Content Marketing For Dummies: A Guide For The Rest Of Us

A Guide To Content Marketing

There’s a saying which journalists and authors live by: show, don’t tell. What that means is that the writer needs to show how something impacts the reader, either by demonstrating how a scandal affects the day-to-day work of a local government, or by painting the worry into the brows of a character who has an uncertain future.

Similarly, marketers need to show, not tell, how a product affects and benefits a consumer, and why a consumer can come to a particular business for help. Enter content marketing.

Content Marketing

What Is Content Marketing?

In Joe Pulizzi’s book, Get Content, Get Customers, he writes that, “content marketing is the art of understanding what your customers need to know and delivering it to them in a relevant and compelling way.”

In other words, content marketing is a way to engage customers by using methods other than the traditional advertisements everyone’s learned to ignore. Consumers have gotten so good at tuning out the advertisements that they’re bombarded with every day that the ads are no longer as effective as they used to be. Technology isn’t helping, either: on television, ads can be skipped with DVRs; on the web, most can block banner ads, pop-ups or spam with Adblock or another similar piece of software. Since many companies rely on marketing to expand their consumer base, they have to come up with more effective ways to reach the target audience. And that’s by creating content.

Content marketing aims to attract and maintain a customer base by regularly creating valuable content in order to change consumer behavior. It’s the ability to communicate information to consumers without selling or pitching a product – and the belief that delivering that information will be rewarded with repeat buyers. By building trust and a repertoire with consumer, your business stands to gain repeat customers.

Although many ads try to convey information about their product to the customer, they’re often ineffective because they don’t separate the relevant and valuable from the extraneous.  Good content marketing will stand out among the thousands of ads consumers are subjected to each day and will make them behave differently – ideally, in the way the company wants them to.  Think of the snack idea on the back of a cereal box or the tear-off recipes in the baking aisle: those ‘ads’ give information about new ways to use the product that will either attract new customers or keep old ones coming back for more.

Why Content Marketing

At its heart, content marketing is just that – marketing.  It’s a method allowing companies to more effectively communicate with their consumers with the end goal of creating a better relationship with them.  Content marketing is important to your business for five big reasons.

Why Content Marketing?

Research done by the Content Marketing Association (CMA) based in London, England shows more than half of content marketing consumers say that the marketing techniques have a positive impact on what they decide to buy.  Another 61% say that it increases the positivity of the brand.  What this boils down to is that content marketing increases customer interest and, therefore, increases sales.

Content marketing strategies also help keep existing customers.  By regularly communicating with customers and offering information about new products through entertaining means, companies are more likely to retain their existing consumer base.

Content marketing won’t just help companies hold on to customers – it will also help keep those customers engaged in the company for the long-term.  Through valuable communication with the consumers, companies can create trust with the buyer, which can turn a brand from a choice into a favorite.

Because content marketing allows companies to communicate their message in an interesting and controlled way, it’s a good method to rejuvenate or rebuild a brand.  Good content in emails, websites and print captures the audience’s attention and can alter the way consumers view a company.

Content marketing will also help improve a company’s search engine ranking.  Search engine optimization (SEO) and algorithms like Google’s Penguin have evolved to bypass lousy websites that are loaded with keywords.  Instead, they’re focusing on the content within a website.  This new trend in SEO means that if a brand uses good content on their website that leads to likes, retweets or +1s, that site’s ranking will go up.

Getting Started With Content Marketing

Step I: Plan

Like all successful ventures, laying out a well thought-out plan is necessary to success. It’s also necessary to get resources for starting a content marketing campaign in mid to large size businesses. While the benefits reaped from a well thought-out content marketing push are clear to you, they may not be to others — even if your plan could take a virtual underdog to a multi-million dollar businesses. So how would you convince your higher-ups, your business partners, or yourself that a content marketing campaign is the way to go? Simple: write a business plan for it.

First, you’ll have to outline the need — the reason why a campaign is worthwhile — and what you hope to accomplish with your content. Then you need to find out how big of a need there is for it. Will you need an intricate plan to execute on, or does your industry have such minimal interaction that it doesn’t matter if you write daily. Then, figure out what medium of communication you’ll use. Is your primary audience teenagers who use applications like Snapchat? Or are they septuagenarians who’re more used to print media like newspapers, mailers, and newsletters? Once you figure out the medium, assess the costs — how much will it cost to print? How about the cost of having someone constantly monitor social media websites? Could you contract out, or is something which you, or another employee, can learn? These questions are important to consider when launching a new venture.

You’ll need to outline how your content will positively impact your business, and why it’s important to dedicate resources to it. Finally, you’ll have to draw out the risks – from drained resources to PR debacles — of both starting a content marketing campaign and not. You’ll also have to illustrate what will happen if your material begins to take off. Say that your podcast has boomed in listeners and interactions; what then? Do you spend more money on better equipment, start making more podcasts on your field, bring in guests, or do you spend more focus on interaction with your community through social networks like Twitter? Knowing what do when things are going well can help you to make a good situation great.

Even if a well thought out business plan fails to capture the hearts and minds of your superiors, you still have other options. Namely, intimidation. If there’s one fear every business has, it’s losing easily made money to competition by not doing a simple action. Highlight competitors who are producing content marketing materials, measure how well they do, and write up why it’s important for your company to produce similar materials as soon as possible.

Step II: Execute

Okay, so we’ve laid out why a content marketing push is necessary for your company, and you’ve got the necessary resources for a push. Now comes the hard part: execution.

Except execution isn’t really the hard part if you’ve penned a well thought out plan.

This plan, of course, outlines the targeted audience, their primary means of consuming media — through blogs, email, social networks or print media — and what your material seeks to help them with. If you’re uncertain of that last point, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

Your content is aimed less at blatantly selling material and is more focused on informing your consumers. If your product is complicated to use, try writing a few how-to posts for your blog, or, better, film a video explaining how to use your product. If you’re in an entertainment or consumer product industry, try writing posts and videos which engage your customers — a video detailing how something is made, or a post (if you’re in the entertainment industry) giving an honest opinion on competitor’s product will go further to build up trust and recognition in your brand.

The content doesn’t have to be new, either. If you’ve recently presented at an industry event, or hosted a webinar (both great ideas), used the materials presented as your content for your website, blog, or print publication. Post slideshows online, or an article giving an overview of the event with PowerPoint slides embedded below. Anything goes, really.

You can also recycle ideas which you’ve pushed elsewhere for more material. Say you’ve come up with a fantastic idea in a blog post. Flesh the idea out a bit more and publish it as white paper. Had a great interview with a leading figure on your podcast? Publish the transcription and ask for analysis. People will read it.

Step III: Social Media

If you’re intimidated by the idea of social media, don’t worry: you’re not the only one. Fortunately, the basics of social media aren’t hard to understand, though they can be difficult to execute on. Here are a few tips to think of when you start participating in social media:

  • Have goals. Plot out what you want to accomplish and how you’ll eventually achieve those goals early on. Even if you fall short of your goals, you’ll likely still have better results than if you didn’t aim for them.
  • Research your target audience. Knowing what social circles your target audience hangs out at online is the difference between running a successful social campaign and a doomed one. If your customers are active on LinkedIn, write posts for LinkedIn. If they love browsing Pinterest, publish photos and interact through Pinterest.
  • Build quality followers. It may be tempting to go out and buy followers for your Twitter account, but resist the urge. Instead, follow industry personnel and post material that may catch their eye. It’ll be much more difficult to build your brand up to 1,000 some-odd followers, but those followers will actually look at, interact with, and promote the material you’ve produced.
  • Interact. Did a blog or competitor publish something you thought was interesting, or even a great piece that consumers should know about? Say so and retweet it! You’ll build more brand trust by going out and being affirmative of your industry than by being negative.
  • Contract Out. As we all know, social media can be a massive time drain which can kill your productivity in an instant. If you’re afraid that managing your social media channels is becoming too big of a task and is distracting you from important work, consider hiring a social media manager or contracting the position out to someone with social media experience.

What you need to know is this: like a quality blog, a quality social media campaign is a slow build, but it’s one which is entirely worth doing.

If you’re starting a blog, keep in mind that, at first, keeping a consistent schedule is paramount — not page views. A new blog or website will have an incubation period before it begins to steadily pull in a targeted audience. A six month testing period, where you can measure how many people view your website, where from and if you’re pulling in the right type of consumers who could translate to customers, is typical for content marketing blogs. During this period you can set up goals, start viral marketing and social networking and prepare for a performance review.

Newspapers, magazines and major websites all have editorial calendars — you should too. Plot out what your goals are for posts — anywhere from  three to five a week, a day, or a month — upcoming industry events, and posts which coordinate with the launch of a new product. Editorial calendars a powerful tool to stay ahead of deadlines, don’t try to produce content without one.

Learn to scale. Yes, publications need to scale too. As your company grows, so too does your need for outreach. Consider hosting meetups and industry conferences in order to attract a wider audience for both your content and your products. And as you continue to grow, consider hiring full-time content producers, or outsource some of the heavy lifting to contractors, to continue to meet your goals.

Content marketing isn’t hard, but it certainly isn’t easy either. It’s a slow build managed by careful planning which, done right, will have a tremendous pay off for those who do it. After all, traditional ads and even web ads, are dying, but the desire and demand for more content is only growing. Good luck, and have fun!

Sara Collins on Google+

About Sara Collins

Sara Collins is a writer for NerdWallet, a site that helps consumers stay informed about personal finance topics.

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