The marketplace we live and work in today is radically different from the one in which many of us started. Salespeople and store employees used to be the experts, and brands and businesses used to spend advertising dollars to find prospects who needed their services.
Today, the buyer is the expert and the one proactively reaching out to brands and businesses for help. For example:
- The average buyer guides themselves through 60% to 90% of the traditional sales funnel before ever contacting a brand or salesperson.
- 81% of shoppers research online before setting foot in a store.
- Consumers spend an average of 79 days conducting online research before buying.
There is an answer to this buyer-driven environment: Content. Content marketing is the process of creating high-quality, valuable content to attract, inform, and engage an audience, while also promoting the brand itself. Buyers and consumers are already searching the web for answers that your brand is uniquely positioned to offer. It’s benefits are three-fold:
- Increased brand awareness: As prospects and buyers search the web for answers to their questions and solutions for their problems, your brand continues to show up.
- Increased brand preference: Content marketing helps to further establish your brand as a thought leader in your industry, which strengthens relationships with buyers.
- Greater reach at lower cost: It is not a short-term strategy, but over time, a library of great content will continue to reach more qualified leads and interested buyers.
Content marketing is the savvy marketer’s response to the new, relationship-based, buyer-driven, digital marketplace.
Creating a Content Marketing Strategy
An effective content marketing strategy is built on two pillars that you (hopefully) have already:
- A set of robust, strategic personas, and
- An understanding of your typical buyer’s journey.
Each content asset should appeal to one (or two) personas at each stage of their buying journey, gently nudging them to the next stage.
For more help and inspiration in filling out your content marketing strategy, check out the Content Marketing Tactical Plan. This workbook is more than just info—it’s a hands-on journey complete with persona exercises, content arc charts, calendar templates, and more.
How to Design Engaging Content
Design means much more than color schemes and stock photos. The process will look different for every marketing team, and even for every team’s various content pieces.
In general, design starts at the very beginning, as you map out a content marketing strategy. Understanding the brand’s personas and marketing goals will shape the basic style of each design—each should be useful to your personas, and true to your brand voice.
A strong content marketing strategy includes a variety of content types, so as individual pieces begin to take shape, there are some specific things to keep in mind:
Distill your content marketing strategy into your blog schedule/strategy. The company blog can and should be used to cross-promote other content, which will help keep posts on a consistent schedule. If you don’t have a marketing team member who is familiar with SEO, this is one area where you might want to consult a professional.
Ebook content should follow some sort of narrative structure, and include a lot of good, visual design. The goal of an ebook is to educate (rather than entertain), but make sure to keep the language conversational if that is consistent with your brand and personas.
These are short (two or three pages at most). That means there won’t be a lot of room for big images, so you’ll want to use text formatting to make them easy for a reader to quickly scan through. Link or point to other resources for more in-depth learning.
Workbooks and Templates
A great way to keep your brand in front of buyers, while also being really helpful. These resources should be designed for print and made as interactive and practical as possible.
Whitepapers and Reports
These are similar to an ebook in that they are primarily educational materials, but whitepapers and reports are generally less graphically designed and use language that is a little more professional. They can also create opportunities to partner with other organizations.
The name says it all: just give readers info and graphics. Use as little text as possible for the former, and let the latter tell the story. If you don’t have a killer graphics artist in-house, this is one for which you might want to work with a professional.
Slide decks are a great format for breaking down complex ideas into simple steps or bite-sized pieces. Keep the slides simple: minimal text in one font throughout, and use big images & graphics.
The trick to effectively using video as part of a content strategy is keeping it as timeless as possible. Otherwise, you risk wasting resources (time and money) updating videos every year. High-quality video content can also be used to expose your brand to YouTube’s large and active audience.
Build case studies with real numbers and complete stories. This will help keep the content focused on the value and results, not the brand.
Content Marketing and Social Media
Social media is one of the primary vehicles for a content marketing campaign—especially the more entry-level, entertaining pieces. There are three tiers of social media promotion for your content:
- Owned: Sharing your content on the brand’s own social media channels is a quick, customizable, and free opportunity to connect with your target audience.
- Paid: Most social networks allow for some kind of paid advertising. Matching a network’s demographics with your brand’s personas will help you determine where to invest.
- Earned: The most valuable, but hardest to create, social media promotion happens when your audience shares your content with their networks.
Each social network tends to gather a different type of user. Match your personas to network demographics to find out where you target audience is social online, and start sharing your content. Let's cover the differences between social networks:
Facebook is still the biggest social network, and while it is the fastest-growing, that growth is slowing and shifting. At the beginning of last year, Facebook usage was growing fastest among older adults. As of January 2015, Facebook users are most likely to be college-educated, lower-income women.
Emerging markets account for 78% of the traffic on Twitter, with India as one of the fastest-growing. Statistically speaking, Twitter users tend to be recent college graduates living in urban areas.
LinkedIn is commonly known as the professional social network, and it’s obvious that its users are serious. Sixty-four percent of social referrals to corporate websites come from LinkedIn, compared to 17% from Facebook and 14% from Twitter. A glance at the demographics demonstrates that LinkedIn has the greatest percentage of college-educated, higher-income users of all the major social channels.
Consumers love Pinterest. Forty-seven percent of online shoppers have made a purchase because of a Pinterest recommendation, and Pinterest generates 4x more revenue (per click) than Twitter. Pinterest users tend to be more affluent women living in rural areas.
Content Marketing and SEO
In the same way that you take a couple extra steps to help your content succeed on social, take a couple more to help your content succeed with search engines. Weaving some SEO best practices into your content will help make a good impression with Google and move your website up the rankings list.
- Use keywords (naturally): Identify your main keyword for the content, a few synonyms, and a few related keywords. Then make sure you’re actually using them in your content, headers, and page content. Don’t over-do it, though. Search engines have been cracking down on content that is “stuffed” with one or two keywords. Write for the reader, but do make sure those important words are present.
- Earn natural links: Links from spammy sources can actually hurt your site with search engines. Build relationships with industry professionals who will share your content, and link to their primary resources in return. Links from high-quality websites will give yours a boost.
- Media: Include images and video (with descriptive titles and alt text) on blog posts and landing pages. They improve the user experience, which decreases bounce rates and improves your standing with Google.
- The strength of a good content marketing strategy is in providing the information and answers that your target audience is looking for, but your hard work is all for nought if they can’t find it! Make sure you’re creating content for the user, but that search engines will also favor.
Gated vs. Ungated Content
As you build a content library for your brand, it’s important to structure your campaign to drive specific business objectives. Content marketing is about giving away information to build relationships and earn trust, but gating some of your best content is an acceptable and valuable practice.
74% of buyers expect to access simple items—like infographics—for free, but 77% are willing to provide basic information for a white paper. Gating bigger resources is a great way to generate leads, learn which of your visitors is serious, and then nurture leads.
From Leads to Sales with Content Marketing
Todays buyers and consumers are empowered and independent, and savvy marketers meet them where they are. A robust content marketing strategy will help your brand connect and engage with your audience at every stage of the buying cycle.