Content Marketing 101: Everything You Need to Know

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on targeting and attracting inbound customers rather than pushing content out to a broad audience. Similarly, you’re not cold-calling or sending mass mailings. Instead, you’re generating interest by creating content that your customers want to experience.

In other words, content marketing eschews the practice of mass-market advertising. Rather, content marketing focuses on attracting a clearly defined audience with free and accessible content, building a relationship with them built on trust, and hopefully turning them into long-term and loyal customers.

Advertising that fails to understand the needs of a targeted audience will result in the generation of traffic that isn’t relevant and will not help grow your business. This wasted traffic is unlikely to yield leads or sales.

By optimizing that content for relevance within a narrower audience, the traffic generated will be from customers whose interests coincide with your product or service. And that means they are more likely to engage with your content, allowing you to demonstrate your company’s values and the products and services you offer.

The best content marketing develops educational and informational messaging that generates excitement, enthusiasm, and even inspiration. This type of engagement is the most effective means of connecting with a potential customer. And that genuine connection is where you begin to develop a relationship.

One example of content marketing and its desire to attract an audience is using YouTube videos to generate traffic. Consider a series of videos featuring ideas and techniques for cooking easy midweek dinners. Your audience of home cooks is already looking for ideas, and they just found some.

Then they find links to your blogs in the video captions, and they read further about demonstrations of techniques and styles that feature your brand of dishware, towels, and non-stick pans.

The targeted audience has been reached, captured, and brought into your fold. You have planted the seeds for the growth of a long-term relationship. If you are truly effective, they will come back time and again for their dishware, towels, and pan shopping.

Why is Content Marketing Important?

Traditional advertising is an all-out assault on the entire market without refinement. In the hopes of making someone remember your business’s name, you blast your theme song on every airwave, your cute mascot features on every billboard, and you try to place your product in the hands of celebrities and influencers across the media.

You’re casting with the widest net and paying a premium to do so. That technique gets very expensive very fast. And it is increasingly less relevant in our data-driven and connected world.

Content marketing understands that people are more likely to engage with and relate to a brand that delivers something more than mass-market advertising. Instead of a frantic and unfocused universal approach, content marketing zeroes in on educating, inspiring, and connecting with customers.

For example, instead of coming up with yet another new radio jingle for your swimming pool safety business, a content marketing campaign might revolve around a Youtube interview with the business owner whose child fell victim to a swimming pool accident.

His most relevant audience (parents of small kids with swimming pools) gravitates to his brand because by telling his sad story, he related to them and their feelings.

A series of blogs and videos with safety tips featuring their line of splash alarms, door sensors, and self-locking gates will create a resource that will continue to attract the same audience long-term, even if the individuals change.

There will always be anxious parents trying to protect their young children from a swimming pool accident. You’ve sent a clear message that your business tunes into their needs, and you also reinforce your authority and authenticity with educational and inspirational content.

This ability to capture and retain customers through interaction with content is what makes content marketing so important.

Benefits of Content Marketing

Content marketing doesn’t have just one upside. It tends to be less costly than traditional advertising because it focuses more narrowly in scope and scale. An ad campaign that features across media in magazines, television, and direct-mail advertising isn’t automatically a bad thing. But, it is clumsy compared to the precision of directed content marketing.

But why is it so beneficial?

Content marketing doesn’t end when your ad campaign does. Unlike a traditional ad that stops when you stop paying for it, content lives forever. A high-quality video demonstration or a focused and relevant article can generate returns on your initial investment for days, weeks, months, and years.

High-quality, relevant content helps build a bond with an audience instead of limiting your relationship to the act of buying and selling. So you reap the benefits of growing your credibility, influence, authority. And all the while, you are developing the sort of brand loyalty that you need to drive future leads and sales.

Understanding Customers and Laying a Foundation

Whatever the size and scale of your business, an effective content marketing effort starts with a whole team approach that incorporates various aspects of your marketing strategy. You don’t necessarily need to hire a dozen full-time staff to meet your needs, though.

Take advantage of outsourcing, freelancers, independent consultants, your existing workforce, and outside contractors. But, make sure you cover all the bases. Your team has to report to a manager, and it has to be effective, cohesive, and synergistic across the rest of your operation.

To be effective with content marketing, someone will need to act as the project coordinator or manager. Then others need to own all of the roles that come into play for effective content marketing:

  • Content creator
  • Copy editor
  • Researcher
  • Content curator
  • Graphic design
  • Brand monitor

The same person can probably act in numerous roles. But, be aware of changing dynamics and workloads. At the outset of a content marketing campaign, you might have almost no need for a curator. But as your archive of content grows, that role will need increasingly robust attention.

It’s important to avoid cutting corners. Regardless of the scale of your project or how long it’s been in process, you will need a complete team. To revisit our previous example,  you will need someone to curate your content library from day one. You need to maintain the content you have already created for it to continue to yield leads.

So make sure someone owns the role of keeping it updated, relevant, and on-message. All your hard work will end up useless if the links are outdated and the content is no longer on point.

Your brand needs to have a consistent message, tone, presentation, and voice. Everything from fonts, logos, styles of language, to the use of punctuation, needs to be precise and uniform across all fronts and channels. Make sure to implement and refer to clear guidelines to keep your messaging consistent.

You may also want to set some goals for your content marketing right out of the gate. Orientation toward a series of goals will help you chart and measure your progress while staying aware of all the aspects of your content marketing.

Return on investment (ROI) is probably the most fundamentally important metric for a business owner. The bottom line is something to keep a careful eye on. But ROI also dovetails with the cost per acquisition, a measurement of revenue brought in based on an entire campaign, and the comparison of the total cost versus the number of sales generated.

Other benchmarks, goals, and meaningful metrics to consider are:

  • Customer service and onboarding
  • Brand awareness and visibility
  • Authority, credibility, and influence
  • Website traffic and unique hits
  • Lead generation vs. closed sales
  • Customer acquisition and capture
  • Brand loyalty and customer retention
  • Customer referrals and repeat buyers

All of these metrics will help you gauge your success as a content marketer. By remaining aware of them, you can remain poised to remedy any issues that arise rapidly. And with that sort of agility, you can keep your momentum going forward.

Setting a Strategy

You have laid a solid foundation for your content marketing project. You have established a team to handle the work, and you are ready to start meeting goals. Before you can set and lock in your strategy, you have to take the time to understand your customers’ journey. Some refer to his concept as a sales funnel, but the idea is the same. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

Buyers go through a process before they commit to a purchase. That process defines the content that will be most relevant at the various stages of your customers’ experiences. When your marketing content first captures them, they have only just recognized your brand or realized they need help.

As they move deeper into the funnel, they are trying to gauge the usefulness, trustworthiness, and relevance of your brand or product. And once they are at the bottom of the funnel and committed to making a purchase, they still might need something to reinforce their commitment.

Let’s break that funnel concept down into a real-world example.

Imagine a business that sells a series of devices that detect water issues in a building and send email and text messages to the owners. Their strategy might start with a series of helpful videos for repairing the top five water issues in a home. Here is how it might work in practice.

Suppose a potential customer discovers water on the floor in their basement from an overflowing drain. They step into their basement to do some laundry, and their foot is underwater. They can’t afford to call the plumber again, but they know this drain backs up occasionally.

They are first captured by the funnel when they search the web for solutions for stopped drains, and they find your video demonstrating how to clear a clog in a basement floor drain. They use the technique shown in your video to clear the blockage and start draining the water.

After some time spent cleaning up, they are back at the computer looking for a long-term solution.

They bookmark your video, and while they’re doing so, they notice a link in the caption to your in-depth articles on preventing drain blockages, sanitizing after a flood event, and removing bad odors from a damp basement.

They also see another video showcasing the effectiveness of inexpensive connected devices that send alarm notifications via email and texts. They continue their journey deeper into the funnel and click on your product link for a basement floor water detector.

They are already likely to buy your flood detection and notification product. But your content goes a step further toward reinforcing that decision with a series of honest testimonials from other customers that demonstrate the effectiveness and reliability of the product.

They might momentarily still hesitate to buy because they don’t understand the details of installing the alarm. But, there is an in-depth installation manual for all the products offered.

There’s even a blog explaining how much money one of these inexpensive home monitoring alarms can save a homeowner by alerting them to an issue before it becomes a disaster.

You have completed your sale through understanding your customer’s needs and concerns. Now it’s time to focus on continued engagement and retention. Send them an email asking how the product is working out, invite them to your Facebook page, and ask them to sign up for new product announcements.

Understanding all the steps in your customers’ experience isn’t always as transparent as the given example. That’s where brainstorming, strategy, and research come in.

Consider using these techniques to understand better how to help, serve, engage, and attract your particular customer audience.

Knowing the Competition

Every business has competition. So the first step in content marketing is to evaluate and understand what your competitors do well, how they do it, and what content of theirs is successful. It’s not just a time saver either. They have already proven the effectiveness of their content and strategy, so why not piggyback onto what they already accomplished? They are your competition, after all.

For instance, if a swimming pool maintenance company has a direct competitor that consistently takes market share away from them, go to their website. Take a deep dive!

Check out the content that they have on offer. If the competition has a series of blogs on various swimming pool maintenance topics, you should too. Whatever they have, you should consider mimicking.

Likely titles of their blogs or videos might include topics such as testing and balancing pool water, cleaning filter systems, and selecting the best patio furniture. But, you might be surprised to see what other outside-of-the-box topics work well. These can serve as inspiration for making your own content, and ensuring that it appeals to your target audience.

Common Questions

Through your experience, you know that shoppers, potential customers, and buyers all have questions at all points of their journey. List these questions out and answer them. Consider publishing a blog of ‘the top ten questions’ about your brand, product, or service. Go another step further and create an FAQ that you send to each person who registers or signs up.

Search Engine Optimization

Do your keyword research! Understanding what search terms are most frequent is imperative for creating an effective content marketing strategy. You can’t cater to customer desires or questions without a basic understanding of the primary and secondary keywords they will likely search for.

That understanding will help you design valuable content that drives web traffic to your brand or business. The best part is that the audience you are attracting will be well-targeted and relevant to your niche.

Finally, you’re ready to devise and implement your comprehensive content marketing strategy.

Creating Content

Now that you have a strategy for content marketing, you need to develop the actual content.

Whether you’re creating it yourself or hiring someone to do it for you, remember that relevancy, quality, and free distribution are the keys to content, but your content marketing can come in many forms. Some of the most common and familiar include:

  • Beneficial, inspirational, educational videos
  • Blog posts
  • Social media posts
  • Infographics, charts, maps
  • Podcasts
  • Interviews
  • Memes and images

Some other ideas that are a little bit less common are eBooks, case studies, and position papers. The most important thing is that your target audience finds the content itself to be relevant and informative. It also needs to all be consistent with your messaging.

One concept that is relatively unique to content creation is the idea of evergreen content. This content type never expires by design. Instead, it remains effective in perpetuity because it doesn’t have a predetermined end of service or time-limiting details.

For instance, an article on "the top 5 compact drills for this Christmas shopping season" is likely to only last until the turn of the calendar and the introduction of a new drill. But, an article on ‘the best techniques for using a compact drill’ will remain infinitely relevant because the techniques don’t change even when you buy a new tool.

Another concept that is popular in the content marketing world is content generated by the end-user of a product.

Consider a company that sells high-end automobile and boat cleaning supplies. Suppose they can effectively encourage their customers to create a video of their user experience. In that case, they can outsource the work of demonstrating the products and their effectiveness for a nominal cost.

A simple note on a product invoice could say, ‘send us a video of this wheel cleaner in action so we can see how easy it is to use and get your ride looking its best. We’ll offer you a 10 dollar discount on your next purchase.’

Distributing Content

Distributing content has to be done in a way that makes practical sense. For example, if your customers rarely check their email, sending a weekly newsletter to their inbox will be ineffective.

But if those same customers are avid social media users, pushing content out via your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts will be much more effective.

By having an in-depth understanding of your customer, your process of content generation yields effective distribution.

Demographics are an obvious part of the equation you can use to determine the best distribution model for your business or product. But, if you focus too narrowly, you are probably missing part of the audience. For example, if you sell custom prom dresses, your target audience is primarily made up of teenage girls who likely spend hours per day on social media.

A two-pronged approach that also delivers content to busy moms and dads of teenagers is likely to expand your reach and help you better penetrate the market.

Adding in a blog series with titles like ‘buying a prom dress without breaking the bank’ and ‘ten ways to keep your kids safe on prom night’  will focus your digital content on another aspect of your target audience that isn’t as apparent when looking purely at demographics.

If you are creating content, it is crucial to make sure that you understand the dynamics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Without a fundamental understanding of keywords, search string, and earned organic placement in search results, even the best-written content won’t help drive traffic to your site.

A glossary of SEO terms is an excellent place to start developing an understanding of the basic terminology. But, there is a steep learning curve associated with this fairly technical field of marketing.

So if you’re a novice at content marketing and SEO, you should consider bringing in a specialist. Whether it’s someone you hire as part of your staff or an outside consultant, they can help you understand what it takes to develop custom content optimized for indexing in search engines and how to integrate that content into your web presence.

If your entire workforce is spending hours a day focused on SEO and content creation, it’s likely that the rest of the critical aspects of managing the business will fall by the wayside. If the rest of the company starts to falter, even the most effective content marketing strategy won’t be successful. So it is vital that you are realistic with your expectations.

There are also opportunities to automate some of the work using technology to deliver your content marketing strategy effectively. Many different software options specialize in additional functions related to the work of content marketing.

Some focus solely on SEO and keyword research. But others are designed to facilitate automated social media posting, the planning and publishing of content, copy editing, time management, and more. By putting these software tools to work, it is more likely that your content will reach your target audience.

Of course, all of these solutions carry a price tag. But, short-term spending to achieve your marketing goals without sacrificing productivity and momentum in the rest of your business is the wise move.

Analysis and Returns

If you followed along with this guide, you have a solid foundation for your content marketing plans. You have a strategy in place, a team to deliver it, and actively develop quality content aimed at your specific audience.

Now, measuring your ROI and other content analysis will help you understand what your business is getting out of your marketing.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of only scraping the surface to analyze your content marketing’s effectiveness. Tracking the number of likes or shares doesn’t get enough of the picture to be an objective measurement of success or failure.

While a blog or social media post that generates many comments might seem compelling, is it generating leads and sales? Are you engaging and developing loyal customers? Are those customers raving about your business or product to their friends?

It is not always as straightforward as one would wish to get the answers to these questions.

But, a deeper dive into the details will definitely help reveal the hard data that you can use to quantify the progress toward your goals and the effectiveness of your content marketing strategy.

Start with the most obvious question: Is there an uptick in website traffic? An increase in the number of eyeballs that land on your website is a measurement that indicates you are effectively driving traffic your way.

Next, focus on other quantifiable data. Are the visitors to your website signing up for your newsletter? Are they creating an account and adding their email and demographic information?

The number of unique users landing on your page is important, but getting them to take the next step toward building a relationship with your business is just as important. And if you realize asking for account information isn’t working, try something new.

For instance, maybe ask each visitor to like and comment on your latest Facebook post. Offer a promotional code for doing so. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, as many of these strategies are proven effective in both the traditional and content marketing universes. By being creative and imaginative, you will increase your likelihood of success.

Now that you are deeper into the funnel see where you can further quantify customer behavior and the patterns that lead to sales. How many sales inquiries are coming in by phone? How many product inquiries hit your sales inbox? Does it vary based on the frequency of your blog or social media posts?

This type of analysis allows you to understand where your content marketing is effective and where it can use improvement. It also elucidates the behavior patterns of your customers.

For example, if your email newsletter results in a surge in calls inquiring about a particular topic, focus on the same topic in a new blog post. On the flip side of that same coin, if your email newsletter doesn’t move the needle on any of your metrics, consider shifting its tone, spending less time on it, or discontinuing it entirely.

By analyzing the underlying metrics and staying aware of the fluctuations, you won’t get locked into practices that aren’t succeeding. Instead, your business will remain flexible and responsive, crafting your content to meet the needs of your target audience.

By staying on that track, your target audience is more likely to interact with your content. And when that content is delivering quality help, education, or inspiration, you’re already on the road to earning new customers and closing more sales.

Conclusions

Creating and executing an effective content marketing campaign is a serious undertaking. It requires commitment, time, and expertise. But, it is among the most effective ways to build your business.

Let’s presume that you are not a professional writer, web developer, search engine optimizer, or data analyst. Those skills are good to have. But there are still strategies that can help you negotiate the process of effective content marketing.

As an owner who has been in the trenches managing your business, you are well-equipped to relate it to your customers and target audience. No one has a better understanding. Just because you don’t have a strong writing background doesn’t mean you don’t have stories to tell.

Make some videos that show off your skills and educate your customers. Post some action photos to social media and invite your customers to generate the written content via a caption contest: ‘What is wrong with this picture?’

Think outside the box to generate the content you need to effectively market your business. If that all fails, hire a writer to put your story into words.

Apply those same tactics to designing your web page, optimizing your content for web searches, and analyzing your data. Farm out what you can’t tackle on your own.

As you navigate the world of content marketing, it is imperative that you don’t sacrifice your authenticity. A customer can smell a fake from a hundred miles away. Tell your story. Share your experiences and worldview. Develop meaningful relationships through free content that appeals to your target audience.

This is how you use content marketing to generate leads, close sales, and ultimately grow your business.

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