Some things seem obvious but then you ask a specific question and don’t get a clear answer. One such question is how to use the internet for business. I have posed this question when consulting in relation to using AI to improve business functionality and most answers are “cloudy” at best.
Before diving into the main subject of this article let’s define a non-exhaustive list of ways to use the internet for business, regardless of industry or business activity type (e.g., from startups to a health care practice.)
Ways to use the internet for business
• Customers access a website, order product(s) and pay through a payment gateway with goods delivered to their door.
• Provides visibility, publicity, branding, news, financial results, support and more
Software as a Service (Subscriptions)
• Vendor and Employee Management
• Organization, information and communication
• New product potential, competitors, standards, product reviews
• Outsourcing IT needs
• Selling ads: News & Social Media (e.g NYT, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
• Selling through ads: Content Marketing (e.g Blogs, medium.com, Influencers)
Analyzing the concept further, we see that it is not one dimensional. If implementation mode is taken into account then the concept is best modeled in 3d space. So the 3 dimensions are the Web, Mobile and the upcoming Augmented — Virtual Reality — IOT reflecting the differing modes of delivery and interaction (see graph below)
Within the scope of the above, we will focus on Content Marketing.
What is Content Marketing
Content marketing is a marketing approach focusing on consistently creating and sharing valuable, highly relevant content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience with a view to driving profitable customer action.
Nobody likes being directly sold to. Either digitally being chased as a ‘lead’ or a “prospect”, or walking into a shop and being tackled with “how can I help” (translated to “you can’t just browse, you have to buy something”), it does not work well.
The question any business, service or practice needs to be able to answer quickly (buzzer beater) is “how do you find customers?”. As a business owner if the answer is “don’t have a clue, it just happens” then at the very least there is scope for significant improvement. The usual answer is “advertising” and the question then is how, where and how much.
Efficient, impactful advertising needs to give value to the ad “consumer”. If an ad is to to work in terms of finding customers or at least predisposing a customer to buying, it needs to give something back for the attention expended. An annoying ad will at best just not work but in many cases will be detrimental to the brand (along with the cost impact).
The probable control through vaccinations within the year of the COVID-19 crisis will result in a growth rebound as pent-up demand is unleashed on partly “rusty” sales mechanisms. So, demand and the need to buy is there and businesses need to be prepared for this opportunity, in part by re-assessing their sales operations.
Ad Types and Value Provided
Focusing on the added value required in any marketing communication, some ads have a humor content which provides this value (see below).
Others offer education, while others are disguised as articles that offer some entertainment, for example “apply to the best job in the world” which in fact just advertises a Caribbean island, or “by mistake she sent an x-rated message to her boss” using the “xyz” messaging platform.
But the most powerful, organic customer acquisition approach is content marketing.
Contrary to what many may believe, the Web and current technology did not give birth to this concept. Content marketing has been around for at least since the last century. What recently has changed is greatly enhanced accessibility.
The same applies to the “freemium” business model (“ free” and “premium” is a pricing strategy by which a basic product or service is provided freely but money (a premium) is for additional features or services).
Before discussing the future of content marketing, some historical examples of interest to put the above into perspective are described below.
Content Marketing — John Deere
In 1895 John Deere started publishing a magazine named “The Furrow”, the purpose of which was educate famers on how to efficiently manage their crops. It was free and did not promote John Deere products. At the time no television, radio or Internet was available, but printing press technology was just starting and being used all around the world to create and reach out to an audience.
No selling was involved but by providing this content to ordinary farmers and ranchers, John Deere became a thought leader and used content marketing to connect farming with the brand. “The Furrow” is now published in over 40 countries and in 12 languages, fully online with related content published over social media channels. This content marketing approach established John Deere as synonymous to farming.
Content Marketing — Michelin
“The Michelin Guide”, created around 1900, was a free guidebook for car owners (who at the time where very few) educating them in relation to using and maintaining their vehicles. Not focusing on tires, Michelin as a tire producer wanted to establish an audience, offering them free travel advice. This included how to deal with wear and tear, maps, information on how to change a tire, where to find gas and more. The more cars were used, the greater the need for new tires.
Freemium Model — Jack Daniel’s
In 1884, at the age of 19, Jack Daniel bought a distillery and began his own whiskey production. As a marketing genius he established the brand within a few months, reaching second place in sales across the state of Tennessee. He was one of the first to print a logo on a bottle and quickly realized that making the bottle black and square differentiated his product.
Until at least the 1950’s Jack Daniel purposely kept supply less than demand, using “scarcity” as a sales strategy. He used a hybrid “freemium” model to promote his brand by creating a band, the “Jack Daniel Original Silver Cornet Band”, that played music in a local bar for free with the agreement that the owner sold his whiskey to his customers.
AI Powered Content Marketing
AI-powered content can be a game-changer for any business. Whether you want to make sense of your data, enable content creation or personalize content, AI has the power to help.
How AI is used in Content Marketing
Let’s explore the most popular ways that AI is currently used in content marketing.
Content (including emails) based on an understanding of a customer’s needs is much more likely to make an impact as an indirect recommendation to buy.
Personalized content must be well written with good visuals and must provide real added value.
Meeting and exceeding an audience’s expectations creates lasting bonds that make clear that the customer’s needs are being paid attention to.
The recent advancements in AI have made content personalization efficiently feasible. Machine learning helps to track consumer behavior, preferences and their interaction with content. This can go further, with some AI systems providing real-time comprehensive visitor profiles using multiple data sources.
2. Predictive Analytics
Predictive analytics uses machine learning models to predict future events. Examples of such models as related to content marketing are:
Clustering is a machine learning technique that involves data point grouping. These algorithms can be used for audience segmentation based on past brand engagement, past purchases and demographic data.
Recommender systems are a class of machine learning algorithms that offer personalized suggestions to users. Categorized as either collaborative filtering or content-based, these models help users discover new products and services, guiding them towards the most likely product that they might purchase.
These models try to predict the likelihood of visitors and customers performing certain actions like acting on an offer or disengaging.
3. Customer Segmentation
Customer segmentation is a way of arranging customers into distinct groups that typically have separate needs. K-means clustering is a popular unsupervised machine learning algorithm that finds different “clusters” (groups), keeping them as small as possible. The goal is to create as many distinct groups as possible.
Customer groups can then be addressed differently depending on the group’s profile (e.g. how to reach them, by mail or by text and so on).
The three methods described above are the most used, but there many more ways to use AI in marketing, including:
• Media buying optimization
• Conversational AI (chatbots)
• Augmented and Virtual Reality
• Facial Recognition
Enabled by the web, email and social media, content marketing is a powerful approach to customer acquisition. But, the creation and management of content is a non-trivial task.
To help with this, various AI techniques can and are being used as described above.
The concept of content marketing can be taken further by actually creating a niche social media platform through which to create an audience and share personalized content.