7 Rules for Content Marketers
By Robert W. Bly

If you asked me to name the two biggest trends in business-to-business marketing today, I'd have to say social media and content marketing. And social media seems to work best when it's based on content.

In a recent survey of Target Marketing readers, 83 percent said either that content marketing compliments and works in tandem with traditional marketing communications (71 percent) or that content is replacing traditional marketing as the primary selling tool (12 percent). Only 15 percent of marketers said they don't really do content marketing. None of those surveyed agreed with the statement content is a waste of time. Joe Pulizzi, chief content officer of Junta42, says that the average business marketer spends 30 percent of their marketing budget on the creation and execution of content, and that 56 percent of marketers increased their content marketing spending last year.

But content marketing isn't just publishing information. There's way too much information available today. Your prospects are drowning in information. But they are starved for knowledge: ideas on how to solve problems and methods for doing their jobs better.

In addition, you're not in business to publish and give away content; you're in business to sell your products and services. Unless publishing content helps you achieve that goal, it's a waste of your time and money.

Here are 7 guidelines that can help make your content marketing efforts more productive and effective:

1-Narrow the topic. There is no benefit to cramming every last fact and bit of information about a subject into your white paper or other content marketing piece; the prospect can get all of the same data and sources using Google.

Content marketing works best when you narrow the topic. The narrower the topic, the more in-depth and useful your content can be.

For instance, let's say you are an industrial gas manufacturer creating a 10-page white paper on safety for plant managers. If the title is Plant Safety, you cannot hope to cover that topic in even the most superficial way; entire books have been written on that subject.

On the other hand, you could produce a very useful white paper on Safety Tips for Handling Compressed Gas Cylinders. It's a topic plant personnel want and need to know more about. And with your vast experience, you can probably offer some tips and methods that are new to the reader.

2-Target the prospect. The more narrowly you target the audience for your white paper or other content marketing piece, the better able you are to deliver content that is truly useful to them.

For our example of the white paper on tips for handling compressed cylinder gas, are you targeting plant managers or plant operators? Plant managers might be more interested in cylinder inventory and control, while plant operators want nuts-and-bolts tips for handling the cylinders. A CFO would want to look at reducing costly gas cylinder accidents, while the CEO might be concerned about liability.

3-Determine the objective. Remember, we are not in the business of giving away free information for our health. There has to be a purpose for the content we are spending time and money to produce - content no one pays us for.

For instance, a software publisher found that when he lost sales, it wasn't because prospects bought a competitor's products with better features and benefits. It was because the software in that category is expensive, and prospects, even though they wanted the functionality the software delivers, couldn't cost-justify its purchase.

To solve this problem, the marketer published a white paper titled Calculating Return on Investment for Purchase of XYZ Software. It demonstrated that, even though the software was expensive, the time and labor savings it provided could pay back its cost in 6 to 8 months. Salespeople used the white paper to overcome the objection of it costs too much.

4-Educate the reader. Years ago, Duncan Hines ran an ad in women's magazines about its chocolate cake mix. The headline was, The secret to moisture, richer chocolate cake. Why was that headline so effective? Because it implied you would learn something useful just by reading the ad, regardless of whether you bought the product.

Generic advice won't cut it in content marketing today. The prospect does not want to read the same old tips he's seen a dozen times before repeated in your white paper.

Chances are, you possess proprietary knowledge about your products and its applications. Share some of this knowledge in your white papers. Give your reader specific advice and ideas that everyone else isn't already telling him.

Don't be afraid that by telling too much, you'll eliminate the prospect's need for your product or service. Quite the opposite: when they learn the effort that solving their problem entails, and see that you clearly have the needed expertise, they will turn to you for help.

5-Deliver value. When you can, include some highly practical, actionable tips the prospect can implement immediately. The more valuable your content is to prospects, the more readily your content marketing program will achieve its stated objective. It's like fast food stands giving away food samples at the mall: the better the free food tastes, the more likely the consumer is to purchase a snack or meal.

6-Set the specs. Outline the characteristics, features, and specifications the prospect should look for when shopping for products in your category. If you do this credibly, the prospect will turn your white paper into a shopping list. And of course, the requirements you outline fit your product to a tee. For example, if your white paper title is 10 things to look for when buying a static mixer, your mixer naturally will have all 10 characteristics, while the competition won't.

7-Generate action or change belief. Content marketing is successful when it gets prospects to take action or changes their opinion, attitude, or beliefs about you and your product as it relates to their needs.

When writing white papers, I always ask my client, What do you want to happen after the prospect is finished reading our white paper? I often end the white paper with a final section titled The next step that tells the reader what to do and how to do it.

For more information on content marketing, visit the Content Marketing Institute online at www.contentmarketinginstitute.com.

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 75 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). You can find him on the Web at www.bly.com, or e-mail him at rwbly@bly.com, or phone 201-385-1220.