I’ve been a content marketer for a whopping two and half years. That’s not a lot of time. In my past life, I considered myself a journalist. I wrote fashion and beauty news for ELLE, and then moved to writing branded content for Mashable — which became my launching pad for a career in content marketing.
As it turns out, there isn’t too much different about a branded content article on a site like Mashable or Buzzfeed or Forbes or Fast Company — nearly everyone is doing them these days — and writing article copy for an actual brand. At least, there really isn’t that much different in theory.
After all, public perception of your brand is your brand. There are plenty of stats that tell us that:
- 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated
- 80% of companies say they deliver “superior” customer service
- 8% of people think these same companies deliver “superior” customer service
- Americans tell an average of 9 people about good experiences, and tell 16 people about poor experiences
This is why it is so crucial that brands be efficient in speaking to their customers on social, in blog posts and, yes, on sites like Mashable, Buzzfeed, Forbes and Fast Company. Wherever your audience is, whatever it is that they are reading, your content –– i.e. your brand’s voice –– should be there too.
And what if it isn’t? What if you opt to do display and banner ads instead? What if you sponsor ads on Google? What if you retarget and follow your customers all around the web? What if you do all of these without providing any context or enabling any other connection point between your customer and your brand?
Well, then you’re a stalker.
Let’s take that very same idea, and drop it into a different scenario. What if you hosted a party, and someone attractive came. You didn’t speak. There was no verbal connection and they may not have even made eye contact with you. After the party, though, you begin to show up everywhere they go. Your OKCupid profile picture pops up on their Facebook feed. You begin going to their church or their yoga class or their business presentation (or all three!). You want them to be interested, you want them to feel the same connection you do — that one you never actually created. What are you?
You’re a stalker. A relatively innovative one, but a stalker nonetheless.
Now, just as for actual people, your presence doesn’t make an immediate connection — and even if it does, its fleeting. What people remember, what your target audience, what your prospective customer, what your next possible date, will most remember about you — and this applies to brands — is what you say, how you say it and how well you prove that what you said is true, honest and human.
Content doesn’t just control your brand then. Content is your brand, because customer perception is your brand — and customer perception is shaped most significantly by your content.
Now, content is everything. It is your tweet, it is the LinkedIn article your CEO writes, it is what your sales person says to close a deal, it is even what your sales person says when a deal suddenly falls through and the person on the other end of the line is being insanely rude. Content is every single aspect of tone, charisma, thought leadership and engagement that your brand participates in in one way or another.
This sounds like a lot to manage — and rest assured, it is. But the trick isn’t to be perfect. The trick isn’t even to be identical in how you talk to customers, as if every single person that works at your company is a clone of the next. The trick is to be human, it is to be honest, it is to be true to what you say.
That’s how you make friends in real life — and that’s how you win loyal customers for your brand.
OK — so, you don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to be strategic. Brands aren’t people. Brands are a conglomerate of many, many agile and intelligent minds all working toward a similar and agreed upon goal.
People on the other hand are not conglomerates. People are free agents acting according to their own individual goals — or often just whims. Brands need more guidance than that. Brands need to ask, they need to double check, they need someone at the executive level to sign off (depending on your org chart). And that’s not a bad thing. What it is, though, is a lot of work for a content team.
The Hubspot Content Model
Let’s take Hubspot for example. I’m sure most of you, perhaps even all of you, have read a blog post or two from them. They manage three different blog verticals, at least that’s what a reader can see. Likely, because they are Hubspot, they segment much more once you fall into one of their nurture streams. Speaking of nurture streams, more content is needed in there to push warm leads to becoming hot leads — or at least engaged members of the Hubspot readership community. To get those warm leads, they first have to pull in completely cold leads and they do this through their social channels.
Ah, yes, more content.
They tweet, post and share their own blog posts as well as that of other brands and publishers. Their editors and content team members also tweet, post and share blog posts they worked on. All of that is Hubspot branded content — even when it is coming from an editor’s personal account. That message needs to be on brand — but fitting for both the editor and Hubspot.
Then, when you actually talk to Hubspot, like actually get into their sales funnel, these guys are great! They talk to you about blog posts, they send you blog posts, they reference blog posts, they make you feel like if you aren’t reading their blog posts — well, what are you doing online?
All in all, these guys are zipped up. The sales team knows their content and they know that content is their brand. And, everyone at their company knows it, too.
So, let’s wrangle all of this down a bit. Few of us are at a Hubspot business level. How does a scaling company implement this content is the brand philosophy? Well, you first put in place a cross-organizational content team. This means that every single person at your business can and ideally will be a content contributor. This doesn’t mean they have to be the best writer in the building. That’s what you hire a content marketer for — to do the edits, to rewrite when necessary, to make sure everything going out is on-brand, even when the tone varies based on the author.
For most content teams, the best way to do this is by working closely with your sales, campaigns, support, product and BI teams. For more information on exactly how a business, like Bigcommerce, puts this to work, stay tuned for a future blog post.