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Content marketing, the venerable Wikipedia counsels us, is "simply communicating with customers and prospects. The idea is to inspire business and loyalty from buyers by delivering 'consistent, ongoing valuable information.'"

Calling Captain Obvious.

Only a content source as live-and-let-sieve as Wikipedia would label that monumental communication task "simple" in an age when reliable data estimate 60,000 new websites, 1.6 million blogs, 140 million Tweets, 1.5 billion Facebook posts, 2 million videos and 5 million images get added to the online noise every day.

Creating the consistent, ongoing valuable information has now become the relatively easy part. It's helping customers to sift and find it that's now killing content marketers. I have been there, done that, long before the Internet turned everybody into an authority and a publisher. What's changed isn't the need. What's changed isn't even, despite everyone's obsession with the most fashionable technological bells and whistles today, the delivery. What's changed is now every hamfisted amateur's ability to jump in and clutter up what you're trying to accomplish with his noise.

So how do you keep your technical content fresh, sharp and meaningful enough to float to the top of today's din where it can even get a breath long enough to inspire business and loyalty?

Tell, don't sell. Because there’s so much content out there, the knife-edge point comes quick at which consumers deem a piece corporate shilling thinly disguised as helpful content. People who open their mail over garbage cans, shunt e-mails into "to read someday" folders of death and watch DVR'ed broadcast with their finger on the FF button aren't about to give an inch of leeway when they smell a prettified infomercial. Today, you trust your content, or it dies.

Listen? Sure. But lead, too. I know, it's all about the social listening these days. And of course that's good, as far as it goes. But farmers and veterinarians have never rewarded marketers for nodding and idly listening, whether it's across a tailgate or across a continent of wi-fi. Listening is only the start, and it only materializes into engagement and then conversion when you find a meaningful, useful, profitable response. That content-valuation leap requires listening to customers and your own people, from field sales to the C-suite. Then it requires understanding the needs of both sides well enough to dig out, polish and present the educational, technological gems that advance everybody. That's the hard work that distinguishes content that counts from more chaff in the wind.

Be bold. That type of leading to sales via education takes a creative mix of communicating to explain and communicating to persuade. But you should find it in the toolkit of any content provider who was trained and experienced as a journalist who earned his chops by creating memorable feature editorial:

  • It starts with a specific audience (of one, ideally)
  • It identifies a compelling need or lack
  • It constructs a logical argument
  • It delivers it all with the essence of confidence that's only earned with a narrative that grabs, holds and guides attention through effective use of words and pictures.

Cut the BS. And by "BS," of course, I mean "Buzzword Syndrome." It's no secret the sales and marketing team loves jargon and buzzwords. But the dirty little secret is too many professional content providers who know better simply don't have the ability or confidence of language to wean themselves from the fuzzy generalization of untranslated jargon, too. Sure, you may get lucky and find the occassional customer searching on a buzzword. But customers seldom if ever think in buzzwords. They think in terms of problems. Layering on the jargon doesn't make you look smarter, especially in this market. It only distances you from your audience. Be confident enough to say it like a human; better yet, like a farmer.

Teach. Today's farms and veterinary clinics are marvels of technology and complexity--so much so that even the working practitioners find it tough to keep pace with the updates. That task used to be entrusted to a vibrant working trade press, back in the days when it was ambitious enough to attempt the monumental task. Today, it's now migrated to the marketers. That change doesn't make it any easier, but it does give you vast opportunity to use your pool of expertise to not simply polish up the features-and-benefits pitch, but to teach your customers about the entirity of the processes they're involved in. When they're better educated, they make more informed buying decisions with less prep work from the sales team. The result: Better customer satisfaction, deeper brand equity and higher lifetime customer value.

Let it go. Getting to that level of shopping-by-education requires trust, but not necessarily in the way you might immediately think. Yes, customers have to be able to trust that you are giving them real, valuable technical information. But the real trust works the other direction. Marketers have to be able to trust the customer that education will lead to a buying decision in their favor. You want a measure of that trust? Ask yourself whether your technical education materials would apply equally, no matter whether that customer chooses your product or a competitor's. If the answer is no, you're not yet to the level to set yourself above the din around you.

Find out more about how to beat the noise.


Click for a sample
You want a level of expertise and research your customers can rely upon? How about nearly 50 cited scientific references in just five pages of copy, as Mike Smith demonstrated in this cattle-health native advertising, thoroughly researched, economically written and attractively designed for Elanco Animal Health through McCormick Advertising and Farm Journal Media. That's content that builds your sales case.

Expect more from your freelancer

Well-executed marketing content creates an air of expertise that takes you beyond simple seller of products into the realm of objective expert on the daily business problems your customers face. Merck Animal Health experienced that power of branded content when its communication agency, Osborn Barr, contracted Mike Smith to design, research and execute this tech-savvy insert.

Turn your marketing content into evangalizing for your brand

Selling via educational training requires that rare creative ability to mix communicaton that explains with communication that persuades. Case in point: Fort Dodge Animal Health contracted Mike Smith to design, write and execute the sales training materials for the introduction of an entire new molecule to the U.S. equine dewormer market. Starting with careful explanation of the underlying physiology and history of the market, it culminated in a natural conclusion that led customers organically to the purchase decision. 

Training: From the Latin "to draw"

In a market where readers count teats on a sow illustration or notice first the plant population in that ad slick for a half million dollar combine, the credibility stakes of even the smallest technical mistake are high. Big marketers invest heavily to ensure technical expertise gets matched with creative execution by hiring large staffs or agencies. Small marketers accomplish it by finding a resource who combines the skeptical editor's eye with graphic artistry that has a little manure on its boots, wrepped in years and years of sweating the small stuff. Nobody does it better than Mike Smith, who brings not just deep technical knowledge of the agricultural and animal-health markets into your content, but years of agricultural writing, graphic design and publishing experience into the creation of technical training materials.

Trust the medium...and the message

The digital age has changed the sales cycle: Most prospects now come to your door already knowing a lot about you. That means the marketers who step up with well-built, well-executed creative information that moves to the next phase are the ones who survive the initial cut. Take, for example, this set of technical bulletins crafted by Mike Smith for Intervet to explain the new discoveries about its equine anthelmentic product line.

Confidence sells

Or, better said: Tell to sell. Even the most mundane sales brochure and technical bulletin today faces that new challenge to be educational first; promotional, second. When you make that leap of marketing faith to serve the content needs of your stakeholders, as Bayer Animal Health did with this extensive antibiotic brochure which Mike Smith wrote for its agency Bernstein Rein, your content developer has to be up to the task, technically and creatively.

Tell, don't sell

Cut the B.S.


Step 1: Choose your audience

Picked your Audience?

Ag marketers use print magazines at a rate nearly two-thirds higher than the average marketer, with just under seven in 10 saying they still make use of magazines in some way. Why? Fewer and fewer farmers every year taking a larger and larger market share means today's ag customer requires a long-duration sales cycle emphasizing after-sale nurturing and focus on long-term customer value. Targeting the existing customer base makes print content a natural customer-retention tool.
Step 2: Set objectives

Defined your Objectives?

This is not your father's marketing communication. It's not even your older sister's. Custom content, print or digital, in today's market has to answer to a tall order when it comes to performance standards: Strategically concepted, flawlessly targeted, carefully executed and fully held to results controls.
Step 3: Hire Mike Smith

Hire the Best

Once you have the audience and objectives and you need the inspired mechanic to put his hands on the job and execute from the beginning concept to the final ROI evaluation and all points in between, call. With decades of content experience, I am your content marketing advocate not afraid to get dirt under his fingernails.
Need that content project turned around now?
Click here to send me an RFP

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