Creating Content That Connects (Jim Karrh On Marketing)

There is a lot of advice and admonition these days about “content marketing,” the strategy of creating, curating and sharing information believed to be of value to target buyers. The idea behind a content marketing strategy is often to establish your organization as a thought leader or the go-to place to learn.

Content can also build a brand through entertainment as well as enlightenment. A notable example is Red Bull, which has generated about 600 million combined views on YouTube across its videos; a 90-second highlight of Felix Baumgartner’s freefall from space has by itself generated 36 million.

I looked at two recent reports from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. The CMI’s fourth annual surveys are from a sample of companies worldwide with a range of sizes and industries. They illustrate the size of this trend: 93 percent of business-to-business (B2B) brands and 90 percent of business-to-consumer (B2C) brands are using content marketing.

What are we talking about here? The top content-marketing tactics currently used by B2C marketers (each used by more than 50 percent of companies) include blogs, social media other than blogs, articles on the company website, e-newsletters, videos, in-person events and articles on other websites. Other commonly used tactics include webinars, podcasts, white papers, printed newsletters and printed magazines. Most companies report more content-marketing activity this year than last.

The bad news involves evidence of misunderstandings and missed opportunities. Despite the high and growing use of content marketing, only 34 percent of B2C marketers and 42 percent of B2B marketers believe their campaigns are “very effective” or “effective.” The biggest challenges these companies face are lack of time (mentioned by 57 percent) and producing the type of content that engages potential buyers and influencers (mentioned by 51 percent).

I won’t address the time issue in this column (as someone trying to pick up the pace of his own blogging, I understand), but I can offer some simple tips for managing the way you create and share customer-relevant content. If you want to engage your customer audience in ways that help you create awareness, build membership, raise money and/or sell stuff, then seek first to avoid the ways so many content-marketing efforts get messed up:

• The message must be authentic or believable. Consumers have a pretty good hype or BS meter these days, and claim-checking is typically easy. There is no reason to try to fool the marketplace, but many organizations still do. Last year, U.S. Rep Bruce Braley of Iowa posted a beautiful picture of a farm on his Facebook page; the picture was of the Cammas Hall Fruit Farm in England.

• The message must match common reality. When Gwyneth Paltrow bellyaches about her life being more difficult than that of a woman working an office job, she unfortunately shows a painful detachment from her audience. That didn’t go over well, did it?

• The message shouldn’t be about you. This is a big trap in the strategy of thought leadership. Organizations may devote their resources to establishing smarts and credibility without connecting their expertise to the practical situations faced by target buyers. Think “engagement,” not “education.”

• Your message should be consistent. When Radio Shack launched a media campaign years ago trumpeting that “You’ve got questions; we’ve got answers,” the company set an expectation that could not be met at the retail level. (Radio Shack was subsequently torched on consumer sites with customer comments such as “You’ve got questions; we’ve got an attitude.”) Content marketing creates a coordination issue that cannot be ignored.

• The message should be delivered by the right person. Whether it’s an ill-informed person in the call center, an expert bogged down in technical lingo or an out-of-touch CEO trying to be folksy in an ad, consumers are weary of messenger failures. If you can be clear and appear to know what you’re talking about, then your content will be head and shoulders above most of the other claptrap.

Jim Karrh of Little Rock is a marketing consultant, trainer, speaker and author. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @JimKarrh.