“Content marketing” has been a popular buzz phrase in sales and marketing circles the last few years, and now the term has become more mainstream, with small business owners taking notice. But what is content marketing, exactly? Should you care about it? Why? What are some tips for developing a sound (and doable) content marketing strategy? This blog post will answer some of these pressing questions.
Content marketing is actually what it sounds like: it’s marketing your products or services through useful, relevant content. We’re not talking an explicit sales pitch. We’re talking about providing something of value to a prospective customer. The value, in essence, shows the prospect that you’re here to help, that you want to be a resource, that you are the expert in your field. The goal is that the prospect will not only appreciate the helpful content, but also remember where she got it from so that when she’s ready to buy, your company’s name comes to the top of her mind.
Content can take many forms: an ebook, a white paper, a checklist, a guide, a video tutorial, blog posts, newsletters, articles. You get the idea.
Content marketing works for one simple reason: people hate being sold to. But they like receiving help, free resources, and valuable info. With content, you can position your company as the leader in your industry AND you can give prospects a bird’s eye view of how you work, your philosophy, even your sense of humor. It eases people into the sales process, making it more enjoyable and easier for everyone.
So, should you care about it? The answer is YES, absolutely. That is, if what we just said sounds good to you (and we imagine it does; who doesn’t want an easier sales process?).
Onto the next big questions: What if I don’t have any content? How do I develop a content marketing strategy? Who develops the content itself? How much content do I need? How do I measure success? Let’s take these questions one at a time.
Q: What if I don’t have any content?
A: Repeat after us: you do have content. You have a business, right? You sell products or services or both, right? Then you have content. You’re just so close to it, you don’t realize it. Stop and think of all the questions you get from customers and prospects about your business. Now, think of all the answers you provide, all the education you offer, all the advice, all the solutions. THAT’S YOUR CONTENT.
For example, if you’re an interior designer, you may get questions about what’s “hot” or trendy for, say, living rooms. You could release a short written guide called “Trending! What’s Hot in Living Room Décor this Spring.” Notice how you can easily change the room and time of year, and suddenly you have a title for several different “guides.”
So, essentially, what you’d do is create this guide and then make it available on your website. People would need to fill out a form to download the guide, so now you’d have their info (and you’d know their interests), so you can continue to nurture them. You’d promote the guide through all of your marketing channels: social media, networking, maybe even run some locally targeted PPC ads. The content is the driving force. It’s what pulls people in because they’re interested in the topic. You get to shine and show off your expertise AND you get to continue to stay in front of the people who downloaded the form. (Note: not all of your great content will be behind a form, of course. For example, a blog provides excellent, relevant content, but people don’t need to fill out a form to see it.)
Q: How do I develop a content marketing strategy?
A: Start by sitting down and brainstorming all the different types of content you have. Again, think about all the questions you get from customers and prospects and brainstorm how you could turn these into worthwhile pieces. DON’T PANIC IF YOU CAN’T THINK OF A TON OF ITEMS. You can always outsource and get some help with this piece, but it’s still important for you to take the time to think about it and jot down some ideas.
Whether you work with a marketing firm or a marketing copywriter to develop your content strategy or you do it on your own, the same basic rules apply:
- You want your strategy to be reasonable. Producing ten guides a year might be too ambitious, but producing one white paper a quarter might make sense.
- Longer content is not always better content. Sometimes a handy, relevant “checklist” can be a great content marketing piece (and can be fairly straightforward to produce).
- Don’t skimp on the presentation. The right words are essential, but so is the layout and design. If this isn’t your skillset, outsource to a graphic designer.
- Make sure your content marketing strategy is in line with your overall marketing plan. These are not mutually exclusive things: your content marketing strategy falls under your overall marketing plan.
- Be flexible. Like everything else, your content marketing strategy needs to be fluid. If certain types of content are more popular than other types, adjust your strategy so that you’re delivering the right content to your core audience.
Q: Who develops the content itself?
A: You and your colleagues/employees are the subject experts. Whether you have the desire and the skill to write the content is another matter, of course. Even if you pen the initial drafts, you’ll want to have a copywriter review, revise, and proof each piece. And, of course, if you have no interest (or time) to do the writing, you can outsource to a copywriter from the beginning. Depending on the type of content it is, you may need a graphic designer as well (e.g. for white papers). You can contract these folks individually. Some marketing firms keep “stables” of writers and designers on hand, so working with a marketing firm is another option.
Q: How do I measure success?
A: Like any other marketing initiative, you’ll want to make sure you have a way to measure the success of each piece of content. Clicks, page views, downloads, etc. are all ways to measure the effectiveness of a particular campaign. Obviously, the big “test” is whether your content marketing strategy brings in new customers or clients. Sure, it’s nice to offer free resources to people, but you want at least some of those people to turn into customers. If this isn’t happening, re-evaluate the type of content you’re offering. You might need to target your audience better, provide different content, or both.
Q: Do you have more resources on content marketing?
A: Sure. Here are four:
- Content Marketing Trends to Adopt in 2013
- A 6-Step Content Marketing Research Process
- 20 Content Marketing Lessons from the Immortal Jimi Hendrix
- A Content Marketing Innovation Cheat Sheet
Have you defined a content marketing strategy for your business? If yes, share some of the highlights in the comments.