Department store entrepreneur John Wanamaker once famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” For many businesses, content marketing can feel like that – a nebulous exercise with results that can be hard to quantify. Because content marketing is equal parts art and science, with timing and a pinch of luck stirred into the pot, there is no sure-fire recipe that will work for all businesses and industries. To maximise your chances of success, developing a thorough understanding of your audience, what you have to offer them, and why they should care is key. Then it becomes about how to communicate that information and put it where people can find it.
First of all, what is content marketing? Simply put, it’s a strategic approach that relies on creating, publishing, and distributing content for a targeted online audience.
While the exact definition may vary, content marketing’s goal is the same as other forms of marketing: to generate sales and expand your business’s customer base. The difference between content marketing and traditional marketing is that, instead of overt sales messages, it aims to provide useful content to prospects and customers. Why? Because people are ever more wary of being directly marketed to and prefer to decide for themselves whether your business has anything they need or are interested in. It’s a mix of demand (“I want…”) and discovery (“How about…?”).
Ideally, your content should answer questions they may have related to your area of expertise or offer solutions to a problem they are experiencing. Note that you should stick to topics your brand is in a position to know about; that’s the “targeted audience” part. It’s a mistake to go after everyone, especially if your products or services are specialised or relatively high cost. You want to be talking primarily to decision makers. The immediate goal here isn’t to get a sale, however – though it’s certainly wonderful when that happens.
So, what is the point of content marketing?
Content marketing is a long game that builds brand authority over time. How long does it take to build brand authority? Well, how long is a piece of string? Because it must be genuine in order to be successful, brand authority takes time to establish. You can’t create it from just one article in one month – expect it to take at least a year before you experience a significant lift. Also, content marketing is just one part of a marketing mix that may include paid search, SEO strategy, and traditional marketing, depending on the nature of the business, its products, and its customers.
Different pieces of content should be aimed at different parts of the sales funnel while some of it will be evergreen, serving as a general resource now and in the future. Content pieces can also be modified and repurposed, for example, as support materials for the sales team, as a newsletter item to existing customers, or as an ad promoted to potential clients. This effectively turns one piece into several, targeting different segments and giving you more bang for your buck. Content topics should be valuable as soon as they’re created and grow in value over time, improving your SEO ranking to bring in new business organically.
Good content marketing should do all of the following:
- Generate leads
- Increase online sales
- Expand customer base
- Increase brand awareness and authority
- Engage an online community of users
These first three will probably look familiar; they are what all marketing aims to do. These last two, however, are things that effective content marketing does that other forms cannot.
The key benefit of content marketing is that it unlocks the value already within your business, using it as an asset to impart knowledge about your business. This typically includes your company’s story and the narrative of how your team solves problems for people. This narrative should speak to the core of what makes you different and why people love you and your products or services.
What content marketing does differently
Usually transmitted one-to-one in person or on the phone, your one-to-many message has almost limitless potential online.
When successfully executed, content marketing takes your expertise and uniqueness (why people love you and your services) and describes it in a way that customers can digest, staging it for where and when they might need that info. With a bit of thought and effort, you can establish an incredibly rich, authentic story of how you serve your clients, which is ultimately about something far bigger than promoting today’s offer: It’s an evergreen resource that assists the business and, if created strategically and timed correctly, compounds in value over time.
Content marketing should encompass the entire customer journey, from consideration mode to conducting research to evaluating who to choose. To retain existing customers, content could be repositioned to discuss how to get the best out of your products or services. Always aim to offer value and earn goodwill by giving them something without the expectation of reciprocity, the way you might do in your interpersonal relationships.
Pro tip: You can create resources and continually update them to answer questions and serve customers in a way that benefits them, which in turn builds brand authority, trust, and your ranking on Google.
Where traditional marketing falters
As you’re probably aware, traditional marketing takes place online too. It might be a simple site launching something: “We have this service, pick us!” followed by basic info. Even if the site has a blog, when businesses don’t know what to write about, they tend to talk about what they’ve been doing – “We’ve launched this product, we’re developing a new line, here’s our office Christmas party” – which is all well and good from an internal perspective to build team morale but is unstructured and pointless to the rest of the world. Without a plan, content like this doesn’t convert or do anything. With logic applied, however, content can solve problems, inspire people, and rank on Google to reach new audiences and get your business found.
Businesses that don’t do content marketing often rely on paid ads and word-of-mouth, both of which have their place, but paid ads may not be suitable for influencing people in certain industries, for example, accounting – where a high level of trust must be reached before the customer can consider converting. Another instance where content marketing is a more effective approach is when the offer is complex, with a lot of steps that need to be understood by your prospect first. “Free advice” and explainer information given via content marketing demonstrates your expertise and credibility piece by piece while establishing your business as a player in your realm.
When businesses don’t understand content marketing, their content misses the mark because it’s not written in a way that people would search for it – in part, because it’s not something they were interested in reading in the first place. So, first, change your tack: Look through lens of, what’s in it for your client? What do they want to know? How do they make a decision? Who else or what else can they choose? How can we help them choose you? What content would they search for that’s relevant to your service? What have you got to say about what they want to know about?
It may seem obvious, but don’t lead with, “We’re amazing – look at our amazing stuff.” Customers who can’t find you won’t see you – and even if they did, why would they believe you? Who are you? Build that credibility first.
Content + Game Plan = Success
As you develop your authority-building content, make sure you have a plan for how you’re going to promote it, which may include pushing it out with paid ads on Facebook or AdWords. The last thing you want to do is spend all this time and effort to create great content then have no way to share it, except with your current client base.
Then turn your attention to where your content is directing people: your site. Make sure your website copy is optimised, with clear base information, strategic SEO, and a call to action, where appropriate. Effective SEO begins with identifying business opportunities and understanding the client and their buyer journey, with keywords falling out of that understanding. Also make sure your site structure aligns with your strategy, for example, that you have content pillar pages to help you rank for relevant topics and search terms. Find and fix any orphan content, which means it has no links to other pages or services.
Definition: A content pillar is a substantial information piece on a specific topic or theme that can be broken into smaller sections, pieces, and materials. Examples of content pillars include eBooks, reports, and guides.
Depending on your focus, your plan could include monthly blogging, content promotion through social media and paid ads, and content remarketing. Take your best content and repurpose it for different platforms: Turn it into a podcast, YouTube video, or slide presentation with appealing graphics.
Then identify any content gaps by looking at the market and create resources to build brand influence. To get your brand seen by relevant audiences, explore the “watering holes” of your target customer and determine the best platforms for your content, whether that’s LinkedIn, the media, or a company newsletter. Once you have your ideas and promotion plan in place, think about what success look like, aka metrics. What exactly are you trying to do? Make sure your content marketing programme is structured to align with suitable goals and metrics and set up analytics and reporting to measure your results.
Pro tip: Focus on the right topics, the right keywords, and the right balance of content. If the sales process necessitates different pieces at each stage of the journey, prioritise content creation by its usefulness to the business as well as how difficult it is to do. Start with the easy wins then go from there.
Remember: education, information, then inspiration. When content is helpful and appealing, people spend more time engaging with it, which innately builds trust. Then it’s just a matter of time before your prospect needs your products or services and you’re first in line to deliver them, thanks to the top-of-mind awareness that effective content marketing creates.
If you are looking for help and advice about your content strategy then we can help! Contact our team to discover how we can help your business to grow its profile and engage with new customers.