Like other organizations, your business is likely wrestling with a convergence of changes that are upending the familiar tactics you’ve always used to communicate with prospects and customers.
Growing demographic diversity, the adoption of interactive technologies, and evolving media consumption habits have altered how consumers get information and how they perceive branded communication messages.
As you grapple with how to speak effectively with today’s consumers, you’ve likely heard about something called “content marketing.” Maybe you’ve read about it in an article, or perhaps a colleague or consultant has suggested it to you.
But before you dive in, you need to learn more. What is content marketing anyway? Is it just a fad? Does it actually mean anything, or is it just a cool-sounding buzzword? Could it actually help you achieve your objectives? And if so, how?
The purpose of this article is three-fold. First, we define content marketing for you. Second, we show you why content marketing should be part of your communication strategy. Third, we discuss how to get started with content marketing.
What Is Content Marketing?
The Content Marketing Institute offers the following definition of content marketing:
…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.
So first and foremost, content marketing is a strategic marketing approach – not just haphazardly posting items to your social media feeds. You need a clear sense of what you need to accomplish and how your content is supposed to move you closer to your objectives and digital marketing strategy.
Second, your content must benefit a clearly defined audience. Go beyond demographics here. What are the wants, needs, interests, questions, concerns, and pain points of your prospects? How does your product or service fit into their lives? What expertise do you have that is of use to them? What kind of content could you distribute that would inform, entertain, and engage them in a meaningful way?
Third, your content must be valuable, relevant, and consistent – but to whom? To your audience.
Valuable – The people who read your blogs or watch your videos must get something worthwhile out of it. They should come away feeling like they’ve learned something or that they’ve been entertained in a way that resonates with their lives and values.
Relevant – Your content must address consumers’ wants, needs, and interests. Be that trusted expert they can turn to for answers. Show your audience that you get them – that you understand what’s interesting, funny, heartwarming, or important to them.
Consistent – Effective content, delivered over a period of time, makes you instantly recognizable. Your look, feel, tone, and writing style – and of course the substance – should speak with the same voice that helps consumers get to know you and grow familiar with your organization.
Finally, a good content marketing strategy drives profitable customer action. Folks want to do business with organizations who understand “people like me.” They trust the recommendations of other consumers like themselves, so when a friend shares branded content through social media, the message takes on added credibility. Content marketing gives you the opportunity to earn that credibility by creating messages that demonstrate how your product or service can make a positive difference in the lives of your prospects.
Why Content Marketing Is Important
Why Content Marketing Matters to Consumers
Today’s prospects have a strong appetite for good information but more powerful resistance to the so-called “hard sell.” Most of us research products and services online before making a purchase. We study different cars, comparing prices and features, before ever setting foot in a dealership. Even grocery shoppers use mobile phones to compare prices and deals.
People want good content that helps them make good decisions, but they don’t like being sold. Consumers are less responsive to traditional advertising and old-school sales tactics, and this is true for both B2C and B2B customers. According to one study, 70% of consumers prefer to learn about companies through articles instead of advertising.1
A Roper Survey of business decision makers found that 80% prefer to get information about a prospective purchase from articles instead of advertising. The same survey found that 70% say content makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company and 60% say content helps them make better buying decisions.2
Why Content Marketing Matters to Search Engines
Consumers turn to search engines for solutions to their problems. Sometimes your best opportunity to win new customers is to be there when they Google it. In fact, you may already be working with a partner who specializes in Search Engine Optimization to develop a plan that works for you. You may also know that search engines frequently update the algorithms they use to crawl the web, so they can continuously improve the quality of results that we see when we do a search.
Google’s updates in recent years increasingly reward quality and punish low quality. And what does quality mean for Google? For one thing, up-to-date content is rewarded. So publishing fresh articles, and updating your existing content, will help you maintain a strong showing on search engine results pages (SERPs) and keep people coming back to your site.
Second, Google increasingly punishes what it considers to be “spammy” or overly optimized pages. One example of this is “keyword stuffing,” which generally means using the same keyword too many times when it adds no value to a passage. The Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO gives the following example of keyword stuffing:
“Bob’s cheap Seattle plumber is the best cheap Seattle plumber for all your plumbing needs. Contact a cheap Seattle plumber before it’s too late.”
A good rule of thumb here is that if it’s awkward for you to read, it’s probably a red flag for Google. Always write for the reader first and research long-tail keywords to use as synonyms. That way your content will be both user-friendly and SEO-friendly.
Why Content Marketing Matters to Your Business
As you can see, effective content can help you build customer relationships while avoiding less effective “hard sell” tactics. It showcases your subject-matter expertise, and gains trust by highlighting important topics that affect your prospects. Well-crafted content can draw traffic to your website and social media accounts, boost your performance on search results pages, and give audiences the opportunity to share your content with their friends.
A recent survey asked 600 marketing professionals what they thought were the most important digital marketing trends for 2015. Content marketing was the number one answer with 29.6% – ahead of other hot topics like big data (14.6%), marketing automation (12.8%), mobile marketing (11.0%), and social media marketing (8.9%).3 Other research found that 63% of companies say posting on social media increased their marketing effectiveness. Companies with blogs attract more inbound links, and blogs on company websites tend to attract more visitors.4
Getting Started with Content Marketing
Just because marketers realize the importance of content, many have yet to establish a formal content marketing strategy. A 2014 survey of marketing professionals found that more than half, or 56% said they were “doing content marketing,” but had no defined strategy. Only a third of respondents said content marketing was fully integrated into their marketing communications strategies.5
So how do you develop a content marketing plan that makes sense for your business? Here are five key steps that can serve as a framework to guide your efforts:
Planning: Determine what objectives your organization needs to achieve, then what role content will play in meeting them. How will content marketing complement other activities, such as sales, service, promotions, or advertising?
Audience: Do you have a single, homogeneous audience, or do you have multiple segments who would benefit from what you have to say? Where is the match between their interests, concerns, and information needs and your expertise?
Content development: Great content begins with a clear sense of what you need to say. Establish a consistent tone that represents the expertise and values of your organization. Your content must be optimized for your audience, for search engines, and for your business objectives.
Implement: How will you distribute your content? Will you publish articles to your website? If you start a blog, what topics will be covered, and how often will it be updated? A regular, consistent schedule is best for establishing familiarity with your audience. How will you optimize your social media and other channels for disseminating your message?
Monitor results: Pay attention to what, if any impact your content has on your website traffic and search engine rankings. Are people interacting with your content in any way? Assess the number of likes, shares, comments, and other actions. What are people saying in their comments – positive or negative? Are they asking questions or lodging complaints – and how are you responding to them?
By tracking results, you will be able to glean important insights into whether and how people respond to your content. That will enable you to take what you learn and improve your content strategy, which gives you the opportunity to improve your results over time.
FOOTNOTE 1: Content Marketing 101: Why Is Content Marketing Important? (2013). Sprk-D. Accessed on September 10, 2015 from https://sprk-d.com/content-marketing-101-content-marketing-important/. FOOTNOTE 2: What Is Content Marketing? (2015). Content Marketing Institute. Accessed on September 10, 2015 from https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/what-is-content-marketing/. FOOTNOTE 3: Source: Smart Insights. (2015, January 30). The State of Content Marketing 2015 (Infographic). Accessed on September 9, 2015 from https://www.smartinsights.com/content-management/content-marketing-planning/the-state-of-content-marketing-2015-infographic/. FOOTNOTE 4: Content Marketing 101: Why Is Content Marketing Important? (2013). Sprk-D. Accessed on September 10, 2015 from https://sprk-d.com/content-marketing-101-content-marketing-important/. FOOTNOTE 5: Content Marketing Institute. (2014). B2C Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budget, and Trends – North America. Accessed on September 9, 2015 from https://www.smartinsights.com/content-management/content-marketing-planning/the-state-of-content-marketing-2015-infographic/attachment/state-of-content-marketing-2015-3/.