The superpowers of content marketing part 2

Beyond bananas

In the first part of this mini-series about content marketing and its superpowers, we learned that customers have dramatically changed, and that loveable marketing is a great way to respond to these changes.

For anyone who needs a refresher…

Customers have become greedy, distrusting squirrels, or – to put it more politically correctly – emancipated. They research the necessary information to make purchase decisions by themselves, shut themselves off from corporate interruptions (e.g. ads) and generally trust less in company messages.

We said that, if you want to make these emancipated customers buy from you, you need to pick them up where they are, and build trust to encourage them to do what you want them to.

We also learned that content marketing helps you do exactly that. By providing valuable content, you can attract and acquire an audience in order to drive profitable action.

If you missed this article, have a look!

Yellow and curvy

Not only customers have changed, but so have markets and industries.

Oh no, please don’t leave!!

I promise, this won’t become a boring lecture in global economics.

Instead, let’s talk about bananas. Bananaaaaa!

I grew up in East Germany. Every time I talk to someone from West Germany, they tell a stupid banana joke. (I hate that…)

You see, bananas were quite rare in East Germany. When supermarkets had bananas, people would line up, and all the bananas were gone before you could say “It’s so yellow, I am gonna die!”.

via GIPHY

Nowadays, supermarkets are full of bananas. The shelves right beyond the entrance are a big yellow sweet smelling paradise, no matter where you are: in East or West Germany, in the US or in Japan. Bananas are everywhere, just like content marketing.

Speaking of which, what do bananas have to do with marketing?

They are all yellow and curvy… bananas, not marketing. Even if companies place these little colorful stickers on their bananas to show that they’re different, they pretty much look the same: Yellow and curvy.

As a consumer you don’t care. You just buy the cheapest one, right? And if the cheapest one is sold out, you buy the next cheapest one. Easy!

Yes, it’s easy for you as a consumer. But it would cause you a huge headache if you were a banana company. In order to stay profitable and competitive, you’d need to convince your customers that your bananas – which are as yellow and curvy as the rest – are different and therefore worth the price.

And that doesn’t apply only to bananas!

Thanks to modern production and information technologies, most products and services in the same industry have become indistinguishable. In whatever industry you’re in, it’s likely that there are at least three other products or services that look just as yellow and curvy as yours.

This lack of differentiation has led to the commoditization of products, and even services.

What does this mean?

It means that, in the eyes of customers, your product or service that you’ve put all your thoughts, creativity, sweat and hard work in, are reduced to “just another thing with a price tag”.

The only differentiator left is price. And competing with price is not fun at all. It’s a downward spiral towards zero profit. Which eventually means closed shutters for your business.

I know that sounds scary, but don’t worry, there’s hope!

The saviour of business value

You already know, of course, that the hope I’m talking about is content marketing.

Sheesh, I’m so predictable! 😉

But how does content marketing help you escape the threat of ugly price mudslinging?

The concept is rather simple: If you can’t differentiate yourself from your competition through your products or services, differentiate yourself with something else. Some marketers call this something “content” or “experiences”. Whatever you want to call it, it must deliver value to your audience.

And by “delivering value”, I mean two things:

  1. Adding value to the lives of your audience to win their attention
  2. Providing a specific value your audience can relate to in order to win their heart

…urgs, the last one sounds corny, but you’ll see what I mean.

Let’s have a look at number one: adding value.

It’s not about you, it’s about them.

I know you love your business, your products and your services.

Of course you do! You’ve put lots of thought, sweat, hours of work into them, and even sacrificed your physical and mental health (not a good thing!) for them. That’s why I would totally understand if – after reading my little banana story – your face has become red like a tomato, and you’re now grumbling that your business is completely different from your competitors’. Different features, a complete different customer service approach, a different logo font…. grumble grumble grumble.

Your business is your one and only. Your precioussssss. You could talk about it all day long.

I know.

But here’s the bitter truth.

Your audience doesn’t care. They’re neither interested in your company, nor your offer. They don’t want to spend their precioussssss time on reading your list of features, or on figuring out how your offer is different from the competition.

Don’t believe me? Think about it.

Have you ever listened to an ordinary sales pitch? The kind of pitch that starts with the long-winded story of the company… “In the first 50 slides I’d like to give you some basic info about our company… (Slide 43: our daily consumption of toilet paper)… ”

Flush it! Don’t waste my time! I don’t care! That’s what you’d think, right?

The same goes for your audience.

But if they’re not interested in your company or your offer, in what – for Bäer’s sake – are they interested in?

In themselves! People care most about themselves – their worries, problems, status, you name it.

So, the best way to break through their indifference towards you and your offer, is to do something for them. Be their friend in need. Become their hero!

No worries. You don’t need to wear a tight suit or learn how to look cool while hanging from the ceiling.

Just help your audience solve a problem related to your niche and your offer. Answer questions. Show how things work. Share some of your wisdom.

As a result, your audience will engage with and feel attached to your business on a level beyond just pure consumption – which will then have a big impact on how they evaluate your offer: Instead of looking only at the price, they will also take into consideration the value you’ve already provided to them.

And who would want to beat down their hero’s price, right?!

To show you how adding value can help you differentiate yourself from your competition, let’s have a short look at an example.

A story about pools

Have you heard of Marcus Sheridan?

That’s Marcus:

Marcus Sheridan

He’s the model example for how well this whole value-adding thing can work for businesses.

Marcus has a pool company, which was in great trouble in 2008 when the Lehman shock crushed the world economy. As you can imagine, during this time the last thing people would think about was buying pools. So, Marcus’ business was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

In his despair, Marcus decided to do something new: He sat down at night and started to answer all the questions he had received from customers over the years on his blog. One by one. He created a Mecca that people could turn to when they wanted to learn about pools. And they did! Hordes of potential pool buyers turned to Marcus for advice about fiberglass pools.

And not only that! They eventually bought pools from him as well. And only from him. Because, instead of throwing long lists of boring fiberglass pool facts and ad copy about his oh-so-glorious business at his audience (like his competitors did), he helped them with advice and information.

As a result, Marcus’ business made it from the 5th position in his market to number one in only two years – although his products and services were no different from the products of his competitors.

Amazing, don’t you think?

So, all you need to do is answer your customer’s questions and put out lots of helpful stuff (content)!

Uhhh…mmmhh….yeah….well….

I want to be honest with you. There’s another issue we need to consider.

Thanks to people like Marcus Sheridan, the differentiating power of content marketing has become quite popular. Many business owners have started to answer questions and create helpful stuff.

Looooooooooooooooooots of stuff!

How much? Let me show you something that will knock your socks off:

the data explosion

Unbelievable, right?

Please put your socks back on. I don’t want you to catch a cold. I wait….

Are you resocked? Great!

So, what does that mean for you?

First of all, it means that not only products and services, but also helpful content has become like bananas: yellow and curvy.

Mark Schaefer calls this phenomenon of drowning in yellow, curvy banana content “content shock”. It is what makes it so extremely hard for you to stand out, get found and differentiate yourself – even with the help of content.

So, screw the whole content thing!?

No! Definitely no!

Content forever!

What I want to say is that just answering customer questions and writing “how to” posts won’t get you the tiara anymore.

Your unicorn essence

What you need to make your content stand out is a “tilt” as Joe Pulizzi, godfather of content marketing, calls it.

A tilt is “your thing”. Your unique position in the market. Or let’s think even a little bigger: It’s your unique position in the world. It’s your unicorn essence. It’s the BÄER in you!

Unicorn essences

Your content tilt reflects your individual voice, your own story and the opinion you have on the things you’re talking about in your content.

How does that help you differentiate yourself?.

Well, it’s pretty much common sense, isn’t it? If you stay yourself, you naturally leave your competition behind. You’re unrivaled. You become your one-(wo)man niche.

But that’s not all! Your tilt makes your already valuable (means: helpful) content even more valuable – quite literally. By putting yourself – your experiences, opinion and story – into your content, you’re charging it with your own unique values. Values that will strongly resonate with your audience.

Of course, these values won’t resonate with everybody. There will be people who will get repelled by your unique approach. But that’s what you actually want: Attracting your ideal audience, and keeping the rest who doesn’t resonate with your values away:

The good ones go into the pot, the bad ones go into your crop.

Drei Hasenlnuesse fuer Aschenbroeder

I know this one sounds risky and a little bit counterintuitive. As business owners and marketers, we tend to want everybody to listen to us in order to keep the pool of potential customers big. But here’s the thing:

First of all, this biiiig pool of potential customers doesn’t exist. It’s just a sneaky little illusion. There’s no way for you to get everybody, and – more importantly – you don’t want to get everybody! Because there are those people that are a good fit for your business, and then there are others that are … well … just a waste of time and resources.

Second, if you create content that’s for everybody, it will be for nobody. Your message will become wishy-washy, and loses its convincing power after all.

To make this a little bit clearer, let’s talk about KISS. The rock band. They’re already have some wrinkles, but hey, that makes them even cooler.

Kissa bear

As a music band, you have to be very specific about your music, in other words your content. You have to choose and stick to a certain type of music in order to build a loyal audience. Or, could you imagine a band that tries to serve everybody?: the middle schoolers with sweet sugary POP, the headbangers with heavy metal, the older citizens with easy listening and some hardcore emo for the heartbroken whiners?

The result of this approach would be a completely confused audience – if there would be any at all – and low quality music, unless you have a huge team of songwriters and producers that cover all of these genres.

KISS’s unique content doesn’t appeal to everybody, thanks to their extremely strong tilt.

My grandma, for example, would never listen to KISS. She would be completely scared off by their make up, not to mention their rough sound. However, my grandma is not the ideal audience for KISS. They don’t want to reach my grandma with their content, and they don’t care that she gets repelled by what they’re doing.

While KISS’ tilt doesn’t serve my grandma’s needs at all, their unique approach attracts other people. And they don’t just attract anybody! Due to the perfect fit between KISS’ content tilt and their audience’s needs they attract hard core fans. These fans love everything about KISS. They are as loyal as one can be, for life!

What?

I can hear you doubting my argumentation. How can I compare a business with a rock band, that’s what you thinking now, right?

Well, technically speaking, a rock band is a business. They’re selling products and services just like you: merchandising, concert tickets, CDs (or iTunes), you name it. You could say that their music serves as the content to market their business. Content marketing in it’s best form!

And here’s the thing: Because of their strong content they can sell their stuff at ridiculous prices! Fans would give the shirts off of their backs for – attention: bad pun! – a KISS shirt, without comparing with the competition, right? Or could you imagine a KISS fan rather buying an Elvis t-shirt than a KISS shirt, just because it’s cheaper? Unthinkable! This is because it’s not the product, the t-shirt, the album or the head banging figure, it’s the value expressed through the unique content of the business (the band), that the fans are paying for.

You still don’t believe that there’s no difference between you and KISS?

What about Apple? Apple fans line up in front of the Apple store in the rain at 3am just to be the first to pay a fortune for a phone! A phone that’s not much different from the competition (…If you are an Apple fan: Breath! Apple is awesome, iPhones are awesome. Just breath, and nobody will get hurt). What makes Apple different is their tilt, their unique approach to technology and design, and as a result: the unique value they offer. As Ryan Handley says: “I just feel more creative when sitting in front of a Mac.”

Or what about Red Bull? Extreme athletes are willing to risk their lives to be part of the company’s content. Red Bull’s unique content strongly resonates with young athletes and artists, and helps the company differentiate itself in the extremely crowded beverage market. I prefer water though.

Are Apple and Red Bull too big for you?

What about two guys who grew a blog into the fastest growing business media company (Inc. magazine, 2014) who are now running the biggest content marketing conference in world? The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) made the concept of “content marketing” popular by putting out content that reflected their unique view on marketing, and by building an audience that was fascinated by their approach.

These are only some examples that show how valuable and unique content can help you escape price mudslinging and differentiate yourself beyond your products and services.

Always keep in mind: people buy products, but they pay for value!

So, what’s your unicorn essence? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. Bananas with a tilt

Chiquita did a good job in adding extra value to their bananas. Bananaaaaaaaaaaa!

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