Why you should have less marketing in your content marketing

Man, I’d really like to read some thinly veiled advertising” is something no one said ever. So why do marketers keep acting like it happens all the time?

Just last month I tried to talk a large consumer tech brand out of launching a bloggy online experience where 30% of their content shilled their product. That’s not to say there can’t be a brand connection, but it can’t be a hard sell. As it turns out, GE Reports managing editor Tomas Kellner takes a similar stance. Here’s what he had to say in a recent interview:

These are GE stories in the sense that they’re always somehow connected to GE. But they have to be newsworthy enough so a person who is in no way connected to GE, interested in GE, or owns GE stock, would still walk away and say, ‘This is a really cool piece of information. Maybe I should come back and check on them more often.’

Elaborating on what makes content worthwhile, Kellner also spoke about how he decides what makes the cut:

I want my readers to learn something new. When they come to a GE Reports story, it has to give them a piece of information, a nugget, that they didn’t know before.

I really approached [GE Reports] as an online magazine, rather than thinking about it as a company blog. I wanted to produce an online magazine that tells people something new. I basically ignored press releases, and focused 100% on storytelling. My stories have real protagonists who are trying to solve real problems and reach real outcomes.

Here we are; we’re 130 years old. We were founded by Thomas Edison, and guess what? We are still working on freaking really hard problems that the entire planet has to be dealing with, whether it’s the future of energy, or whether it’s the future of electricity, or whether it’s new propulsion for planes that will get you from New York to Tokyo in four hours.

Part of knowing how to properly program a content marketing hub is understanding who’s visiting it. Kellner, who was previously a reporter at Forbes, goes onto to speak about how he’s positioned his content:

If you look at GE Reports, we are a science, tech, and innovation online magazine; sort of in the vein as Wired or Pop Science, or The Economist‘s science and technology section. Anyway, that’s how I fashion it.

Obviously, engineers—that audience is really big for us. We are also looking at shareholders—that’s potentially a really big audience. Most people will not buy a jet engine during their lifetime, but who knows what’s going to happen in 10 years? Maybe they’ll get smaller, and everybody will have a personal plane or a flying car. There are a lot of people who could buy GE shares. GE Reports is an important outlet to really lay out the business case behind GE, and we do that fairly often.

It’s really a strategic decision, who you want to talk to. Any editor has to decide who his audience is. We do the same thing.

Historically, before executing any editorial strategy, I research where my desired audience is already spending their time online. With the right Google searches, you can learn a surprising amount of information. I’ve even gone so far to ask potential readers which sites they like to visit (and what they want topically). This helps me determine what they gravitate towards — and where the opportunities are.

I don’t stop there though. A few months in, and periodically after that, I poll my base (those who’ve raised their hands to receive weekly newsletters). At a time when quick-hit short posts were all the rage, I discovered that readers of a B2B tech property liked our stuff but wanted pieces that were longer and offered more great insights. These are things you won’t know unless you actively try to find out.

Why go to this much effort? Well, I firmly believe content marketing’s main goal is to build affinity. And the best way to do that is to provide useful information that aligns with audience interests, not company interests — though it’s terrific when the former and latter converge. With the aforementioned tech blog, I saw this strategy pay off. Quiet literally, as lucrative new business opportunities would come to us instead of the other way around.

For those still not convinced that content marketing should be more attuned to consumer needs vs. a company agenda, I leave you with this compelling stat from HubSpot:

73% of consumers get frustrated when content isn’t relevant to them.

Are your efforts running people off or reeling them in?

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