It’s become really difficult to compete in content marketing because, well, everyone is doing it.
Let’s back up for a second. What exactly is content marketing? One example that quickly comes to mind in the software world is Basecamp's blog Signal Versus Noise. They write about running a business in hopes that they can help aspiring entrepreneurs, who will in turn decide to use their product. It’s a great blog (and an awesome marketing channel for Basecamp) and has been imitated by tons of software companies in the last few years.
"Signal Versus Noise" is becoming an increasingly appropriate name for Basecamp’s blog, because it’s become so tough to get people’s attention. What passed as good content in 2010 won’t fly in 2014. It’s not that businesses aren’t trying - if anything, the problem is that everyone is trying. Everyone has read five "Ten Ways To Get More Facebook Likes" sort of posts. They’re getting old. People want stories. There’s even a company - Contently - that is focusing on “telling great stories” for brands, and they’re hiring journalists to do it.
I was going through some old files the other day and stumbled upon something my dad did that I wanted to share here. Quick back story: my grandfather (my dad’s father-in-law) ran a family company, Lawrence Plate Glass, that had been around since 1918. They had a product called ClearVue that they used in-house to clean the glass and sell in the shop. My grandfather hired my dad, who soon took notice of ClearVue, a glass cleaner that had a small but passionate fan base (they literally got fan mail from customers.) He spun ClearVue off into its own company, and the product was soon on the shelves in Walmart, K-Mart, Target, etc. (If you want to read more about ClearVue’s story, here’s a piece that Inc. did on the company years ago.)
Anyway, my dad knew how tough it’d be to compete with the Windexes of the world, so he had to come up with some interesting, offbeat ideas to win marketshare. People generally grab the same glass cleaner over and over, so earning loyalty was important. One thing he did was publish “The ClearVue Sun,” a short, (mostly satirical) quarterly newsletter about the business and product. Now, if ClearVue were around today, it’d be incredibly easy and free to digitally publish something like this. Back then, though, you had to hire a printer, organize the addresses, mail out the newsletters, etc. They had thousands of subscribers. Seriously, think about that - how weird is it that this glass cleaner product/company inspired enough of a positive feeling within people that they subscribed to a mailed newsletter? It kind of blows my mind.
I’ve included a few photos of one edition. It’s pretty funny. If you click the photo, you should be able to read the text. (I wrote a little more below, too.)
In 1995, this newsletter really stood out. As far as I know, there were no other glass cleaners - in fact, there were probably no other household products - doing anything like this. Today, every company has a blog. Business blog posts like the aforementioned, “Ten Ways To Get More Likes On Facebook” are the new direct mailers that go straight into people’s trash. If businesses want their content to be seen and cared about, they should focus on quality content that fits their talents, their business, and their customer base. “The ClearVue Sun” is proof that no matter what sort of product you sell (seriously…glass cleaner!) there are ways to tell stories that your customers will love and share.
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