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Produce Content Marketing That Customers Care About

Produce Content Marketing That Customers Care About

Peter Sheahan has spent over a decade teaching businesses how to flip their thinking and find opportunity where others cannot. He believes that the real money is in the cracks, and that prospects for mind-blowing success are all around us. He drives audiences to identify areas of untapped potential within their organizations, and to then take the steps required to develop this potential into practical success. In The Harvard Business Review, Peter recently wrote about the importance of effective content marketing:

You can’t just snap your fingers and produce great content. To get stories and images that people actually care about, you need to address the higher-order problems your customers are facing today or will face tomorrow. You have to do the sustained work of thinking through these problems and coming up with relevant insights.

Consider Adobe’s new content-marketing strategy. Several years ago the company’s mainstay business of graphics applications was struggling against new competition, including free software. In response, executives made a concerted effort to step back and think about customers’ most important graphics-related problems. They saw that although online retailers were putting up fancy websites, the companies weren’t connecting their accumulated consumer data to the pages in order to drive sales. So Adobe invested in R&D and made some analytics-based acquisitions in order to develop a platform to make that possible. Dubbed the Marketing Cloud, this new platform would enable websites to show the right images to the right customers at the right time.

Adobe then went on a content-marketing spree. A team of 20-plus experts traveled the world, posting blogs and speaking at digital-marketing forums. Wherever companies were talking about e-commerce, dynamic online environments, or analytics, Adobe wanted to be there — not just as a sponsor, but as a provider of insights. Those insights came from the research Adobe had done to develop the platform, as well as the data the platform was already generating from early adopters.

Retailers were all ears. Adobe’s intellectual offensive convinced them that the company had become a leading player in the field. The Marketing Cloud is now Adobe’s biggest source of revenue, contributing (along with a shift to software subscriptions) to the recent explosion of the company’s stock price.

Or consider DPR. You may not have heard of the company, but it’s a highly profitable global contractor in the notoriously difficult construction industry. Rather than duke it out in conventional bidding processes, DPR invested in the emerging practice of building information modeling, or BIM. The idea is to go beyond blueprints and “construct” a building ahead of time in digital format, an approach that can improve quality and reduce total costs.

BIM is complex, expensive, and still in development. But DPR has widely shared the knowledge and practices it has gained, in venues ranging from industry forums to a co-taught course at Stanford University. All of that content marketing not only increased the buzz about DPR in the industry; it also enhanced its customers’ perceived value of BIM. DPR executives didn’t mind that they were helping competitors get up to speed as well, because they wanted to elevate the entire industry around this new approach. They used content marketing for thought leadership, in the true meaning of the term.

For a B2C example, look at Home Depot, whose executives know that customers are eager to do as much of their own home-repair work as possible. For years the company has offered a series of how-to books, and now it has stocked its website with hundreds of videos. The physical stores offer free or low-cost classes in how to do the most common jobs. As new home-repair problems and new tools and materials emerge, Home Depot can easily expand and update this content and push it to new channels. Home Depot is helping customers become better do-it-yourselfers, and in the process it is strengthening its brand far more effectively than would have been possible through advertising.

The alternative to creating your own great content is to acquire content from outside sources. But if you do that, you’ll soon find yourself stuck in an arms race with your rivals, bidding up content that might be smart, flashy, and entertaining but is inauthentic to your brand and ultimately of little real value to your business.

The only route to sustainable success in content marketing is through helping customers navigate the crazy, pressured, opportunity-filled world we live in now. Once you’ve done that work, and turned it into practical insights and solutions, you’ll have plenty of powerful material to draw upon. And your content marketing will really hit home.

By Peter Sheahan/Harvard Business Review/August, 2014