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?

3 thoughts on “What is content marketing? And who cares?

  1. First! Great post Jeremy - surprised no other responses yet. All too busy crafting their remarkable content :)

    Like your definition, sums things up nicely.

    We've found creating brand personas to be extremely useful for clients and ourselves.

    Okay, so they sound a bit cheesy and we even throw in some clipart for visualisation
    of Marketing Maureen or Technology Thomas. It gives a fictional character with real goals and challenges. With more and more content (and I've enjoyed your insights on quality) floating around, it's important that you can hone in on pain points, how you can help and take on the common objections.

    Personas are important not only for potential buyers. As is the case for me commenting here, I'm a fan, appreciate this content and will spread amongst other fans, maybe some influencers, and perhaps a potential client.

    For the Yang you're describing the awareness content. I look at this as getting found by creating useful and compelling content. Creating this content is not enough though and that's why it's a hard job convincing clients. Rightly so.

    Why? They need to measure a return. Unfortunately, most can't effectively because they don't take a closed loop approach or integrated analytics. The result is that they cannot tweak the levers, more of this type of content, less of that etc.

    Let's say a company creates fantastic content. Are they then doing enough promote it? Have they established trust with the audience already? Many companies stop short of creating buyer personas. If they don't know their audience, they won't know their online habits or where they reside online and the effect of the content is reduced.

    Let's say they tick this box. They have created brilliant content and it's getting found by visitors engaged with something useful. Companies are pretty poor at then taking this visitor further down the engagement funnel, who are still most likely nowhere near the purchase stage. It's the job of the website to then further build that audience connection - perhaps more useful content. As determined by the customer buying process many companies fail to produce the right type of content at the right time. Most approaches lack personalisation. For example, one size fits all newsletters. Email is particularly poorly used by travel companies.

    At this advanced stage it's more consideration or decision type content. You've now got their interest over a period of several visits/interactions, whatever it may be, you try to turn to show them your value, tying in those needs with your proposition. This could be testimonials, case studies, FAQs or other content. Companies fail at this lead nurturing stage.

    The third and final reason is analytics, which should be done continuously. I posted recently on closing the loop on analytics. http://www.dottourism.com/3-minute-guide-on-why-you-must-close-the-loop-on-analytics/
    It can be applied to every bit of activity - blog/website/guest post content, emails, landing pages, social media. Companies do not know what channels most effectively convert visitors to leads or customers.

    In reference to creating great content and let's say a series of posts by a seasoned travel writer. Companies struggle to analyse their data to see how this has worked beyond certain relatively meaningless stats. Visits, great! But did it lead to x number of subscribers, how many of those visitors come back again and what was their level of engagement, are they engaged enough that it's the right time to introduce our offering further? If they can't answer all of these questions they're stumbling around in the dark.

    It's the theory and it does work in practice. My point in a nutshell is that it requires a content plan, engagement, lead nurturing, personalisation and integrated analytics. We've stopped providing bolt on services for the above reasons. The value we bring is far far greater where we take an integrated approach across content, SEO, social and analytics than a little bit of this and that. Sorry for the long comment!

    It doesn't help that many systems are siloed. Ultimately though it's a massive change for clients and that's frightening!

  2. Hi Dominic
    Great comment, thank you. I completely agree with you. As a content person I'm primarily interested in just getting a client to agree to the idea of creating great content that isn't just about sell, sell, sell. But you're so right. Without the stats to prove its value, without having it anchored in a wider strategy to encourage conversion chances are they'll give up pretty quickly. It's very challenging. Often you're having to try and inculcate a change of culture and some pretty gritty technical changes too.

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