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Content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi explains how telling your story beats advertising your virtues.

Joe Pulizzi wants you to tell a story. In fact, the chief content officer for content marketing company Junta42 and leading evangelist for the content marketing movement believes that if you aren’t telling your story – compellingly, convincingly and loudly – then you are missing the boat.

As credit unions look forward to a new year of getting the word out, we decided to ask Pulizzi for advice. Our hypothesis: Advertising media are cluttered, consumers are jaded and the messages we want to convey are increasingly complex. Can a new approach to marketing really help us cut through?

THINK: Let’s start at the beginning. What is this crazy thing you call content marketing?

PULIZZI: Basically, content marketing is relevant and valuable information you create to attract, acquire and engage an audience. It’s not directed at selling; it’s non-interruption marketing. You’re delivering information that helps your audience – and helps them think of you as a trusted source of intelligence.

Tactically speaking, content marketing can include many kinds of media. In print, you might publish a custom magazine that includes articles about issues that interest your members. You can present content in person – for instance, you can do small educational events that help people understand some aspect of finance. That’s content marketing. There are also blogs, e-newsletters, white papers, e-books (which are like sexy white papers). Maybe you do a Tweet stream that positions you as the curator for financial information in your region.

THINK: If I’m already having trouble getting people to read and respond to my advertising, then what hope is there that I’ll reach people by telling stories?

PULIZZI: Content is a different way of approaching people. Most consumers don’t care about companies; they care about themselves. So, if the messages you’re putting out there are all about your company – your products, your services, traditional advertising – then why would consumers pick your message out of the thousands that are out there vying for their attention?

If you happen to be advertising something that can help them, maybe you’ll get some interest. But otherwise, it’s a crowded field.

Content marketing solves an informational need. It addresses people’s pain points. If you really know your market, you know what your customers need to know. By providing that information, by telling stories that are compelling, you position yourself and your company as experts. You become a source of information that’s all about them (the customers) and not about you.

THINK: Is all content created equal?

PULIZZI: No, and it’s really important to get it right. You aren’t telling people about the four percent mortgage you’re offering today. You’re saying, “Here’s a fantastic story about what happened to Sheila on Friday when she applied for a loan.”

The story really needs to be relevant to the situation your clients are in right now. If it comes across as more advertising – or it’s not a good story – then it’s almost worse than having no story at all.

If it is a good story, though, someone might pick it up on social media and spread it to others.

THINK: Who’s doing a good job at this?

PULIZZI: I’d check out a couple of sites. The first is Workshifting.com. It’s published by Citrix Online, the company responsible for GoToMeeting.com (the Web-based conference company), and it’s all about that lifestyle – working remotely and everything it entails. The stories are interesting and, to their credit, they named their own category: Workshifting.

A small company making a big impact is Pinsent Masons, a law firm in the United Kingdom that specializes in IT and e-commerce law. Their site, OutLaw.com, is the publisher of record for this area of the law – and it’s all they do for marketing.

THINK: Does that mean content marketing can replace advertising and other kinds of marketing?

PULIZZI: Not ideally, and I’d have to question someone who’s been doing the same marketing year after year then decides to scrap it all to try something new. Content marketing works best as part of an integrated marketing program. That said, why would you spend on advertising without something to go with it that engages consumers? There’s a case to be made for slicing out a piece of your budget for this kind of effort.

THINK: The good news/bad news about content marketing is that it feels revolutionary. That’s exciting but it’s also scary – and a little overwhelming, especially for those of us who’ve never had an inner Malcolm Gladwell (1963- , best-selling author on social science topics). What kinds of help can I get if I want to know more?

PULIZZI: Junta42.com exists to match companies with content marketing providers, and there’s lots of help available from journalists, editors and designers. We also have agencies that help with strategy, so if you’re not sure what you want to do and how to integrate it into the efforts that you already have underway, there are resources to help you with that too. In addition, we recently launched the Content Marketing Institute, a personalized corporate association dedicated to the process of content marketing.

THINK: You’ve said that in the future, every company is going to be a publisher. Does that have to include credit unions?

PULIZZI: It doesn’t have to, but it should. Look at a credit union versus a company like Apple. If I have an iPhone, I can see it. I use it every day. No one has to remind me what my iPhone does for me; it’s a visible part of my life. My checking account isn’t like that. It’s intangible. Content marketing is most important for service companies because it makes the relationship visible.