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The Difference Between Content Marketing and Marketing Content

Did you know that 57 per cent of the buying process is now complete before the buyer engages the vendor in the process.  That's almost two thirds over. That rather arresting statistic is from an important study commissioned by Google and conducted and written up by CEB - a "Member-based Advisory Service" - entitled the "The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing".

Content marketing is the new black.  Right now, the web is peppered with material on how good content marketing should be done...and here is some more I'm afraid.  But I did want to capture an important breakthrough I have made in the way I think about Content Marketing and how I approach what has become a very important topic in the world of Corporate Communications.

If your contribution and influence on the process begins 57 per cent of the way through, you have very little say on the direction it is taking.  The buyer has most likely already decided on what the problem is and what solution they are looking for.  The only thing left to discuss is price.  From a negotiation and competition point of view, that is not a strong position at all.

As Scott Gillum says in this article about the study in Fortune Magazine: "[Buyers] are engaging peers in social media to learn more about their needs, potential solutions and providers. And they are reading, listening to and watching free digital content that is available to them at the click of a mouse. No longer is the sales force the sole source or gatekeeper of information."

So unless you are involved in producing some of this content, you are left out of the discussion altogether.  And this content cannot be the same old content either, it has to Resonate with your audience.  On that topic, this blog post by @Copyblogger about content that resonates "like a tuning fork" is very useful indeed.

This is where my brainwave arrived, such as it is.  You see, traditionally Marketing Content sought to answer the question "which product should I buy?"  But really effective Content Marketing should seek to answer the question "how do I solve my business problems?"  By helping the buyer reach a conclusion about how to solve the business problem in question, you make it more likely that they consider you as part of that solution.  As Brian Solis says in his book Engage:  "people don't turn to social media to hear from brands...they are seeking answers and direction, not a sales pitch."

In today's SEO and Socially driven web, the buyer has control of the information they read and no longer depends on vendors' sales people for that information.  In this environment, if you are going to contribute to that journey and have influence on it, you must do so on the buyer's terms, not your's.  This is what should drive the creativity behind Content development, and not the different ways  in which you can position your value proposition and your products differentiated features.

This useful (albeit vintage) schematic from Content Marketing Today is helpful in understanding that process, and starts with that simple yet often forgotten starting point: "Understand the customer".