Create a Content Strategy for Any Business

Create a content strategy for any business

Who Signs Your Paycheck?

Ann Handley, the chief content officer of Marketing Profs, a professional development resource for marketers, issued the following challenge at a recent Content Marketing Conference: “Ask yourself: If my customer signed my paycheck, what would marketing look like?” The irony of her comment is that our customers do, and always have, signed our paychecks, albeit indirectly. It makes sense that we create experiences that serve their needs. While this may seem obvious, Handley’s comment reflects a seismic shift in perspective, a move away from a product focus where we harnessed advertising to persuade our people to buy our products, toward a more customer-centric orientation, where we develop useful and engaging content that addresses our customers’ needs and establishes us as a trusted resource. Marketing consultant Jay Baer summarized the distinction between these perspectives, “The difference between helping and selling is just two letters. But those two letters now make all the difference.”

It Was Not Always This Way

Remember the old Burger King jingle: “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us, all we ask is that you let us serve it your way”? Back in the days of push marketing, when advertising was the leading lever in our marketing mix, we caught our customers’ attention primarily though catchy taglines, creative commercials, and small amounts of product personalization: Do you want pickles or lettuce on your hamburger?

As marketers, we pushed our messages out to relatively passive customers through a handful of channels—television, radio, print, direct mail, and phone calls—to convince them to purchase whatever we were hired to sell. Our strategy was to saturate the market with carefully crafted ads that would push consumers through the sales funnel from awareness to purchase. Much of what we created was clever—think of the “Mean Joe Greene” commercial for Coke2 and catchy phrases like “mmm good” and “the quicker picker upper”— branding that continues to evoke emotion and brand recall but whose effectiveness in driving sales is still uncertain. We were often entertaining and imaginative. However, we were not customer-centric; we were still pushing our own goods and telling our own story.

In addition to marketers telling the story of our companies’ products, marketing communications managed our corporate reputation. Through press releases and annual reports, we described our companies, our achievements, and our contributions to shape and maintain a positive image. We spoke with a singular voice, that of the official spokesman for the company, which was often formal and faceless. Steeped in a one-way communications tradition, we talked; we did not interact. “No comment” was an appropriate response.

Over the years our constituents grew tired of our producer orientation, our sales pitches, our perceived indifference, and of being viewed predominantly as transactions, even being labeled as consumers. Bombarded with advertising directed at them—Yankelovich estimates that the average consumer was exposed to 5,000 brand messages daily—people began to turn a deaf ear to our messaging with TiVo, satellite radio, caller ID, spam blockers, and by throwing our carefully crafted print pieces in the garbage. They wanted to get on to the latest episode of Seinfeld, the Top 40 countdown, or a Newsweek article, and not be interrupted by our latest promotion. As a result, the effectiveness of our marketing efforts was diminished. Our producer-based marketing had actually moved us farther away from achieving our stated goal of customer-centricity.

Content Marketing Focuses on Our Customers’ Agenda

In recent years, companies have recaptured the attention of their prospects and customers through content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”3

Designer Tory Burch uses content to more fully build out her brand and engage her prospects and customers. The Tory Daily Blog offers value by highlighting Burch’s style as evidenced in entertaining, beauty, culture, and music. Her City Guides describe her favorite places to “eat, sleep, shop, and see around the world.”4 While reading the blog, viewers can click on an embedded hyperlink to research or purchase items.

How does content marketing differ from our previous push-based strategy? Content marketing achieves its goal of driving profitable customer action by focusing on meeting the needs and desires of our prospects and customers rather than by selling them on our products and services. A customer-centric strategy, content marketing looks to educate, advise, and engage our constituencies.

Unlike advertising, content marketing is non-interrupting. Rather than directing advertising at our prospects and customers, this form of “pull” marketing creates ways for people to find out about our products and services in the course of their daily lives by acting as resources for them. Our prospects and customers seek us out. If our content is compelling enough, it draws people to us. Then they can then decide for themselves whether we are able to help them. There is no hard sell.

Following a content strategy, marketers blog about subjects that are of interest to our prospects and customers and comment on blogs that they read. We tweet, host webinars, publish white papers, produce videos, and curate Pinterest boards to offer information and experiences that our customers will find useful. When carried out correctly, our organizations become more approachable and trustworthy.

Content marketing can be interactive; when activated through social media channels, it promotes dialogue with our constituents, inviting them to tell their stories and to share, review, and comment on ours. This builds important word of mouth and fosters community—customers and prospects connecting with each other.

What Is Old Is New

Content creation is not a new strategy. As early as 1900 the tire manufacturer Michelin employed content marketing to stimulate demand for cars, and therefore, for car tires. The company published the Michelin Guide to France to encourage people to explore the wonders of the French countryside by automobile. The Guide included maps, lists of restaurants, hotels, car mechanics, and gas stations, as well as instructions for changing and repairing tires. Provided free of charge, the Guide increased people’s motivation to purchase cars by opening their eyes to new travel possibilities. The Guide also reduced the risk of taking a trip by identifying resources to meet people’s travel needs while on the road. Good content is enduring. Over a hundred years later, Michelin is still publishing the guides.

The web has increased demand for content marketing. As we have seen, today’s customers are do it yourself-ers, people who actively search out information to meet their needs. Great content meets our customers’ need for self-serve access to information and brings us into the conversation in a trustworthy way. It also maintains a consistent dialogue that can steward our prospects and customers through the customer journey, before, during, and after a sale. As a result, successful content marketing often tees up new, repeat, and cross-and up-sell opportunities and fosters advocacy and co-creation. It puts marketers in the position of directly contributing to revenue generation, increasingly our value to our organizations.

How Do You Create Useful Content If You Sell Clothes Dryers?

With a little imagination and a lot of understanding of our customers’ needs, desires, motivations, and existing beliefs, compelling content can be created for any product or service. Here is an example of useful content—if you are in the market for a clothes dryer. A search for clothes dryers reveals multiple results including a link to Home Depot’s landing page, titled “How to Choose a Reliable and Efficient Dryer.” (A landing page is the page of a website that viewers are directed to when they click on the search link.)

Intrigued, viewers click through to the landing page and find all kinds of information about gas versus electric dryers, dryer capacity, energy-saving trips, must-have features, and even pricing considerations. Notably there are no sales pitches in the body of the content. Links to products appear on the side of the page, which the viewer can choose to click through. If viewers are looking for dryers and the range of options seems overwhelming, this is indeed compelling content. Even more useful content might include a simple questionnaire that helps potential purchasers prioritize features and a tool that generates a list of models that best match their specified criteria.

Content sells Home Depot clothes dryers

Content Marketing Works Throughout the Journey

Once potential customers have found our blog postings, videos, white papers, or tweets via search engines, social media, or an embedded link in an article or blog post, we invite them to further engage with us by directing them to our website, landing pages, or other digital environments through a compelling trigger, or call to action (like ours below).

Content Marketing CTA

In the case of our clothes dryer shoppers, the call to action may be the link on’s “Shop All Dryers” page to learn more about the features and benefits of each dryer. For business-to-business (B2B) prospects, a call to action could invite prospects to download a white paper, sign up for an RSS feed, view a video, or request a demo among other options.

If prospects take us up on our call-to-action, a conversion has taken place; awareness has been built and a lead has been nurtured. That is not to say that they are ready to make a purchase, however, especially for high involvement purchases characterized by a long sales cycle. Brian Carroll, CEO of inTouch and author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, observes that up to 95 percent of prospects that make it to our websites are in research mode. Seventy-five percent will eventually buy a product from us—or our competitors—so we want to make sure that we continue to develop these relationships.5

We nurture these leads with additional content that becomes increasingly focused based upon our prospect’s actions. By noting the pages that they visit and the topics they explore, we can refine our content to reflect their interests. As prospects get closer to making a purchase, the nature of our content changes. Case studies, testimonials, product descriptions, and surveys that help identify the most appropriate solution and describe our products’ value replace more general information. If our prospects continue to download these materials, we may offer another trigger, perhaps a free trial if appropriate, that will keep them moving forward.

The Progressive Company’s content highlights this progression. Flo, the upbeat, fictional character who sports heavy makeup and a retro hairstyle, represents the car insurance company in television commercials. Her persona is sincere and helpful; she is able to make something as complex as insurance seem easy. These light and memorable commercials build brand awareness and draw people to the company’s other digital properties, where in addition to viewing all of Flo’s commercials, they can access more hard-core content including auto quotes and the specifics of Progressive policies.6

Our engagement efforts continue after a sale is made, with content that is focused around frequently asked questions (FAQs) and best practices, information that can help new customers get the most out of their recent purchase. Thoughtful, ongoing engagement through challenges, contests, text messages, webinars, mobile apps, and social communities go a long way toward retaining customers, facilitating cross-sells and up-sells, and fostering engagement, customer advocacy, and co-creation.


We hope you enjoyed this content; is an example of what ContentOro does for its customers…providing high-quality, relevant content from experts and their published books.

About the Authors

Larry Weber and Lisa Leslie Henderson are the cowriters of this Digital Marketing guide. Larry is the CEO of Racepoint Global, an advanced marketing services firm. A globally known expert in public relations and marketing services, Larry has successfully built companies and brands and is passionate about the future of marketing. Lisa is an observer, synthesizer, and writer who draws extensively from her background in marketing and consulting. Lisa and Larry have collaborated on two guides to date, The Digital Marketer, and Everywhere: Comprehensive Strategy for the Social Media Era. To stay current on their thinking, frequent and follow them at @TheLarryWeber and @ljlhendo.

Buy on Amazon: The Digital Marketer: Ten New Skills You Must Learn to Stay Relevant and Customer-Centric

2. To view this classic Coca-Cola ad, see
3. “What Is Content Marketing?” Content Marketing Institute,
4. To see her City Guides, go to
5. “Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing,” Marketo
6. Love Flo? To view your favorite Flo commercials go to

ContentOro revolutionizes the way digital marketers and brands acquire content for marketing. We partner with the world’s best publishers to bring the contents of their books to life on the web with our innovative technology. Creating compelling experiences that tie our content to our clients’ product is our mission.

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