If you search Google, you can find a wealth of detailed information about content marketing. It’s an established field with many qualified experts.
What seems to be missing, though, is an expert-guided introduction to the concept for business owners who know their trade but never got professional training in the basics of marketing.
Since we couldn’t find a guide we thought was good enough, we went and wrote our own. But first, let’s start with the basics.
What Is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is providing potential clients with information they will find useful, relevant, or interesting. As clients interact with your content, they come to trust you as an authority on that topic. When they’re ready to buy something in your area, they choose to purchase it from you.
Some examples of content marketing include:
- A plumbing company producing a video about how to fix a simple sink leak
- A legal firm releasing a podcast series, where each episode walks the listener through steps needed to prepare for a legal meeting for the drafting of a will or mediating a divorce
- A software development company publishing a detailed whitepaper on how software can cut expenses and reduce liability in large corporations
- The article you’re reading right now
Done right, content marketing changes the relationship between client and company from buyer/seller to student/mentor.
6 Things You Need to Know About Content Marketing
Now that you understand what content marketing is, let’s take a look at 6 things you need to know so you can use it to help grow your business.
1. Why engage in content marketing?
Content marketing changes the dynamic of advertising away from the 20th-century, “Mad Men” style. Modern consumers are too connected and sophisticated to buy something just because “9 out of 10 doctors agree.” They’ll look up the names of those doctors, follow them on Facebook, and see what other people think of their opinions.
By contrast, content marketing builds trust through transparently demonstrating your company’s strengths and weaknesses. It leads potential clients through education to reach an informed decision.
When that decision is reached, the customer — who has forged a trusting relationship with you and your brand — will be inclined to buy from you rather than from competitors and to trust you when you recommend upselling opportunities. And even if they end up buying from someone else, they remain likely to recommend you and your content to other leads.
Because of its dynamic, responsive, mentoring approach, content marketing has been shown to perform very well:
- It costs 62% less than traditional marketing
- It generates 300% as many leads
- Leads who make it through a content marketing series are six times more likely to convert to sales
- Yearly growth for dedicated content marketers is 780% that of those who eschew content marketing altogether
2. Where do I start?
The linchpin of your content marketing program is your customer persona. This is a description of the kinds of people who are most likely to purchase from your company and to make the largest purchases.
Once you’ve developed a detailed customer persona, you can then ask what kind of content would be most effective in educating and building a relationship with that customer. Does this customer respond best to text, video, audio, or a combination of all three? What kinds of questions do they have about your industry and products? What is the best voice with which to communicate with them?
Every detail of your content marketing strategy should stem from this initial set of questions. From here, you’ll create videos, articles, blog posts, podcasts, white papers, buying guides, and other content aimed directly at that customer persona.
Most companies have more than one core customer, and each needs its own uniquely developed customer persona. Some pieces of your content will appeal to multiple personas, while others will be intended for just one.
3. What goes into a content marketing strategy?
Every business’s overall content marketing strategy will differ because each company is unique. However, most strategies contain the following key components:
- A clear map of the buyer’s journey for each of your major products or services
- A chart of content that aligns with that buyer’s journey, with several relevant pieces at each stage
- A content calendar for the production and release of each piece of content
- Resources (both original and outsourced) to help develop each individual piece of content
Your strategy must also include which metrics you will set for the production and analysis of each piece of content so you can assess its performance and adjust as your strategy develops (more on that in a bit).
4. What content should I create?
There are a lot of types of content, including:
- Written content like blog posts, e-books, white papers, special reports, and buying guides
- Graphic content like infographics, charts, maps, diagrams, slide decks, and flow charts
- Audio content like podcasts and recorded versions of written content
- Video content ranging from webinars to vlogs to online classes
- Curated content, where you don’t produce original information but provide a guide to resources and news for readers to follow
Beyond its basic format, your content should include the following features:
- It should be evergreen, meaning a post you write this week will still be relevant and useful next year, and even three years from now. Industry changes mean this won’t always be possible, but the longer a piece is useful, the more benefit you’ll get from its creation.
- It should be targeted, tailored in every possible way to keep the attention of your profiled customer, to answer their questions, solve their problems, and develop a loyal and trusting relationship with your brand.
- It should be varied, providing the same information across multiple kinds of content so leads with different learning styles can access the education your content provides.
5. Where can I distribute content?
Where you distribute your content is as important as what content you produce. For example, you shouldn’t put an article aimed at teenage fashion mavens in the same place as a slide deck for sophisticated real estate investors.
As you scan through this list of the most important distribution channels for your content, keep your customer persona in mind for which iteration of each might be the best choice:
- Social media, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube
- Your email newsletter and mailing list
- Owned assets via your website
- Guest blogging on industry thought leaders’ sites
- Articles distributed by sites relevant to your industry
- Sponsored content and affiliate links
As you develop the content calendar we discussed earlier, make sure each item doesn’t just have a description of what it will be, but also a robust consideration of where it will go.
6. How can I analyze the results?
Aside from its cost-effectiveness, this is one of the best aspects of content marketing: It’s easy to gather metrics and analyze performance.
Start by deciding what the goal is for any particular piece of content. Is your intent to get more subscribers? Do you want to lead the reader to click through to another piece of content? Do you want to gather contact information? Do you want to simply get your content shared on social media?
Set up tracking to determine if your content achieves the goals. Over time, make individual changes to your content and see how they impact your metric. Fine-tune until it’s performing well, then use that information when you create your next piece of content.
Final Thoughts: Getting Started
Now that you have a basic understanding of how content marketing works and what it can do for you, we recommend you find a few models of excellent content marketing.
Start with the newsletters, blogs, and YouTube channels you already follow. What keeps bringing you back? Which of their elements could you readily emulate as you build your own content assets? How might you improve on their material to better serve your specific market?
With this information and that list in mind, you’ll be well on your way to content marketing success.
Dennis Adams is a marketing specialist in New York, where he focuses primarily on content marketing for small and mid-size firms.