Although content marketing in one form or another has actually been around since the dawn of modern advertising in the late nineteenth century, the Internet has changed the game enormously. Today, content marketing is now considered to be an essential part of any digital marketing mix, whether we are talking about B2C (business-to-consumer) or B2B (business-to-business) marketing. The increase in the popularity of content marketing reflects the changing attitudes of consumers who, given the wide availability of information by way of the Internet, are far more interested in content which offers something of value to them rather than constantly being bombarded with advertisements as we are already.
Traditional advertising still plays an important part in the mix, particularly for larger businesses with higher budgets, but raising brand awareness and engagement with consumers relies on things like content marketing. Hundreds of millions of people go online every day to find answers to their questions, solutions to their problems, something to change their lives or simply something to entertain them. As a business making its foray into the modern world of online marketing, you will need to offer this value to your intended audience in order to achieve your goals.
This guide serves as a primer for content marketing by explaining how it works, why it is important and how to adopt the best practices throughout your strategy.
In the modern sense, content marketing is all about publishing material online which is useful or entertaining in some way to its intended audience. Content marketing is NOT about advertising in the traditional sense, but rather about earning the trust and respect of the target audience to such an extent that a brand becomes better known as an authority in its niche, ultimately leading to increased website traffic and conversion rates.
The earliest forms of content marketing date back to the late nineteenth century when various food manufacturers started to print recipes on their packaging. Rather than advertising as such, these recipes provided something genuinely useful to the consumer by offering tips and ideas on how to best use their products. Manufacturers do exactly the same today, but the Internet has greatly opened up far more possibilities. Today, content marketers can choose from a whole range of different formats and methods to engage their intended audience. For example, a business in the food industry today might maintain a blog on which they regularly post recipes and other content on the subject.
Content marketing is not a vehicle of promotion in itself. Unlike traditional advertising, which deploys a push strategy to directly drive sales, content marketing can best be summed up as a pull strategy which draws in a voluntary audience to increase brand awareness.
A content marketing campaign should have a completely different set of goals to those of traditional advertising. Where conventional advertising, whether in the form of a pay-per-click ad on the Web, a television advert or anything else, interrupts people, great content encourages consumer engagement by drawing in its intended audience. The key principles of any successful content marketing campaign revolve around the following goals:
Keeping the above goals in mind when conducting your ongoing content marketing campaign can be extremely beneficial for any business, whether you're involved in the business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) industry. Delivering high quality content consistently presents the potential to offer tremendous rewards such as the following:
The above benefits are just some of the rewards you can expect from a successful content marketing campaign, but this does not mean that it will be an easy task. Content requires long-term dedication, creativity, knowledge and skill.
Long gone are the days when the Internet was all about simple, primarily text-based websites. Things have moved on a great deal since then, opening up numerous possibilities including streaming video, online slideshows and presentations, infographics and more. Blogging has also become enormously popular in recent years, both among businesses and individuals. With such an extensive range of possibilities to choose from, you might initially have trouble finding a solid starting point. After all, different content formats suit different industries and marketing campaigns. The following gives an overview of the most important content formats and how they can best fit into your marketing strategy:
Blogging is perhaps the most popular medium for content marketing, and it is one which suits pretty much any type of business or industry. A blog often acts as the centrepiece of a content marketing campaign around which all other channels revolve. A blog is an ideal platform for providing a consistently regular stream of content to keep your audience engaged, ideally to the extent that they sign up to your email newsletters or subscribe to your RSS feeds or social media profiles. A good blog should encourage conversation through comments and shares on social networks and bookmarking websites. A good blog is also likely to do well in the search engines, increasing your exposure even more.
Social networks are great platforms for any business to promote their other content (such as new blog posts) and get involved in community discussions. In this sense, social media marketing is basically a form of content marketing itself. However, while social media has become an essential part of any modern advertising strategy, regardless of the type of industry and market concerned, there are different networks for different niches. While every business can make use of Facebook, Twitter and Google+, there are other networks with a more specific focus. B2B marketers, for example, often consider the professionally-orientated LinkedIn to be their number one social media resource.
Email marketing is another area of content marketing, and while it is extensively used and abused by spammers aggressively attempting to drive sales, an opt-in email newsletter still provides an exceptional return on investment, provided you go about it in the right way. For example, people who like your blog or website enough will likely want to subscribe to your email newsletters to receive regular alerts on new content and updates on your business or products. Email newsletters can also be used to deliver more personalized content based on previous purchases and preferences specified during the signup process, making them a valuable resource for lead nurturing.
White papers are topical reports on a specific subject. Unlike typical blog posts, which tend to be in the region of 400-1000 words in length, a white paper is a more in-depth and focussed report typically being upwards of 2000 words. White papers tend to take a more professional and authoritative approach than other content formats, making them particularly important in B2B marketing. You can use your blog, social media profiles and other channels to promote your white papers.
E-books are the mother of all text content. They don't necessarily take a technical approach to the subject at hand as white papers often do, making them suitable in both B2C and B2B marketing. An e-book is something which tends to come later on in a content marketing strategy, largely because there is a lot of work involved and a great deal of experience and content is required. Once your business has mastered the other forms of content marketing, you will have a great deal of material at your disposal which you can repurpose in the form of an e-book to deliver to the most information-hungry among your audience. Unlike printed books, e-books should usually still stick to a Web-friendly format including scannable content and plenty of illustrations.
An infographic is a format for visual storytelling by way of text, images, graphs and other visual elements. Infographics are good for delivering data-driven content, particularly on subject matters which many people tend not to find very interesting when delivered entirely in a textual format. They are also good for simplifying more complex subject matter and making it more digestible to a wider audience. A great infographic must be visually appealing and designed by a creative mind. You can publish your infographics on your blog, on social networks (particularly visually orientated ones such as Pinterest) and in your email newsletters. This format can work for any industry, whether in B2B or B2C markets.
Images and slideshows are ideal for more visual industries, such as those in fashion, cuisine, travel and photography. Some of the most popular websites in the world, such as Flickr, Instagram and Pinterest, are focussed entirely on visual content. Images should be a part of any content marketing strategy to a degree - you can and should use image content in your blog posts, e-books, white papers, infographics and email newsletters. Another great resource for publishing and promoting images and other visual presentations is SlideShare.
The fact that YouTube is the third-most visited website in the world should be enough to tell you just how popular streaming video has become. While some people would rather read about certain subjects than watch videos, others feel the opposite way, and many businesses can benefit from offering video content as well. It doesn't have to be particularly expensive or difficult either, and YouTube is completely free to use. While video is not a suitable format for many types of content, it is ideal for things like tutorials, product reviews and entertainment. Successful video marketing campaigns are often those which commit to publishing a series of related videos to help build up interest over time.
Ideally, you'll want to choose a selection of different formats for your content marketing campaign while making sure that they are all closely linked together so that your target audience can easily find the format which they prefer. The best place to start is with a blog and your social media profiles, both of which are crucial in any modern business marketing campaign.
Consistently delivering high quality content which keeps your existing audience interested while also drawing others in is no easy task, and a lot of content marketing strategies fail because of this. This section takes a look at some of the best practices for formulating and maintaining a successful marketing strategy, regardless of the formats and resources you use.
Although content marketing goals can be far-reaching, it is important to establish a set of goals from the very outset of your marketing campaign. Your goals may include raising brand awareness, increasing newsletter signups or conducting market research just to name a few.
Your content must be relevant to its intended audience. For example, if your business is involved in the fashion industry, then you're not going to achieve much if you start blogging about food. However, there is also no harm in diversifying your content strategy a bit in order to draw more people in, as long as you know where to draw the line.
Avoid outright promotion. To begin with, your audience will be more interested in learning from you or being entertained by you rather than your products and services. Conduct your content marketing campaign in an inclusive manner by encouraging conversation and feedback rather than relying on self-promotion.
Commit yourself to the long term. Although it generally shouldn't take too long before you start seeing results, you should keep the ball rolling constantly. Have a content marketing calendar, and commit yourself to a regular publishing schedule.
Work as a team. Unless you are a solo entrepreneur, your business should conduct its content and social media marketing campaign as a team working together to exchange ideas. Alternatively, many businesses outsource their content marketing campaigns to experienced companies and individuals.
For content to become successful, you will need to put yourself in the shoes of a typical member of your target audience. Consider their needs and desires and learn what makes them tick. If you're not sure or you find yourself lacking ideas and inspiration, don't be afraid to ask. Remember that social media and content are heavily intertwined, making for a great platform for conversation.
The beauty of any form of online marketing is that it creates a vast amount of useful data. You can use this data to measure the success of every area of your digital marketing strategy. There are countless statistics to track, so you may want to have a dedicated team for this purpose with the right tools at its disposal. The most important key performance indicators that you'll need to start tracking right from the beginning are as follows:
You'll also need to break these down into multiple sections of their own to determine precisely which content is the most successful. For example, while your blog might be doing just fine to the point that it is even surpassing all of its goals, another area of your content marketing campaign might still need some work.
There are also several secondary performance metrics which you should track, including the following:
Tracking the above metrics will allow you to garner invaluable insights into brand awareness, customer engagement and conversions. With this information at hand, you'll be able to keep your content strategy moving forward at all times, hopefully to the point that you get some viral exposure.