Content Marketing: A Complete Guide

Having an engaging content marketing plan means that you have a strategy to create high-quality, valuable content that will build strong customer relationships and elevate your brand strength.

Our article covers how content-focused marketing differs from traditional advertising, how it shapes a customer’s journey with you and the components of a successful strategy.

In this content marketing guide, you’ll discover: 

 

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is the process of creating valuable, relevant content to:

  • Attract new customers
  • Acquire their custom
  • Engage their interest

But in a noisy, crowded digital space, it’s not so easy.

Buyers and customers today receive more marketing messages than ever before – more than 2,900 per day, by current estimations. This creates an environment of attention scarcity, challenging marketers to produce engaging content that cuts through the static.

A well-crafted content marketing strategy makes your business a thought leader, building brand preference as you inform and educate buyers. Providing helpful and entertaining content can form a strong bond between your brand and customers that continues to grow and strengthen over time. 

 

Content marketing vs traditional advertising.

Traditionally, marketers have had to “rent attention” from other people’s media through traditional advertising methods, including:

  • Display ads on websites
  • Booths at trade shows and marketing events
  • Emails sent to third-party lists

For example, when a brand pays millions of dollars for a Super Bowl ad, they are renting attention the TV networks have built.

Content marketing, on the other hand, brings your audience to your website, products and services through your content. Whereas TV ads or trade shows are types of push marketing, content marketing is pull marketing. It figuratively pulls people to your brand.

With a content marketing strategy, you become a publisher by building your own audiences and attracting your own attention.

By creating and distributing content that buyers find useful, marketers increase their brand awareness and preference by establishing trust with consumers as they move through the sales funnel.

Additionally, brands consider content marketing less costly than some strategies. It can, however, have a slower start while your content library grows and reaches a larger audience. 

 

Content marketing and the customer journey.

Today, customer experience is everything. 73 percent of customers say getting it right can help to influence their buying decision. Personalization and the customer journey are at the heart of customer experience, yet many businesses fail to produce personalized content dedicated to each stage of the buying cycle.

Personalized marketing doesn’t just mean targeting by demographic or firmographics criteria. It also means producing content suitable for each stage of the buyer’s journey.

80 percent of people are more likely to buy a product or service when they are served content personalized to them. One way to achieve this is to understand what stage of the buying journey the customer is at, then serve them relevant content for that.

Let’s look at an example through the lens of a TV manufacturer:

  • Awareness. They discover your article on 8K TV when searching ‘what is 8K TV’ on Google. They like what they read: it helps them understand.
  • Consideration. Your content has helped them to understand what they need. Within the page is a link to a product-focused blog.
  • Decision. They read the blog, which gives an overview of your various 8K TV models. They decide which one they like, and either purchase now or bookmark for later.

This type of content shows consumers you acknowledge and value their ability to evaluate and make decisions. 

 

“Successful content marketers hit all stages of the buyer journey, from start to finish. Most brands are seriously over-weighted in the bottom of the funnel. And they miss huge opportunities to meet new customers at the point of need.” 

– Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group 

 

Common problems content marketing can solve.

Content marketing is a unique approach to engaging with potential customers. And it circumvents some of today’s biggest pain points, especially in the digital space.

Problem

Solution

I need to increase the volume of my organic search

Today 68 percent of online experiences start with a search engine. Content marketing is a great way to build organic awareness.

When your valuable content ranks highly on search engines, you’re building brand awareness at no cost. Since your content will only be shared when it’s relevant, your audience will be less inclined to tune it out. 

I need to create brand preference

Engaging content marketing creates preference through thought leadership by making you a trusted source of information and education.

You can also create preference through relationships, which are strengthened whenever your content entertains or helps your buyers.

I have a content marketing plan, but it’s not engaging my customers

Content marketing should help your customers, not sell to them. When you freely give your audience something so valuable, they’d be willing to pay for it, you build trust.

Ultimately, this relationship building is your most powerful selling tool.

I need to reach more customers, while keeping my costs low

Engaging content marketing should be part of a natural conversation with current and potential customers. It also needs to be relevant to their interests and behaviors, building a continuous story over time.

Content marketing can pay dividends for a long time, and this effect multiplies as you build out your content library.

I’m not sure how to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of my content marketing campaign

In general, content marketing can help to increase web traffic, support lead qualification (especially when content is produced by stage), and ultimately, lead conversions into sales.

Now you know what problems content marketing can solve, learn about the problems to avoid when launching your content marketing plan in our guide 8 Biggest Mistakes Content Marketers Make and How to Avoid Them.

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Components of content marketing.

Content marketing can take various forms, and in order to do it right, you’ll need to determine what type of content your potential buyers prefer to consume.

Blog posts.

Distill your digital marketing strategy into your blog schedule. Work with an in-house SEO specialist or an agency to establish what you should be writing about, then create keyword-rich, in-depth articles which directly respond to your audience’s searches.

For example, if you’re a fashion retail company, this could be articles about different fits of jeans, or an engaging overview of the latest catwalk looks. Remember, 68 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine.

Whitepapers and reports.

Whitepapers are an excellent way to nurture your leads. They enable you to create in-depth pieces that look more professional and expert than a blog post.

They also give you the space to make compelling arguments and offer insights centered on your audience. You can back up claims with tables, charts and infographics, then package up as slick PDFs. What’s more, research shows they work: some 61 percent of B2B buyers share whitepapers with their colleagues.

Video.

To effectively use video as part of a content strategy, keep it as timeless as possible. Why? So, you don’t have to continuously spend time and money creating more. High-quality video content can also be used to expose your brand to YouTube’s vast audience.

Great examples of video content include:

  • Product unboxing videos
  • How-to guides and tutorials
  • Product reviews

Some 86 percent of businesses are already using video as a marketing tool in 2022 – a significant rise on the numbers for 2016.

Infographics.

Infographics are a great way of turning dry data into something bold and engaging. Use as little text as possible and let the imagery tell the story. If you don’t have an in-house graphics artist, find a talented freelancer who can make something beautiful and informative.

For example, a survey about exercise can be transformed into a graphic that visualizes the data using contextual design motifs. They’re popular too, with 65 percent of brands using infographics for marketing.

Demos.

Everyone loves a freebie, right?  Whether it’s a free assessment or evaluation, a trial period for a product or an e-commerce coupon, these works nicely to start the dialogue and to begin to qualify your most interested leads.

For instance, if you’re selling products online, you can leverage a discount code to use at the time of the transaction, to establish urgency around making the purchase.

Discount codes are popular too. 95 percent of Americans have used an online coupon to claim a discount at least once before.

5 more content marketing tools to consider.

In addition to the main content marketing components above, there are several others to consider for your campaigns:

1. eBooks. Content should follow a narrative structure, and include good, visual design. Aim to educate but keep language consistent with your brand voice.

2. Cheat sheets. Short, two or three pages at most. There’s not a lot of room for big images, so use text formatting to make them easy for a reader to quickly scan. 

3. Workbooks and templates. Keep your brand in front of buyers, while continuing to inform. Design for print but make it as interactive and practical as possible. 

4. Slide decks. Break down complex ideas into simple steps or bite-sized pieces. Keep the slides simple: use minimal text in one font and big graphics. 

5. Case studies. Build case studies with real numbers and complete stories. This will help keep the content focused on the value and results, not the brand. 

Learn more about what content marketing can offer in our Content Marketing Cheat Sheet.

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Content marketing ROI: metrics to measure.

While content marketing ROI can be tricky to measure, the value it provides is clear if you look in the right place:

  • Content marketing is essential. 92 percent of marketers reported that their company views content as a business asset (Content Marketing Institute). 
  • Content marketing creates credibility. 96 percent of the most successful content marketers agree that their audience views their organization as a trusted resource. 
  • Content marketing brings in leads. It creates three times more leads than paid search advertising (Content Marketing Institute, 2017).  

Learn more about how content marketing contributes to your bottom line in the eBook Solved Mysteries: Tracking Your Content Marketing ROI.

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Setting your content marketing strategy.

Content marketing is a long-term strategy, so while you may have a slow start, each of these stages are vital to ensure you build a solid foundation for success. 

1. Establish SMART goals.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timebound. Goals set within this framework are achievable.

By choosing goals that are both measurable and time-bound, you can report on the performance of your campaign and ensure its delivery. Consider what you want to achieve through your content, for example:

  • Driving 20% more traffic to key product pages
  • Boosting engagement with an average of 1 minute spent on page
  • Increasing email sign ups and social follows by 15% 
  • Increasing your conversion ratio by 10%
  • Ranking position 1 in Google for 10 priority keywords

2. Create your key persona profiles.

What kind of content do you need? Your buyer personas will help you define your audience, including their:

  • Challenges
  • Questions
  • Needs

It also helps you understand the kind of content they like to consume. Likewise, their buying stages will tell you what each piece of content you create should accomplish.

3. Understand their buyer’s journey.

A buying journey maps a buyer’s decision-making process during a purchase and will help you determine what content you need. Different types of content appeal to different buyers in different stages of their journey.

By mapping your buying stages, you’ll better understand the process buyers go through when considering your product or service. As a result, you’ll be able to develop a content strategy that speaks directly to buyers, no matter what stage they’re in.

4. Set your budget.

Next, you need to establish how much you have to spend. Content marketing campaigns come in various shapes and sizes and costs can vary wildly.

Ask yourself these questions to make a start:

  • How much content are you going to create? Are you talking small, tactical campaigns, i.e., a single whitepaper or survey/press release, or content creation at scale? For example, to cover vast documents of keyword research.
  • Do you need resource to create? Do you have enough people in-house or will you need support from a third-party to create and distribute content? For example, freelance copywriters or designers or even an agency.
  • Do you need to pay for media? Organic search can get you so far, but you may want to put marketing budget behind PPC ads on Google, paid posts on Instagram and Facebook, and placed content through services like Outbrain.

5. Brainstorm, then create your content marketing plan.

Brainstorming and asset planning can be one of the most challenging and important parts of content creation. To catch inspiration when it strikes, you need a receptive environment, and team-wide willingness to try new things.

Use an editorial calendar to:

  • Keep track of, coordinate, and share your upcoming content
  • Help your team execute integrated marketing programs that include your content

Keeping an editorial calendar ensures you’re releasing your content at the best possible moment, and that your whole team is aligned around the release dates. 

6. Produce and optimize your content

If you’re starting with original, high-quality content you’ve invested time and money to create, you’ll want to get the most out of every asset. You’ll also want to be sure your content stays fresh, as out-of-date content hurts your brand’s credibility.

Get the most out of your content marketing with the three Rs: 

  • Reorganize. Reach members of your audience who like to consume content in different ways. Some people may like eBooks, while others prefer infographics, and others learn best from slide decks. Slicing and dicing allows you to reach more people with less effort.
  • Rewrite. Whenever an asset shows consistently high performance, earmark it for a future update. Eventually, the number of engagements will start to drop, which is a good sign that it’s time to update.
  • Retire. Even the best content doesn’t last forever. If a content asset needs help beyond a design refresh or simple update, it may be time to retire it. Content past its expiration date can damage your company’s authority and credibility, undoing the good work your content has done.

7. Define your distribution channels.

Whether it’s blogs, video or an eBook, once you’ve created your content marketing, you need to get it in front of people. Popular distribution channels include:

  • Owned. Sharing your content on the brand’s own social media channels, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Pinterest, is a quick, customizable, and free opportunity to connect with your target audience. 
  • Organic. Weaving SEO best practices into your content will make a good impression with Google and move your website up the rankings. A good content marketing strategy provides the information and answers your target audience wants.
  • Paid. Most social networks allow for paid advertising, such as sponsored content, pay-per-click (PPC), search engine marketing (SEM), display, and retargeting. Matching a network’s demographics with your brand’s personas will help you determine where to invest. 
  • Earned. This is the most valuable, but hardest to create. Earned social media marketing happens when your audience chooses to share your content with their network.

8. Launch and optimize.

Content at each stage of the funnel should be measured differently. After all, each stage has different goals. Here are the basic metrics for early, mid, and late-stage content:

  • Early-stage metrics. Don’t tie directly to revenue. The purpose of your early-stage content is to build brand awareness, create preference for your brand, and educate, entertain, and engage your audience. Shares, downloads, and views are your key metrics.
  • Mid- and late-stage metrics. Pipeline, opportunity, and revenue allocation metrics give insights into how your content affects deals. For mid-stage assets, you’ll want to measure how your content is generating new interest and affecting your profit.
Learn more about how to get content marketing working for you in The Definitive Guide to Engaging Content Marketing

Frequently asked questions about content marketing.

What does a content marketer do?

A content marketer is generally responsible for creating and managing campaigns that use content to deliver against set marketing objectives. For example, a content marketing campaign may aim to increase website traffic to key product pages by 10 percent.

The content marketer will collaborate with craft specialists such as SEOs, copywriters, designers and PRs to produce and execute the campaign and then report back on performance.

What are examples of content marketing?

Good examples of content marketing include informational-style articles which answer questions people have asked search engines about topics relevant to the brand’s products and services.

For instance, a bank creating guides around applying for a mortgage. Another example is a whitepaper, created for specific leads to provide thought leadership and an argument for securing buy-in on new products and services.

What is a good content marketing definition?

A good definition of content marketing is that it’s a marketing approach that uses various forms of content to attract potential customers and engage their interests in the brand. The idea is to use content types like blogs, videos and whitepapers to show you understand a customer’s needs and problems.

Then, use this content, as well as products and services, to potentially provide answers that will give them solutions.