Content Connects People With Products

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Content Marketing First Step: Identifying Information Pain Points

The first step of figuring out the how-to of content marketing seems obvious: Listen to customers. Only by understanding what information they are seeking when making a purchase decision can a company begin to formulate a winning content marketing strategy.

Pulizzi recommends setting up multiple listening posts, combining traditional approaches such as market research, focus groups, and customer surveys with social media monitoring. "There are a lot of tools out there to help you do the online monitoring, but even smaller companies can do this right away. Use Google Alerts and Twitter searches to figure out what the customer information pain points are," Pulizzi recommends.

Monitoring discussion groups on Facebook, the action around specific Twitter hashtags, and comments on relevant blogs are prime methods for surfacing discussions and problems that engage your customers' attention and for gauging the level of concern around them. Monitoring also gives you key information about where your customers are converging for information online. That's critical knowledge for deciding how to get involved in the conversation once clusters of questions have been identified.

Marc Monseau is the director of corporate communications for social media at Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). He shares the example of JNJ subsidiary McNeil Pediatrics, which produces CONCERTA, a drug aimed at helping children with ADHD. "McNeil figured out one of the main things parents of ADHD children are looking for is to connect with other parents, to talk about how to manage the condition," Monseau says. "So they sponsor two Facebook groups that act as forums for parents to connect." The two groups, ADHD Moms and ADHD Allies, clearly identify McNeil as sponsor. So McNeil's approach is to arrange for experts to post on the group site and to ask dialogue-provoking questions such as "Share the first time you suspected that your child had ADHD and how you helped him or her get diagnosed." Together, the two sites have more than 32,000 fans for whom McNeil Pediatrics has become an important ally in efforts to advocate for their children.

Monseau says the sites achieve something that he strives for in JNJ's overall content marketing strategy: "It helps move conversation beyond just the product. We benefit when we can expand that discussion with our customers."

How to Develop Your Brand Story for Effective Content Marketing

Identifying those customer information needs is the first step. To succeed in all the steps that follow, companies need to recognize that creating marketing content is an ongoing strategic imperative, not just a one-time marketing campaign. "Marketers need to take off their sales hats and put on publisher hats," Pulizzi says. Scott agrees: "Every organization has to become a publisher of content," he says; he has coined the term "brand journalism" to describe the way that companies must create content-videos, blog posts, photos, charts, graphs, essays, ebooks, white papers-to deliver value to the marketplace and underpin corporate reputation.

A consistent message reinforcing your brand's value to customers-its brand story-should be the linchpin of that content development.

HubSpot was founded in 2004 to deliver on the premise that inbound marketing, in which a company creates, optimizes, and promotes content to attract prospects, is infinitely more effective than traditional outbound marketing techniques. Mike Volpe, HubSpot's VP of inbound marketing, says the brand story and the company's service is one and the same: "HubSpot is the inbound marketing software you need to let you take advantage of new marketing techniques."

The content created for HubSpot's Internet Marketing Blog reinforces this message, with more than a thousand posts such as "How to Use Twitter for Marketing & PR" and "Steve Jobs & Guy Kawasaki-PowerPoint Best Practices" reaching 30,000 blog subscribers. But the story is also told via video on YouTube and on the company's own HubSpot TV site, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, and even New Yorker-style cartoons. All emphasize practical aspects of using social media tools for marketing. Says Volpe, "We have basically built our own media property for our industry."

Developing your brand story in advance also lets you check internal content assets first before splashing out for new copy, video, or podcasts. Pulizzi says, "We always ask where content is happening right now inside your company. Start with that. Maybe your salespeople could take a video cam out with them on calls and interview customers." Pulizzi is a proponent of content reuse as well; materials created for an internal sales meeting may, with a few tweaks, be perfectly appropriate for outside use.

That worked well for the U.K. branch of Dorling Kindersley (DK) Books, which worked with Zoe Uffindell, owner of Khaki Films, and created a video called "The Future of Publishing" for a DK sales conference. Now available publicly on YouTube, the video, which cleverly reinforces DK's reputation as a publisher that understands what's changed and what hasn't for the reading public, has almost half a million hits as of this writing (

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