Every time a marketing strategy becomes mainstream—as has happened with content marketing—it loses something in the translation.

People forget that providing content is as old as marketing itself, that it’s been used for decades to engage customers and generate leads. Of course, it had no name then. There wasn’t a Chief Content Officer heading up the effort.

It was called simply “giving away information for free.” And businesses did it because it worked.

Now that it has a name and is a formal part of the marketing plan, it has to yield measurable results. As a result, it can get a little off-track:

  • Articles used as advertorials, not pure content.
  • Content scraped from other sites, just for the appearance of having a blog.
  • Writing that’s so brand-centric, it offers no useful information for readers.

Strategic content is informative, useful and sharable. The best content is engaging and entertaining too. As a result, it isn’t like most other marketing. It’s so customer centric, it might just as well be social media—which is why I tend to call it social content.

What is social content?

Social content is the merging of content marketing and social media. It ranges from long-form content, such as special reports, ebooks and blog posts, to short-form content, such as tweets and Google+ posts.

It’s marketing in that it supports the brand objectives to attract and retain qualified customers.

It’s social in that its primary goal is to nurture relationship.

Social content should draw readers (or viewers) deeper into the funnel. It isn’t designed to drive sales but to create an environment where purchase is the next logical step.

The secret to strategic content marketing

Because it falls under the marketing umbrella, most brands want to make content a sales strategy. They want a “buy now” call to action.

In truth, content should have a call to action, but rarely will it ask for a purchase. Why? Because content isn’t about your brand. It’s about your customers.

I recently read an article by Mary Green about rethinking your Facebook marketing strategy. Some of her points perfectly align with content marketing. (Remember, content marketing isn’t too far removed from social media.)

Her premise is simple: To engage people, you need to give them what they want.

“To start with, it’s important to know what your fans want from you. Do they want kitten photos, inspirational quotes, tips to make life easier, or ideas to help their business grow? You have to know this, you have to understand what your fan expects.”

Could it really be that simple?

Quite possibly.

Chris Pirillo, of LockerGnome fame, started his business to offer personality-infused tech answers to his audience. But over the years, what people expect from him has changed.

This summer, he realized that people were perceiving him, not as a tech guy who answers questions, but as a trend-setter for geeks. He decided to roll with it. If that’s how he’s viewed, why not leverage that perception?

He rebranded himself and designed a new publishing schedule to support it. Here’s how he introduced it to Facebook followers:

“I’ve learned, over time, that I’m often viewed as a cultivator of geek culture (intentionally or otherwise).

I’ve been keeping that concept close to the heart of my endeavor tweaks lately – trying to both (a) address our core community and (b) expand it simultaneously. Add to this the challenge of producing value that remains as timeless (“evergreen”) as possible, and… yeah.

I’d say my recent adjustments in social have been fruitful by several measurements. Some people haven’t even noticed a change (and I’m confident some people hate it).

Still, I continue to put a finer point on what it means to be a “cultivator of geek culture.”

We will soon be taking a new approach to what we choose to publish on LockerGnome.com – and now the onus is on me to find contributors who also see themselves as geeky (or nerdy) tastemakers. If we do it “right,” it’ll be a media cornucopia of geek culture updated daily. I want to help people find the best things to buy – and, at some point, I’m going to sell certain “Pirillo Approved” product directly.”

True to his word, his posts are more focused on geek culture than musings of a techy who likes geeky things. Like this Facebook post:

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What does your community expect from you?

When developing your own content strategy, you need to go beyond quotas and word counts. You need to focus instead on what your readers want and expect from you.

If they want epic posts, you’ll do better to slow down production and create posts that impress. Two bloggers who are doing this successfully are Jon Morrow and Johnny B. Truant.

If they want short, punchy content, that’s what you need to provide. Readers of the ZAGG blog expect four to six entertaining posts a day updating them on the latest in gadget news. Followers of author Seth Godin know they won’t see an update every day, but they look forward to his short, pithy posts because they’re so easy to digest.

If readers want choices, provide them. Readers of Crazy Egg’s blog, The Daily Egg, want one post a day, and they want input in how they receive notifications. To meet this expectation, I created two emails: a weekly digest giving a summary of all the content that was published that week, and a daily alert, which goes out each time an article is published. Subscribers get to pick the format that works best for them.

Your goal as a content marketer is to discover what your readers want. Then give it to them.

Don’t copy what other brands are doing. Don’t set impossible-to-meet publishing schedules or word quotas.

Build a content strategy around your customers, not your product and certainly not your own preferences, and you’ll find engagement goes up. Best of all, your sales numbers will likely follow. 


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Guest Post: Kathryn Aragon is Editor of The Daily Egg and publisher of the C4 Report. She’s an award-winning copywriter, content strategist, marketing consultant and author. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.