A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a new prospect. He was really keen to start using content to promote his business and start generating some leads for his pipeline. The conversation was great because he shared my passion for content marketing…

Or so I thought. Things quickly started to unravel when I realised that what he thought of as ‘content marketing’ was vastly different to my understanding, because he ended up choosing to work with a telesales agency.

It reminded me of another opportunity I’d won last year – even though my client and I were using the same words in conversation, what we meant by ‘blog’, ‘article’, ‘case study’, ‘thought leadership’ was wildly different.

The failure is completely mine. Rather than assume we were speaking the same language, I should have ensured that each conversation started with us both being on the same page. Therefore, I thought I would share a whistle stop tour of the wonderful world of content marketing…

Content is…

Any form of communication that you use to share your message with the outside world, such as blogs, articles, ebooks, videos, illustration, podcasts, infographic, presentations…

But for the purpose of this blog, I will focus on what I know best – the written word.

Content can be long-form, such as a sales letter or white paper, or it could be short-form, such as a Tweet or email. But, whatever way you choose to package your message, the key to creating successful content is engagement.

Once upon a time, it seemed that advertising got you everywhere – think Mad Men, smart guys with slicked back hair, overindulging in cigars and cognac while dreaming up catchy straplines that won big business:

Coca-Cola: “Sign of Good Taste”

Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum: “Double your pleasure, double your fun”

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies: “Snap, Crackle, Pop”

But that just doesn’t work anymore. Today, the world in which you operate is very different…

People are becoming blind to advertising

Research from Media Dynamics suggests that adults are exposed to 360 adverts a day across TV, radio, Internet, newspapers and magazines.

When you factor in the ads you see in your inbox, the labels on the jars in your cupboard, the clothes people wear, the cars you pass on the road – other studies place the brand exposure at 3,000 to 20,000 messages a day.

But if we just consider the 360 direct adverts we see a day, only 150 are noted – even less lead to an eventual sale.

So why doesn’t it work?

Inattentional blindness

This psychological phenomenon concerns the inability of the human mind to process anything that is not the direct focus of attention in a specific moment. It means people are only ever going to see the adverts they’re already looking for…

Imagine you’re walking through town…

If you’re hungry, you’ll see Greggs or Subway.

But if your child has a birthday coming up, you’ll see The Entertainer or The Disney Store.

And if you’ve just moved home, you’ll see John Lewis or Claus Olsen.

It’s all about satisfying those needs in the moment. Advertising works on the premise that if you blast a message out to enough people, the laws of statistics say someone will buy.

But sending a blanket message out in the HOPE someone you want to talk to will see it, is just not effective. Hope isn’t a strategy. It’s not the smartest way to find new business, it’s not the best way of using your marketing resource and it’s not the most effective way to spend your budget.

How to use different types of content

If you really want to grow your business and see your marketing efforts deliver a good return, you need to focus on engagement. When you switch from a scattergun approach to engagement, it optimises your conversion rate at every stage of the sales cycle. And achieving this engagement starts with understanding your customer journey…

In the beginning, nobody knows who you are, so understandably, you want to be found.

So how do you do this?


Publish regular blogs to your website that are packed with relevant keywords and phrases that people are actually searching for, helps to boost your organic SEO (search engine optimisation). Now people will naturally find you when they’re actively looking for an answer to their problem.

Public relations (PR)

Placing editorial in key publications that your target audience is reading gets you exposure to a wider audience and is great for boosting your credibility. It’s trickier to track the ROI as you can’t be sure who’s read the article, but it’s really effective for positioning you as a specialist in your field.


Becoming your industry’s ‘thought-leader’ to get yourself noticed requires you to share your experience, impart your knowledge, educate the market and demonstrate you have something original to say. Of course, your opinion(s) should be backed up with credible research, which is quite a powerful way to align yourself with the industry analysts.

Case studies

Rather than tell your customers why you’re so amazing, why not show them through someone else’s eyes? Case studies are so effective at proving your product/service’s value because they share a real-life example of your offering being used, along with tangible benefits. And if you choose to go down the PR route, case studies are one of the most effective ways of gaining traction in the media.

White papers

Long-form content, white papers exist for you to impart your wisdom on a very specific topic. These should be really detailed, containing research, testimonials and case studies to back up your argument.

To secure even more value from your white paper, use it as gated content (where people need to submit their details before getting their hands on it), or host a complimentary webinar to present your findings.

Email marketing

When I started my career, email marketing was the hottest tool in the box. But now, you’re going to need an exceptional subjectline to cut through the noise of someone’s inbox.


Done right, email marketing yields impressive results. Top tips: always offer something of value, keep it short (150 words) and drive to a dedicated landing page.

Direct mail

There’s been a resurgence of direct mail – because who doesn’t love receiving an unexpected gift in the post?

And you can make it as simple or as complicated as you like – from a humble handwritten letter, to KitKats urging you to ‘take a break’ while you visit a dedicated landing page, through to impressive bespoke artwork to adorn the office walls. With direct mail you can really let your creative flair shine.

Getting the message right

This is the Technology Message Matrix:

It’s possibly the most useful marketing model I’ve come across in my career and I genuinely use it all the time to help structure my messaging. It’s all about the person’s mindset, and therefore the type of message they will be receptive to. By following the framework and applying it to your content, you’re onto an engagement winner.

For example:

The managing director of an existing client is more receptive to information on your company, whereas the IT manager wants to know details of your products/services. For prospects, or those you’re yet to engage, you need to speak more broadly and focus on educating them on the underlying technology or discussing key issues in the market through white papers or case studies.

Don’t forget the call-to-action

Good content will leave the reader in no doubt as to what you want them to do next because it states the call-to-action (CTA). And because you’ve created content that is so engaging, they’re left feeling like they have no option but to take action.

I see a lot of companies, particularly in the IT sector, which end every communication with ‘Book a demo’. But that’s a huge, scary commitment for someone to make – they’re thinking they’ll have to speak to someone who’s going to spend an hour trying to sell to them.

So soften it. Rather than ‘Book a demo’, think about:

  • Watch a demo video.
  • See why ABC analyst says the product/service delivers 321% ROI.
  • Download a white paper explaining the competitive landscape.
  • Read a case study.
  • Follow us on social media.
  • Subscribe to the podcast.
  • Find out about our upcoming webinar.
  • See where we’re exhibiting the product/service this year.
  • Read this blog on XYZ.

The list goes on, but you get the point. These are small, baby steps. But for each step they take, they’re improving their level of engagement with you, buying into your offering more. At each step you’re answering their questions and overcoming those barriers to sale and therefore moving ever closer to signing on that dotted line.

Content marketing is all about people

Always write to a person rather than anyone that might happen to be reading your content or a group of people you deem to be your target audience – write to one person. Talk to Alex, Jacob, Oscar.

Speak to the individual and make a personal connection.

You want to stand out and be different?

Shed the corporate façade. Strip away the industry jargon, waffle, fluff and technobabble and just talk to your customer as you would a friend or colleague. When you communicate with people on that emotional level, you make a deeper connection.

That’s what successful content marketing is really about.

Get your hands on the book

An extended version of this blog is available as an ebook. Alternatively, if you prefer to hold your books, hard copies are available for free: