Thanksgiving is around the corner, and we all know that certain subjects should be off the menu when it comes to discussion — thanks, Adele. The weather and the status of the pumpkin pie are always safe bets, but what else can you talk about with hangry Uncle George?
The same question can be applied to content marketing. Talking about your industry is safe and expected, but how far from the main topic can you wander without confusing your audience, or worse, wasting your own time and resources? It’s important to figure out the proper ratio of brand-specific education or marketing to general interest and lifestyle content that will keep your audience engaged.
We have clients that have embraced a strategy that incorporates degrees of separation in their content, branching out into lifestyle and educational pieces that they think will be valuable and applicable to their audience. And the decisions on the content mix are based on a big-picture content strategy and specific goals that are formed from analyzing client metrics and optimizing the strategy.
Don’t Mess With Texas
If the purpose is to raise awareness for your brand and retain the clients you already have, your content doesn’t have to always be actionable and relevant; it adds value by simply connecting you and your audience in a positive way. Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Companies (TFBIC) has various goals to accomplish with its strategic content marketing plan. It wants to build and maintain relationships with prospects and current policyholders but, clearly, people don’t want to read about insurance, and just insurance, at each contact point. In order to build affinity for the brand, TFBIC focuses on its Texas roots, while educating clients on ways to protect themselves and their loved ones from danger or the loss of valuables and destruction of property — basic insurance topics.
Getting creative with your content can help generate interest, but be sure that your reader can trace the thread from the brand to the content topic so that you don’t clutter up your overarching message. You could publish a provocative post about the Kardashians every day and get loads of hits, but that probably won’t drive potential customers to your website, build your brand, or establish you as an authority in your space. The goal of this kind of indirect marketing is to keep the conversation going — and new content is a great reason to reach your audience again and again, even if it diverts from your actual products and services.
A great example is our inaugural TFBIC cookbook. TFBIC has a very active social media presence and engages with its audience through Facebook and other channels, frequently running contests and giving out prizes. Last year it ran a contest asking members to submit their favorite recipes to potentially be featured in a TFBIC cookbook. Finalists were picked, and TFBIC created a beautiful, high-end cookbook filled with member-submitted recipes. The cookbook also contained feature stories about Texas farms and farmers from the TFBIC family. These cookbooks were used as giveaways by agents to prospects or current clients — and what a great feeling for the published winners to see their family recipes in print. The cookbook offer clients a tangible and lasting reminder that they are valued by their agent and TFBIC. Despite containing no insurance content whatsoever, the book is a product that members will talk about for years to come.
It Pays to Be Curious
Just like you wouldn’t appreciate Uncle George hogging the table conversation with a play-by-play of his latest round of golf, your audience might appreciate a break from your amazing product lineup to talk about a tangential subject matter. This is when you ask yourself: Who am I writing for, what are their interests and issues, and how can I make my content worthy of their time? Your customer personas, their interests, and the length of their relationship with your brand all determine what topics are fair game. The point is to maintain your voice and tone throughout, delivering consistent quality.
Don’t think too inside the box when crafting your content agenda. When we worked with Avocados From Mexico (AFM) to create content pillars for the education section on its website, we devised a strategy that included everything from tips on how to pick and eat avocados to natural beauty recipes and book reviews. Avocado consumers love guacamole, so there are plenty of recipes and guac-based trivia on the site, but you can only reach so many people with recipes. There is a certain lifestyle associated with avocados: They have a magical, curious, nutritional reputation (we like to call it the curiously complete fruit). Taking that lifestyle approach opens avenues for new communication that still align with the strategy. Get to know your customer base, what they’re interested in, and what will keep the conversation moving in a positive direction.
Some Things Just Go Together
Our clients Lennox PartsPlus (LPP) and HVAC Learning Solutions, both arms of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning manufacturer Lennox Industries, have taken another approach, targeting the same audience in different ways to raise awareness, increase sales, and build brand loyalty through educational tips and expertise. Parts and supplies arm LPP engages directly with technicians and sales team members through retail store signage and ad campaigns to encourage product sales. But the other half, HVAC Learning Solutions, found another way to connect with that same audience through an educational channel. HVAC Learning Solutions offers advice to help clients become the best Lennox brand advocates and service industry people they can be, hosting Twitter chats with subject matter experts and producing educational videos. It’s like a virtual academy specifically for that industry. While it’s not pushing products on the sales team and techs, it is getting the Lennox name out to people who can directly affect sales.
Industry education, community involvement, human interest stories, customer testimonials, travel, and food tend to be safe topics for tangential stories. By packaging them in a way that resonates with your audience, you’ll open new doors of communication and connection. Whether your aim is to get them to visit your website or to buy more products, you’ll want to keep a more direct focus on those things — and make sure your content is still compelling.
There’s no textbook bullet point that defines the ideal ratio of industry copy versus marketing copy versus general interest copy. How you appropriate this will depend on the tolerance of your management team and your readers, and the ratio will likely evolve over time, dictated by feedback and analytics (you’ve either wandered too far or not far enough when engagement nose-dives). You know your business and customers best. Now what can you give them to demonstrate that?