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The Bartender's Guide to Content Marketing

Phillip Brooks

Content marketing has been touted as the future of SEO for quite some time, and it appears that most companies are buying in. A recent study shows that 93 percent of B2B marketers have been mixing content marketing into their existing digital marketing strategies. Of that subset, 58 percent have increased their budgets for content creation going into the next year.

What that means for the average marketer is that B2B communities are now being flooded with so much brand-created content that it becomes really difficult to separate the signal from the white noise.

How do you make your content stand out? You need to think like a bartender.

I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. A good bartender knows his audience, makes what they want in a timely fashion, isn’t afraid to try new things and keeps everyone’s glasses full. You should do the same. So what can we learn about content marketing from the guy behind the bar? Read on.

1. Start with Quality Ingredients

Cocktail Ingredients 

Any mixologist worth the salt on his margarita glass rim will tell you that a drink made from cheap ingredients or rail-quality booze is immediately discernible from one made with top-shelf liquor. You can taste the difference, and not in a positive way. The same can be said for your content. The more effort you put into the experience at the beginning, the better quality your content will be when it comes out the other end of the pipeline.

How do you know what you’re putting out there is content that your audience wants to read? A real content marketing strategy isn’t about “winging it.” It requires research and planning.

At the very least, you should be using an editorial calendar to plan out your posts. You ARE using an editorial calendar, right? If you’re not, and you call yourself a content marketer, get out now. You’re making the rest of us look bad. Here’s a good guide to get you started. Go do it right now. We’ll wait here for you.

Back yet? Good. Let's move on.

That said, no matter how much thought you put into your content calendar, the content still needs to resonate with your audience. So how do you know what your audience wants to read? You need to do research — lots of it.

If you were opening a bar in an upscale neighborhood, you wouldn’t give it a biker theme, would you? The same goes for content marketing. Learn who your audience is. Identify the personas to which your brand appeals and serve up a frosty mug full of content they will eagerly chug down. It seems like a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

If you’re recycling content or just dumping blog posts into the mix with little to no regard for quality, you are adding little value to your efforts and could even be damaging your brand, to boot.

Tailor your content to your audience and you’ll get regulars.

2. Don’t Make it Too Strong

Clown Seltzer 

Sometimes you go into a bar and you want a fruity cocktail or a simple glass of wine. Other times you want a really stiff drink. Consumers of your content are no different.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks said the following:

“Mass advertising can help build brands, but authenticity is what makes them last. If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”

If all you talk about is the brand, you can’t connect with your audience on their personal values. So don’t forget to water it down sometimes. If your blog gives the readers content that they enjoy, they will come back for a refill. Constantly tooting your own horn can not only rob your voice of any humanity, it can make your content downright boring.

3. Mix Well

Drink Mixer 

There’s nothing worse than ordering a mixed drink and taking a sip only to find that it hasn’t been mixed properly and you’ve just gotten a mouthful of straight liquor when you weren’t expecting it.

The same goes for your content. You need to mix it up so that every month (remember that editorial calendar we were talking about before?) you have a good cross-section of content that appeals to each of the personas you identified in your previous research. That means your content should not only provide different kinds of value (tips, tricks or information) to your audience, it should also represent different voices in your industry or organization as well.

So what are some ways you can get varied content easily?

All of these are resources for content that you should be cultivating. Look for co-marketing opportunities outside of your organization and promote your own thought leaders to build your brand’s cachet.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

Molecular Mixology 

Have you ever heard of molecular mixology? Some really clever bartenders are doing crazy things with simple cocktails and ingredients — all with the aid of science. The results will blow your mind (and your tastebuds).

That’s the kind of impact you should be aiming for with your content creation strategy. Don’t be afraid to stir up a bit of controversy. Be confident and back up your beliefs with research. Shake things up! Controversy breeds discussion and discussion engages your customers.

5. Build a Community (The “NORM!” Principle)


Content is useless if no one reads it. If you find that you’re tweeting into the ether, you need to build your audience. Have a conversation.

I call this the “NORM!” principle. Whenever the character of Norm entered the bar at Cheers, he was met with a chorus of folks bellowing his name. That’s the kind of welcome your readers want. If you can make them feel at home while simultaneously delivering content that engages them, they’ll come back again and again. Before long, they’ll be firmly planted at the corner barstool, waiting for your next piece of content to slide down the bar.

 6. Smile and Promote

Smiling Bartender 

Some bars have lasted for years on the strength of word-of-mouth alone. That’s a bit too passive a strategy for someone who makes a living in digital marketing. Successful nightclub and bar promoters can make a lot of money by finding interesting ways to promote that new hot spot downtown. Your promotion strategy should be no different.

This guide from elsewhere on our blog gives some great strategies for promoting your content.

7. Don’t Leave Anyone’s Glass Empty Too Long


Finally, once a bartender has served you a drink, it’s not the end of the transaction. If he wants a good tip, a good bartender will keep your glass full and engage you when he senses you want something. As a content marketer you need to monitor the conversations your content generates in much the same way.

Make sure you reply to comments made on your pieces in a timely manner — even if you disagree with them. Thank people for sharing your work on social. Show them you appreciate their attention. All of this helps build relationships.

So the next time you hit an office happy hour after a long day of staring at your monitor struggling to come up with the perfect piece of viral content for your company blog, remember that they guy who just mixed you that martini has a job not unlike yours.

Now give him a big tip and get back to work.

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Phillip Brooks is SEMrush's Content Marketing Manager.
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Josh Sturgeon
Love this, Phillip! haha the mixology metaphor is fantastic. To your point, getting guest bloggers to join in not only helps build out the calendar, but also gives your own community a boost. Not only do you get the content, but you get a intro to their audience as well.

If you're looking for a way to manage the editorial calendar without a spreadsheet, we just launched a web app to help: http://www.ripenn.com/product/
Phillip Brooks
Josh Sturgeon
Josh, thanks for the kind words! I will definitely check Ripenn out.