Well, firstly, you might be asking what the Michelin Guide has to do with this topic. Quite a lot actually. The Michelin Guide epitomises sustainable content marketing. Sustainable in the sense that it’s been able to maintain its status and relevancy for more than a hundred years.
First published in 1900, its founding premise was to create more interest in driving and car ownership by publishing useful information to motorists, including maps, tire repair and replacement instructions, car mechanics listings, hotels, and petrol stations throughout France. Thus driving up the sale of Michelin tyres.
Restaurants were added to the guide about 25 years after it’s debut, and to this day the Michelin Restaurant Guide proves the longevity in content marketing when its done right.
Michelin provide a huge amount of value to the restaurant-goer without any explicit promotion of their products. There is no discernible expectation that the reader should be become a Michelin customer. Rather the covert confidence that with standard marketing conversion metrics at play, a portion of readers will eventually become customers.
Now of course, most SMB brands can’t afford to produce content marketing to the level of the Michelin Guide. Having a team of restaurant inspectors visiting every restaurant of reasonable repute in a given country is an expensive undertaking.
So how does a smaller brand achieve sustainable content marketing?
1. Create content that is data driven (SEO)
When starting out, so many companies forget the importance of writing content that is search engine optimised. They’re all looking for instantaneous returns and so they rely on paid channels to fill their marketing funnel.
Getting a piece of content to rank in Google can take several months. However, if you have patience you can crack the SEO game. By doing so, you’ll have content assets generating revenue in perpetuity. All for a fixed cost. It’s amazing to still see many successful brands failing to pay heed to this. Here is a great example below.
“Social media management software” is a term which gets over 1,700 searches a month. Not a huge search volume, but a highly qualified term for software companies providing this service (relevant SaaS companies).
Hootsuite, the market leader are only down in 5th position for this term, with two other websites, Capterra and Zapier, sitting above them although they both don’t offer a social media management service.
Why is this so? Hootesuite are the market leader
All the results above Hootesuite point to an actual content page where the site has written an extensive post covering the topic. For Hootesuite it simply points to their homepage. Clearly, Hootesuite have not written any content covering this topic and are purely relying on the strength of their brand to rank for this term.
Although brand authority is important, Google value the user experience more reatly, and so will render results that deliver the most value to the user. This almost always comes in the form of well compiled content, be it an article or a video.
Yes, but no one is searching for the product/service my company offers
We hear this rebuttal quite a lot. This is true for a lot of businesses, but that doesn’t stop them from winning the search traffic game. The answer here is to be strategic with the content you write for SEO.
Write about subjects that sit adjacent to what your company offers, also known as topic adjacency.
Zapier have done just this in the example shown above. They don’t sell a social media management platform. But they do sell a product which seamlessly connects all of your web apps, including social media management platforms. Steve Bryant said it best in his Medium article, “You don’t get it. You aren’t the point”:
“The point of an awareness strategy is not to capture dollars by selling a thing. The point of an awareness strategy is to capture attention by selling an idea adjacent to that thing.”
2. Create category leading content
This is far more straightforward to explain, but certainly less easy to execute. If you create content that is better than any other on the web in its particular subject area it will deliver you customers over time. Why? Three reasons…
1. There are many websites/publications that curate content across all sorts of categories. Get on the radar of these curation outfits and you’re golden.
2. People are always looking to be associated with best-in-class content in order to enhance their own brand. This will result in a large number of relevant backlinks to your content. (A bit like I did with Steve Bryant’s article above).
3. This is really the by-product of points 1 and 2. When people read a truly remarkable piece of content they naturally enquire further about who wrote the content. This inquisitiveness will lead to inbound enquiries of which a percentage will convert to customers.
In essence the two above-mentioned content marketing approaches help define sustainable content marketing as the process of applying a fixed cost to content that will deliver customers in perpetuity.
Although the results from such methods may not be as instantaneous as paid content marketing (native, PPC, social, display), these methods will certainly be more cost effective in the mid to long term.