Does your business have a company blog, publish white papers and eBooks, or engage in other content marketing activities? Content marketing is the process of creating content that customers and clients want or need. At its very core, content marketing is any format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers, and may include everything from thought leadership to branded content.
Content marketing is the hottest marketing trend for 2014. According to B2B Magazine (now part of AdAge), content marketing is “one of the top marketing priorities for 2014” and it was listed as the top priority by the Altimeter Group. Seventy-eight percent of CMOs believe that content is the future of marketing. (Demand Metric) Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about 3 times as many leads. In fact, the website conversion and qualified lead conversion rates for brands using content marketing is six to seven times higher. (Aberdeen)
Despite these glowing stats, a full 60 to 70 percent of B2B marketing content goes unused. Companies understand the importance of content marketing, but face serious issues executing content marketing campaigns:
- 93% of B2B Marketers are using content marketing (Content Marketing Institute / Marketing Profs Study)
- Only 44% of B2B Marketers have a documented content strategy (Content Marketing Institute / Marketing Profs Study)
- Only 42% of B2B marketers rate their content marketing efforts as effective (Content Marketing Institute / Marketing Profs Study)
Without an effective content marketing strategy in place, your company’s content could be equally “useless”. Developing an effective content marketing strategy, however, does not have to be resource intensive or time consuming. Here’s what to do.
Why your business needs content marketing
Content marketing is how you attract buyers and bring them to your company, rather than paying to reach them. Effective content marketing starts with a simple question: “what do our buyers want or need?” Once your business can answer this question, great content marketing will be a mix of content creation, curation and syndication.
Content marketing meets the needs of your buyers across ALL phases of the buying cycle, including early phase, middle and late-stage:
- Early-stage content drives interest and awareness
- Middle-stage content focuses on engagement
- Late-stage content keeps buyers loyal to your brand and upsells them on future solutions
Content marketing is not a self-serving tactic to solely promote your own brand. In fact, talking too much about your own products or solutions will ultimately hurt your business. Customers and clients prefer to connect with companies on a human and emotional scale. “Emotion beats promotion” by a factor of 2 to 1, according to the Corporate Executive Board’s latest report. An effective content marketing strategy will ensure your business creates the right content for the right people at the right time.
Content marketing strategy basics: understanding the marketplace
#1: Start with the big picture.
When creating your content marketing strategy, start by asking big picture questions: where is your business currently and where does it want to go? For example, if you are a B2B solutions provider, your business’s big picture goal may be to be perceived as an industry thought leader. Your content marketing strategy will flow from this big picture goal.
#2: Identify your target audience.
Once you have determined your big picture goal, ask your business, “Who am I trying to reach?” Commit this phrase to memory: “I am not the target.” Remember, what you or your team find personally motivating, interesting or persuasive is not necessarily the same content that will motivate, excite or persuade your target audience. Understanding what motivates your target audience is key to creating effective material.
#3: Build relationships.
Relationship building is the core of content marketing – especially if you want your content to be shared. According to a New York Times/Latitude Research study on the “Psychology of Sharing”, 68 percent of respondents reported sharing to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about. A full 94 percent of people surveyed reported carefully considering whether the information they share will be useful to the recipient. Survey respondents reported sharing for self-fulfillment; they enjoy getting credit for discovering new and unique content. Your business must understand the marketplace in order to create content that builds relationships, earns trust with your consumers and, consequently, is more likely to be reshared.
Content marketing strategy basics: creating the right material
Once you understand your content marketing program’s goals and your target audience, the next step in content strategy is to produce valuable content. Here’s how to get started:
#1: Perform a content inventory.
Before you begin creating content, it’s important to know what already exists within your organization. A lengthy PowerPoint presentation may not mean much in its current form, but this content could easily be repurposed and repackaged into a white paper, eBook, set of blog posts or even an infographic. Do you have content that is outdated or redundant but could quickly be brought up to date with a few tweaks? Once you have completed your content inventory, you will have a full list of existing content and better know where to invest your time and money.
#2: Create a content editorial calendar.
Creating a content schedule is key to ensuring that all your written material seamlessly supports your content marketing goals. This schedule should track everything from topics and keywords to content placement and social media posts. Create different categories to organize key topics of interest, target audience, stage of buying cycle and specific interests/buying triggers. This chart will provide much-needed structure and continuity to your published content.
#3: Establish a content generation timeline.
As part of your editorial calendar, create a realistic timeline to manage content creation. When creating your schedule, be realistic in your content goals. Quality trumps quantity: don’t commit to publishing a post every day (or even every two to three days) if you cannot consistently produce a steady stream of content. It is better to have one or two quality blog posts than 10 sub-par blog posts. Most businesses have natural high and low peaks in conjunction with the seasons; keep these peaks in mind. For example, if most people in your industry will be on vacation in December/January, scale back content production during this period. If your audience is not around to read your posts, there’s no reason to be putting content on your website – it will just become stale and outdated.
Content marketing strategy basics: getting shared
Content that languishes on your company blog is not doing anyone any good. Here’s how to get your content shared:
#1: Solve a problem
Solving a problem is one of the most basic and important reasons why individuals share information. You already know not to make a sales pitch with your blog post; instead, create valuable content that solves a common industry problem. Giving away valuable content for free will not only increase the likelihood that your content is shared, but also build your business’s reputation as an industry thought leader. When clients face another problem, they’ll turn to your business first for a solution.
#2: Be visual
Don’t let your best content get lost in a sea of words. Content that includes a picture or other visual is far more likely to be shared than content that is text-only. For example, businesses that post a text and photo update to their Facebook pages receive 120 percent more engagement than plain text updates. The same applies for posts on your company blog. The good news is that to find great photos, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel. Remember the content audit you did at the beginning of your strategy program? Go back to this audit and review your PowerPoint presentations. Which presentations can be turned into engaging infographics? A quick Google search can also yield intriguing or thought-provoking that are available for free thanks to Creative Commons licensing. Remember, when adding images to a blog post, be sure to also add keyword metadata for enhanced on-page optimization.
#3: Be sharable
Content marketing is beneficial not only for building relationships with your customers and clients, but also for boosting your site’s Google page-rank. Google’s latest “Hummingbird” algorithm update reinforces the importance of effective content marketing as part of a complete inbound marketing strategy. Content that is shared, tweeted, emailed and re-posted is considered to be “interactive”, signaling to Google that your website contains valuable information and consequently should rank higher in search results. Being sharable means that you not only create content that informs and engage, but that this content is also optimized for quick sharing. Consider that lengthy white paper you just finished writing. “Atomize” this paper’s content by pulling out key pieces and turning it into shorter, more sharable snippets. For example, pull a few key snippets and turn them into daily “Top 5” tip posts that are shared on the company blog. Then, tweet a different short tip each day.
Content marketing strategy: next steps for 2014
An effective content marketing strategy requires clear goals and benchmarks for success. At the same time, it’s important to remember that content marketing is a long-term investment for your business. While you may not see initial measurable returns, in the long run, great content marketing is developing a long-term relationship with your customers and clients by positioning your brand as a thought leader within the current marketplace. Content marketing accomplishes exactly what “traditional” online advertising has always failed to do: it gets people to not only recognize your brand, but also to like and trust it. Most importantly, content marketing brings prospective customers directly to your website, boosting your inbound marketing program and delivering fresh leads to your sales funnel.
Whether your business is just getting started with content marketing or has already been engaged in content generation, take time at the beginning of 2014 to examine your business’s current strategy, assess the target marketplace, and ensure all the content you create is seamless working together to build your business’s brand.