The average consumer is more sophisticated than they were even a couple of years ago. Millennials now choose to spend their time steeped in an online environment that is constantly bombarding them with sales copy and advertising. They've become wise to the tricks and techniques of salespeople and feel that these sorts of ploys equate to spam or manipulation. The most sophisticated online users -- which are often also the most valuable -- are practically immune to them. Instead, they demand straightforward communication and the personal touch.
That doesn't mean we can't sell -- we just have to be smart about how we sell. One of the smartest ways to sell is not to sell at all, but instead to provide something of value to the customer in the form of high-quality content. I know what most of you are thinking: "That's nothing new -- I have a blog!" But the traditional business blog and its middle-of-the-road 500-word article is just the tip of the iceberg as far as content marketing is concerned. It's a great first step, but to gain the maximum advantage from blogging, we have to be a little more bold about our content marketing strategy.
Let's be clear, the ultimate goal is not to amuse, entertain, or inform potential customers. The ultimate goal is to fill the purchase funnel, and we create content to that end.
I'd like to take a look at four content strategies that I've seen provide a positive return on investment. Each is more expensive than the humble short-form business blog, but each creates an owned resource that returns value over the long term.
The "Blog Post Plus"
Many business owners have the impression that the only good content is short content. It's true that length isn't a virtue in and of itself, but the web is full of short, vapid business blog articles that barely scratch the surface of a topic.
What I call the "Blog Post Plus" brings long-form to the business blog, delving deep into a topic with meaty articles. The idea is to create the best resource on a specific topic available anywhere. We've published longer posts both on our own blog and as guest blogs on industry-relevant sites, and they've been successful as a demonstration of our expertise and for generating new leads.
This is a content type that's often used improperly. Creating an eBook involves more than cobbling together a bunch of short blog posts into a PDF and asking for email addresses in order to provide access. The most valuable eBooks are substantial pieces of content that stand alone -- and could even be good enough to be sold on Amazon if that's the way you want to go.
My company recently had great success with the publication of an eBook that dealt with a subject close to our hearts: performance optimization for CMS web hosting. We carried out a comprehensive range of performance tests with multiple configurations and published all of our results along with evidence-based best-practice advice behind an email request form. It was a powerful generator of qualified leads because it provided valuable information to exactly the audience who could make use of the services we offer.
The Online Course
Online courses are a content type that I've seen some bloggers have huge success with, but that don't have much adoption in the business world. That's a shame because many tools exist to build excellent educational resources, and for businesses that are already blogging, creating an online course that relates to their products or services isn't that much of a leap. Much of the content published on a blog can be enhanced and edited to form part of an e-learning course.
I try to make sure that my company's content marketing efforts make the most of evergreen opportunities. Repurposing relevant content in various ways -- including as e-learning material -- is a powerful way to maximize the use of an expensive asset.
Some of the smartest businesses in the tech field are leveraging user-generated content. My business is web hosting, and a number of leading web hosting providers have created large content repositories by simply allowing their expert users to write and publish how-tos and tutorials on their sites.
Clearly, this is less expensive than hiring a writer, but the results can be just as positive, with many pieces of user-generated content ranking very high in Google (look at Wikipedia), because they're often the authoritative content on a narrow topic of direct relevance to a business.
The only caveat here is that high-quality user-generated content isn't free. You'll need to invest in moderation and professional editing unless you want your user-generated content to resemble YouTube's comments.
If businesses want to engage with the most sophisticated leads, they need more than traditional sales techniques. They should be striving to provide premium-quality content that establishes their reputation as a knowledgeable, prestigious brand within their niche.
Vik Patel is a prolific tech entrepreneur with a passion for all things cloud. As the CEO of Detroit-based Future Hosting, Mr. Patel has played a significant role in the world of hosted infrastructure since the turn of the millennium. His unique perspective throughout the dawn of the new Internet frontier is further enriched by a B.A. from the University of Michigan and J.D. from the John Marshall Law School.