In 2011, the average shopper sought out and interacted with 10.4 pieces of unique content (including both on and off-line sources) prior to making a purchasing decision.
That remarkable fact comes to us from Google’s Zero Moment of Truth Macro Study. And, lest you think it’s par for the course, consider the even more remarkable fact that this number nearly doubled over the previous year alone.
I’ll pause for a minute and let you soak that in.
If you had any doubt as to whether this piece would be an unapologetic apologetic of content marketing, now you know. See, if you ask me, those figures are all the proof you need of how crucial content marketing is to the success of businesses today, both on and offline (a distinction that’s only getting blurrier). But it’s worth taking a closer look at the whys of this particular trend, not only because it sheds light on consumers’ changing behaviors, but also because it provides a tidy framework for understanding the whats and wherefores of content strategy.
What’s New About Content Marketing?
Marketing has always concerned itself with “content.” To say otherwise would just be laughably off-base. After all, humans have always dealt in stories, and brands have always tried to connect with customers by telling them. In fact, Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute traces the origins of content marketing all the way back to the first cave drawings in 4200 B.C.E. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that “content marketing” and “content strategy” emerged and gained currency. Why is that?
Here’s the thing that Pulizzi’s infographic glosses over: content marketing, both in theory and in practice, really is a departure, one that is wedded inextricably to the informational ecosystem of the web.
Pushing and Pulling
When most people think of marketing, their first thought is often still of Mad Men-esque advertising campaigns, in which agencies and businesses craft carefully controlled messages and push them out in an orchestrated manner across various channels, like TV, radio, magazines, direct mail, billboards, and other traditional outlets. The common denominator in each of these examples is that they allow businesses to push messages out to consumers in a mostly one-way stream and single-handedly shape the public conversation around their brands.
But technology has turned that logic on its head. It’s not just that we’ve developed technological overrides–witness the DVR, which is prized as much for its ability to bypass commercial breaks as it is to record shows for later viewing. It’s that we’ve developed whole new modes of communication online that make one-way conversations with brands a thing of the past and give consumers unprecedented access to the information they desire.
The fact that we as consumers are consulting a rapidly growing number of resources (read: content) prior to making a purchasing decision is a reflection of our increased access to information. And how are we seeking out that information? Well, in a number of ways. Yes, traditional marketing channels are still alive and kicking, but they make up an increasingly diminished piece of the pie as (you guessed it) internet search’s slice continues to grow. Indeed, as Google reported in the same ZMOT Macro Study, search is now–for the first time–just as or more influential than recommendations from family and friends when it comes to individuals’ shopping decisions.
Earning Your Share of 10.4
Enter content marketing. In many ways, I see it as a natural extension–and maturation–of white-hat SEO. If old-school marketing techniques are about “pushing” messages to consumers, content marketing is about “pulling” them in with outstanding content that appeals to both search engines and the interests of your target audience. It’s about earning your share of those crucial 10.4 content pieces that lead to a purchase. (Of course, it’s also about lead-nurturing, top-of-mind brand awareness, incremental conversions, brand storytelling, and relationship-building with customers–but those are topics for other blog posts.)
What makes content marketing new, different, and oh-so-exciting is that it gives your business the opportunity to earn–rather than simply gain–market share by establishing your expertise and providing real value to people who don’t know of you but are likely to be interested in what you have to offer. In this context, what’s good for you is also good for your customer, and vice-versa. Which is why, when it comes to content marketing, everyone wins.