Providing useful, relevant content to your prospects and customers is a key strategy for building loyalty and igniting sales. But partnering with other marketers and going after the same audiences jointly can take your content strategy to new heights. In his book Brandscaping, Andrew Davis—co-founder of Tippingpoint Labs, a Newton, Massachusetts-based company that develops strategic content for all kinds of brands—shows how unconventional partnerships can help small businesses break through information overload and open up new markets. Business writer Robert Lerose spoke with Davis about how shared content can become the new currency for acquiring and retaining customers and strengthening brands.
RL: You define brandscaping as "a marketing methodology that enables you to leverage content as an asset instead of treating it as an expense." What is the difference between this and content marketing?
AD: The main difference is that you can leverage the content of others and you don't have to do it yourself. Most content marketing today is treated as if the organization has to create it on their own to be successful. There's so much content out there already. Brands could do more to work with other content creators that already have access to the audiences the brands are looking for.
RL: How does a small business partner with outside content creators?
AD: It's really about reaching out to those people on a very personal level and building a relationship with them, even in the offline world. For example, if somebody has a blog about best places to eat or is creating a YouTube video about home improvement and they're touching on topics that your audience should have access to, the best thing you can do is lead your audience to that content to show that you value it.
RL: You say that the solution for information overload is to deliver higher quality content that is relevant to your audience. How do you do that?
AD: First, think about what you can do today that makes you more relevant to your audience. Second, think about the times in your audience's life when you can really make an impact and provide them with one piece of relevant information at the right time. Emails are an under-utilized and overlooked tool. If you can send your audience one piece of valuable information once a week that makes their lives better, you're going to be much more successful in the long run than just bombarding them with commodity content that can be found anywhere or isn't relevant to your brand.
RL: Some businesses send a weekly or monthly ezine with a mix of articles and a short plug for the business at the end. Is that a good example of relevancy?
AD: It might be, but generally those things are too broad and aren't clear about exactly why they're relevant. Most email newsletters [have] a series of links to content that your audience is supposed to consume, but they're really not that valuable. They're not targeted to make a big enough impact.
RL: So it might be better to send a regularly scheduled email with one good actionable idea rather than an ezine with five short pieces that jump from point to point?
AD: Yes. For example, if you can send your audience an email every Friday at lunchtime that they find valuable—maybe it makes them a better employee or a better person or a better homeowner—you're going to cut through that information overload and be part of the information your audience wants to consume. You brand the emails in a way that the audience knows what to expect. Taking an audience first approach is much more successful.
RL: You say that each business should have a core value statement. What is that? How does it differ from a mission statement?
AD: I always think of a mission statement or vision statement as corporate focused. You can even fill in the blanks: "At our company BLANK, we believe that BLANK. That is why we BLANK." A core value statement is audience focused. I just met a small business owner in Tulsa, Oklahoma who installs siding on houses. His value statement says that he believes the homeowner should know what's going on at their house every day he's on the job. So he sends a video update every single day to let the homeowner know what he's doing. All of a sudden, the value to me as a customer is very clear.
RL: It's almost like talking about benefits rather than features.
AD: Yes. Too many people talk about features and functions when it comes to their business and marketing. Consumers don't care about the features and functions unless they understand that you're solving a real problem in their lives. Think about any housework you've ever had done. Your unstated concerns are: "There's going to be five people in my house while I'm at work. Can I trust them? What are they working on? Did they even show up today?" So this small business owner in Oklahoma positioned himself as someone who is addressing that unstated concern and differentiating himself in a unique and smart way. The core value statement really shines through.
RL: How do you work out a compensation agreement with partners? Is there a standard model?
AD: There are two different kinds. One easy way is to ask yourself: Who has my next customer as their current customer? Let's say you're working with another company who already has access to the customers you think might be a good source of new leads or new business. [Tell that company] that you create great content that you think their audience would like. Share that content so you both have something of value to add to the audience's lives. You trade content as a commodity instead of currency.
RL: And the second model?
AD: If you're going to talk about money exchanging hands, it comes down to the value of the audience—even if it's only 10 people—minus the content. For example, if you sell a $1 million widget and having access to those 10 people might net you $10 million, then all of a sudden that audience is very valuable and so is the content. [What are you willing to give up] for access to that audience? There's no hard and fast rule. The best brandscapes work when it's a commitment to the long-term success of both partners and you're working toward growing both of your businesses in a real concrete way.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.