How to break the rules and win with customer-centric content

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Content marketing is about creating materials that are truly for your customers, but too many brands miss the mark with SEO plays or self-serving brand collateral.

By now, we all know that content is king, and brand content must offer more than a promotional pitch if it’s going to survive Google’s intentions for the future. Hummingbird, anyone? In a not-too-distant era, your position in search results will depend on your site’s ability to offer users sophisticated answers to their most pressing questions. But that doesn’t mean you need to do content like everyone else to become prominent in your industry – or the entire commercial landscape, for that matter.

There is evidence that backs up Google’s assertions that the best thing you can do is create content for your readers – and your readers alone – even if that means going against accepted industry standards or potentially missing SEO opportunities.

Apple takes a bite out of ‘WRITE content or fail’ belief

Case in point? Apple. Econsultancy recently published a blog calling out the noted tech brand on its striking lack of content. Sure, the company posts beautifully striking images of products and it creates easy-to-digest collateral about features, but it doesn’t offer how-to blog posts about the benefits of using iPads in the kitchen or how iPhones are keeping families connected overseas.apple's website content is minimal, but effective.

Given the messages marketers consistently receive about the importance of creating original content, it would seem that Apple’s advertising approach fell off the online radar. On the contrary, the brand has never been more popular. It was recently named the No. 1 brand in Interbrand’s Best Global Brands report, dethroning long-time leaders Google and Coca-Cola.

Since 2000, Interbrand has been measuring which companies exemplify best-in-class financial performance, influence consumers’ choices and can command the market. During that 13-year span, Apple has driven its brand value up to $98.3 billion, up 15 times from its value in the initial reporting period.

Apple understands what its advocates expect

How is it that Apple can basically play by its own rules, neglecting to build a blog section on its site and choosing not to relay its product benefits through creative storytelling? The company knows what its customers want (and expect) and delivers on those promises.

Part of the recipe for Apple’s success is its distinct brand identity. People become Apple advocates because the company offers cutting-edge technology and seamless designs. These streamlined devices tend to appeal to consumer demographics who like to identify as early adopters.

The target audience wants snappy content, preferably in easy-to-digest sleek formats like video or interactive graphics, and it gives it to them.

Do those people need how-to blogs or landing pages that explain Apple’s products in more comprehensive language? Well, maybe. (I still don’t know how to effectively use my MacBook Air to its full potential). But do they want to read those resources? Probably not. Apple offers alternatives to the DIY experience – in-store sales associates are available to walk first-time buyers through features on their new devices or tutor existing users about functions they’ve been overlooking (guilty as charged).

The point is, Apple understands that its target audience wants snappy content, preferably in easy-to-digest sleek formats like video or interactive graphics, and it gives it to them.

Going against this expectation in an attempt to appease Google’s search crawlers or conform to SEO best-practices for the sake of search rankings could even hurt the brand’s marketing performance.

Make brand content the right way (for your customers)

What’s at the heart of your internet marketing goals? It should be your customers’ needs and desires. They are the people who will put money in your pocket at the end of the day if you hold their attention as you convince them to convert.

Google’s own Search Engineer Matt Cutts has long been warning webmasters to stop creating content for Googlebots and instead craft resources for readers.

“Think about the user experience of your site – what makes it compelling, what makes it interesting, what makes it fun. Because if you look at the history of sites that are doing really well now, or businesses that are doing really well now – Instagram, Path, Twitter – they make design a fundamental piece of why their site is good to go to,” said Cutts in a Google Webmaster Help Channel video about where marketers miss the mark.

“Think about the user experience of your site – what makes it compelling, what makes it interesting, what makes it fun.” – Matt Cutts

It doesn’t have to be design. It’s about being compelling and valuable and useful. For Apple, that means cutting back on written words in favor of visuals. For Coca-Cola, that means portraying what it is to have fun and be cool. For Google, it’s about being organized and straight-forward.

What is it for your brand?

Do customers come to you asking for tips and actionable advice that can be carried out independently, or are they looking for high-level suggestions that show them why you’re an industry leader? It’s understanding the difference between whether they want to entertained, educated or kept up-to-date on developments that will keep them coming back.

This is why the PowerBar website features training tips and stories about athletes overcoming challenges, while the Sara Lee site offers recipes and ideas for desserts. Once you understand what customers want when they visit your site, you can consistently create materials that meet and exceed those expectations. And this is the way to earn brand loyalty, and even advocacy, that will flywheel web marketing campaigns.

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Lauren KayeLauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.
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