Content marketing is all about messaging, right?
Content marketing should promote my business, yes?
No, and, yes-and-no.
You’re not alone. I see confusion between messaging and content marketing all over the B2B landscape, from blog posts to social media to websites.
Let me explain how I separate the two terms and how I see them interrelating.
In the context of business-to-business marketing and sales, messaging is a series of statements capturing significant points about your company.
Communication that is on message incorporates, supports, and expands upon these key points.
B2B messaging is the practice of carefully selecting a set of specific phrases that convey the purpose, mission, vision, market position, differentiation, and solution value proposition(s) associated with your business.
Messaging alone doesn’t do very much. It’s just a collection of meaningful phrases.
Those messages need to be applied for them to deliver any value.
For example, you might run an advertising campaign to get the message across.
When a business buys something from another business—a B2B transaction—it usually involves multiple people and takes more than just a quick visit to Amazon.
Those people, who we call the buying committee, follow a journey that takes them from understanding the need the purchase will solve, through evaluating potential solutions, to selecting and purchasing their preferred option. (It continues after the purchase through implementation and, hopefully, on to repeat purchases and loyalty.)
To build their understanding of the need and to identify and evaluate potential solutions, the buying committee members turn to a variety of information sources. These days, most of those sources are digital and revolve around the internet.
What they eventually decide to purchase will be influenced by where they found relevant, helpful information and who it was published by.
They develop trust in, and respect for, individuals and businesses that provide them with the most accessible, helpful information. That quickly morphs into mind share—a mental shortcut that causes the buyer to automatically associate trusted sources of information with being preferred suppliers of related products and services.
Content marketing is the deliberate creation and publication of specific types of information to attract and engage buying committee members from businesses likely to purchase your company’s products or services.
What do I mean by “engage”?
The average person’s attention span is less than 10 seconds. If a webpage, blog post, YouTube video, or other piece of content doesn’t persuade them to stick around beyond that point, it has failed to engage them.
Meaningful engagement means holding their attention, evoking a desired emotional response, creating or reinforcing a positive mental impression, and motivating them to take an action that advances the relationship in some way.
You can now see that the two terms are defined quite differently and have two very different objectives.
Messaging is developed by the company, about the company, for the purpose of accurately and clearly conveying company-related information.
Content marketing is developed by the company, for its target buyer, for the purpose of being relevant and helpful to the buyer. This will include need- or challenge-related information and solution-related information, which may or may not include company-related information.
For example, MessageUp has a key message that says our mission is to help CEOs and CMOs at growing businesses implement an effective content marketing strategy by providing a content marketing framework and helping them to deploy it.
This is a carefully constructed, specific statement that conveys the MessageUp mission.
Within its content marketing, MessageUp might publish a blogpost explaining the difference between messaging and content marketing. This would be aimed at helping readers understand the terminology, irrespective of whether they plan to engage a content marketing guide or select and deploy a content marketing framework.
The piece need not mention MessageUp at all, nor include any of the company’s messaging. Instead, it would seek to provide relevant, helpful information, causing the reader to trust MessageUp as a source of such information and to form a mental association between MessageUp and the provision of content marketing products and services.
A call to action within the piece might encourage the reader to access other pieces of content published by MessageUp by visiting its website, an action that would help to advance the formative relationship between the reader and the company.
When the reader decides to buy a content marketing productor service, that trust, formative relationship, and mental association will make it more likely that they choose to do business with MessageUp than with a competing company from which they did not see similar or better information.
This is an example of content marketing that does not include company messaging.
So the blanket answer to the first question is, no, content marketing is not all about messaging.
What about the second question?
Promotion has two dictionary definitions:
1. Activity that supports or provides active encouragement for the furtherance of a cause, venture, or aim.
2. The publicization of a product, organization, or venture so as to increase sales or public awareness.
My answer to the second question is yes-and-no because carefully constructed content marketing is always indirectly promoting your business by creating trust and a mental association between your brand and the products or services you sell. This meets the first definition of promotion.
However, content marketing need not overtly promote your business in the traditional sense—the second dictionary definition—by describing its products and services, features and benefits, people and patents, and how you have delighted a long list of customers.
Content marketing is much broader than messaging because it sets out to inform a diverse group of potential buyers about their needs and challenges and potential solutions worthy of consideration.
Content marketing can include company messaging when it makes sense to do so.
This will usually apply to content aimed at later stages in the buyer’s journey, starting with the selection stage—where a solution is being chosen based on its ability to deliver optimum value to the buyer—and continuing through implementation, where the buyer is striving to extract maximum value from the solution they have purchased.
Content aimed at earlier stages—building awareness and evaluating solutions—should be vendor and solution agnostic, since the buyer doesn’t yet know your company very well and isn’t yet ready to talk about the details that will lead to a purchase.
Cramming company messages into content that’s aimed early in the buyer’s journey can be off-putting and overly salesy.
Build a relationship first, based on thoughtfulness and trust, and you’ll have a chance to earn their business later.
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Image credits: AdobeStock