Content marketing has become something of an industry buzzword in recent years. It’s one that has been used and often abused depending on who you were speaking to, and the smoke and mirror techniques they were applying. Worse, “content marketing” was something that businesspeople, even professional marketers, rarely understood, which, of course, resulted in an excellent technique being underutilized or ignored. Ultimately, this is a shame because “content marketing” is the most straightforward, most inexpensive, most effective, and most powerful search engine marketing tool we have available to us today.
Despite the mystique, content marketing is quite simple to understand—and implement. Think of it as a strategic approach to creating and sharing information with your target audience. There is no mystery to it. Content can be anything you write, draw, photograph, or record that you want to share with your audience.
Original blog articles, promotional or educational videos, podcasts, original photos of events, infographics on customer service or vehicle maintenance, or anything else that is informative, educational, or even entertaining can be used—no, should be used—to engage your audience while building loyalty and interest in your brand.
The ultimate goal is to harness useful and relevant information in order to drive engagement with your business and, ultimately, an increase in sales and customer retention.
"... it is certainly possible to run a successful content campaign on a limited budget: content marketing has been shown to produce three times more leads than traditional outbound marketing while costing 62 percent less."Today, content marketing should be a big piece of every business’s marketing strategy. For someone wanting to create a powerful marketing program, content marketing is practical, easy to manage, and relatively inexpensive. The reasons for the increase in content marketing’s popularity and effectiveness over the past several years are easy to understand.
1. Content marketing can be pretty inexpensive to develop and use.
Of course, costs can vary widely depending on the type of content you’re creating and sharing with your networks. But with careful planning, it is certainly possible to run a successful content campaign on a limited budget: Content marketing has been shown to produce three times more leads than traditional outbound marketing while costing 62 percent less.
2. It is easy to share with your audience.
You can reach a lot of people in a relatively short amount of time by sharing the right content. But it has to be good quality and be useful to your audience. Otherwise, it’s not going to cut it. Shareable, engaging, and relevant content can have a life far beyond your own marketing strategy, too. It can keep generating leads for your business as your customers continue to engage with it while sharing across their own networks.
3. You can be quick and reactive.
You can react to relevant announcements, news stories, and events by quickly creating or sharing content that taps into these talking points with more than one audience. With traditional marketing, this is virtually impossible to do. The resources and logistics involved would have been prohibitive even planned out well in advance.
4. It encourages relationship building.
Content marketing is a way of connecting with your customers; that is both informal and authentic. By sharing genuinely useful content, you are building trust with your audience that goes way beyond what you can offer with a traditional “pushy” marketing approach. The conversational nature of many channels, such as Facebook and Instagram, means you can directly respond and interact with your customers in real time, too.
Sounds great, right?
But it’s not always that simple. Many companies struggle with making content marketing work effectively, mostly because:
1. They have a small in-office team, none of whom really specialize in marketing. This can mean imposing marketing tasks on staff from other departments who are overloaded with extra work, thereby creating and sharing content in a hurry that may not be effective.
2. They have limited time and resources to commit to marketing planning. Many people misunderstand content marketing as sharing any content they like (or they think their customers will love) and leaving it at that. But effective content marketing requires careful thought and consideration, consistent interaction with your audience, and monitoring of analytics to see what’s working (and what’s not). In other words, test what works and who it works with. If what you are doing today is not getting the results you want, then start tomorrow with a new approach.
3. There is a lack of expertise. A knowledge gap about the fundamentals of good content marketing—let alone marketing in general—is a problem for many companies. How do you develop a strategy when you have limited working knowledge of the fast-moving, rapidly-evolving world of digital marketing that even the specialists struggle to keep up with?
4. They have limited time and resources to create their own content. Sure, it’d be great to be able to churn out perfect, engaging content on a recurring basis, but that’s not possible for many companies who have a small team already stretched to meet the demands of running a successful business. Often there will be one or two people dealing with marketing alongside their other responsibilities. This added pressure puts many companies off trying to go down the content marketing road altogether.
So, how can you avoid these pitfalls and make content marketing work for your business?
First, outline a strategy. Putting effective content together doesn’t need to be scary, confusing, painful, or even very time consuming. Just give yourself an hour or so each month to sit down and think about your customers, who they are, and what they want to see from you. What will add value to their experience with your company? What would help you build trust and a meaningful relationship with your customers? If you have shared content before, do an audit of what worked well and what didn’t—what was shared widely, got the most likes on social media, or how many click-throughs did you achieve? Use this to inform your strategy development.
So, you’ve thought about your target audience. What next?
Decide how often you are going to share content.
This could depend on a number of factors: resources, time, budget, or availability of exciting content for your audience. Keep it relevant and be realistic. It’s not necessary (or practical) to create and share original content every single day, but plan for one or two times per week depending on what your customers like and engage with. You’ll get a better idea of this once you start experimenting.
Decide where you are going to share content.
There is an incredible variety of different channels that you can use. But don’t spread yourself too thin—focus on the ones where you’ll reach the most (or most relevant) people. That could be through owned assets, such as your website or a blog, or through social media such as Facebook or Instagram. You can, of course, share content across multiple channels, just be sure not to saturate your audience with too much of the same type of information if many of them follow you across a number of different outlets.
"... content marketing requires careful thought and consideration, consistent interaction with your audience, and monitoring of analytics to see what’s working ..."Decide what types of content you are going to create.
To stay relevant and drive more significant interaction, it’s best if you can create your own content. Some of the most popular types of content you might want to consider are: blogs, infographics, ebooks, videos, templates, and podcasts.
This is by no means an exhaustive list; use the format(s) that work best for your audience (and the ones you have the resources and expertise to create). Of course, you can also repurpose content later on to save on the need for additional work. For example, if you have a series of blog posts which garnered high levels of engagement, combine the top tips from each of these posts into a handy infographic. Don’t be afraid to get creative.
Put together a content calendar.
Ask yourself: what key dates or events should I incorporate into my calendar that my customers will value? When am I going to share our own content vs. sourcing from the web? Mix it up and use essential dates such as Thanksgiving and Fourth of July to create relevant content themed specifically around these holidays.
Try to plan out what you are going to share in advance (or at least make a plan around a particular “theme”). This is relatively straightforward when you are creating your own original content, but it can be a little trickier if you are looking for some of it from external sources (a mix of both is fine to keep workloads manageable). Either way, when creating or searching for good content to share, here’s what you need to keep in mind:
Is this information useful?
This is one of the fundamental rules of content marketing—and one that many companies forget in their haste to share as much as possible with their networks. People are inundated with content in our information-saturated world, with smartphones at our fingertips and WiFi readily available in most places you go. This means you need to focus your energy on content that really resonates with your audience. Choose something that will grab their attention and solves a problem that they can immediately identify with.
Is this information shareable?
Will your customers want to share this with their networks? What about their networks’ networks? If a piece of great content continues to be shared organically, it will continue to generate leads (or whatever customer action you were aiming for) well into the future—without any extra time, cost, or effort on your part.
Is this information relevant?
If you are running a limo service business, it’s OK (and actually better) if your content isn’t always directly transportation-related. For example, a list of top vacation destinations or dining suggestions for the city you’re based in should work well. But don’t take it too far and confuse your customers. You always want to be able to link it back to your services in some way (although this should be subtle!)
Define your target audience.
Always be clear about exactly who you are trying to reach with the content you’re sharing. Are you aiming to engage your whole online audience? Or maybe just a subset such as brides-to-be or corporate travel planners? Ask yourself: what are each of these groups most interested in, and why would this content be helpful for them?
Will this get me the results I want?
Admittedly, there is a bit of guesswork involved here. There is no foolproof way of knowing exactly how a piece of content will perform and whether it will drive results, but you should analyze as much as possible as you go. Look back at any previous material you’ve shared and assess its performance. Continuously measure the new content you share against your calendar, strategic plan, and ultimate goals.
A word of caution.
It’s great to share, but here are some things you definitely want to avoid when you’re putting together your content marketing strategy:
Don’t rely on only one format—try to mix it up!
Generally, it’s best not to share only one type of content but to aim for a combination. Ultimately, however, you need to do what works best for your business and responds to what your customers like, so don’t be afraid to experiment at first and then hone in on a few types of content that perform best.
Don’t keep sharing without measuring the success of your previous posts.
Be targeted. Know your measurables and monitor analytics and feedback. Determine in advance what your goals are (e.g., more followers, more page likes, mailing list sign-ups, more inquiries, more bookings) and what metrics would indicate a successful campaign. Monitor, review, and adapt for next time based on what worked well and what didn’t. Just because it’s on the content calendar doesn’t mean you have to go ahead with it if a similar piece hasn’t worked. Don’t be afraid to be flexible in your approach.
Quality over quantity.
Don’t overshare. Focus on quality content rather than creating and disseminating as many pieces of content as you can. Your audience will soon get tired of information overload and your content strategy may end up having the opposite of the desired effect.
And if you’re still unsure...
If you’re still struggling to formulate a content marketing strategy—don’t panic. There are plenty of resources out there to help you. If you want to learn more, there are countless blogs on the subject to help you design and put a content strategy into action yourself. There are also plenty of tools and content management software that will help automate some of the process for you. Or, alternatively, there are full-service agencies who will plan out a detailed strategy for you based on their own industry expertise, execute the plan, then report back on results—an easy option if you’re short on time and resources and want to be sure your content marketing is done right.
Whatever way you go, you can’t afford to ignore the huge potential that content marketing has to help drive your business forward. [CD0819]
Pat Charla is the founder of DriveProfit. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.