Five reasons content marketing is a mystery to me

content marketing

I’ve been immersed in the digital world for a long time and I’ve concluded that there are many aspects of content marketing that can be downright mysterious!

To succeed in the business world today, I’m convinced that you must acknowledge and embrace the mystery of content marketing even when you can’t understand it.

Here are five things about content marketing that make no sense, but nevertheless are true!

1. Don’t count on “viral”

Almost every business has a dream of going viral: “If we could just have that one magical piece of content that storms across the internet!”

The idea of getting a million views is so intoxicating … but meaningless.

Here’s the truth. “Viral” doesn’t work, and it usually doesn’t matter.

Look at this chart:content marketing

This depicts the number of people who have subscribed to my blog since 2013. “Number of Subscribers” is an important measure of progress because this represents my reliable reach, my actionable audience. It is a measure of my influence because it shows that a growing number of people are inviting me into their lives.

Over the years, I’ve had many posts go viral, attracting thousands of shares across the web. But look at this chart carefully. It’s a nearly smooth line … a slow and steady climb. Viral posts have had no impact on long-term strategy or business success.

I’m sure there are exceptions. But this is a lesson that has been repeated by many of my digital marketing colleagues who have experienced the inevitable disappointment of “viral!”

We’ve all learned there’s no shortcut to content marketing success. You have to show up and do the work. Every month is a little better than the previous month until you reach a critical mass when people trust you and start buying stuff from you.

2. SEO matters less than you think

Almost every company employs content marketing to win the Search Engine Optimization battle. SEO is still critical for many businesses, but as I wrote in this post on the future of SEO, it’s becoming less important over time for some businesses for three key reasons:

  1. The opportunity to serve search opportunities through content is shrinking
  2. The competition for search success is increasing since only 1-2 companies “win” the top of the results
  3. The sheer amount of content on the web makes the SEO challenge increasingly costly.

I find that content marketing is more about establishing authority that attracts readers without relying on the vagaries of the Google algorithm.content marketing

For example, I compete in the completely over-saturated space of digital marketing consulting. What’s the chance I’ll win those search results through content marketing? Zero. I’m a little guy. I don’t have the resources to breakthrough that wall of noise on keywords alone.

But you’ve found this post, haven’t you?

I’m winning the war for attention another way. My content gets a massive amount of views without SEO because the insightful and useful content I provide has authority that earns subscribers and social sharing on the web — independent of SEO.

So while “SEO” dominates the content marketing conversation, it may not be the most important benefit for many businesses!

3. Content marketing is dis-engaged from the sales cycle

A small story to make my point.

In 2013, the CMO of a Fortune 100 company found my blog and subscribed to it. I had no way to know he was out there because he never engaged with me on my blog, or anywhere else.

In 2015, I wrote a book called The Content Code: Six essential strategies to ignite your content, your marketing, and your business. My CMO reader/stalker was interested enough in me by this point to buy and read my book. In mid-2015 he sent me an email that said:

“Mark, I just wanted to thank you for this book. It’s the best business book I’ve read in the last 10 years.”

That was the first time I had ever heard from him.

In 2017, my reader believed in me enough to hire me to run a content marketing workshop for his company.

If you’ve been keeping score, you’ve now counted more than four years from the time this person first started connecting to my content to the day he hired me to run a workshop.

Content marketing works, but it works independently of any quarterly sales goals.

Content marketing — especially if you’re building authority — is a slow and patient process. It works, but it takes persistence and patience.

The people who consume your content don’t care about your quarterly sales goals. They’ll buy from you when they’re ready.

4. Engagement isn’t the goal of content marketing

Here’s another important observation from that little case study about the person who hired me for the workshop. Until I received that email in 2015, I had never heard of him before. He was reading my blog every day and had never engaged with me.

Last year I published a comprehensive post on the business value of engagement and found that engagement is largely a vanity metric with almost no measurable business value.

This is precisely the opposite of what most businesses believe. They are killing themselves to improve engagement and probably wasting a lot of money.

Something to think about … 95 percent of the time, when somebody hires me for a keynote speech, consulting engagement, or workshop, I’ve never heard of them before. Most of your best customers and potential customers are NOT engaging with you. That doesn’t mean they’re not connected and building an emotional connection to you. It just means they’re watching you quietly.

So why emphasize engagement so much?

5. Consistency is more important than genius

Many people fear content marketing because they think they have nothing new to say. Perhaps they’re afraid because they don’t consider themselves an expert in anything.

But one of the mysteries of content marketing is that you don’t necessarily need to be an expert in anything to make a dent in this world. Sometimes, all you need to do is take people along for the journey.

I started blogging in 2009. I was certainly not an expert! In fact, I had no idea what I was doing.

But I kept plugging. I learned, I grew, I improved.

In 2013 — just four years later — I wrote a book called Born to Blog which I believe is still the best-selling book on blogging anywhere.

Nobody is born an expert. But everybody has something to say as they learn and grow.

You don’t have any competition. There is only one you. Success in this space is less about being a genius than simply being willing to share honestly in a consistent way over the long haul.

Whether you are a solopreneur or a large company, creating content that stands out depends on adding your human voice, your authentic story.

So … content marketing may not be as straight-forward as you believed, at least it hasn’t been that way for me!

The lesson is, there is no quick content marketing solution. But it works if you commit to quality and consistency over time.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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