Some people think “content marketing” describes the use of valuable content to attract attention and build a solid reputation with prospects.
Others think it’s the use of content and high-quality information to actually market the product, in what Jeff Walker calls a “sideways sales letter” that takes the place of the usual sales pitch.
And still others think it’s about creating a business around paid content, like ebooks, home study courses, and membership sites.
Actually, just like those multiple choice tests from sixth grade, the correct answer is D, all of the above.
Content marketing is about taking your knowledge and expertise (or borrowing someone else’s) and using it to support business goals. There are probably a thousand ways you could do that, but let’s look at the three most significant.
Build your reputation
If you have a product or service that people actually want, the single biggest factor that keeps them from buying is lack of trust.
We live in a low-trust environment, especially online. Everywhere we look, someone is trying to infect us with a virus, phish the password to our checking account, or sell us pictures we probably shouldn’t be looking at in the first place.
People actually want someone to trust. They want reliable answers to their questions, and good solutions for their problems.
Creating solid content that benefits the reader doesn’t just tell your prospects you’re trustworthy, itshows them. And that’s always more powerful.
Sideways sales letter
Content is also a terrific way to deliver a sales message.
The long-form sales letter isn’t dead, and it never will be. The work of enticing a prospect and overcoming her objections takes some time.
But attention spans are short these days, and only the most desperate buyer is willing to read the traditional long (often tacky and heavy-handed) sales letters you usually associate with internet marketing.
Enter the sideways sales letter. Jeff Walker pioneered this term, and although he wasn’t the first to use the technique, he uses it particularly well.
You can attract attention, demonstrate features and benefits, elicit desire for the product, show the product in action, overcome objections, deliver a stirring call to action, and every other copywriting function just as effectively in content as you can in a traditional sales message.
In fact, it’s much more effective, because the content is, to use master copywriter Gary Bencivenga’sphrase, “advertising that’s too valuable to throw away.”
Not every business can benefit from producing paid content, but most can.
The simplest version is the ebook.
The upside to ebooks is that they’re relatively quick to produce. The downside is that most readers won’t pay much for them. Ebooks can be a great way to quickly test a market and make sure there’s an interest in paying for information in your topic.
Digitally-delivered courses (sometimes called home study courses) are the ebook’s more valuable cousin. These typically include audio, transcripts, and worksheets or a workbook. If you’ve got a good ebook but you’d like to do more with it, consider using a free program like Audacity to re-create and expand the content in audio format, then package it as a course instead. Courses command more money, more respect, and gain you a greater reputation. They’re a little more work to produce, but they’re generally worth it.
The granddaddy of the family is the Interactive Learning Environment, or ILE. (Some people refer to these simply as “membership sites,” but a true ILE adds solid instructional design to present the information in an exceptionally powerful and effective way.)