Give them what they want — and get results.
In September 2017, the Content Marketing Institute released its annual B2B Content Marketing report with information about benchmarks, budgets, and trends in North America. A whopping 91 percent of B2B (business-to-business) marketers surveyed are using content marketing (compared to 89 percent last year). And of the 9 percent that aren’t, more than half plan to start in the next year. Last year, 86 percent of B2C (business-to-consumer) marketers used content marketing, leaving them a little behind their B2B counterparts. Still, that’s an overwhelming majority.
Why is content marketing so important?
Because buyers are proactively researching their options before even contacting a brand or salesperson. Today’s savvy buyers are anywhere from 66-90 percent through their buying journey before they even contact a service provider, according to Forrester Research. That means they’re looking at websites, checking prices, and forming an impression of companies before setting foot in a store or picking up a phone.
A well-planned and well-executed content marketing plan enables a company to build a relationship with a customer before they call or walk through the door. So when customers are searching for your products or services, they’ll find you first!
What is content marketing, exactly?
First, let’s define a few terms – content, content marketing strategy, and content strategy.
Content, in marketing terms, is information that is relevant, useful, and valuable (rather than sales-focused), to your customers or potential customers. Good content helps them perform their jobs better, saves time or money, or offers some other real benefit – while subtly promoting your brand. Content can take the form of an article,
blog, newsletter, video, e-book, infographic, tip list, or even a captioned photo.
Content marketing strategy is focused on consistently delivering content to a clearly defined audience for the purpose of attracting attention, generating leads, or otherwise driving profitable customer interactions, typically using digital or social media. A content marketing strategy is different from a traditional marketing strategy in that it is not directly or immediately focused on generating sales.
Content strategy determines what content will accomplish your business goals. It’s the editorial plan for your content. This includes what specific content will be created, what format it will take, who will create it, and the tone and style to be used across all channels to project a consistent brand image.
Content marketing is really an updated and usually digital version of newsletters and public relations, except now the content is entirely under our control, and we can better track and measure the results with websites, digital analytics, and social media.
Why does content marketing matter?
Content marketing is hot right now, but that’s not enough reason to include it in your marketing plan. But, here are five good reasons why you might want to:
- To help customers and potential customers find you. The more content a company generates and posts on websites, blogs, and social media, the higher the search engine rankings and the easier companies are to find.
- To keep your audience engaged. When customers and prospects regularly see content from a company, they’re more likely to choose that company when purchasing. Meanwhile, those fans and followers are providing valuable insights
- To get new customers. By consistently posting content that’s helpful, interesting,
and useful, companies can gain new followers, build relationships, and eventually convert them to customers.
- To increase revenue with existing customers. Staying top-of-mind with your existing customers is just as, if not more, important as finding new ones. By informing customers of new products, technologies, or services, and by maintaining contact, you create selling opportunities.
- To maximize marketing dollars. Although it takes more people power, content marketing is more cost-effective than traditional marketing strategies. And when the work is shared among staff members, it’s more manageable.
Smaller companies, especially, will benefit from content marketing because of the minimal investment and the opportunity to build brand awareness and leads with limited resources. It’s as simple as writing a blog or creating a photo gallery that can be shared on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or even emailed. Start small and experiment with different platforms for six months; then, after six months to a year, develop a more formal content marketing strategy.
How to develop a content marketing strategy: think like a businessperson
Content marketing strategy is about how, why, and to whom you deliver content. It’s like a marketing or business plan for your content. A good content marketing strategy:
- outlines your goals (e.g., driving website traffic, increasing brand awareness, generating leads);
- addresses the content needs of the target audience – what they want and need to know and when to move them along their buying journey;
- defines the type of content needed – what formats will the audience best respond to, and what will help you reach your goal;
- determines a distribution strategy – where on digital and social media your customers are spending time, whether on your own unpaid media or in paid media;
- includes an editorial calendar – that outlines content, purpose, timing, type, keywords, call to action, and distribution strategy for each piece of content to keep everyone on track; and
- incorporates pre-defined metrics that can be tracked and measured.
You may be thinking, “That’s a lot of work for a customer who I’ll sell to only one or two times.” True. But, think beyond that one customer to the hundreds or thousands of customers who you can reach with content during the life of your business; not to mention the referrals those customers will send your way. Further, your distribution strategy can greatly enhance SEO, which can reach anyone searching for your products or services.
How to develop a content strategy: think like a publisher
Now that the content marketing strategy is in place, it’s time to develop a content strategy – a sort of editorial calendar.
An effective content strategy is focused on the customer and closely aligned with their journey – the steps they go through when planning a purchase and the points at which they interact with you, or you can interact with them. To learn more about the customer journey, see the October/November 2017 issue of Hardwood Floors for the article on page 40, “Understanding the Customer Journey: How to Build Relationships that Last.”
When developing a content strategy, think like a publisher and ask the following questions:
- For whom are we writing? Develop several detailed personas. This is different from and more specific than a segment or target market. It’s a detailed, fictional representation of an ideal customer based on market research and real data about existing customers including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, media habits, and goals.
- What do they care about? For example, are they trying to decide which type of wood is hardest or most durable, or which is the cheapest?
- What information will move them along? Create journey maps for each persona. This will help you determine where to intervene and with what type of information, or even what to offer to prompt that next step.
- What does our sales funnel look like? Map it out, step-by-step, so you can develop appropriate personas and journey maps to address each of the following steps (minimum) in the process:
- Those who don’t know you.
- Those who know something about you – or
- you know something about them (lead).
- Those who are interested in what you
- Those comparing you to other solutions (opportunity).
- Those who are ready to take action (buyers).
- What does the buying process look like? It might look like this:
- Become aware of a need
- Search for information (website or store visit)
- Request information (quote)
- Decide to purchase
- Compare alternatives
- Create short list of vendors
- Select vendor and purchase
This may seem like busywork, but outlining the buying journey will help writers, digital marketing managers, and curators develop and find the most effective content for the job.
How to write good content: think like a customer
Once you’ve outlined your content strategy, it’s time to start writing. First, consider the company brand and what image you want to project. Will the tone be fun, tongue-in-cheek, or serious? What imagery will you use – photographs of people or illustrations of objects?
Now, consider what will resonate with your audience. Put on your customer hat and start thinking. What information do they want to know? Here are some tips to get you started.
- Address questions customers ask most often. “How do I choose the best type of wood flooring for my situation? What if I have small children or pets? What do you have that’s different or unique? How do I maintain it? How do I choose the right wood, color, or finish? How do I fix it if it gets dents or chips?” This is where your expertise can shine. Customers and prospects will grow to trust you and feel a sense of loyalty for all the great information you’ve provided.
- Create a website page to house content and start adding content. Consider how-to information or educational videos – maybe an infographic to illustrate how something works or summarize a complex process. Share your knowledge.
- Tweet or post short tips and tricks on social media. For example, tell readers how to preserve the look or finish of their wood floors or share links to articles they might find helpful.
- Post articles on LinkedIn. Especially for corporate customers, have key employees or subject matter experts write articles or create videos, or hire a freelancer to ghostwrite them. Share links on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media platforms.
- Almost always include visuals with content. Use images that reinforce the message and include alternative (alt) text – HTML code that describes the appearance and function of an image on a page. This text, plus keywords and meta tags will improve SEO rankings.
- For videos and podcasts, include a transcript. This will also improve your ranking on search engines.
- Find what works and do more of it. Monitor hits, likes, shares, retweets, etc., to see which type of content (e.g., “how-to”), headline style (e.g., “6 ways to…”), or format (e.g., written vs. audio) gets more traction.
- Curate and repost good content. Find and post links to relevant and helpful articles, blogs, videos, or other content, giving credit to the original source.
- Include lots of evergreen content. This is the content that will be as good next year as it is today. Develop this content in advance and warehouse it in a drop box, in the cloud, or on a hard drive. Use it to fill the gaps when there’s nothing new to share.
Still coming up short? Check with employees, spouses, or friends who have special technical skills or knowledge, or who are good writers and are willing to interview employees and write stories. And remember, freelancers are happy to write content for you. Read trade publications or search blogs to find writers, or ask for references from friends and associates.
How to improve your odds of success
The content marketing plan is in place, the content plan and calendar are set, and the hard drive is stocked with killer content. Ready to go, right? Before launching, stack the deck in your favor by following these suggestions.
- Get support from upper management. Ask them to talk up the content marketing effort in meetings, emails, and other top-down communications to encourage cooperation from all departments. Ask for the time, resources, and budget necessary to get the job done.
- Understand and share that seeing results from content marketing takes time. It’s a long-term investment that requires at least six months to a year to yield significant results.
- Hold weekly content meetings. In addition to providing a format for brainstorming, it prioritizes content development, keeping it top of mind for everyone involved. Soon, people will be coming to you with content ideas.
- Promote your content. This includes the website, social media, invoices/statements, counter or showroom signs, advertising – any channel used to communicate with customers.
- Repurpose content to gain more exposure and enhance SEO. For example, this article could be broken up into six shorter pieces of content, corresponding with the subheads.
- Constantly monitor and evaluate the results. Monitor visits, views, likes, shares, retweets, mentions – anything that might indicate that your content is getting noticed and engaging customers. Keep track of how much content is being posted and what days or times generate the most response, then adjust the schedule.
Don’t expect immediate results from publishing a few articles or creating a few videos. Like any good marketing effort, effective content marketing starts with a strategy and a plan. Year after year, research by the Content Marketing Institute finds that companies with a documented content marketing strategy are anywhere from 48 percent to 54 percent more effective than those without one. In addition, it is also important to develop a stated editorial mission statement, have a clear definition of success, and conduct daily or weekly content meetings.
And remember, it’s about nurturing relationships and building your reputation so that you become a trusted source in your market, which leads to buzz, referrals, and ultimately, business.
Katrina Olson is a freelance writer and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.