Before I was in marketing, I was a salesman. I sold all sorts of things including suits, jewelry, printers, and even natural gas. I absolutely hated pitching and pushing products on my customers when in many cases they were still in the research stage of the sales cycle. Instead, I was able to succeed in sales by focusing on education. This is what content marketing is all about.
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.
Essentially, content marketing is a way of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It encourages them to come to you, naturally.
Content marketing is significantly cheaper and more effective than traditional marketing. Cold calling, “spray and pray” email campaigns, and interruptive ads are increasingly less effective as technologies emerge to limit such intrusions.
Many marketers have reaped the benefits of refocusing their efforts. A study conducted last year showed that 90% of marketing agencies rate content marketing as successful.*
This style of marketing provides your buyers with information that makes them more intelligent. The idea is that if you provide consistent, ongoing, valuable information to buyers, they will eventually trust you enough to reward you with their loyalty.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when developing your content marketing strategy:
1. Know Your Audience
The first thing to consider is who your audience is. Your goal should be to provide them with solutions to their problems. But, what are their problems? To figure that out, you need ask questions about your individual customers.
Which stage of the buying cycle are they in? Are they only aware of their problem and seeking a solution, or do they already have a solution in mind and are researching providers? What are their goals, industries, and shopping preferences, and how do they most enjoy learning?
Focus on the “why” for these answers. What really gets them going? Interview current customers. See If you notice any patterns. Understanding their common needs is the key to a powerful content strategy.
2. Choose a Topic That Matters
Deciding which problem and solution to write about can be daunting. There’s a lot of information to sort through. Thankfully, there are some great places to start looking.
- A simple keyword search can bring up a ton of resources. Ask yourself what you want to rank for when it comes to SEO. Make sure to include the topic in your title and throughout the content.
- Sales/Support FAQ’s are an excellent resource for topic ideas. See if any competitors or gurus in your industry have already attempted to solve common problems.
- Internet Forums are a great way to see what people are talking about or having trouble with. If you see consistencies regarding your industry, consider focusing on those.
- Industry News Sites: Where do people in your line of work get their news about ongoing trends or transactions? This is a great place to find fresh topics to discuss.
Also, primary sources are often the most accurate. Get it straight from the horse’s mouth. Ask your customers what their goals and challenges are!
3. Not All Content Formats Are Created Equal
Once you’ve chosen your topic, you need to think about how you’d like to present that information to your target audience. Which format you use depends on who you are creating content for, how much time you have, and how much information you have to present.
It’s important to keep variety in your content formats, so you can compare them and see what works best for your audience.
Ask yourself how your audience learns. Are they visual? Perhaps an infographic would be best. Are they used to reading blogs? Are they more technical? Which devices do they use? Are they on the go and needing something that’s responsive with smartphones and tablets?
Which stage of the sales process are they in? If they are just becoming aware of a problem, editorial content, analyst reports, or an ebook might do the trick. Have they identified that problem? Perhaps a video or webcast would be better. If they have already decided how they want to solve the problem, but are trying to decide who should provide the solution, something more aggressive like a case study, vendor comparison, or live demo could be best.
Here’s a quick guide to choosing the right content format.
4. Less is More
Whichever content format you choose, the old Navy adage holds true: keep it simple, stupid!
Stick to one topic. Don’t confuse or overwhelm your audience by discussing two totally different problems. Your prospects are busy. Make it easy for them to digest your content in between meetings, chats, emails, and assignments. Try to include a lot of white space to avoid a cluttered look.
5. Education, Not Promotion
Become the Wikipedia of your industry by educating your audience about what you know and what they want to know. Leave the self-promotion for later in the sales cycle. Education is essential to building trust with your prospects. 80% of people appreciate learning about a company through custom content.
Check out Orkin’s Pest Library. Often when people search for information about an unwelcome critter in their home, results will come up with a page from Orkin’s website that provides a plethora of information regarding the pest they are having problems with. This knowledge base demonstrates they know what they are talking about and establishes credibility with their audience.
Also, consider that you are trying to provide content that people will want to share with their own audiences. One easy way to make social media work for you is to deliver something someone will be proud to share. It’s the easiest way to turn your customers into advocates for your brand.
6. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
“Sustaining an audience is hard,” Bruce Springsteen once said. “It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time.”
Publish consistently and frequently with a scheduled time for content creation. Don’t procrastinate. Keep the content simple and short if it helps. What’s more important than length is the quality and consistency of your content.
This is not only a good way to establish trust and authority with your audience, but you will also be rewarded for your efforts with better SEO rankings. Over time, you will become a go-to for people looking for answers about your industry. There’s no better way to establish your brand’s credibility and strengthen the reach of your content.
7. Analyze Your Results
Once you’ve distributed your content, you need to measure its efficacy. Why did or didn’t it work? If you consistently deliver varying content, you will have a bigger and bigger sample to sort through over time. You will continue to accurately cater to your audience and adapt your content to their ever-changing needs.
Here are some metrics to consider when analyzing your content:
- Number of visits
- Inbound links
- Social proof, share-ability
- Leads generated
- Content performance by format
- Content performance by topic
- Content performance by author
8. Marketing Automation Is the Future
One of the most effective ways to analyze all of this data is to use a marketing automation platform as part of your content marketing strategy.
With the advancement of technology in recent decades, marketers have had to adapt to many changes. First, everyone had to have a website, then a social media strategy, and now marketing automation has become the latest way to stay ahead of the competition. It is expected to be a $5.5 billion industry by 2019.
Marketing automation platforms like SharpSpring allow you to track which content campaigns are generating the most leads and which may need to be reworked.
It also gives you the option to gate some of your most enticing content behind forms, which when filled out send you valuable information about your visitors and their behavior through tracking codes.
You can then automate intelligent email campaigns to target those visitors based on the information they provided to you in the form, any actions they took on your site, and which content they viewed.
There is no shortage of avenues when it comes to content marketing strategy, but you can sort through the clutter by finding out as much as you can about your audience and the solutions they are seeking.
Keep your message simple and stay educational at first. Don’t blow a lead by promoting your brand too soon or aggressively. People will come back for your content if you keep the quality, consistency, and frequency high.
Once you’ve chosen the right content format and distributed it, analyze the results using a marketing automation platform.
Content is only limited by your imagination. Make some time to be creative and get started on driving more business to your product.
*Content Marketing Trends 2015 Benchmarks from the Agency Perspective – Ascend2 Research Conducted in Partnership with SharpSpring