Even though we’ve been writing about content marketing for over a decade, I think it’s important that we answer basic questions for both students of marketing as well as validate the information provided to experienced marketers. Content marketing is an expansive term that covers a ton of ground.
The term content marketing itself has become the norm in the digital age… I can’t remember a time when marketing didn’t have content associated with it. Of course, there’s a ton more to a content marketing strategy than just starting a blog, so let’s put some color around the phrase.
What is Content Marketing?
Content Marketing is the planning, design, development, execution, sharing, promotion and optimization of content that’s developed to acquire new customers, keep current customers, and increase the value of current customer relationships.
While content used to be distributed through traditional media – commercials, advertising, direct mail, catalogs, and sales sheets… the Internet provided a means for consumers and businesses to seek out information and research problems, products, and services. Companies that did a great job providing that content acquired new customers, retained current ones, and increased the value of their relationships through the information they provided.
How Does Content Marketing Work?
I’ve been assisting companies for over a decade with their content marketing strategies. Here’s a video we used to help our clients understand how we utilize content marketing to drive business using their every channel and medium.
There’s an analogy that I’ve used for a long time when it came to marketing versus advertising. Advertising is putting bait on the hook and dropping it in the water, hoping the fish will bite. Marketing is the process of finding the fish, analyzing when they bite, what they bite on, and how long before they bite.
Content is content… a whitepaper, a blog post, a video, a podcast, an infographic, or whatever else can be devised to communicate your message. But content marketing requires an understanding of who your audience is, what methodologies are communicated, discovering where the audience is, knowing what their intent is, and producing the appropriate series and types of content for those prospects or customers to consume. It also includes the sharing and promotion methods you’ll use to reach them.
Content Marketing Strategies
Too many businesses confuse content marketing with advertising. They don’t understand why a social media post, an article, or a mention didn’t immediately or directly drive conversions. Content marketing isn’t often instantaneous, content marketing is a strategy requiring both momentum and direction so you can guide the audience through the purchasing, retention, or upsell process. Like chumming is to fishing, often you have to have a baseline of content to promote throughout the feeding grounds to attract the audience you’re after.
One focus that we develop when working with clients is to determine what a content library might look like that will help their overall marketing efforts.
Types of Content Marketing
The folks at QuickSprout wrote a fantastic post on the types of content marketing and when to use them. We won’t go into every type, but I would like to focus on the 6 key pieces of content that we have seen work best for our clients in building out their owned media resources:
- Articles – building a fantastic content library with high-quality, detailed, updated, and concise articles that answer questions for prospects, customers and provide thought leadership within the industry is the foundation of virtually any company. Companies tend to regard the blog as a one-at-a-time strategy, but it’s truly a recurring revenue and compounding interest strategy. Every blog post can be found and referenced every day to increase your ability to attract, retain and upsell customers. Blogging for business provides the food for search and social to operate on and are critical to every organization.
- Infographics – designing a well-researched informational graphic that takes a complex topic, explains it thoroughly, and provides a portable format that can be viewed and shared across multiple devices and technologies has been an amazing advantage to every organization we’ve ever worked with. Highbridge continues to be a leader in this strategy, having researched, developed, designed, distributed, and promoted over one-hundred infographics. As well, we provide the core files back to our clients so the graphics can be repurposed in other presentations and marketing material.
- Whitepapers – While infographics attract, we’ve found that whitepapers convert. While visitors to your site will often read and share posts and infographics, they’ll often trade their contact information to obtain a far deeper dive into a topic they are researching. The intent of someone downloading a whitepaper is often that they are researching to make a purchase very, very soon. Building out a path from a post, infographic to a call-to-action to a landing page to register and download a whitepaper has been incredibly advantageous for all of our clients.
- Presentations – Building credibility, authority, and trust in your industry typically require you to present on topics at conferences, webinars, or sales meetings. Putting those presentations online on platforms like Slideshare, then sharing them via posts and social media can garner some great attention from your peers.
- Videos – A must-have for every organization’s content strategy is video. If a picture says a thousand words, videos can provide an emotional connection that surpasses any strategy. Thought leadership, tips, explainer videos, testimonial videos… all of them communicate effectively to your audience and are in demand more and more every day. Not to mention that people often search for videos more than any other medium!
- Email – pushing your message back to a subscriber has one of the highest returns of any content marketing strategy. By regularly emailing your prospects and clients, your messages provide both value and a reminder that you’re there when they need you. All of these other strategies can drive people to your brand that aren’t ready to make a purchase… that’s when you want to ensure they sign up for your email. Every content strategy must have an email marketing strategy to nurture and drive existing subscribers to a conversion.
How to Develop a Content Marketing Strategy
Surprisingly, the first step we take when working with clients is not research and development of a content calendar. Our first step is analyzing their current site and online authority to ensure that they can lead a search marketing visitor, social media fan or follower, or other visitors through the lead generation process. Here are some questions we seek answers for:
- Is there a path to conversion from every piece of content that drives the reader through to an action you wish them to take?
- Is analytics properly deployed to ensure that you can measure the impact of your content marketing back to a source?
- Is your site properly optimized so that the content you develop can be found on relevant search engine results? Search engine optimization is a baseline for any content strategy.
- Is the content displayed and optimized so that it’s easily shareable on social media? The amplification you’ll get from social media can skyrocket your visits, conversions as well as your search engine placement.
- Can the content be displayed appropriately on a mobile or tablet device? Some of our clients see upwards of 40% of their traffic coming from mobile!
Once that foundation is in place, we work to research the content that your competitors are winning on, design a strategy that helps you compete, and develop a content calendar that will drive the momentum you need to drive down your cost per lead (CPL) while continuing to increase your share of voice (SOV), driving and improving the number of conversions, and ultimately increasing your return on marketing investment over time.
Organic content marketing may take more time your company is comfortable with, so accelerating your content marketing strategy with paid advertising and promotion as well as public relations strategies can help you get many more leads quicker, test and measure your strategies efficiently, and expand your audience and influence effectively.
How Much Content Do We Need?
The mother of all questions asked by clients. Evaluating the volume of content requires quite a bit of research. You’ll need to understand the questions that prospects and customers are asking with regard to your industry and how you might be able to position yourself well to provide that content. You’ll need to understand what mediums they seek out and how you can best present the information to them. You may also need to provide the content in different mediums – audio, video, text, graphics, etc.
Content marketing requires practice, testing, and continuous improvement in order to beat out your competitors! It’s not about producing more content, it’s about building a defined library of content that covers all the stages of the buyer’s journey to help guide them through to conversion.
How Much Does Content Marketing Cost?
Another doozy of a question! We recommend a flat budget spread across public relations, promotion, and content production for companies to start. That can get pretty pricey ($15k US per month) but it’s the foundation we know works well. You can also start without the PR and promotion, it just takes longer to ramp up.
Within a few months, you should begin to see momentum and leads driven in. Within the year you should be able to fully define your program and understand the costs involved per lead. You can then shift and balance your budget between content development, promotion, and public relations to maximize the impact, reduce your cost per lead, and drive more leads or conversions.
Keep in mind that your competitors are tuning their content marketing strategy simultaneously, so the competition may increase or decrease – requiring you to adjust your budget and expectations appropriately. We have clients that dominate content marketing because there’s a lack of competition, and we have clients that lag the competition simply because they can’t match the resources their competitors are applying. A great strategy can always begin squeezing out the competition, though!