Good Content Marketing Works

Like the Ace Hardware Brand

The results are in – content marketing is here to stay.

  • Content marketing has been shown to cost less than half as much as traditional marketing and generate as many as 3X leads. (DemandMetric)
  • Those leads, in turn, convert as much as 6X more often – at a rate of about 2.9% to 0.5%. (Aberdeen Group)
  • Good content delivers bottom-line Return on Investment (ROI) and great content compounds over time, just like interest in a savings account. (HubSpot)
  • 20 more reasons you should be making content.

What is content marketing?

That’s a great question and I’m glad you asked. I once did a deep dive into the etymology, psychology, sociology, and half-a-dozen other -ologies of content marketing. I’m going to try to boil it down here.

When you put something new and worthwhile into the world for the benefit of your customers, prospective customers, and extended audience, that’s content marketing.

(How’d I do? You can compare my definition with the standard-bearer’s definition at the Content Marketing Institute.)

What’s new?

There’s no such thing as new under the sun. Don’t worry. As we learn from Ace, that’s No Big Deal (NBD).

What’s worthwhile?

Like beauty and utility, worthwhile is in the eye of the beholder.

Know your audience. Know their questions, concerns, and pain points. Address those well and you’ve shared something of worth with them. Possibly something they’ll share with coworkers, friends, and family.

The grand promise of content marketing is that your customers know who’s taking care of them and that they’ll return the favor.

Finish this jingle: “Ace is the place for the _________.”

“ … helpful hardware folks.” In case you’ve missed it, here’s one of their 30-second spots, part of their new spring ad campaign from agency O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul. “It’s unmistakably Ace,” says John Surane, Ace’s exec VP of merchandising, marketing and sales.

You have a list of things. None of those things say, “Wander around a warehouse looking for somebody to help you or walk out not knowing if you got exactly what you need.”

Been there, done that, right? How frustrating.

No service? No sale.

You’ve got the money to spend but precious little time in which to spend it. You need help, and you need it now.

What you don’t need is to get lost in another big box store under dusty high-up flickering fluorescents like a scene in some B-grade horror movie. How is it that the parking lot is full but now that you need help, it’s like you’re the last person on earth?

Helping the customer, though? Sales all day.

Here comes the Ace Hardware brand rep, a friendly knowledgeable store owner-associate – they’re a retailer-owned cooperative – to “ask the right questions to make sure you get everything you need.” Because at Ace, they have a list, too, and “great service is at the top.”

Take my money, Ace. Take it.

The Internet is like a never-ending warehouse store.

Remember the good old days? When you used to need a star chart, a trail of breadcrumbs, at least one pagan ritual, eye of newt, a fully outfitted team of sherpas, and a bag of Cheetos to find what you wanted online, when you wanted it, and find your way back out.

Finding what you need online has gotten so much easier.

Thanks to the visionary work of the big search engines – and the co-evolution of web developers, SEOs, user experience and interface designers, and, yes, content marketers – the experience of directed discovery (“finding what you went looking for”) has become so quick and painless, it’s almost magical. Automatic. Instantaneous.

(You’ve almost forgotten the trauma of the dial-up and handshake sounds, right?)

Good content is like a warehouse sherpa, a red-vested store associate.

There are people searching the great wide web for what they need – sometimes, it’s what you have! Even if they don’t know specifically what they need, or how to phrase it for an exact Google keyword match, but they have a hunch. They know how to describe it. And, so do you.

Your content marketing – well planned, crafted, and executed – acts like a beacon, a funnel. You’re assuming the role of a friendly store-associate who finds the customer in the aisle and asks, “How can I help you today?”

Your content acts as an escort and a good listener, and says to the searcher, “So, you’re trying to do this project but not sure where to start? We can definitely help with that. I’ve done that several times and we stock everything you need over this way. Follow me. I’ll show you how I’d put it all together.”

Ace Hardware’s Content Marketing Takeaways

As Ace’s Surane says, “With this campaign we set out to accomplish something that no other retailer or brand can do, showcasing our three greatest differentiators — our people, our brand and our jingle — in a truly authentic way by featuring real Ace customers in real Ace stores, getting real problems solved by real Ace associates.” [My emphasis.]

  1. New = what no other retailer or brand can do

    Anytime you get stressed about the content marketing imperative to develop new content, think about Ace in the marketplace of home improvement products and services.

    It’s a crowded space. In cities and suburbs, Home Depot and Lowe’s locations seem to pop up in pairs every ten miles or so. Then there’s specialty stores that take a piece of the consumer construction and home renovation market – paint at Sherwin Williams; flooring at Floor and Decor; appliances at Sears and so on. Obviously, Target and Wal-Mart overlap the home improvement footprint except for the largest, most technical projects and products. Wal-Mart doesn’t have a lumberyard. Yet.

    And, that’s just brick and mortar competition – for brick and mortar projects. That’s so meta.

    Takeaway: Ace isn’t doing anything new, as such. They’re unique sales proposition (USP) is a level of personalized service unavailable elsewhere.

  2. Worthwhile = getting real problems solved

    Listen to your customers and prospective customers. Learn what they know, what they don’t know; their affinities, interests, motivations, pain points.

    Takeaway: Educate them, help them do better, make their lives easier. That’s the point of content marketing – and sales – in one sentence.

  3. Authentic = unmistakably on brand

    Even if you’re in a competitive space, there’s only one you. You and your business operate in the market in a way and with a style and approach that is uniquely yours.

    Takeaway: If you haven’t done the deep dive work on your brand, your differentiators and USPs, it’s time. Good content is best when it’s aligned with marketing, messaging, branding, and other advertising and PR efforts.

  4. Service = your audience, your clients, your community

    Again, even a crowded field has room for you. That’s why sometimes you’ll find one Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks. One catches the inbound morning commuters and the other catches outbound traffic.

    Takeaway: Your audience is one of your differentiators. Serve up content to answer their specific concerns and, the next time they have questions, they’ll come back.

Take heart. You can do content marketing.

If you’ve started and stopped, it’s time to recommit. If you haven’t gotten around to it yet, it’s time to start. And, it’s easy enough. Start with our takeaways from Ace Hardware – Who are your customers? How do you serve them? What do they need from you? What can they get from you that they can’t get elsewhere? Mix in the rest of the W’s from high school – The When? Where? Why?

Show us, don’t tell us, what is that voodoo that you do so well?

[It’s simple like art or meditation is simple. Doesn’t mean they don’t take a lifetime of practice. In an upcoming post, we will look at the more nitty gritty details of the practice and how to make the content happen.]