Sonja Jefferson is one of the leading figureheads when it comes to the content marketing discipline in the UK.
Sonja is co-author of Valuable Content Marketing, a truly valuable book that helps others understand the importance of content in today’s world and how we can turn prospects into buyers and buyers into advocates of our businesses.
Lets put a new perspective on this interview from 2013 and update for 2017.
Is this all about a change of mindset?
Buyers are increasingly becoming mistrusting of overt sales messages. As businesses we need to be aware of this.
When it comes to marketing, the key is to look from the customer’s perspective, understand their challenges and answer them in the information we share. It’s about building relationships in the first instance.
You have to earn people’s trust before you sell. This means a change of approach for many people. We need to dispel the myth that marketing is about propaganda.
I learned much from the first ever business book I read – Trusted Advisor by Charles H. Green. He gives us four underlying principles that govern all trustworthy behaviour (click here)
1) A focus on the other for the other’s sake, not just as a means to your own ends.
2) A collaborative approach to relationships.
3) A medium to long-term relationship perspective, not a short-term transactional focus.
4) A habit of being transparent in all your dealings.
Whether selling, advising or writing and sharing content, the way to become trusted is to act consistently from those principles.
With these in mind, here at Valuable Content we have a mantra that runs through all our customer communications: help, don’t sell; talk, don’t yell; show, don’t tell. We find that useful to keep us on track (click here).
When it comes to your content, generosity and creativity win the day. Give some of your knowledge away for free. This helps to ignite interest and start the conversations that can lead to sales.
How is a company recognised as doing it right?
If it’s connecting then the content will help a business reach its strategic goals. Valuable to your customers, valuable to your business – that’s the aim.
In terms of how you get your content right, it starts with an evident focus on your customers and their needs above all else. Content that gets it right is highly customer focused. Talking to real customers to find out more about their world, their goals and questions is the best place to start.
And anchoring your content efforts with a meaningful message – a consistent story that runs through all you create really helps to draw the customer’s interest and get remembered. The points where your company goals intersect with your customers’ needs is the area where you want to focus your content efforts.
Quality wins out over quantity when it comes to getting your message heard in an increasingly noisy content-fuelled world. Design is hugely important here if you want people to engage with your message.
But ‘getting content marketing right’ doesn’t end with producing great content. You have to do the work – take it out there and promote it. SEO, starting a permission-based email list, sharing your useful content via social media – these all really help to build awareness and engage. But the ‘old’ ways are still so important too. Sending valuable content as a way to start sales conversations has far more impact than a hard-sell piece of direct mail. If you get your content right it supercharges all your sales and marketing efforts, because it’s useful.
You talk about where we all are in the land of content. How important is it for people to have an understanding of where they are?
It really helps to be able to visualise and understand the journey you’re on.
We’ve created an actual map of the Land of Content with some landmarks that anyone who’s been focusing on content as a business development tool should recognise – Foggy Bottom (where you’re unclear what to say with your content), or Lonely Crag anyone?
We’re on a mission to show people a faster, less frustrating and more rewarding path to content marketing nirvana (have a look here).
You have your Valuable Content Awards. I know they are all of a high calibre, but which one has struck you most and why?
Great question! Our award winners are so varied – from freelancers to government departments, charities to banks. I’m blown away by them all. One of my favourites is Lings Cars (have a look here).
Owner Ling Valentine could be seen to be breaking all the standard rules of web design but from a content perspective, her approach is genius. As Ling advises: “There are no rules, except that customers must enjoy it.” I know she is right – customers want realness, grit, emotion and fun. They want to see who is behind a company.
They want to learn, laugh, cry and react. I love her approach – a clarion call for brave originality over blandness.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for businesses when it comes to content marketing? Not sounding the same as everyone else or finding consistency with a message?
I think the biggest challenge is a bit further back.
For me the big challenge is getting people to understand what a valuable content marketing approach can really do for a business.
The value goes way beyond marketing; it’s a front for a new way of doing business. Content marketing stands for human business; business that delivers real value to the world, whether or not people buy from you. It’s about connecting people to people – delivering the early promises of the web; helping, not selling; business with a wider purpose – and I am right behind all that.
Content marketing is changing businesses by stealth to do right by their customers. This is not just the latest marketing fad; it’s the spearhead of a revolution in business practice.
Getting people to understand the transformative power of creating and sharing valuable content is the real challenge.
I find that incredibly exciting.