You Might Already Have Good Content – A Beginners Guide To Content Marketing
If you’re new on the scene, or just not that into marketing, you may not have heard of the phrase ‘content marketing’. While it’s not exactly the new kid on the block (it’s been around for years), it is the hottest thing in marketing at the moment. 98% of marketers are now relying on content marketing as their primary source of income, both for themselves and their customers. It’s seen as the softer, more palatable cousin to the ‘hard sell’ techniques of old, and has been used for a long time in one form or another to build trust in brands.
Traditionally, the art of storytelling through physical marketing materials was the preferred method, but with digital innovations and the advent of the internet, content marketing has moved online. And boy, has it exploded. The phrase ‘Content is King’ can be heard everywhere, and now marketers are falling over themselves to generate new, exciting content to feed the ever-hungry content marketing machine. But what is content marketing? How do you create content from scratch? And what do you do with it once you have it? These are all questions we came up against ourselves, and now we want to bring the answers to you. Thanks to our own experiences with content marketing, we can show you how content marketing works, what it can do for you and how it will it help your business grow and expand.
What Is Content Marketing?
If you want to look at it in definitional terms, content marketing is ‘a strategic marketing approach focussed on creating and distributing valuable relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.’ In other words – it’s all about creating content that your prospects will find valuable, with the hidden intention of encouraging them to buy from you.
To dive a bit deeper into what the word ‘content’ means. It is another word for ‘information’. That information can take almost any form, from writing to artwork or video, but the end goal is to convey information and experiences towards an audience. For businesses, content can be anything you create for the purposes of marketing your business. So, if you’ve been around a while, the odds are you already have content, even if you don’t think you do. It’s hiding in the proposals you’ve written, where you justify your solution and how it will help. It’s in the words on your website, in the doodles used to explain how something works, and in the journey you took to get where you are now. Sure, it might need some tweaking and prettying up, but all businesses have a wealth of content just waiting to be utilised. The only question is, how?
Cue content marketing. By taking all that information and presenting it in certain ways, you can significantly increase the profitability and perception of your business. Don’t believe me? Here are just a few statistics about content marketing that will change your mind:
- Content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing
- It also generates 3 times more leads than outbound marketing
- 88% of B2B companies utilise content marketing in some form
- Conversion rates are nearly 6 times higher for business that utilise content
- Content marketing can grow unique website traffic 7.8 times more per year than other sales effort
So, you see, content really is the future of marketing. In an ever-evolving digital world, we are hungry for information, and reward those who provide us with it. If you’re not providing information in the form of content, you are perceived as less valuable. So, what are you waiting for?
Types Of Content Marketing
Unfortunately, there is no one thing that you can do that will fulfil your content marketing strategy. Content marketing is a vast plain of complicated stepping stones, that when looked at from above form a windy road to online success. Each of these stepping stones can be seen as a different type of content. To help you work out what kind of content might be right for you, we’ve compiled this shortlist:
Blog posts are still one of the more popular elements of content marketing, and pretty much the only type of content marketing that works for everyone. A blog post is essentially an article that you post on your website and then share with your customers. Blogs are a fantastic way of keeping your customers engaged with your brand over a prolonged period, developing a relationship with them before they decide to buy. It’s also great for SEO, and will help your business rank highly on all major search engines. In fact, many businesses blog for this reason alone, with the customer relationship aspect being secondary. Your blog posts shouldn’t be about your solutions though, not really. Instead, you should be focussing on the wider issues your customers will be facing. What problems do they have? What do they want to know? Great blogs are a mix of informative, enlightening, brand-developing content and a tiny bit of sales thrown in at the end. Generally, we recommend blogging twice a month, so you have a lot to work with.
One of the more contentious areas of content marketing is email newsletters. This is where you send out a carefully crafted email to a list of people, hoping for a response. There are two schools of thought on this. One states that newsletters should be very sales focussed, crammed with offers and exclusives to entice people to you. But unless you are a big, well-known brand like Ikea or Tesco, this approach rarely delivers results. Instead, we find that newsletters that aim to inform, educate or entertain elicit a more positive response. But the key to all of that is ensuring the right people are receiving your newsletter. Building an effective, targeted mailing list can be difficult, and this is where many businesses fall down. Don’t get us wrong – email newsletters can be incredibly effective content marketing tools – but they are one of the hardest to get right!
Unless you’re a graphic designer (or know one who owes you a favour) infographics are something you’re going to have to pay for. But, it’s worth it, because they are the content marketing equivalent of gold dust! Social media engagement with infographics is generally higher than any other form of content (other than video) and they’re an excellent source of extra content for you. But the best thing about infographics is that they are an effective way to visually communicate useful aspects of your brand’s story. This may be a problem/solution statement, an overview of the industry or perhaps a fun look at an aspect of what you do. Whatever the case, infographics are a great way to communicate your expertise with your customers. And what’s more, they are woefully underused!
Video is fast becoming one of the most popular forms of content marketing out there, for a few different reasons. For one, since Google bought YouTube in 2006 they have heavily favoured video in search results. But above that, video generates a very high engagement rate. Video marketing can take many forms – from simple brand introduction videos to video testimonials or entertaining problem/solution statements. Video marketing can be very effective, but it can also be expensive, particularly for start-ups. However, it’s well worth investing in if you can.
Case studies work very well for service-based businesses because they are very much solution focussed. A good case study will look exclusively at one customer, and frame the problem they were having for the reader. It’s a good idea to choose common problems, as these will resonate with a wider audience than more unique ones. The case study will then outline the solution you implemented, along with any hiccups or changes along the way. Throughout this, quotes from the client about the service will be woven in, lending some creditability to the piece. So instead of it being an exercise in blowing your own trumpet, a case study allows your customers to explain in their own words how much you helped them. Done properly, a case study will help you gain new clients with similar problems, all based on the words of your previous clients.
White papers are a much longer form of content, and at the moment are mainly used in the more technical sectors. They are essentially educational essays used to demonstrate your knowledge, technical advantage or business solutions. They are essentially very long case studies. But instead of talking to your customers and focussing on a specific experience, a white paper focusses on problems your customers face, and how you can solve them. White papers give a lot of information away, but they are also incredibly powerful tools for establishing credibility, trust and your position as a trusted advisor and subject matter expert. They are also incredibly useful for generating that email list we talked about earlier – all you do is put the white paper behind a barrier, so truly interested users will have to give you their name and email address to gain access. Almost any business can make use of white papers, but many don’t, so it’s a great way to get ahead of the curve.
This is more of a ‘catch all’ section, as social media is fuel for another article this length in itself! Social media is both a platform and a content type – it’s both the medium and the message. It’s great at both amplifying the content that you produce elsewhere (for example, your blog posts or videos) or it can be content in itself. Social media has become an indispensable and inseparable part of content marketing. As both a projector of your message and a conduit for your brand values, social media should be considered at every stage of the marketing process. It needs its own plan, its own content fuel and its own measurement strategies.
Now, that list is by no means exhaustive – we would be here for a very long time if we listed every single kind of content marketing there is! But it gives you a flavour of what you’re dealing with. Not all of those approaches are going to work for every business either. For example, high street retailers will find it impossible to put together customer case studies, but they will generally do very well on social media. Some business models simply don’t lend themselves to newsletters, while others thrive on in-depth white papers to discuss their solutions. The key is in finding the magic combination that works well for you and focussing on that. Otherwise, you risk spreading yourself too thin and not really succeeding at anything. Which brings us quite nicely on to our next point.
Time To Get Strategic
Sadly, creating the content is the last slab in the yellow brick road to content marketing success. Before you start creating anything, you need to understand what you are doing, why you’re doing it and how you can make it successful. That means a lot of planning, testing, measuring and adjusting as you go. To make the most out of content marketing, you need to have a strategy in place before you start. This will help you understand all those vital elements and inform any decisions you make.
But more than that, content marketing is an active process that involves a lot of care and attention. And just like any other marketing effort, it goes through stages, each of which has its own demands and requires different things from you. You could sum up those stages as:
2. Creation of Content
5. Realignment of Strategy
9. Go back to step 5
As you can see, all that starts with defining your content marketing strategy. Figuring out what you are hoping to achieve with content marketing, what you need to do to achieve that and how it will be measured. It pays off to spend some time at this stage, even if you have to tweak it later on. Over 80% of content marketing efforts without a strategy in place will fail, and they can sometimes have quite serious ramifications to the business reputation as well. But if you have a strategy, you can guarantee you’ve thought of everything (within reason), so your content will be more coherent, and therefore more effective. Once you’ve identified your content marketing strategy, all that remains is to create the content and promote it to the world through as many channels as you can.
How To Create A Strategy
That’s all well and good, but unless you’re in content marketing already (in which case, why are you reading this?) then you might not really know how to create a strategy. That’s why many businesses end up without one. And guess what? Their content marketing tends to fail. Strategy is vital for content marketing success, so rather than leave you twisting in the wind, we have some tips for creating your own.
Before you start launching into writing your first blog post, you need to work out what the point is. Working out the objective of your content marketing will help you to work out what you need to do, when and how. In other words, it informs everything else. So, ask yourself, what are you trying to achieve? This is an often-overlooked step. After all, how will you know whether you have been successful if you haven’t defined a clear set of objectives? For most businesses, the goal of a marketing campaign is to sell more products or services. But this isn’t the only objective you can have. For example, you could also want to increase brand awareness, improve public relations or challenge the public perception of your company. The most important part of setting yourself content marketing objectives is to be precise and specific. So instead of saying ‘we want to get more sales’ (which isn’t very measurable), your objective should be ‘we want to increase sales in the South West by 40%’. This will help you plan clearly and measure effectively.
Now that you have your objectives, you can do some demographic research. A demographic, in marketing speak, is your audience, or more specifically, it’s how your audience is made up. This section is all about understanding exactly who your customers are, what they like and dislike, what motivates their purchasing and what their behaviours are. All of this information helps you target your content marketing efforts to appeal to them. If you’ve written a business plan, you should have all of this written down already. If you haven’t, or if it’s changed since you wrote your plan (as these things do), then it’s time to start again.
So, ask yourself this, if someone who didn’t know your business asked you ‘who are your customers’, what would you say? If your answer is ‘everyone’, then I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. Even the largest companies in the world can’t make that claim. Healthy eaters dislike McDonald’s, PC users don’t tend to buy Apple computers and not everyone drives a Volkswagen. Professional content marketing campaigns are targeted at specific demographics to achieve results. For example, after research, you may find that your product sells particularly well to women aged 25-35. With that information, you could make the decision to publicise your product on Twitter, where that demographic is strongly represented. You could also decide that placing an advert in a classic car magazine would be pointless, since your target demographic isn’t really represented there. This is an extreme example of course, but it just goes to show that demographic research informs the bulk of decisions you will make in the content planning process, so it’s not a step you want to skip.
Once you’ve worked out the why and how, it’s time to put together the what. By now, you have a good idea of what you’re trying to do, and who your target audience is, so the rest is straightforward. You just need to work out what you will produce, and what platforms to put it on. Planning out the platforms and their content in advance will help you create a truly effective marketing campaign. Blogs, videos, podcasts and other long-form content can be a great way to communicate your message, while social media helps you amplify that content and get it out into the world. There is something of a symbiotic relationship between all these different types of media, all of which helps you in building a content plan.
When creating your content plan, it’s important to be specific. Otherwise, you end up with ‘I’ll write 4 tweets a day and 2 blog posts a month’, and this is hard to stick to, especially if you’re busy. So, plan your blog post titles, define the content and frequency of your tweets and create a concrete plan for the entire month. Make sure you’re planning themed content for important holidays or seasonal events, and any other industry specific happenings in the year that could give you an opportunity to inject some personality and flavour into your content. This all slots together to create a schedule for your content. Scheduling is often tricky, particularly if you have no experience of it. But it has been proven time and time again that regular, timely content performs much better than marketing materials that are haphazardly flung out into the void. So, it’s important that you create a realistic content schedule that you can stick to early on. Don’t forget to build in time to plan and produce the content, brainstorm ideas, and the time it will take you to upload and schedule all of these things. Believe us, it takes longer than you would think!
If you’re struggling to visualise all of that, the easiest thing you can do is buy yourself a medium-sized desk calendar and only use it for content. That way you can note down what needs to go out, when and on what platform in one place. It also helps you work out when you would need to plan for each one, helping you build it into your own daily schedule.
So now, it’s on to the actual meat of it – creating the content! Here is another trip hazard for businesses, particularly those who aren’t all that geared towards marketing. All those things on your content marketing plan need to be designed, created and put out into the world, which can take a huge amount of time and specialist skill. If you enjoy these tasks, and have the time to dedicate to them, taking on the content production yourself can be incredibly rewarding. However, for some business owners, finding time to produce the required amount of content is just not possible. This is where outsourcing can save your life.
Many small business owners are reluctant to outsource at all, but particularly when it comes to portraying their business to the world. They pour their heart and soul into creating their business, which can make it difficult to let go at times. But, there are only 24 hours in a day, and most people need to sleep for about 1/3 of those. So, you should be totally honest with yourself: do you really have the time and skills necessary to produce the required amount and quality of content? If you know what you need and know you won’t be able to handle it, spend a little time finding a trusted partner you can delegate it to. Not great at writing? Hire a copywriter. Don’t know the ins and outs of Twitter? There are social media companies just waiting to help you. Don’t have the time to create your corporate videos? There are other businesses who do nothing else. Content marketing is one of the largest outsourced areas of marketing there is, especially for smaller and medium-sized businesses who need all their energy and time to deliver their products.
Publication And Management
Once you have all your content created and ready, that just leaves the niggly little task of publishing it and measuring its success. Here, again, it’s useful to plan. Work out who will be responsible for publishing what, and ensure they know that! Consider whether items will all be uploaded live, or whether they will be created in bulk and then scheduled in advance. Here it really is down to how you prefer to operate, as everyone is different. But if you could take one tip from us – publishing and managing content across multiple platforms is a time-consuming job, and often works better if you simply dedicate a chunk of time to it in one go, rather than spreading it out.
But you aren’t alone. There are some great tools out there to help with the automation of repetitive content tasks. One of the most popular tools for social media management at the moment is Hootsuite, which will allow you to schedule social media posts across most of the important platforms. IFTTT (If This Then That) is an automation tool that lets you integrate different web-based services and create a domino effect of actions. For example, you could create a rule that says, ‘when I tweet, post that tweet to my business Facebook page’. Or another that sends out tweets every time you publish a new blog. There are literally hundreds of these tools out there, from simple free to use tools to all singing, all dancing content solutions. The best way to find out which is best for you and your business is by trial and error. There’s really no substitute for first-hand experience.
Despite us telling you all of this, there really is no set formula for content marketing strategy. There is no rule set you need to follow, or way to plan it all out. Some people prefer very intricate, detailed plans worked out months in advance, while others are perfectly happy with a few sheets of A4 for the year. It’s all about how comfortable you are with the work, and what works best for you. The best way to discover this is to try out a few different ways of working, or go with your gut.
And remember, your business is already teeming with great content. It’s all in your head. The knowledge you have of your industry, the experiences you’ve gone through and your brand story are all fantastic fodder for content marketing. The key is to provide useful, engaging information for other people. This will establish you as an expert in your field, and the success will just flow from there. If you struggle to create content, there are people out there who can help you. They are only a question (or a Google search) away.
At Brixx, we went through a tough process in learning how to market our own business. And in fact, we’re still going through it now. We found we knew an awful lot about what we do, but very little about how to turn that into a marketing plan. But what we quickly discovered was that one of our primary requirements – content – wrote itself for a while. Our own business’s journey has become a storytelling, and the lessons learned along the way each provided good, useful material for other businesses on the same learning curve as us. We also hoped that by becoming better at marketing, we’re also growing better at understanding who our customers are and the best ways to provide them with a useful, valuable service. Which, it’s safe to say, we absolutely did. But we’re still learning, still growing, and still generating more stories for our content marketing.
And you know what? So are you.