Content Marketing: The Buzzword Lighting Up the Energy Industry

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We consumers are tired of traditional marketing tactics. We fast forward through commercials, skip ads on YouTube and block online ads – we do not want any fluff. However, we all want and need content that is informative, relevant and valuable.

For the utility industry, where the buying cycle is long and complex, content marketing can play a vital role in providing information to educate and put context around important decisions that can have long-term consequences.

This is where content marketing comes into play so well for this vertical. Infographics, webpage material, podcasts, videos, white papers, reports and even full-length books –all can play a vital role in illuminating the needs of utility buyers.

What makes it “Content Marketing”?

Content marketing is something of a buzzword right now, but many seem to not know exactly what it means. There’s a lot of content out there that fits the concept of “content” yet comes across more as simply longer bits of advertising.

Content marketing is something different.

The Content Marketing Institute defines it as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

There’s an important emphasis here on the building of an audience of trust – in traditional marketing terms, it can be seen as stuff that moves a prospect through the lead funnel.

CMI also says that content marketing, done right, leaves a longer lasting impression on consumers than any other method of marketing, making it highly valuable.

Step back from the “hard sell”

Keep in mind that it is not a sales pitch. A vital distinction between content marketing and other types of marketing is that it is not necessarily trying to close a sale, rather, its goal is to inform, and in doing so, to build consumers’ positive perceptions and relationship with the provider as a trusted resource.

The content should create an interest in the reader in what you have to offer and leave them wanting to learn more.

Recently, we were asked to write a paid article for a utility infrastructure manufacturer. Their goal was to promote their packaged kits. The piece we ended up creating for them had to do more than say “Buy our kits”.

Instead of going for an overt sales pitch, we thought about the very real scenarios in which utilities needed kits – for storm restoration work.

We then presented tips to help utilities prepare for the coming storm season, providing lots of information from both the manufacturer’s experience delivering 100,000 miles of T&D infrastructure and facts from the DOE and other experts on grid resiliency.

One of those elements was using kits.

Because it was timely and useful information, that showed the product in the context of a real need, it seemed to resonate with readers, pulling triple the response of prior paid pieces (See the piece here.

Form matters less than substance

In the rapidly changing energy industry, with its regulatory, technical, environmental, safety and other concerns, there is a wealth of potential for content that provides accurate information and allows your company to assert its expertise in helping its prospects to navigate successfully.

White papers, customer stories and blogs can all serve to inform and engage your prospects and to build trust in your organization’s solutions. Case studies, for example, can be very effective. When a customer factually presents their success in tackling a real-life challenge, it strikes a chord with others. Readers engage to  learn how they might achieve similar results.

The chance to learn something, without the sense of an overt sales pitch, is refreshing, even if readers know that ultimately the goal of the material is to drive interest in the vendor.

What knowledge does your customer need now?

Before jumping into your content marketing piece, it is important to hone the topic to a highly relevant, if smaller, target audience.

Aim to know your customers’ preferences, buying habits, influencers and media exposure, so you can identify your customers’ needs – and especially what they need to know about how  your product or service  meets that need. Ask yourself:

1.            Which specific audience within our broader prospects does this target?

2.            Does it provide practical information to educate your target audience without being too sales oriented?

3.            Will it attract and retain our target audience and, ultimately, drive them to take profitable action? 

When you can provide reliable information with a minimum of sales-iness, you build trust between your prospective customer and your company, demonstrating knowledge of the issues they face and the ways to resolve them.

Look for more resources from McDonnell Group in coming weeks and months as we launch a series of materials focused on helping energy marketing professionals succeed in content marketing.

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