"Content is King." You’ve heard that before, haven’t you? First attributed to Bill Gates back in 1996, the expression has become an oft-repeated mantra of sorts for online marketers everywhere. Despite bordering on cliche, "content is king" remains a truthful statement, perhaps now moreso than ever. Innumerable businesses across virtually every industry are turning to content marketing strategies to reach new audiences, engage their followers, and drive sales.
What Exactly is Content Marketing?
Depending on who you ask, you'll get several different answers to this question. The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as:
the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
Content marketing has been around for a long time, but only recently has so much emphasis been placed on it as an essential component of an overall marketing strategy. 90% of B2C marketers are using content marketing, compared with 86% last year. As we've discussed in our Inbound Marketing Blog Series, the landscape of advertising and sales has changed greatly. Interruptive "outbound" marketing and blatant advertising are becoming virtually obsolete. At the same time, consumer behavior is also changing. We now gather our information at our own convenience, via search engines and social media. We prefer to conduct our own research and make informed decisions based off what we read online. A recent study showed that 80% of people appreciate learning about a company through custom content. An effective content marketing strategy aims to meet your audience where they already spend their time, and essentially put the controls back into their hands.
Sales are still the objective (how else would your business stay afloat?), but they mustn't be the sole motivation nor the means to reach and engage your audience. Brands that convey a genuine, helpful, education-based persona and offer value through relevant consumable content can expect to excel. Content marketing is the perfect compromise between thoughtful education and self-promotion. For businesses selling tangible products, a content marketing strategy might look a bit different than for service-based businesses . However, the overall objectives are much the same. Our own Content Specialist Adam Rowan had this to say about content marketing for professional practices:
"Content marketing is a programmatic way to distribute your practice’s message, while maintaining focus on and adjusting to anticipate the needs of your target audience. Education is intrinsic to driving positive awareness of your practice and cultivating site visitors into clients."
What are the Main Objectives of Content Marketing?
- Increase brand awareness and drive more people to your website and social media pages.
- Establish your credibility and authority (thought leadership) through thoughtful education; build brand loyalty.
- Create new contacts, generate leads, and drive sales.
The Steps to Developing a Winning Content Strategy
So how exactly do you develop an effective content marketing strategy? What does it take to create and distribute excellent content that reaches and resonates with your audience, and keeps them coming back for more? How do you use your content to drive sales, and how will you know whether you were successful? These are all great questions to ask yourself.
1. Evaluate your positions and the competitive landscape
It's time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of all of your practice areas. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, but nothing beats a data-driven approach. There are numerous SEO and Web analytics tools (including Google Analytics) which can show you exactly where you stand and how your practice stacks up against your competitors.
Ask yourself the following question about your practice:
- In what keyword areas are we performing the best/the worst?
- Are there any areas where not a lot of people are searching, but we rank highly in?
- Are there any areas where a lot of people are searching, but we don't rank highly in?
- What practice areas do we specifically want to place more focus on?
The answers to these questions will dictate the direction of all of your forthcoming content creation efforts.
2. Understand your buyers and audience
We have discussed this at length in the past. Distinguish your ideal audience- the people most likely to become clients. Write down everything you can discern about their demographic (location, age, gender, income, education, etc) and psychographic (interests, activities, motivations, values/opinions, etc.) characteristics. Identify where they spend their time online and where they go to gather information. Most importantly, identify their pain points. What is the exact problem or need they have? The most successful content directly educates and aims to help people find solutions.
Lastly, it is crucial to consider which phase different people might be in the buyer's journey, and which information and/or content types are most suited for each phase. Are they just beginning to conduct research, or are they already knowledgeable about their problem and are merely determining which business can help them solve it? Understanding your ideal audience and recognizing that individuals are at all times in different stages of the buyer's journey is essential to creating content that will truly be of value to them.
3. Develop your content creation and distribution strategy
Once you've identified where you want to focus your content creation efforts and what types of people will be consuming said content, it's time to decide what formats you'll use to best convey your message and information. Likewise, you will need to determine which content distribution avenues will be most suitable for your content and target audience.
How Will You Segment Your Content?
It's important to identify ways to segment out the content you create. We touched on this briefly when we talked about buyer personas. Crafting content that meets people at different stages of the buyer's journey is a great example of content segmentation. Other ways to approach content segments might include focusing on a certain practice area or addresses specific pain points. This is the essence of targeted content, and will further enhance your ability to get the right content in front of the right people.
Which Content Type(s) Will You Utilize?
There are many different content formats, each with their own place and purpose. Depending on all of the aforementioned considerations, you may use any combination of the following examples:
- Case studies
- White papers
- Slideshare presentations
Your intended brand identity and voice will also govern which content formats you use. Are you trying to convey an easy-going and informal personality? Maybe entertaining videos and eye-catching, fun infographics will reach and engage your audience. Are you trying to be more serious, formal, and academic? Tipsheets, white papers and ebooks might be right for you. It would be a prudent decision to evaluate all these different content formats and determine which would be the most compelling content for your practice.
How and Where Will You Publish and Distribute Your Content?
Content can be published right on your website, to social media sites, or maybe picked up by magazines or news outlets. Ideally, content can be re-used, re-cycled, and re-purposed across multiple platforms. The overarching goal is to find the balance between all factors involved: getting the right content in front of the right people, in the right place and at the right time. Expect a fair amount of experimentation and adjustment, especially if you are just beginning a focused content marketing campaign. However, regular re-evalutation and modification is a general good rule of thumb.
4. Develop benchmarks for success
How exactly will your practice determine if your content marketing is successful? Setting performance goals and regularly measuring your efforts is imperative. Yet for many businesses, calculating ROI on content marketing remains an elusive endeavor. By spending as much time on all of the above steps as possible, you will not only have a better chance for success, but enable yourself to better evaluate your efforts.
- Determine key performance indicators (KPIs). Which metrics will you use to determine how successful your content is? This could range from social reach and engagement to overall shares, page views, and any site traffic changes. Also included might be lead generation and conversion rates, as well as actual sales and new clients.
- Set goals. Once you've determined which metrics are most important to your practice, you should assign specific values to you KPI benchmarks, and determine precisely what should be considered as successful.
- Use real-time analysis tools. There are many third-party tools and services which can help you determine content marketing successes. Google Analytics and the analytics platforms inherent to most social media sites are also very helpful (and free).
- Use UTM codes. UTM parameters are small snippets of code that are appended to any assigned URL, and allow you to track those pages across the Web. You can see exactly when and where your content is being shared. Google UTM generation integrates right into your Google Analytics for easy access and viewing.
- Analyze, adjust, analyze again. Regular analysis is paramount, as is making calculated changes to your content strategy. The more methodical you are, the better you will be able to identify exactly what does and doesn't work. In time, it will help you hone your content marketing down to a fine art.
Well, that's the goal anyway...