After the first dot-com bust, “content is king” was the rallying cry of any competent Web worker. Back then this revelation was novel online. Soon after, this mantra became a cliché. As it often goes with clichés, they start out as something true and meaningful. Eventually, the words become common, outlive their value, and are so overused that they’re easily ignored.

Saying content is king is the equivalent of saying money is valuable; it’s true but obvious. Tell that to the even the most mentally challenged Web marketer today, and you’ll likely get a, “Duh, where have you been?” in return.

Nobody needs to be told content is of value. But how valuable is it?

Because there isn’t a $1, $5, or $10 denomination stamped on the front of Web content, it’s often difficult to know exactly how valuable content is to your company. Also, knowing content’s value isn’t the same as knowing how to create it, market it or even how to use it.

What Is Content?

This is a critical question that often goes underexplored. If you ask most marketers, they’ll answer that it’s the copy on a Web site. While this answer is certainly true, it’s inadequate. Content is more than copy.

We can debate the nuance of the possible answers to this question. But a good starting place is to think of Web content as the public conversation that happens between you and the visitor, whether the conversation is one-way (from you to the visitor), two-way (between the visitor and you), or conversation among visitors.

Content includes but is not limited to:

  • The copy on your Web site
  • Blogs and reader comments
  • Content widgets
  • Product/service reviews
  • Forums
  • Videos, demos, and animations
  • Tweets
  • Facebook/MySpace fan pages and groups
  • E-mail newsletters
  • Articles and other intellectual property or knowledge sharing
  • Whitepapers, case studies, Webinars

The more this content causes, persuades, or woos visitors to take a profitable action on our behalf, the more valuable it is. If it doesn’t do this, it’s more like bad entertainment.

Content Now Worth More Than Ever

The economic forecast remains challenging for at least the near future. It’s easy to make a case for leveraging existing content for all it’s worth. I would also encourage you to determine the costs of content creation strategies (if you have in the past, revisit them now). You’ll likely find that content creation is becoming more affordable. Many of our clients are easily making room in their budgets to try at least a few content-centered marketing tactics.

Using content as a marketing tool is obvious for those with compelling intellectual property, but it isn’t just for those types any more. Almost any company or service can find a content-marketing strategy that will work for it.

A former employee of mine has been looking for a home in a new area, and was impressed to find a few Realtors tweeting. He followed them. He was able to meet with one, walk through a property, and find he was from the same area as the real estate agent. Since he didn’t yet have a Realtor, whom do you think he is going to choose?

Getting Started With Content Marketing

  • You don’t have to start from scratch. If you have content already, look to your analytics to identify popular content and find other uses for it. Rewrite it, update it, and send it as a newsletter. Even tweet it as an oldie but a goodie. Or have it formatted for mobile browsers.
  • Crowdsource. Sometimes your customers will create better content than you can buy from a content creation firm. Why not use specific reviews or forum posts as landing places for campaigns or even as ads?
  • Find the passion. Somebody in the company interested or fluent in a particular social media, or has been itching to write a company blog? Now is the time to let him loose. Let his passion be a lighthouse for potential customers. While it may not be polished or on message, it is likely not going to be sterile and flat like most polished, on-message marketing efforts. To get a sense of what this evangelist might do for you, check out my interview with Betsy Weber, chief evangelist of TechSmith:part one and part two.
  • Let content come from your company’s strength. We had a client where almost everybody in the company participates in the forum. Every employee is knowledgeable about the service offered, and they all become part of the marketing vehicle, giving tips and comments and escalating customer issues. Not only is it transparent, it’s content marketing at its most organic.
  • Content marketing should ultimately be a two-way conversation between you and your customers. While an e-mail newsletter or a static Web page with persuasive copy is technically one-way, it shouldn’t sound like it is. Talk more about them and what they get than talking about yourself. Those who do nothing but talk about themselves just end up “wewe-ing” all over themselves.
  • Don’t be pressured to reinvent the wheel. If you don’t already have one, start a simple e-mail newsletter or blog. Don’t feel forced to pick something new and shiny like Twitter or the latest social media frenzy.
  • Content that isn’t relevant to at least one profitable segment of potential customers isn’t content, it’s spam. Spam is boring. Creating relevant content often requires planning.

Final Say

Ultimately, content marketing is about optimizing the dialogue between a company and it customers. The better, more interesting the conversation is, the more attention it attracts and the more your customers are compelled to talk and buy.

How is the conversation going with your customers?

Please share if you think others would benefit.