The Basics of Marketing

The Big Book of Content Marketing
2. The Basics of Marketing

2. The Basics of Marketing

What's in this Section

The point of this quick section is to show how content marketing fits into the larger framework of marketing. To create good content, you first prepare the groundwork. Good content uses the business goals, branding, and messaging. It's created with the audience and sales funnel in mind.

What's Your Business Goal?

What's Your Business Goal?

A business goal tells you what you want to achieve. You develop strategies and tactics to reach that goal. It also lets you know which strategies and tactics can be ignored because they won't help you with that goal.

The goal should be aligned with your company's overall business goal. The CEO, the CFO, and the board are generally clear about the goal. Find out what the company's goal is and then develop your goal to work within that goal. This means you start at the end.

State your goal as a number and a date. This lets you measure progress towards that goal. For example, your goal is to increase revenue by 15% by December 31st. You will increase market share by 10% by the end of the second quarter. You will increase leads to 500 per month. You will lower cost-per-lead to $50 CPL in four weeks. You will shorten the sales cycle by 20% in six months. You will cut costs by 10% within a year.

A business goal isn't a mission statement ("To do the best for our shareholders") or a code of ethics ("Be honest.") Those statements don't support the business goals, give you targets, or set deadlines.

It sounds obvious you should know where you're going. But I've joined many projects where this wasn't clear. The project had been set up years ago and the original team had left. By then, the project had gone though several generations of teams. Nobody really knew anymore why things were being done the way they were. This is a widespread problem at large Silicon Valley companies, where workers tend to move every two years.

Another problem is the fog of internal politics. If upper management is wrapped up in bureaucratic wars, they forget to manage the divisions so there are no goals or metrics. Teams are left on their own. Without guidance, there are no goals.

I was working with a VP of a small company several years ago. I asked her for a copy of their branding guideline. "We haven't gotten around to writing that." Who are your target customers? "Whoever buys our stuff." So what is your cost-per-lead? "We don't really know how to calculate that." I got a bit frustrated and asked so what's the marketing plan? She said "We just sell as much as we can." Hey, that works. A few years later, they sold the company for US$50 million.

Develop Your Brand

Develop Your Brand

A key concept in branding is salience, which means something stands out from the others in its category. An organization can make its brand stand out from competitors by developing a distinctive and memorable logo, colors, fonts, packaging, and messaging. Make it easy for your audience to notice, recognize, and recall your organization, your products, and your ads.

Salience can be passive or active. Passive salience is when people recognize your brand when they see it among other brands. If I go to the store and see Colgate on the toothpaste shelf, I recognize the brand. However, if my shopping list reminds me to buy toothpaste and I think of Colgate before I've even entered the store, that's active salience. I've already selected the brand and I won't consider competitors.

You increase your brand's salience by using a consistent look for all of your content. You always use the same colors, fonts, and layout in your documents and videos.

You also increase salience by being ubiquitous in all channels. Your audience will see your brand and content, wherever they look. This means a strong advertising strategy to appear in search engines, social media sites, and online magazines for both desktop and mobile devices. Use SEO, text ads, banner ads, and so on. This also includes offline channels, such as TV, magazines, and so on. The more people see your brand, the more familiar it becomes, which also increases their favorable attitude towards your brand. Repetition makes your brand appear safer and accepted.

This brings us to the brand guideline. This is a short document that tells your team how to use your brand elements. You create a brand guideline document and distribute it to anyone who creates content for you. It allows anyone to create additional documents that match your organization's content.

The brand guideline includes:

  • Where to find the current version of the brand guideline
  • Who is in charge of the brand guideline
  • Creation date (when the current document was created)
  • Expiration date (when the document expires, which prompts the reader to look for the current version)
  • The purpose of the organization
  • The audience
  • Where to download the logo in various sizes (a small logo for email signatures, a medium logo for websites, a large logo for posters, and a very large logo for cloth banners)
  • Specifications for the colors (e.g., HTML QCA0000)
  • The fonts, style, and size (e.g., body text in Palatino 10 points)
  • How to write the URL, such as
  • Location of the image library
  • Location of the Model Release Form (for photography and video)
  • Guidelines for voice, tone, and images to use (and avoid), including punctuation
  • Sample documents in Word, PowerPoint, spreadsheets, letterhead, and so on

The brand guideline should be a practical document that any of your creators (writers, photographers, videographers, and so on) can use when creating content.

A brand design has to work in various displays, including cell phone screens, desktop monitors, letterheads and business cards, cloth banners at events, and more. If you're delivering products in boxes, the branding has to work with the box, the product, and even how the product comes out of the box. Carefully open a new box from Apple and notice how they manage the presentation. The different kinds of paper stock also affect how people perceive your brand. A brand guideline should be designed by someone who has training and experience in this.

Most companies don't understand the importance of branding. Go to your supermarket and look at the tea section. Some of the packages stand out because they have distinctive logos, colors, and fonts. The packaging also matches the product. It tells you what the company thinks of its tea. For example, some companies now offer tea in metal containers with air-tight caps. You can tell this will seal the tea's freshness and aroma. Other tea packaging is just a plain box where the logo is often hard to see. Those companies don't put effort into branding, so they don't stand out. Look at the different supermarket aisles and you'll see that most products have poor branding. The ones with good branding generally are the leaders in their markets.

Develop a branding guideline and get everyone to use it to create content. This improves the salience of your brand, organization, products, and services.

Your Brand Statement

Your Brand Statement

The brand statement is what an organization wants to say to its audience. That sounds easy enough, but the brand statement is often a challenge for organizations. Whether they're new or established, it's very hard for them to state their message.

  • Organizations are self-centered. They see the world (both customers and competitors) from their point of view. It's very hard to step outside and see your own organization from the customer's point of view.
  • The more loyal and enthusiastic you are about your organization, the harder it becomes to see it from other points of view.
  • The more you know about your organization, the more unique it seems to you. You know the purpose and details of your products and your competitors and the differences are clear. But outsiders generally don't see that.

These factors make it difficult to write the company's brand messaging. The result is usually complex and overloaded with political and bureaucratic baggage.

Brand statements are also called unique value proposition (UVP), unique value statement (UVS), brand value statement, or similar.

There are a few rough rules for writing your brand message:

  • Say it in three words. Can you reduce your organization's history, thousands of employees, and hundreds of products to just three words?
  • Spoken, not written. It should sound natural when you say it.
  • Your Chinese grandmother. Yes, your Chinese grandmother should understand what your organization does. Back in the 90s, we called this the Mom Test. Software should be so simple that even a mom could install it. But now, most Palo Alto moms have a Ph.D. in engineering. So we can use Chinese grandmothers until they start to get Ph.D.s

These three rules are a good start to writing your brand message. Think of the global brands: Just do it. Thank heaven for 7-11. You're in good hands. World's biggest bookstore.

Maggi is a Swiss company that makes bouillons, soups, seasonings, noodles and sauces. The company was started in 1884 to provide low-cost food. Most of their products are condiments to be added to other foods, so their UVP is "bring out the best in every meal." They build a content marketing strategy by publishing recipes that Maggi products can enhance. They also encourage creativity and ask bloggers to create recipes that use their products. They also sponsored chefs who went to homes and helped families to prepare meals with Maggi products.

Your Audience

Your Audience

One of the key steps in a marketing strategy is to define your audience. People often assume they should advertise to as many as possible, but that's not feasible. There are 502 million people in the European Union. Obviously, it would be expensive to advertise to all of them when only a few will buy your products or services. So you look for the people who will are most likely to buy.

A simple way to target is by geographic distance. If you have a store, look at your customer records and if you find your furthest customer lives 44 kilometers away, then you only need to advertise within that radius. Many stores use this method to determine where they will show their newspaper ads and flyers.

If you're reaching a nationwide audience, you can target by demographics. Data marketing companies such as Acxiom use demographic data such as income, age, sex, location, and education to sort the population into groups. For example, Acxiom sorted the US population into 71 socioeconomic clusters. Each cluster has between two to five million people. People within those clusters have similar backgrounds and behaviors. These clusters have numbers and names, such as "Q62, Kids & Rent," which is made up of parents in their 30s and 40s with children of all ages. Primarily high school educated, they're employed in technical, clerical, and craftsman jobs. They're a mix of Caucasian, African-American and Hispanic families. They're almost all renters. They invest in their children. Their pastimes include movies, video games and sports. The cluster report includes detailed data on the types of financial services they use, where they shop, what they watch on TV, the magazines they read, what they do for fun, and the sites they visit on the web.

Acxiom has 1,500 types of data for everyone in North America, Europe, the Arab world, and Asia. For example, they know the kind of car that you drive, when you bought it, how you paid for it, and the color. By knowing the behavior of the other five million people in your cluster, they can predict when you'll buy your next car, what kind of car you will buy, and even your color preference. Since they also know which magazines you read, what TV shows you watch, and the websites that you visit, they can place advertising to reach you at the right time.

These companies also know your street address, your phone number, and the six different IDs that you use at various social media sites. This lets them reach you with digital ads wherever you look. Since they know your street address, they can also target by zip code. A fascinating field is geodemographics, which means people in the same cluster also tend to live in the same area. Researchers have identified the clusters for each of the 45,000 zip codes in the US. This means if Honda knows the clusters for its audience, then it can advertise precisely in the 652 zip codes where cluster #62 lives and not waste money by advertising in zip codes with clusters who won't buy that particular car.

By knowing the audience and cluster, you can write a media plan. This lets you know where to place content and advertising so it'll be seen by your audience (and where to not place advertising which won't been seen). A media plan includes magazines, TV shows, and websites. If you know they read American Baby, then you can place articles in the magazine, along with advertising. A cluster analysis also lets you know what interests your audience. This lets you create content that helps them to make decisions for their lives and families.

Your audience is more than a simple buyer profile. You find not only that they read American Baby, you also find out their financial capability (whether they can buy your products), their media consumption habits, and their address for targeted mailing, both postal and digital.

If your organization is small, you can create a profile of your audience by other means. One way is to carry out a poll of your subscriber list. You don't need to ask all 20,000 people or whatever you have in your list. It's enough to ask only 2,400 people in order to get responses with a ± 2% margin of confidence. Use or similar to create a free poll. Ask the questions that you'd like to know and send it to a random selection of 2,400 customers. You can ask for their job titles. See if you can understand their motivation to purchase. Ask them why they buy from you. You can also ask why they don't buy from you. Is it price? Service? Ask what they want to get them to buy from you.

Another way to create an audience is to look at the business roles of people that are likely to be your customers. I worked on a project last year where the audience was companies between US$50 million to US$250 million in annual revenues and in three certain markets. I then looked at who was the decision maker in those companies to determine their job titles. I used business directories and LinkedIn to come up with a list of 600 people by job title, name of company, and contact information.

The Buying Funnel

The Buying Funnel

Let's look closer at your audience. It's obvious your audience can be divided into two parts: the ones who haven't yet bought and the ones who have bought. That's useful because we can focus our marketing at the ones who haven't yet bought. We can separate them into further groups.

  • People who need your solutions, but don't yet know about you.
  • People who are comparing solutions and suppliers
  • People who decided to buy from you and are looking for the best price and delivery

Your customers go through several phases in the process to becoming your customer. Some researchers have identified three phases; others have added more phases, such as awareness, interest, desire, action, and loyalty (post-purchase behavior). In this book, I'll use the basic model of three phases (awareness, consideration, purchase). You can adapt what I say to your preferred model.

Because the number of people in the audience becomes smaller and smaller as they move through the phases, a funnel metaphor is often used.

Figure 4: The buying funnel (also known as the purchase funnel, buying cycle, purchase cycle, and so on) was first described by Elias St. Elmo Lewis in 1898. Philip Kotler's Marketing Management made it a standard concept in marketing.

This matters in content marketing because you create different kinds of content, based on the phase of the buyer:

The content at the different phases shouldn't be mixed up. Someone who is only just becoming aware of a problem isn't ready to look at pricing and purchase options. He first needs to learn about the problem. Some writers argue that the buying funnel isn't relevant anymore with the Internet. It's certainly true that for many products, there isn't a buying funnel. The web makes it easy to make an instant purchase of a song or download an app. American consumers switch from instant purchase to evaluation at somewhere around US$300. They began to compare features and prices. The purchase of home products for long-term use, such as refrigerators, can take months. In nearly all B2B purchase decisions, the buying funnel can take up to six months or longer and involve different teams at each phase. You will have to create content to support decision-making at each phase and to move the customer forward to the next phase. This means the buying funnel, in whatever form you use it, will be a fundamental part of your content strategy.

Underst& Your Competitors' Content Strategy

Underst& Your Competitors' Content Strategy

Make a list of your top three-to-five competitors. For each of these, answer the following questions:

  • What are their business goals?
  • What is their content strategy?
  • What is their brand strategy?
  • Who is their audience?
  • What is their advertising strategy?
  • What are their problems?

Are there opportunities for you? For example, if they're weak in a key audience, can you go after that group?

Every six months, do a quick review of your top competitors to see if they have made any changes in their strategy.

Use Content Marketing as a Barrier-to-Entry

Use Content Marketing as a Barrier-to-Entry

You create a barrier-to-entry to make it difficult for your competitors to participate in your market. By placing real or perceived difficulties in their path, your competitors fall behind. Content marketing can play a role in keeping your competitors out of the market. Here are several things that you can do:

  • Technology: Digital publishing isn't easy. There are many kinds of tools, formats, and distribution channels. The more tools you use, the greater the challenge for your competitors to keep up. Don't rest by using only a few tools. Use as many as you can.
  • Presence: By creating a body of valuable content, your audience sees your organization wherever they look. This puts your competition in your shadow.
  • Continual innovation: Digital publishing is also evolving rapidly. New tools and platforms appear every few months. We're doing things today that didn't even exist two years ago, and you can be sure there will be new possibilities in two years. By constantly innovating, you stay ahead of competitors. Most of them take the easy way and relax. Every six months, make a review of the field and add new technologies.
  • Hire your competitors' key people. Find them and bring them over to your team.

The Creative Brief

The Creative Brief

Similar to the brand guideline, the creative brief is a document that ensures consistency in the production of content.

The creative brief is a short one-page document that states the terms and conditions for production and delivery of work. Sometimes, the agency sends a questionnaire to the client and other times, the client sends a statement to the agency. Either side can deliver this. It states:

  • Where to find the branding guideline
  • Name and contact information for the project manager
  • Project ID
  • Delivery deadlines
  • Description of the project
  • File formats
  • How to deliver the work

The point of the creative brief is to set expectations so the team can easily create and deliver work with a consistent quality and format.

Recommended Reading

Marketing is fascinating because it is at the intersection of human behavior, business, technology, and finance. Here are several books for further reading:

  • Marketing Management, by Philip Kotler (14th ed., 2011, Prentice Hall). This is the world's most widely-used graduate textbook in marketing. To understand marketing as professionals see it, read this. Philip Kotler teaches at Kellogg at Northwestern.
  • Brand Relevance, by David Aaker (Jossey-Bass, 2011). Considered the foremost expert on branding, this book shows you how to become the leading brand in your market. It includes dozens of case studies on how to use branding to create opportunities for you and threats for your competitors. Professor Aaker teaches at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.

Designing Brand Identity, by Alina Wheeler (4th edition, 2012, Wiley). She lays out a five-phase process for creating an effective brand identity. Includes 30 case studies.

How Brands Grow, by Byron Sharp (Oxford University Press, USA 2010). Fascinating metrics-based analysis of thousands of companies and markets to explore how brands grow and die. He's a professor of marketing science at the University of South Australia and the director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science.

The New Strategic Brand Management: Advanced Insights and Strategic Thinking, by Jean-Noel Kapferer (Kogan Page, 5th ed., 2012). He's Europe's leading authority on brands, and internationally acknowledged as one of the most influential experts on brand management. A Professor of Marketing Strategy at HEC Graduate School of Management in France, he holds a PhD from Northwestern University.

Who Cares Wins (Why Good Business Is Better Business), by David Jones (FT Press, 2011). This is a brilliant book from the CEO of Havas which demonstrates the importance of the coherence of a company's message and its real practices.

Brand Content, by Daniel Bo (Dunod, 2009, in French). This is the reference book in France on the concept of content marketing. This book was awarded the 2009 Grand Prix des Etudes Silver Award. Daniel Bo holds a degree from HEC Graduate School of Management in France.

Summary of this Section

For content marketing to be done well, it has to be in the context of the elements of marketing. You have to do the groundwork of setting business goals, branding, messaging, audience, and the buying funnel. With a solid foundation in place, you can build a content marketing strategy.