I’ve been in the content game for a while now.
Long enough to have seen marketers measure content a million different ways, and even track ROI with fancy formulas and attribution models.
Without a doubt, there are lots of ways you can see how content performs at different stages of the funnel. You can be as simple or as complex about it as you want, depending on your resources and desired outcome.
But 99% of the time when companies think about content, they’re thinking about it in terms of its ability to do one thing: Make people care about their brand.
So–bright-eyed and optimistic about the future–we marketers have invested in channels we think will help us do that. Whether it’s Google+ (remember that?), YouTube, Facebook or something else, the promise is always the same: If you build it, they will come.
For most marketers, though, the real-world experience is nothing like that. In fact, building an audience of people who care about your brand is much more difficult. And so we waste time and money experimenting with channels, when what we should really be doing is driving traffic to the one channel we can control: our website.
Don’t get me wrong–these distribution networks do matter. And they 100% have their place in any marketer’s toolkit (which we’ll get to later).
But when it comes to making people care about your brand, and ultimately driving the business outcomes you want, you’ve got to do one thing first: own your audience.
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Own the Audience, Own the Results
Back in the day, people obsessed over sharing content on social media. It was viewed as the ultimate point of distribution. The mighty Facebook “Like” reigned supreme. But as platforms like these became commodified, and organic reach waned, businesses had less and less influence over the content that Facebook served up–if it was served up at all.
What’s more, it became painfully clear that those likes and followers didn’t do much to make people buy anything. Smart marketers had to acknowledge a hard truth:
An audience that you don’t control can never truly be owned.
In reality, there aren’t any shortcuts to audience-building, but you’ve got to start with compelling content.
But the best place to start? Your website.
From landing pages to your blog and beyond, driving traffic to your owned real estate–and converting it into potential leads for your business–is a critical component to 10x growth. The rest–Facebook, LinkedIn, or whatever new channel pops up next–is merely surround-sound: It exists to amplify your message, not serve as the primary source of it.
So, how do you go about creating the kind of content that’ll help you own your audience?
“Audience is all we own today,” explains David Cancel, CEO of Drift.
And it makes sense, right?
After all, consumers have no shortage of products and services vying for their attention. In this competitive landscape, we don’t necessarily own their loyalty to our product, or their reliance on our features. But we can forge a connection that transcends all those things. And the best way to do that is with content–good content–on your website.
But that’s easier said than done. So let’s break it down.
Give people something to believe in.
Stewart Butterfield, founder of Slack, once pointed out that, if you’re selling saddles, the last thing you want to talk about is the quality of the leather. Instead, you want to sell people on the endless joys of horseback riding. I always come back to this example because it’s so powerful in its simplicity: If want to sell something, you’ve got to give people a reason to believe.
This is where your brand plays a pivotal role, and by extension, your content:
Use your content to tell stories that give your audience no choice but to engage. It doesn’t mean publishing self-promoting posts about your product. It means creating useful content that makes people think, or gives them a way to be better at what they do. If you’re not there yet, curate the stories that deliver insight and value, not a sales pitch.
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Stop creating “mirage content” on your blog.
I love the term Benji Hyam coined to describe the kind of content written by inexperienced or non-subject matter experts. “Mirage content”, or the superficial posts, listicles, and “top 10” articles so many people put out there–make you feel like you’re putting out fresh content, but in reality, you’re merely parroting most of what’s already on the internet. Sadly, many content creators have either been forced to create content like this in order to “play it safe” on a company blog, or because they’re genuinely too inexperienced to know that this isn’t how you build a loyal following.
“The best content comes from your in-house team. Those are the people who breathe your product or service day in and day out, and know how to explain things in-depth to your customers. Your employees have real expertise in the industry and they’re the best people to write content for your company.” – Benji Hyam
Of course, freelancers and agencies can also play a key role in crafting compelling content, but only if, as Hyam points out, they’re adept at interviewing subject matter experts and turning that into high value content.
Use secondary channels for the surround-sound effect.
Don’t build your audience on a platform you can’t control–do it on your website.
Without a doubt, you can use LinkedIn, Facebook, and even Twitter to amplify your message, but as Cancel warns, “[D]on’t build an audience on top of those things. They will go away.”
Good content from your site can be re-purposed a million different ways on secondary sites. Once in a while, it can even be made for these secondary sites, but there’s one thing you’ve got to keep in mind: when people visit your website, you’ve got to deliver the goods to keep them hooked. This means blog content with an actual POV, and a means of engaging 1:1 with your brand. At Drift, we’re even strategic about the content that goes into our bots, customizing conversations based on location and more so visitors have a personalized experience.
Respect what email can do for your audience-building efforts.
“Email is an open protocol, it’s an open idea that no one controls,” explains Cancel. This makes it the best channel for building your audience.
Early on at Drift, email was the way Dave Gerhardt, VP of Marketing, built out a huge following. And it wasn’t complicated–he simply gave people something to believe in–the value of good content–and then delivered on it.
“We said, ‘Hey give us your email, we’ll send you good content’. …And that’s how we grew,” DG explains.
But there was more. DG did something at Drift marketers like me have been wanting to do forever: Use email to really connect with people. He did that by completely abandoning the notion of the “designed” email. Instead, he sent plain text emails that felt like a real note from one friend to another. And people loved it.
Keep it conversational.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is from David Ogilvy:
“Don’t address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client.”
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The reason I love this quote is because it reminds me that the content I create should feel like a conversation.
It should feel real.
But for whatever reason, even the most enthusiastic supporters of this point of view forget about it completely when it comes to creating content for their business.
Instead of fresh, first-person stories and insights, most businesses either:
- Opt for corporate-sounding content that feels “safe” so no one’s offended by anything (and ultimately, no one cares about it).
- Turn out lots of so-called “mirage content” that ends up being a huge let-down for readers who are looking for valuable info.
When no one subscribes or shares this kind of content, companies wonder why they don’t have much of an audience.
But it’s not hard to unpack: when it comes to content and audience-building, real always wins.
Why The Best Channel for 10x Growth Is Your Website
Making people care about your brand starts with building and owning your audience. And that doesn’t magically happen on Facebook or LinkedIn–it happens on the best channel you’ve got for 10x growth: your website.
From blog posts that feel like editorial, to 1:1 with conversations with customers, content can kickstart your audience-building efforts. The key is to avoid playing it safe, and let your brand lead the way.