What is content marketing?
Content marketing is the development and distribution of relevant, useful content—blogs, newsletters, white papers, social media posts, emails, videos, and the like—to current and potential customers. When it’s done right, this content conveys expertise and makes it clear that a company values the people to whom it sells.
The consistent use of content marketing establishes and nurtures relationships with your prospective and existing customers. When your audience thinks of your company as a partner interested in their success and a valuable source of advice and guidance, they’re more likely to choose you when it’s time to buy.
Why it’s important
Content marketing is a go-to tactic that’s proven to work. Also, it provides a competitive advantage. Take a look at what the data says about content marketing:
- Businesses with blogs get 67% more leads than other companies.
- Forty-seven percent of buyers view 3 to 5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales representative.
- Companies that use content marketing see approximately 30% higher growth rates than businesses not using it.
- Seventy-two percent of business to business (B2B) marketers say content marketing increases engagement and the number of leads they generate.
How content marketing works
Your business can use content marketing to attract leads, make a case for your product or service when someone is researching what to buy, and close sales.
To use it effectively, you’ll need to deliver the right content at each stage of the sales cycle—from awareness through consideration to purchase. If this sounds complicated, don’t worry: Approaching content this way actually simplifies the process.
Here’s how companies use content marketing in each stage of the sales cycle to engage and sell.
At the first stage of the sales process, your content should focus on the top concerns of your audience. Writing about their pain points, challenges, and questions gives you the best chance of engaging with them. Content at the awareness stage should be educational, how-to advice. Save your selling for the consideration and closing phases.
- A restaurant writes a blog post about how to plan a menu for a graduation party in the spring.
- A bike touring company creates a short video on the topic “3 Ways to Choose the Right Bike Trip.”
- An architecture firm creates an e-book called “Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Architect.”
In the consideration stage, content should offer a hybrid of helpful information and marketing. It should educate the reader about what features or functions to look for and how various features address their needs. Of course, your content should have a bent toward what your business offers.
Best content for this stage: case studies, how-to articles, how-to videos, checklists/worksheets
- A cloud-based phone system company creates a checklist entitled “8 Ways to Improve Your Phone Customer Service” that details the features and functions that make great customer service possible.
- A landscaping company creates case studies about “The Biggest Mistakes Most People Make When They Hire a Landscaper.”
- A catering company features case studies of successful events with a focus on the benefits they offer, such as “How to Accommodate Food Allergies at Your Next Event,” or “How to Ensure Your Caterer Uses Sustainable Practices.”
Content marketing plays an important role when a prospect is close to buying. At this stage, you can focus on sales, as long as you continue to drive home why you’re the best choice rather than just how great your services or products are.
Your central message here should be your expertise, knowledge, and the differentiating benefits of what you sell.
Best content for this stage: case studies, user-generated content, buyer’s guide, product video, research report
- A consulting firm creates a research report proving that businesses that engage in strategic planning, assessments by outsiders, and other services—shaped by what services it offers—experience higher growth.
- A design agency creates short videos showcasing the variety in its work across different industries to demonstrate its diverse expertise.
- An orthodontist practice encourages patients to contribute testimonials about its state-of-the-art equipment and top-notch service.
How to get started with content marketing
Content marketing can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. A successful content marketing campaign should be manageable and sustainable. Take these steps to get started:
- Identify your audience. To create content for a particular reader, you need to have a clear idea of their priorities, challenges, and preferences. If you have detailed descriptions of your various segments, choose 1 or 2 to write for. Otherwise, craft profiles of your audience members and prospects before starting.
- Determine the right formats. The right format corresponds with what stage of the sales cycle you’re creating content for. Another important consideration includes what formats will best help you showcase value. For some, this will be a video; for others, a checklist.
- Decide who will write, edit, and proofread your copy. An audience will judge your content on its quality, and they should. Identify the right resource, internal or external, to create this work. Regardless of who creates it, hire a professional proofreader to review anything before it goes out the door.
- Determine how you’ll distribute. Will you post content on your site, email it to people, or print it for an event? Start with “where” you know your audience is likely to be, and choose formats that make sense. For example, an article makes sense to send via an email, a checklist or worksheet can be posted on social media, and a buyer’s guide is a good follow-up to a pitch.
- Choose a sustainable schedule. It’s easy to make a content marketing plan that’s overly ambitious. Once you know the target readers and the formats, create a short-term (3-6 months) plan for a realistic number of content elements you can create, based on your budget and resources. Keep track of how long it takes you to create each piece of content, so that you can build that time into your schedule.
- Follow best practices. Compelling content is clearly written, without jargon that only you and your peers will know. It should also include how-to advice. A short, relevant, actionable piece of content is best.
SEO and Social Media
Content marketing makes it easy for good prospects to find your business. One way this occurs is using search engine optimization (SEO).
Information abounds on SEO, but to begin, focus on a few important best practices.
Keywords are the foundation of your SEO effort. These all-important words and phrases are the terms a prospect types into a search engine when they’re looking for a company, product, or service.
When you include the right keywords in your content, you’ll attract more traffic. The best keywords are:
- Plain-language: language your audience uses to describe their pain points and needs
- Relevant: keywords that match the expertise, products, and services you provide
- Specific: a combination of your focus, industry expertise, prospect pain points, and other relevant details
Deliver on your promise
SEO has evolved so that search success depends in part on how well your content does what it says it’ll do. Search engines review content copy, assess its relevance, and determine whether it delivers on what the headline promises.
Because of the importance search engines place on copy, using keywords throughout your content is important. Use the following guidelines:
- Focus on 1 to 2 keywords. Avoid “keyword stuffing” by writing about what matters to your prospects with a focus on just a few keyword phrases.
- Use keywords in the title. Make what the article is about clear and explicit.
- Use keywords throughout. Find a way of naturally incorporating your keywords into your content.
- Stay on topic. Good-quality content that provides advice related to a headline will perform best.
Once you have content, it’s time to get the word out about it. Social media—Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Medium, Instagram, and others—is a proven and easy way to promote your content. You write a post and link to your content, and then voila! People are engaged.
You can do this through 3 steps:
- Focus on high-potential channels. The best social media outlets for you are the ones frequented by your audience. Consider the big, popular channels, as well as smaller, industry-focused ones that are likely to connect you with good prospects. Ask your audience what channels they favor and build a manageable list based on their preferences.
- Craft your copy to fit the channel. Each social media channel has a level of professionalism versus fun, an accepted voice, and other details all its own. Before you write posts for a channel, spend some time reviewing posts to familiarize yourself with these details. Then, give your posts some of your own company spirit.
- Test and modify your approach. A winning social media promotion effort involves trial and error. Track responses from the various channels for quantity and quality. Fewer high-potential engagements may mean a channel is a good fit, as opposed to a slew of clicks that never turn into an audience.
Put content to work for your business
Let your expertise and unique value shine through by creating content to attract, engage, and sell. With some planning and systematic content marketing, you can reach the right people and inspire loyalty to your brand.