Content Marketing: How to Avoid Being an Irrelevant Poser
The definition of relevant is to be closely connected to what is being done or considered. With that description, it might seem obvious that content marketing needs to be relevant to be effective. Why do so many content experts drone on about it, then?
The problem isn’t companies and brands struggling to understand why their marketing must be relevant. Instead, it’s understanding how to be relevant and identifying when you’ve missed the mark so you can make corrections to your campaigns.
The Problem With Irrelevant Marketing
If more marketers used the word “irrelevant” to describe content that’s not relevant, I think it would make the point better and make it easier for business owners to identify. If you think about it, do I really need to expand on the problem with irrelevant marketing?
Irrelevant marketing is boring, annoying, disruptive, bothersome, irritating, tiresome, nagging, and overall unpleasant. It’s commercials for products you can never use during your favorite shows, obnoxious radio ads in the car, stalking ads following you around the web, and all that crazy stuff in your SPAM box.
On some level, that stuff must work because people still spend a lot of money to do it. I’ve never spent time looking for numbers on its efficacy, but I know how that kind of advertising makes people feel, and I’m in the business of making people feel happy and good about the choices they make and the money they spend.
What Makes Relevant Marketing Effective?
Marketing and advertising don’t have to be manipulative propositions. We’re not trying to trick people into spending money they don’t have, buying things they don’t need, or seeing quality where there is none. Instead, we’re trying to connect with people who will genuinely benefit from your products and services and then let them know how awesome you are.
When your content is relevant, it means you’ve directed it to the right people. It means you’ve created something they will find interesting and presented it in a format they will like. It helps people see you as an expert or authority in your industry, and it helps people develop trust for your company over time.
All of these things add up to increasing the probability that people will choose to do business with you.
Identifying Irrelevant Content
If you want to understand what might be irrelevant about your content, you have to first know who you’re trying to reach. Nothing will ever be relevant to everybody. In fact, it’s likely that your marketing is going to be irrelevant to most people. Don’t let that be discouraging. Instead, see it as an opportunity to narrow the playing field so you can focus your energy and resources on the people who will actually buy your stuff. That’s a good thing!
Narrowing the Playing Field
If you’re not already using customer profiles or buyer personas, now’s the time. These descriptions will help you envision a real person that you can market to, and having someone to imagine makes it easy to spot ideas and messages that aren’t going to connect. Think about it like holiday gift shopping. If you head out to get all your gifts, it’ll be hard to figure out which store to go to first or what types of things to look for. If you head out looking for a gift for your mom, you can probably skip the toy store (although you know your mom best!).
Next is understanding user intent. In SEO terms, this means what a person is trying to do when they turn to a search engine like Google for help. Are they making dinner and ran out of a recipe item and need a substitute? Do they have a food allergy and are researching alternatives in general? Are they looking for a store that carries items? Answering each of these questions with Google may need very similar searches, but each has a different intent and only one of them is someone who is ready to spend some money. You may want content ready for a variety of intents, but you have to reach the right people at the right time to avoid being irrelevant.
Another way to avoid being irrelevant is to think about the kinds of problems people are having or difficulties they are facing that you can solve. It’s one thing to point out the virtues of your solutions, and that works pretty well for an advertisement. However, when you start by addressing a need, want, or pain point of your customers, your messages will be positioned to speak to those needs and your solutions will be the natural end. You’ve become a problem-solver, and people love to have problems solved. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.
Choosing the Right Message
Once you’ve created a fairly narrow slice of audience and figured out what they’re trying to do and why, then it’s time to consider the message. If you’ve already taken the time to do some keyword research, this should give you a starting point for determining which topics you should cover, and checking out the competition can help you here, too. (P.S., that doesn’t mean copying what they’re doing. It means you can get ideas for topics and, even better, identify gaps that you can cover.)
Next, you’ll have to choose which format to use. People like to consume a variety of content formats and different types will work better in different scenarios and at different stops along your customer’s journey. For example, getting attention from new people works best on social media, with blogs, using videos, and interesting graphics. Moving an interested lead toward a sale means removing roadblocks, and often case studies, white papers, and installation or use guides are what you’ll want.
Choosing how to say what you want to say is important here, too, and you’ll want to return to your audience to get it right. One thing to consider is your vocabulary. Most industries come with a full dictionary’s worth of jargon and acronyms that are well understood by industry insiders and look like a foreign language to outsiders. Where do your customers fall? Will they be bored to death by your simplified explanations or baffled by your lack of them? Another consideration is tone: how professional or formal should you be? Is it ok to be funny?
Overdoing It: The Ultimate Irrelevancy
At some point, all of us have to acknowledge that there are often differences between ourselves and our audiences, and that’s ok. After all, you’re the expert at what you do and you’re looking for people who need your solutions. If you were only after other experts, they probably wouldn’t need you. The point is to remember that you’re trying to be relevant, not fit in with the crowd.
Authenticity is always going to be a critical factor in whether you successfully connect with your audiences. If you’re not authentically into pop culture, for example, don’t try to cram it in your marketing just because your target audience includes young people. There are plenty of ways to connect with young people that you can do with ease without looking like a poser.