What the Hell is

I returned from Content Marketing World with a head full of ideas and a heart full of questions.

The questions began on the first day, during the first hour of the conference. In his opening keynote, Content Marketing World founder Joe Pulizzi stood before a crowd of 3500 marketers from across the globe, and shared a quote.  I wasn’t able to write down the original source fast enough! But it went like this: “The only way we can differentiate ourselves is in how we communicate.”

So right off the bat, I was doing some deep soul-searching. Am I doing enough to differentiate my library from the crowd of competitors? Are you? Are we, as an industry, on the path forward  or are we stuck in the concepts and tactics of the past, feeling comfortable and content with ourselves?

Content marketing is the future of the marketing. So what the hell is it? Content marketing, according to Pulizzi, who coined the phrase, is “a strategic approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience–ultimately, to drive profitable consumer action.” But what does that actually mean?

It means we can’t rely on disruptive marketing (ads, newsletters, 100 signs posted all over your branch) to capture the attention of our cardholders. They’re trained at ignoring those tactics. Think about how you go about interacting with signs, ads, and social media. Do you give every message your full attention-or half of your attention-or even a glance? Unless something is seriously compelling, you filter it out. We all do. So do our cardholders.

How does content marketing work, in basic terms? It’s sharing stories. You can share stories about how other cardholders are using the library. You can share stories about the librarians–who are they, what they like to do in their spare time, what they love about interacting with cardholders. We can talk about everyday problems faced by people in our cardholder areas and we can help them solve those problems… sometimes using our services, sometimes using someone else’s services. In the end, what you want is for every person in the area to say to themselves, “The library can help me solve my problems.”

Content marketing breaks through the noise and the clutter by providing compelling, useful information for your cardholder–any type of information. It addresses whatever pain points your cardholders have. It positions your library as the go-to place for information. It builds trust. And through content marketing, your library gets a better and deeper understanding of your cardholders. You can use that understanding to do an even better job of addressing your cardholders needs. It’s a constant circle of giving and it’s carries more weight for a longer period than a flier or a poster.

Stories stick. A good story will stay in your brain longer than a good ad. And once you’ve told a great story, your cardholders will remember your brand. Stories build a connection which leads to customer loyalty, which leads to customer action.

You don’t have to be a trained marketer to understand how content marketing works. In fact, my contention is this: since more library marketing departments are run by trained librarians, you’ll do better at implementing a content marketing strategy at your library than most people with a four or six year marketing degree. You tell stories. You read stories. You review stories. You love stories. You’re two-thirds of the way to the content marketing first base.

Companies have used content marketing for more than 100 years.  For some great examples, visit the This Old Marketing podcast, produced by Pulizzi and his partner Robert Rose. Click on the show notes for the episodes and scroll to the end. They outline a vintage content marketing example in every episode. Check them out! After awhile, you’ll begin to get a picture of how companies have used content marketing and how you can do it too.

We cannot rely on this old disruptive marketing policy to be the driving force behind our library marketing efforts anymore. We’re better than that. We work with stories every day. Let’s start telling them. Besides, most of us don’t have the budget we really need to have to put together a kick-butt paid media campaign. Content marketing isn’t a campaign… it’s ongoing and it’s free, for the most part. Most importantly,  it does something that disruptive ads cannot do, no matter how well crafted and executed. Content marketing deepens the level of trust between you and your cardholders.

That’s what content marketing can do.

And that’s what we are going to focus on for a while because I think it’s extremely important. I think it’s the key to successful marketing at libraries. And I want you to be successful.

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