(originally published in Costco Connection Magazine, September 2014)
In 2009, Virginia-based River Pools & Spas was hit hard by the recession. The fiberglass-pool company depended on homeowners taking out second mortgages. But when the economy crashed, and orders fell from six a month to two, owner Marcus Sheridan knew he had to get creative. He made a bold move and slashed his $250,000 annual advertising budget and made his company’s online presence his top priority.
Sheridan embraced “content marketing,” transforming his website from an online brochure to a fiberglass-pool information resource. He created and distributed educational content his prospects sought while researching swimming pools online. He answered questions about pools in blog posts, informational videos and a free e-book titled, How to Buy a Swimming Pool the Right Way, From the Right Company, at the Right Price.
Most important, Sheridan changed his mindset from talking about his company to becoming a trusted adviser who put prospects’ needs first. “I used to say, ‘I build fiberglass pools,’ ” recalls Sheridan. “But as a content marketer, that changed to ‘We teach the world about fiberglass pools … and just happen to sell and install them.’ ” To demonstrate his commitment, he wrote a blog post listing the five best pool builders (competitors) in Virginia, and didn’t include himself.
Content marketing saved the company, helping River Pools & Spas become the most trafficked swimming pool company on the Web and one of the largest pool installers in the country. Not only did content marketing increase the company’s search engine traffic, it created prospects who were more likely to become paying customers. “People who consume our content are 80 percent more likely to become customers,” says Sheridan. “Content marketing is now our most effective sales tool.”
Teach, Don’t Sell
Content marketing centers on giving customers what they need. Rather than pushing products, content marketing helps brands earn trust and develop an emotional connection with prospects through educational blog posts, videos, case studies and how-to guides.
According to a 2011 chief marketing officer and consumer attitude study conducted by
The Content Council, a leading organization for branded content and content marketing in North America, consumers welcome content that helps them make informed buying decisions, with 61 percent more likely to buy from companies that produce useful content.
The most effective content marketing takes a journalistic approach. This means being objective and telling both sides of a story, showing prospects not only what to do, but when not to apply your advice, even if it means turning away a potential sale. Fill your content with real-world examples, data, studies and statistics. Interview other experts and find case studies that support your position.
Costco member JacksonWhite P.C., a Mesa, Arizona–based law firm, publishes daily blog posts on topics related to its law practice. According to its website data, the criminal law section of the firm’s website received over 65,000 visits in 2013, more than half coming from blog posts. The most successful content is very specific and features experts who focus on details of a particular law, says Lauren Witte, the firm’s associate director of marketing. That content reinforces the firm’s expertise.