In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of content marketing. We will also explore the numerous ways it can help you grow your business. We’ll focus on the “do it yourself” approach, which minimizes costs. Furthermore, this plan of attack helps you understand what keeps your customers interested and engaged with your brand.
What is Content Marketing?
In the most basic sense, content marketing is the art of creating and sharing relevant and valuable information. The purpose here is to attract a well-defined audience and forge long-term relationships with them. Lastly, the ultimate goal is to convert your audience into loyal customers.
The keywords you want to remember are “relevant,” “targeted,” and “relationship.” You simply cannot create content without a strong understanding of your audience. At best, you’ll generate unqualified traffic; at worst, you’ll waste valuable time and resources creating content for the wrong audience.
When done correctly, content marketing is the effective use of content that informs, educates, entertains, and inspires customers to discover you, trust you, and eventually buy from you.
The best part that is underappreciated is that if done correctly, with persistence and with the long game in mind, your content becomes an asset that keeps giving.
In order to succeed with content, you need a mindset of pull, not push.
Why Is It Important?
One of the main reasons why content marketing works is because it focuses on sharing stories and developing narratives, instead of just plastering prospects with sales messages.
Consumers are more likely to engage with brands that deliver quality content.
Purchasing decisions aren’t always rational. It’s not the facts that get prospects to go with one brand over another. The emotions and personal beliefs that come with a brand’s story are the primary factors that motivate people to take action. Consumers typically go with the brand with the narrative that best reflects their views and embodies their ideal principles in life.
This isn’t just raw theory, here are the figures that prove it:
- Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional advertising
- Businesses that use content marketing have 6x higher conversion rates than those that don’t
- 72% of businesses believe that content marketing is more effective than advertising in a magazine
- 62% claim that content marketing generates better results than advertising on TV
- 69% of marketers state that branded content is superior to both direct mail and public relations
These examples represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to research that proves the impact of content marketing. Here is a boatload of additional stats that support the value of content marketing.
Still hesitant as to the power of content marketing? No worries – let’s take a look at the associated benefits.
From a birdseye view, the benefits of content marketing are not obvious.
However, here are some of the benefits that I’ve encountered over the years:
- Content builds a hub of digital assets that attract leads and sales
- It increases your credibility and trust as you publish content in response to customer questions
- Quality content can establish you and your brand as a thought leader in your industry, which, in turn, spreads influence and authority
- Content marketing educates your prospects and clients, which builds loyalty that turns them into fans and advocates
The essence of content marketing comes down to one idea: thought leadership vs. selling.
Selling involves an immediate call to action, a proposition that needs to end with a clear decision. The customer will either buy or not buy the product or service. Furthermore, the effectiveness of a sales-centric strategy will collapse the moment you stop pouring your budget into it. Your PPC marketing or Facebook ads will stop generating leads the moment your campaign ends.
Content marketing, on the other hand, continues to give for a long time. A well-written article can generate returns one week, one month, or even a full year after you’ve created it. This is because quality content allows you to form a bond with your audience that goes beyond the superficial goal of buying and selling.
I’m hopeful that you’re on the content marketing bandwagon at this point. If so, how do you build a content strategy and make the most of this approach to growing your business?
Developing Your Content Marketing Foundation
Many people often jump in without building a sound foundation first – this is a major mistake. Here’s what you need to do in order to ensure that your strategy will be effective.
Build the Right Team
Content marketing can feel overwhelming at times, especially if you’re new to it and have no clue where to begin. Getting help from others to develop and execute your plan is not only smart but encouraged.
However, you need to choose your team carefully. Talk about the identity of your brand, its values, your buyer personas, and what your ultimate goals are as a business. You need to help them relate to a vision for your brand and inspire them to want to work with you.
By “team,” I don’t mean you need to hire 10 full-time staffers. If you’re a small business or entrepreneur, consider other options that are at your disposal to build the skill set you require to be successful. Outsourcing certain elements of your marketing content marketing efforts to freelancers and contractors are a great idea in certain situations.
Here are a few of the “roles” that you, your team, or your external partner will need to fulfill to execute your content marketing strategy:
- content marketing manager or project coordinator
- content creator or copywriter
- graphic designer
- content curator
- community manager
- brand monitor
- influencer and partnership manager
Consider Your Brand’s Voice
How do you want the general public to perceive you? How do you want prospects to perceive you? Do you want to be seen as the friendly average joe’s brand or a professional (and potentially rigid) business?
You need to develop a unique voice for your brand and stick with it across all channels. You can create a style guide for your team to follow in terms of brand colors, use of fonts, language do’s and don’ts, and other elements that influence your public perception.
Document Your Content Marketing Goals
It is necessary to document your content marketing goals and link them back to your primary business goals. Here are a few examples of initial content marketing goal themes for you to consider:
- brand awareness
- authority and influence
- social proof and case studies
- market research and product ideation
- customer research
- website traffic
- lead generation
- customer acquisition
- brand loyalty and customer retention
- customer referrals
- customer service
- customer onboarding
Statista found that lead generation, brand awareness, and engagement were among North American companies’ top content marketing goals.
Create a Customer Profile
A customer profile, or buyer persona, is a fictional representation of your ideal customer.
An effective customer profile extends beyond demographics and documents elements such as interests, hobbies, fears, hopes, and dreams – the kind of stuff that helps you truly understand what makes your customers tick.
A well-developed customer profile can help you do everything a little bit better. Your content will resonate more with your target audience, which will, in turn, generate more engagement, more traffic, and ultimately more purchases. None of this is possible without a complete customer profile. Furthermore, the absence of a strong customer profile will likely cause your content marketing strategy to fizzle out.
Here’s a brief overview of how to create a buyer persona:
- Locate a buyer persona template that fits your business and industry
- Start researching your customers to fill in your template, on social media, search engines, and via customer surveys
- Consolidate your research into a simple buyer persona (or several if you deem it necessary)
- Use your buyer persona to guide your content marketing activity
How to Create a Content Marketing Strategy
Once you’ve established a strong foundation, here’s what you need to do to create an effective content marketing strategy.
Map Out Content that Aligns with Your Customer’s Buyer’s Journey
You need to spend time getting to know your customers and understand the basic process they go through before purchasing your product or service.
Whether you call this a sales funnel, a buyer’s journey, or something totally different, the basic concept remains the same. You need to capture the idea that your customers go through a rational and emotional process before they decide to convert.
At each stage of this process, your prospects are looking for information and guidance that leads them to the next step. Your job, as the content marketer, is to provide helpful content at each of these steps in the journey.
For instance, prospects at the top of your funnel have likely only discovered your brand or realized that they have a problem. While you may want to try and sell your product right away, this will surely drive them away. Instead, you need to provide educational content that answers their questions.
Prospects in the middle of your funnel are typically evaluating their options. They’re trying to decide if a product is useful or if they can trust the brand behind it. At this stage, you want to create content that showcases your expertise. You can do so with in-depth articles, white papers, competitive comparisons, or eBooks.
Lastly, the prospects at the bottom of your funnel have made their decision and are ready to buy in most cases. However, they usually need a little nudge to help them take the final leap. This is where you provide them with case studies, testimonials, or specialized offers to get them to convert.
Brainstorm Content Ideas & Develop a Content Calendar
Once you have a firm understanding of your customer’s journey toward purchasing, you need to come up with content ideas that will fulfill their needs at each stage of the journey.
Get creative, relax, and write down every idea that comes to you. Don’t hesitate to look around online for inspiration. After all, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Here are a few proven methods you can use to generate content ideas:
- Conduct keyword research to see what people are searching for via Google
- Brainstorm a list of your customers’ most common questions – before, during, and after a sales or customer service conversation
- Identify the problems your product or service solves
- Develop case studies
- Research the competition, industry influencers, and thought leaders to see what content has worked for them
Once you’re done brainstorming, use an editorial calendar to capture these ideas and schedule out when you plan to publish them.
An editorial calendar can be the difference between the success and failure of your content marketing strategy. A well-crafted editorial calendar allows you to set up all of the steps beforehand and concentrate your resources on what really matters. It also establishes a sense of accountability for meeting your projected deadlines.
What Type of Content Should You Create?
What will your customers engage with: visual content or informative, in-depth articles? Do they read their emails more than they log in on Facebook? Would your prospects engage more with video content or text?
These are just a few of the questions you need to address to decide which type of content will resonate best with your audience.
Let’s zoom in and explore a few of your options!
If you want to develop a solid and steady stream of traffic to your website, then you should focus your efforts on creating evergreen content.
As you likely guessed based on the name, evergreen content is timeless. For instance, an article about “What is Content Marketing?” will be relevant for years to come because the definition will likely not change anytime soon. On the other hand, an article about “THe Best Content Marketing Tips for 2022,” isn’t really evergreen since trends will change and you will need to monitor and update your techniques.
The vast majority of content marketing involves some degree of written content. It doesn’t matter how well-researched your articles are, if prospects struggle to read them or are unable to digest the information you present, they simply won’t read or engage with your content.
Your primary goal is to keep your content simple, yet engaging. Furthermore, you need to ensure that your writing style aligns with both your brand’s personality and your audience. You don’t need to be an expert writer, but you do need to have a firm grasp of how to craft a well-written piece of content. If you’re not comfortable producing your own content, you can always hire someone to help!
One way you can approach written content is to document your brand’s voice and writing guidelines, then write the articles yourself. You can also find a team of writers capable of delivering content on a regular basis.
Visual Content and Design
If your content looks like it’s stuck in the early 2000s, then your audience will likely leave your site.
You need to ensure that your website has a clean and professional design. Furthermore, your audience will enjoy a smooth and cohesive style that they can effortlessly connect with your brand. For instance, my website and all of my socials are “andrewroche99.” If you constantly change your design, your audience will get confused and likely find your brand undesirable.
You also want to consider how you can integrate design elements and branding into your content creation. Elements such as on-brand visuals, brand colors, and custom graphics are a great way to accomplish this goal.
In 2021, Orbit Media found that out of the 1,067 bloggers they surveyed 47% used 2-3 images per post and 22% included 4-6 images.
However, 42% of bloggers who included 10+ images per post reported better results than those who included fewer images.
Video is another type of content that is extremely popular and yields tremendous engagement rates. You can use tools such as InVideo or Promo to create professional-grade videos in minutes with pre-made templates. If I had to choose between the two, I would go with Promo, but that’s just my personal preference.
While creating high-quality content is a must, it’s not the only tactic. Content curation, or the process of discovering, collecting, and sharing existing content with your audience, can work just as well. However, you need to ensure that the content you curate is on point with your audience’s needs and expectations.
User-Generated Content (UGC)
Another great way to engage with your customers is to let them generate the content themselves!
GoPro has mastered the art of UGC marketing. They have developed a community that is so excited to create and share their videos, while also promoting the GoPro brand at the same time. This data is rather dated, but as of 2014 people posted roughly 6,000 GoPro videos to the YouTube channel every day!
So…how can you use UGC?
One way is to organize a contest and encourage users to send pictures or videos of themselves using your product. In return, you can offer something of value, such as a discount good towards a future purchase.
You can easily apply this strategy to any content or distribution channel. Social media makes it extremely easy to engage fans and convince them to send their UGC your way!
Where to Distribute Your Content
Imagine if Victoria’s Secret aired a commercial on CNN or Bloomberg, two media outlets that cater to business professionals in the financial sector.
This just wouldn’t make sense, right?
The same goes for content distribution. If you want your content marketing to work, then you need to select the right distribution channels for your brand.
Here are a few of the more important distribution channels you should consider.
If you want a free, fast, and efficient way to get your content out to a broad audience, then social media is the way to go. With upwards of 4.59 million users, social media is among the best content distribution channels out there. However, unless you’re a large business with a team dedicated to social media, you need to be smart about the channels you employ. You need to pick the platforms that make the most sense based on your audience and overall business needs.
For instance, you should review your user demographics to ensure that your audience is active on the platforms you’re using. Next, you should review the type of content your audience prefers – e.g. Instagram is all about visuals while Twitter is all about bite-sized information nuggets.
You also need to consider the type of content you plan to create. If you plan to focus your efforts on video, then Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook are your best options. However, if you’re strictly creating infographics, then maybe you should only roll with Pinterest.
While email is one of the oldest methods to distribute content, you simply cannot ignore it. Email is one of the most effective methods out there and email marketing is perfect for small businesses on tight budgets. It remains one of the most effective channels of communication between companies and consumers.
When done correctly, email marketing can help nurture your leads and convert them into loyal customers.
The prospects you reach via email are already interested in your brand since they opted in to receive your content. You should take advantage of this to build and nurture long-lasting relationships.
Optimizing your website to capture email addresses is the best way to leverage email marketing with your content marketing. You can do so via popup forms and free downloadable resources such as eBooks.
Once you’ve optimized your website, use content to drive your email list to your website and entice them to sign up to your email list with various offers. Once they’re on your email list, keep communicating with them on a regular basis to build up trust and credibility.
Blogging and SEO
Building out your blog and integrating it with an SEO strategy is the very foundation of a good content marketing plan. While you can definitely publish content on third-party sites, a blog that you own can bring about numerous benefits to your brand.
A static website with zero updates is about as good as a fish with no fins in the eyes of Google and your audience. On the other hand, the more content you publish on your blog, the more often search engines will stop by to visit your domain. This, in turn, translates into better rankings, more traffic, and more leads.
With every new article that Google indexes, your odds of converting prospects into customers will increase. SEO leads have a 14.6% better close rate, as compared with outbound leads that have just a 1.7% close rate.
Other Content Distribution Methods
Syndication: Syndication is the process of re-posting your blog content on other sites. These sites have an established process for doing so without affecting your SEO performance.
Influencers: Building relationships with influencers and encouraging them to mention your content on their website is a high-impact approach to content distribution. To find relevant influencers, consider using a search tool such as BuzzSumo.
Advertising: You may elect to combine the benefits of content marketing with the immediate impact of traditional advertising to reap the benefits of both avenues.
Guest Posting: Every niche has a number of high-traffic and credible websites that accept guest author contributions. You should consider writing for these publications to give your brand visibility a boost and direct some referral traffic back to your website. You can use a service such as Guest Post Tracker to find guest posting opportunities.
Sponsored Content: Paid content on other people’s websites can prove to be just as impactful as the organic content you publish yourself. You need to ensure that the content is high-quality and relevant. The method can help advance your business goals.
How to Manage Content Marketing on a Tight Budget
The time and fiscal resources you allocate to content marketing are not limitless. That being said, you need to find ways to incorporate these strategies without burning through your entire budget in a matter of seconds.
One way is to simplify the content management process. This involves building a routine and sticking to it. For instance, you can follow this weekly schedule:
- Monday: Research new topics
- Tuesday: Create a new article for your blog
- Wednesday: Focus on content distribution, responding to followers, checking your metrics following up on previous content campaigns, etc.
Whatever routine you decide to follow, aim to document all of the minor processes you use to deliver on this strategy. Everything from developing content ideas, to researching your articles, and promoting your content can be defined in a thorough process. By clearly defining this process and documenting it, you can improve the way in which you approach things over time, which, in turn, saves you time in the end. Documenting everything also makes it easier to outsource parts of this process to freelancers and contractors without needing to hire a full-time content team.
Tools & Technology
A major part of effectively delivering on your content marketing strategy involves finding the right tools and technology to automate and make the most of your time.
Without the proper technology, you will likely struggle to deliver on your content strategy. That being said, you need to develop a collection of marketing tools that will make things easier and help track your efforts.
Here are a few worth considering:
- Time & Task Management: Airtable
- Social Media Automation: Buffer
- Planning & Publishing Content: Loomly
- Editing & Proofreading: Grammarly
- Social Media & Influencer Research: BuzzSumo
- Analytics: Google Analytics
- SEO Optimization: Yoast SEO
- Keyword Research: Mangools KWFinder
Content Analysis & Measuring ROI
So you’ve defined your content strategy, built a sturdy foundation, identified your ideal channels, and have started generating high-quality content for your audience. This leaves one nagging question…how can you tell if your efforts are paying off?
This is where content analysis and measuring ROI become invaluable.
Define & Track Your Metrics
Measuring the impact of your content marketing strategy is not a simple task.
The major issue is that most small business owners let vanity metrics (likes, shares, and comments) derail them from their primary objectives.
Yes, getting tons of likes and traffic to an article is great, but that’s not the ultimate goal. You don’t want people to share your content and then forget about your business right away. You want loyal customers who engage with your brand and buy your products to tell their friends about you.
Let’s say that your primary business objective is to double your sales by the end of the fiscal year. How does that translate into tangible metrics that you can track?
You could track mini-goals that contribute to this larger goal. Website traffic leads to email subscribers, which develop into sales calls and then finally evolve into sales. Thinking about it this way allows you to see a direct connection between your content marketing efforts and traffic-building strategy, and the business outcomes it creates.
Tracking your results makes it easier to identify specific patterns and changes in customer behavior. Furthermore, you can adjust your strategy on the fly rather than investing time and resources only to discover that your audience isn’t responding to your content as planned.