Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Pamela Wilson of Rainmaker Digital and Copyblogger. It is an excerpt from her new book Master Content Marketing. You can follow Pamela on Twitter and her blog.
Back in 2009, I was sitting where you might be sitting today.
I knew (vaguely) that “content marketing” was the best way to reach people online. But me? Writing content myself? It was laughable.
I was a trained designer. When people approached me for marketing help, I came up with a plan, hired a “real” writer to create the words we needed, and then did all the design work to make their marketing ideas come alive.
I didn’t write — I made other people’s writing look good.
Plus, there were lots of reasons to avoid writing online where anyone could read it.
- Loss of privacy: When your name appears as the author of a piece of writing, everyone can see it.
- Feeling judged: When your work is out there in public, people may or may not like what you wrote (and they’ll tell you about it!).
- Not feeling capable: When you’re first starting out, you lack experience. What if your content isn’t good enough?
- Concern it won’t pay off: You might fear that even though you pour your time and energy into this, you won’t see results.
With all these worries rumbling around in my head, I did what anyone would do.
I opened Google. And I searched for “online content.” And guess what site came up? Copyblogger.com.
This was late 2009, just as I was formulating my idea for an online business that would teach marketing and design basics people could apply to their businesses. And since Copyblogger effectively does what I am about to show you, I had stumbled upon one of the top content marketing resources on the web. Copyblogger had been around for years at this point. I should have found it before, but I wasn’t looking for it before!
It was a perfect example of the student being ready and the teacher appearing.
I devoured everything I could on the Copyblogger blog. I even signed up for Copyblogger’s premium course at the time, Teaching Sells. In that class, I discovered how to leverage my professional knowledge by packaging it into an online course and selling it for a profit.
An embarrassing admission…
I’d been working as a traditional marketer for decades at this point. You know how marketing was done traditionally, right? Some people call it “spray and pray.”
You’d blanket a target audience with what amounted to advertising. You hoped (prayed) that a large enough percentage of them would “take the bait” and respond to your offer.
I was one of the people behind those direct mail postcards you’d find in your mailbox. I designed those brochures you were given by the company that wanted your business. I put together the annual report that tried to convince you that you’d made a smart investment. I assembled those magazines that pushed ad after ad for products that companies hoped (prayed) you’d remember when you got to the store.
I created a lot of trash. Oh, it wasn’t trash right away. It served a purpose.
But once its purpose was fulfilled, off to the landfill it went.
Why? Because none of the traditional marketing I did had any intrinsic value. No one was saving it, bookmarking it, and coming back to it to read it again.
What I discovered very quickly about content marketing was that it was valuable. The first time someone told me, “I’ve saved every newsletter you’ve sent,” I knew I was on to something.
Content marketing was a different — and better — kind of marketing.
Instead of pushing messages out at unsuspecting people, content marketing offers valuable information that people are actively searching for. What a difference!
Why “Spray and Pray” doesn’t work anymore
Everything has changed since my early days as a marketer. When I started, the internet wasn’t even around. Marketing had a handful of avenues where it could reach you:
- Your mailbox
- Your driveway (in the form of a newspaper)
- In stores (as magazines for sale)
- In places of business (as flyers, brochures, or printed coupons)
- Over the airwaves (in the form of radio and TV advertising)
And that’s about it. Oh sure, there was the occasional blimp floating by, or the person wearing a sandwich board at an intersection. But not much more than that.
Marketing was pushed out at you — whether you liked it or not — in all these places.
You didn’t ask for the direct mail to land in your mailbox. You didn’t want the commercials on the radio. You may have subscribed to the newspapers or magazines, but it was for their content, not their ads.
Let’s look at that last line again:
You may have subscribed to the newspapers or magazines, but it was for their content, not their ads.
From the very beginning, it was content that was considered valuable. It still is. Advertising was (and still is) regarded as a nuisance.
What kind of marketing works now
With the advent of the internet, a seismic shift has happened. Consumers now hold the power during the purchasing process. Instead of waiting to see which ad catches their attention, they go in search of answers. They arm themselves with information so they can make a qualified decision.
And those of us who want to market our products and services serve up the information they’re searching for in the form of readable, friendly content. Our content gives a face to our businesses and establishes a trustworthy relationship by serving as a helpful guide.
Content marketing is like putting out bait rather than throwing a spear.
Content marketing is like putting out bait rather than throwing a spear.
Old marketing? It was like throwing marketing “spears” at a school of fish in the hopes you’d hit one. You wasted a lot of energy and didn’t see a lot of results.
Content marketing? It’s like offering some delicious, nutritious bait, and inviting the fish to swim your way. It draws them in. The best part is that some will stay there, interacting with your brand. They’ll become your customers, and then repeat customers.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? I know I’d much rather be creating useful information than blanketing people with ads. Wouldn’t you?
From reluctant writer to content marketing teacher
One decision I made early on was to reach out to the owners of websites (like this one!) that were serving an audience that was similar to the one I wanted to serve. This is an effective way to broaden your reach, especially in the early days of your website.
It’s called “borrowing someone else’s audience,” and is otherwise known as guest blogging. Looking back, I’m not sure how I found the courage to approach the team at Copyblogger with a guest post I’d written. At that point, I’d only been writing content for a few months.
But during a concert I attended, I had a moment of divine inspiration that resulted in writing a post I was proud of. So I sent it off to the then-editors of the Copyblogger blog and crossed my fingers and toes while I waited for a reply.
A few days later, when I saw the email in my inbox letting me know they liked my post and planned to publish it, I was overjoyed. When the post was published, it ran with a different headline and some edits to the content. Rather than feel bad about the changes, I noted them and decided to learn from the edits they made. Then I found the courage to send them a second post a couple of weeks later.
This went on for a few months — they’d publish a post, and I’d send them a replacement post. Eventually, I was asked to contribute a post to the Copyblogger blog once a month. Today, I hold the record for the most posts from an outside writer.
We enjoyed working together so much that I was invited to join the team at Copyblogger — now Rainmaker Digital — in 2014.
And just five short years after I submitted by first guest post to the editors at Copyblogger, I began running the editorial team for the Copyblogger blog, which is one of the largest and most respected content marketing resources in the world. Along with our editor and staff writers, I help set the direction for the content we publish every single day.
And I teach content marketing! I believe starting as someone who didn’t consider herself a writer gives me an advantage as a teacher.
Those early days of content marketing weren’t easy. I still remember publishing my first, my fifth, and my tenth blog posts. It was nerve-wracking, and not just because I thought I might make a grammar or spelling mistake. It was because I had no idea how to structure and present my thoughts.
Your content marketing journey
It turns out that once you have a structure to hang your words on, creating content becomes much easier. Once you know how to write and polish the essential elements of a successful piece of content, you’ll be able to create effective content for your business reliably.
And when you combine solid content structure with habits that will help you develop lifelong writing skills? Well, watch out, world!
This is when content marketing becomes fun. Something you’ll look forward to. Something you’ll find yourself thinking about as you go through the paces of your everyday life.
You’ll see a concert, and it will inspire a piece of content. You’ll meet a new business colleague, and a question they ask you will inspire a piece of content. You’ll take a trip, and you’ll come up with the topic for a new piece of content.
Suddenly, the world around you will become living inspiration for the content you’ve got inside you that’s waiting to get out. With the powerful combination of a content structure and reliable content habits, there will be no stopping you.
Taming the content monster with structure and process
But if you haven’t created content before, the thought of building content to attract people to your website might be a wee bit overwhelming, despite my reassurances.
I get it. I’ve been there. Remember, I wasn’t born a writer! And yet, I figured out how to make it easier by applying both structure and process to content creation.
It’s much easier to write content when you break it down into its component parts: headline, first sentence, introduction, subheads, main copy, summary, and call to action. It’s an approach to marketing that writers and non-writers can embrace and use.
The beautiful thing about it? Instead of creating trash, you’re offering treasure. And that’s a great feeling.
What challenges are you facing in spreading your message? How will content marketing help you resonate with your audience? Share in the comments.