If you’re serious about a career in marketing, you need to master content marketing. You have to know what it is and what it isn’t—and you need to learn the best practices on how to do it. This post will have everything you need to know to get started in your content marketing.
What exactly is content marketing?
There are many definitions of content marketing out there, but here are some of my favorites:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
What I really like about this definition is that it reiterates that content marketing is strategic. It’s not about a single tactic or even a bunch of tactics put together. Blogging alone isn’t content marketing—it’s a lot more strategic than that.
Another great definition comes from NewsCred’s Michael Brenner:
Content Marketing is the process of continuously publishing content that people want (vs. advertising that attempts to interrupt the content people want) to help connect your brand to its audience.
This definition homes in on the fact that content marketing should be an ongoing process. If you were to do content marketing only for a few months, I guarantee you that you won’t see results. And yes, your content should be about what people want, not what you want to sell. (More on this later, below.)
Finally, Unbounce defines content marketing as follows:
The discipline of creating editorial content that serves a business objective, such as attracting prospects, establishing credibility or converting customers. Content marketing is about building a long-term relationship with your audience while delivering as much value and delight as possible.
The great thing about this definition is that it combines the two above. Yes, it’s about strategic business objectives, but it’s also about building a long-term relationship with your target audience and turning them into advocates for your brand.
What content marketing isn’t
Not all content produced by marketing is considered content marketing. Content marketing has to provide value to your target audience—and it can’t be about your brand.
One of the biggest mistake you could make in content marketing is talking too much about what you have to offer. Content marketing isn’t a thinly veiled sales copy. When you focus your content on your products’ features, you miss the opportunity to create a trusting, more meaningful relationship with your audience.
How popular is content marketing?
As you might expect, content marketing is already HUGE. According to Content Marketing Institute, 86% of B2B marketers and 77% of B2C marketers indicate that their company already do content marketing. Other interesting stats about content marketing’s popularity include the following:
- Businesses spent $145 billion on content marketing in 2014, according to an estimate from PQ Media
- 13% of digital marketing budgets now go to content marketing—just behind PPC
- 73% of marketers plan to increase their content marketing budget in 2015—ahead of other types of digital marketing, even lead generation
Is content marketing effective?
It depends who you ask. Most marketers believe that content marketing is effective, as this infographic shows.
That said, there are also some incredible stats that show how inefficient and ineffective content marketing could be. According to SiriusDecisions, 60 to 70% of content produced by B2B companies goes unused. Similarly, a study from Kapost shows that almost $1 billion is wasted in ineffective and inefficient B2B content marketing.
Important content marketing concepts to keep in mind
As a marketer here are some critical things you need to know about content marketing.
Before you produce your first piece of content, it’s critical to have a specific audience in mind. Go beyond demographics. What does your target audience really care about? What motivates them? What are their pain points? Create brand personas and figure out their attitudes, lifestyle, and motivations. More importantly, what are their needs?
Have one. Although blogging alone isn’t synonymous with content marketing, an authoritative blog can boost your ranking in search results and increase the likelihood that you’ll attract new customers or in-target leads. Regularly create content that’s valuable to your target audience.
When appropriate, include a call-to-action (CTA) in your content. Sometimes this is as simple as asking people to comment on your blog post or to sign up for your webinar; sometimes it’s about encouraging people to contact you for more info or sending them to a related gated piece. Provide relevant and valuable content to increase the effectiveness of your CTAs.
It’s not enough to create content—you need a plan to make sure that your content is seen by your target audience. Email marketing, social media and influencer outreach are just a few ways of distributing your content.
It’s worth adding another D here because demand generation should be one of the main purposes of your content marketing. You’re not simply creating useful content for the sake of brand recognition. Usually, your goal is to generate demand for your product or services. For B2B companies, that means that content marketing should be helping you get leads.
Create an editorial calendar and stick to it as much as possible. Be flexible and revise your editorial calendar when unexpected things come up where your company can create valuable content.
Be realistic as to how often you will be publishing new content. Make a decision about frequency and then stick to it.
Guest blog posts
Publishing other people’s blog posts is an excellent way of building relationships with experts and sharing the spotlight with them. Doing so could also result to backlinks (which is good for SEO), but more importantly, they create goodwill. Guest bloggers usually share their post online, which may then help drive more traffic to your blog and website.
“Make customers the hero of your story.” – Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs
Your content marketing shouldn’t be about you. Instead of constantly telling stories about your brand, make your customers (and your target audience) the hero. Answer their questions and provide value.
Visual storytelling has always been part of the human nature, so be sure to add well-researched, well-designed infographics to your content marketing mix. Consider putting your infographics on Slideshare and embed them in your blog posts and articles.
Think like them. They are trained storytellers, so evaluate how they craft their stories and try to emulate them. Learn about the inverted pyramid method of writing.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is no longer about just keywords (thank goodness for that!), but you should still consider them. Here are some tips on how to incorporate keywords in your SEO strategy.
- Think about the keywords that your customers would use to find you online. This is crucial as your customers may not necessarily know industry jargon.
- Use Google’s Keywords Tool to evaluate keywords you have in mind and related keywords you may not have thought about.
- Instead of worrying too much about your keyword density, insert your keyword(s) in your title and in your headings, and use them naturally throughout the copy.
In the context of digital and content marketing, a landing page is usually a standalone web page distinct from your website designed to get your visitor to take action. For example, if you produce gated ebooks as part of your content marketing strategy, you can send visitors to a landing page, with the intention of getting them to fill out a form.
Use data to measure your efforts. But don’t just measure anything. Here are a few tips when it comes to measuring your success:
- Align business objectives with what you’re measuring. Doing so allows you to better communicate your ROI to the decision-makers in your company.
- Install Google Analytics on your website and learn how to use it. Create advanced segments to better understand your various audiences.
- Measure actionable data. For example, if you determined early in the process that ‘shareability’ is important, you could track the number of tweets or re-shares. However, if social media spread isn’t part of your goals, there is really no need to track these metrics.
Newsjacking means capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing success. Be agile, see what’s trending, and think of creative ways you can create content that relates to a current news story.
This practice can be effective, but avoid newsjacking disasters, tragedies or natural calamities. They might work, but they are almost never in good taste.
Curation is cool, but the best content marketers create original content. Think about the one thing that makes your company unique—and amplify it with your content. If there’s a piece of news that everyone in your industry is covering, for example, find a unique way of presenting it. Share your own original perspective.
You need a documented content marketing plan if you’d like to succeed. According to Content Marketing Institute, companies that have a documented strategy are more likely to be effective in their content.
Using the Q&A format regularly can be an easy way of creating effective content. For instance, interview an industry expert via email and write a blog post about it. Another popular Q&A format is posting frequently asked questions about a topic relevant to your target audience.
Increase your efficiency by using the content you already have and using it in some other form. Transcribe podcasts to turn them into blog posts. Collect your best blog posts and turn them into an ebook. Elaborate on your latest Slideshare presentation by creating a video. You get the idea — be as creative as you’d like.
Did you know that SlideShare is the world’s largest content-sharing community for professionals? It has a global audience of 70 million users. An under-utilized, easy-to-use content marketing platform, Slideshare can help you generate more leads.
Tone and voice
Be explicit about your company’s voice and brand personality, and make sure your content reflects it. Make sure everyone contributing content for your company understands the voice you’re going for. Be authentic and select a tone that is a natural fit with your brand and your target audience.
It’s worth repeating that the main purpose of content marketing is to provide value to your audience. You could mention your product or service when appropriate, of course, but don’t let this be the one message in your content.
Don’t let this be your main purpose. Virality means nothing. Going viral once doesn’t mean your future content will be exposed to more people in the future. The truth about virality is that you can’t plan it: people decide what goes viral. Focus instead on another “v”: value.
Write, write, write
Content marketing isn’t just about written content, but much of it involves writing. That’s why it’s critical as a marketer to learn how to write effectively and efficiently. Practice makes perfect, of course. I also recommend following awesome blogs and resources that showcase good writing.
I’m not referring to the show. To stand out in content marketing, you have to find your own X factor—and amplify it. Find out what’s unique about your brand—whether that’s tone of voice, visuals or something completely different—and then home in on that in everything you do.
Did you know that YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world? That’s right — more people search YouTube than Bing or Yahoo!. Compelling, useful videos should be part of your content marketing strategy.
Don’t think of content marketing as a campaign. Make it a long term commitment, something that’s part of your business. Produce zesty content—and keep your zest as you create it.
Your content marketing tips
Did I leave out any content marketing tips? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!
Note: This blog post was first published in February 2013 and has been updated with juicy and new information.