Many times when I talk to a business about our content marketing services, they have a reasonable goal: They want their website to bring them new customers. That’s all they want. Of course!

“Advertising” has always been intended to introduce new customers to a business. But if that seemingly simple goal is all businesses want, and they’re spending time and money like mad to achieve it . . . then why aren’t their strategies working?

Wait, is my website an advertisement? Why content marketing matters now.

In the past, it was simple for businesses. Suppose you make pruning shears. You spent money on a pruning shear commercial featuring a catchy jingle about overgrown wisteria. Your customer, who is probably not thinking about pruning shears, sees the ad while channel surfing. This gets them thinking about how, yes, they really do need to reckon with their unruly shrubbery and my, my, don’t those prices look awfully reasonable? Bingo, the customer knows what you want them to. Money well spent.

This was a very top-down approach. The business comes into the customer’s home while they’re watching television and makes their pitch. The customer has no choice but to watch your commercial and consider what you have to say. And the business is in control. This used to work. But no longer. First came the DVR, which allowed customers to fast-forward through commercials; then technology that allowed customers to record shows without the commercials. Then, of course, the Internet came along. And that’s when the whole paradigm shifted.

Now the customer is control and, as much as we all enjoy the unlimited ability to filter what media we consume, this new paradigm does make things trickier for businesses. If you put your ad online, the customer uses an ad blocking program, or simply finds sites that do what they want without ads. If they find out about your product, it will only be because they themselves felt the need to do some landscaping and searched the web for pruning shears.

Which brings us back to the website: A business owner will look at their website and think, “This is a tool for bringing revenue to my company.” The consumer will view the same website and think, “This is only one of a thousand choices at my fingertips.” If the customer can’t find what they’re looking for (or even if the site just takes too long to load), they won’t hesitate for two seconds before looking elsewhere.

It’s important to note that the website doesn’t just tell the customer who you are, nor does it play a single role in the buying process. A prospective customer will stop by your website a number of times as they go through their buying process. They may come back to explore your prices and terms. They may be comparing you with others – who are only a click away. Alternatives are ridiculously simple to find.

Enter content marketing.

It sounds like a buzzword, but “content marketing” basically means “make your website a place where customers want to spend time.” The good news is that your website doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to meet customer expectations. It just has to work well on all their devices, provide the information they’re looking for, and do all the things they want it to do. If you also create world-class blog articles, that’s fantastic! Your customers may reward you. But make sure your links work first. The basics matter.

The old days are gone. And managing an online presence can be awfully complicated. But this does not have to be a harsh truth nor a cause for despair. Most of the complications come from trying to control the customer the same way a business would in the pre-cloud era. Things get a lot easier once you stop trying to command the tides. Simply accept that the customer is in control. They can find out anything you aren’t telling them.

Ask yourself: When you built your website, did you make it about them, or about you? Is it about your selling process, or their buying process?

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