasingly disdainful of and immune to hardcore sales messages… you need to treat them with more respect these days.

The result ought to be content that really chimes with your intended audience – written in a way that they find engaging... about stuff they really are interested in. Do it right and you should be able to build an audience of people who like your company and brand for who you are and what it stands for - rather than just what you sell and how much it costs. It’s about building relationships rather than flogging stuff.

That’s the theory. Does it work in practice?

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