The idea of developing a variety of different pieces of content as a part of your marketing mix can be an overwhelming concept.
Where does content come from? Who creates it? What do I write about? How often do I have to do it? How do I find the time?
The hesitation is understandable. But…
Content marketing is like a lightsaber.
It’s one of the most powerful tools in the marketing universe yet can be misunderstood by someone who’s unfamiliar with its power.
You can make content marketing work for you.
Yes, whether you’re already working in content marketing or not, there are insights that you have today that can be applied to content marketing. The biggest challenge for most people embracing content marketing is recognizing the various opportunities that exist and identifying the steps they can take to drive meaningful results through the medium.
Let’s start from the top.
Understanding Content Marketing
The first step is to become familiar with content marketing. We’ve all interacted with content marketing assets in some form. In some ways, you could even view an infomercial or TV ad as a form of content marketing. Here’s a quick definition:
Content marketing is the development and distribution of assets (blog posts, videos, infographics) with the intent of influencing a specific audience’s behaviors and/or thinking.
Not only is it important for you to be able to answer the question:
“What is content marketing?”
But it’s also important for you to know that content marketing isn’t just blog posts. That’s a common misconception.
Content marketing is the act of understanding your audience’s interests and creating content that they would see value in. Essentially, you’re looking to create something educational, engaging, or entertaining and then deliver it to your audience in a way that they believe is worth reading, sharing, bookmarking, or watching.
The biggest mistake most brands make when it comes to content marketing is rushing in. They read an article or blog post and immediately move full steam ahead with content creation. The best brands (and marketers) know how important it is to understand their audience and their own organizational goals before jumping right in. Here are the questions you should be asking and answering before creating a single piece of content:
- Think through your need for content marketing. How will it grow your product or service?
- What do you wish to achieve with content marketing? Will you use content to educate your customers or build brand awareness? What’s the purpose?
- What content formats are your current team familiar with? Do they have the expertise and the bandwidth to generate the content you envision?
- Do you have the budget for content marketing? Does your team have the necessary resources to execute your content marketing plan?
From there, it’s important that you spend time thinking about the people you want to influence. If you’re trying to attract the attention of CEOs, you’re going to want to think about the type of content they would read, watch, or listen to and get creative in thinking about how you can create content that also captures their attention. The two primary methods for figuring out the type of content your audience wants are qualitative and quantitative research.
Let’s break these down:
Qualitative Research: You may start talking with your sales team, conducting surveys, interviewing your customers, attending conferences, or simply being curious and thinking about the type of stories your audience engages with most frequently.
Quantitative Research: You can use third-party reports, conduct research on your own site, analyze search trends, analyze keyword popularity, or study data surrounding social sharing.
Both qualitative and quantitative research should help you better understand the types of stories and content assets that your audience is interested in. From there, we always recommend breaking down the details that make up your target audience in the form of a persona:
Once you know your audience, I recommend taking some time to review great examples of brands doing content marketing right and learning from them to start setting the framework in your mind for what you need to do to find success.
Here’s a good start: 31 Impressive Content Marketing Examples You Can Use Today.
Next, start thinking about the content marketing strategy that will work for you. The strategy that you embrace will depend on your audience, the channels, the industry you’re working in, and your own skillset. But the main reason you want to develop a strategy is that this will help you:
- Ensure that content assets and formats are cohesive
After you produce content on a regular basis, it’s only natural that you will experiment with formats and content distribution channels. But it can be easy to get lost without direction. A content marketing strategy provides that direction so that all your content is cohesive and on-brand.
- Establish clarity on the metrics you want to evaluate
A content marketing strategy acts as a bridge connecting your marketing objectives to your business objectives. It helps you align your content to your goals and focus on the right metrics by which to measure your success.
- Better allocate and manage resources
It can be difficult to allocate resources to content marketing when you don’t know exactly how those resources will be used. A content marketing strategy makes it easy. In fact, research done by the Content Marketing Institute found that marketers were able to justify spending a higher percentage of the marketing budget on content marketing when they had a documented strategy in place.
Understanding Content Excellence
Coca-Cola is one of the leaders in content marketing.
They’ve achieved this position through excellent work, lots of resources, and a passion for embracing a significant shift in thinking. Coca-Cola made a vocal and clear decision to make a marketing shift from creative excellence to content excellence. The idea of achieving content excellence is a challenge for many, but the video below describes it quite well.
Content excellence is the development of a story your customers want to hear and your ability to place it in a framework that is easy for them to consume.
If you’re a startup in the high-end fashion industry, you need to think about what type of content a fashionista would be interested in and ensure that you’re delivering that content through the channel they spend most of their time. Whether that’s creating photos of clothes and sharing them on Instagram daily or creating blog posts and sharing them on Facebook, content excellence starts with these two basics.
Understanding Content Distribution
The second most important piece of content marketing is getting your content in front of the right people. If you’ve been in business for some time, you have an easy delivery mechanism already existing which consists of your current customers.
Whether you’ve captured emails, phone numbers, or likes on Facebook, these are the folks you must first put your content marketing efforts in front of. These are the folks who already see value in your product and may see value in your content. Look at them as a test, see how they respond to your new ebook, and blog posts, and get feedback from them to really understand what it is they want from you as it relates to content.
After identifying your customers’ needs, you can better understand where your content needs to be. The fact that you’re providing value will automatically increase the opportunity for a viral effect, but there are additional opportunities that exist for sharing your content. Some of these opportunities include:
- Guest Blogging: This is a great way for you to share your ideas and thoughts on relevant topics and your brand’s story. The key to guest blogging is recognizing the power of driving users back to your site where they can convert. Whether you end your blog post with a call to action promoting an ebook or a new product, be sure to focus on optimizing your posts for meaningful content marketing results.
- Social Media Promotion: For many successful content platforms, the majority of their traffic bounces back and forth between social media channels and Google. If you’re able to ensure that your content is easily shared, Facebook and Twitter will provide you with a huge boost in traffic. These networks will allow you to broaden your reach and tap into an audience beyond your borders.
- Content Directories: This is a tactic that is often overlooked but one that can provide you with great success if done well. You can look for content submission directories that are relevant to your target audience and submit your content when appropriate. Examples of content directories include websites like Hacker News, StumbledUpon, or Reddit.
There are tons of different distribution channels. In this video below, I break down more than 20 different ways that brands can distribute their content online today.
Using all of the methods I covered above, even a rookie could start finding success through content marketing. The one thing to keep in mind understanding your audience and goals.
You must clearly know where you’re trying to go.
You must think about who you want this content to reach and what you want the results to look like. Once you’ve identified who you’re talking to, it’s time to provide them with valuable, quality content.
It’s not enough to simply copy what you see the industry is doing and call it a day. You need to add value to your audience’s lives by developing content assets worth reading (or watching/listening to) and worth sharing.
About the Author
Ross Simmonds is the founder of Foundation Marketing, a content marketing agency that works with ambitious B2B brands looking to generate results through content. Foundation works with everything from some of the fastest-growing SaaS brands to industry-leading B2B brands. Follow Ross on Twitter @TheCoolestCool.