There are a number of ways to build a loyal customer base online, but one of the most self-sustaining and persuasive ways to do it is to build a brand advocate army by producing genuinely brilliant content. Make no mistake though, this is no easy task and your investments can take a long time to pay off, but the long term benefits to your business’s brand recognition can be huge.
In this guide I will outline some of the fundamental concepts of this brand marketing approach and how the content you create can help attract key influencers to your brand, turning them into key advocates and content disseminators. To achieve this you will have to let go of some of your fundamental instincts and start thinking more like a publisher and less like someone trying to advertise their company.
The content marketer’s mantra
So how do you get people to share your content andsing the praises of your company to all and sundry? Well, first of all I will begin by letting you in on a simple piece of content marketing wisdom; a mantra, if you will. Remembering it and trying to stick to it, should hopefully keep your content marketing on the right track. It goes something like this:
“Inspire first, sell later”
It might sound simple but it’s amazing how quickly the first part can give way to the latter when it comes to the crunch. This is understandable, of course, as it’s in any business’s interests to sell their services or products first and worry about being entertaining or inspiring later. Of course, to the subconscious mind of the consumer, the two are intricately linked. Build up this association over time and you can create something more powerful than a mere customer. You can create a brand advocate.
Build it and they will come
Content marketing reverses traditional thinking by taking a bottom up approach. The logic goes a bit like this:
- You create amazing content that your potential and existing customer base chooses to consume.
- This group eventually begins to start seeking out your content and sharing it.
- As your content begins to be shared by more people, bigger influencers start noticing your content, and eventually sharing it.
- These big influencers will help your content get on the radar of even bigger influencers.
- Sustaining the output rate and quality of your content sees the reach and popularity snowball, bringing your brand along with it.
I now want to look at five fundamental steps to building your own army of brand advocates. It won’t be easy and there’s a lot of work involved, but hopefully this guide should give you a rough structure to begin mapping out your content marketing strategy.
Understand your brand
It’s easy to confuse your business and brand. Fundamentally they are one and the same thing but the brand is a more existential concept that includes your company’s philosophy, culture, moral imperatives as well as the personalities of the people who run it. From a marketing perspective though, brand is about how people view your company and this is crucial as it will come to define the nature of the content you create.
Marketers have borrowed the Jungian psychological concept of archetypes to break down companies personalities into one of twelve (sometimes more) types such as ‘wizard’, ‘sage’ or ‘revolutionary’. This can be a very useful framework for understanding your brand, and despite inevitable crossover between different archetypes, it should be pretty clear which group your business falls into.
Understand your audience
Understanding what brand archetype your business falls into is key to understanding your potential audience, but to confuse matters, this causal relationship goes both ways. In other words, your existing customer base and the kind of content they consume, should equally inform which brand image you choose to portray. If there is a dissonance in this relationship then it may be because your perceived image of your company’s brand is at odds with how your customer base really views you.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you want to push your brand into new marketplaces or try to redefine how people see your brand, but if you’ve got a good thing going then it is perhaps wiser to pick a brand archetype to fit your existing customer base (no matter how much you might want to be seen as the wizard).
Follow the buzz
However you connect the dots, it’s important to conduct thorough market research to give you an insight into your target customer demographics (both existing and desired). What are they watching on YouTube? What social networks do they frequent? Do they consume and share content on their smartphones or on their laptops? Do they share content at all? All of this will help you build up a picture of what moves and inspires your customers and what kind of content they like sharing.
Once you’ve started to build up an accurate picture of your customers then it’s important to follow what’s trending and causing a buzz in their online communities. Start to map out your own content ideas using this as a template and begin curating existing content so as to dip your toe in the water to test reactions and responses. If you find you’re way off the mark then you might need to rethink your strategy.
Become the buzz
Now comes the hard part - creating the content. There are a whole range of mediums in which you can do this, but it’s probably wise to stick to those that you’re familiar with first. A weighty informative whitepaper that tackles the kind of questions your customers are asking can be a perfect starting place and will allow you to create a series of blog articles and social media posts off the back of it.
Another extremely influential medium is video and with many influential studies showing its exponential growth, spending the time and money in developing a comprehensive video marketing strategy could do wonders for your brand image.
I could spend ages here talking about what makes for great content and what doesn’t, but I won’t. What I will reiterate though, is that this will be a hard slog and it’s unlikely you’ll get it right the first time. The important thing is to monitor the reach of your content across as many platforms as you can and to constantly engage with your audience. If someone tells you that your latest blog post is rubbish, don’t get upset but ask them why; constructive criticism is gold dust to any content marketer worth their salt.
Attracting brand advocates can happen naturally if your content is good enough, but it makes a lot more sense to try and nurture these social influencers. Being able to identify the real industry gurus and social media influencers from the outset is key to developing the effectiveness of your brand army. This essentially comes down to a combination of good PR and an effective outreach strategy. Hootsuite have written an insightful blog on turning fans into ambassadors, which covers a lot of this ground. I’d highly recommend reading it.
I’ll leave you with a final point, which is that this strategy is in no way exclusively limited to B2Cs. It’s wrong to think that marketing content to B2Bs should revolve exclusively around corporate and informationally driven marketing messages. Studies have shown that B2Bs are just as prone to moving, funny, inspiring or emotionally charged brand marketing as any consumer is (if not more so).
So whoever your audience is, stop selling and start inspiring.
About the Author
Joe Cox is the founder and director of Rocketship Content, a content marketing agency based in Bristol. He has written numerous articles on SEO, content marketing and digital PR. You can find more of his thoughts and insights on his blog, or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.