Content Marketing Guide
Content can dramatically accelerate your marketing results, or it can act as boat anchor—slowing you down when you should be picking up speed. When you know all of your customer profiles intimately and have the marketing content they need, you can be confident that you are engaging them with the right information to move them through the buying process. Your videos, white papers, articles, webpages, and social media posts will get noticed and used, and you’ll feel confident that the content engagement numbers you are measuring will translate into sales.
Many organization, however, don’t take this approach. They don’t really understand the gaps in the content they need, and the feel like they are constantly on the content treadmill, churning out article after article, with no end in sight. In addition, they can’t connect the dots between the content they produce and the results in the business. The result is that they often don’t care about the content and it ends up being poorly written or produced.
Content Marketing Introduction
Content marketing is everywhere. As the web and social media have become integral parts of all of our lives, large and small companies are using content to build engagement with both current and potential customers.
Developing great content is one of the most important functions of marketing. Providing excellent and relevant content to potential buyers establishes you as an expert and authority, and engages potential customers throughout the buying cycle. This creates brand loyalty, improves retention, focuses attention, and generates leads. Engaging new and existing customers by educating them is a great way to build relationships, and it helps you and your company become a thought leader and industry expert.
Consumer products companies as diverse as Kraft Foods and LEGO have been using content marketing for years to engage with customers, build their brands, and grow sales. Kraft started with recipe books and evolved into sophisticated websites and apps to help their loyal customers understand how to use food products such as Velveeta, Cool Whip and Jell-O in new and innovative ways. In the toy category, LEGO has a LEGO Club that produces a beautiful monthly magazine for LEGO fans and their parents. They also produce videos, games, and other content to make sure they are top-of-mind for their customers for every birthday or holiday.
Both B2B and B2C organizations are producing and promoting a large variety of content. Companies produce videos, white papers, articles, infographics, e-books, and more in order to engage potential customers at many points in the buying process.
Incredibly, 86% of marketers are using content marketing today. A recent Content Marketing Institute surveys show that the most popular types of content are social media content, website articles, newsletters, blogs, events, case studies, and videos.
Content Marketing Strategy
Many organizations simply create a bunch of content, but it’s important to move from just creating content to leveraging it as part of an integrated strategy. A good content marketing strategy will include designing the right content based on the needs of your audience, creating a manageable content program calendar, and promoting all of your content using social media and digital advertising in order to drive traffic, leads, and sales. Your strategy should also include ways to measure the results of your content marketing program so you can clearly demonstrate to the organization how you’re making an impact.
How effective is your content marketing program? It’s interesting that very few marketers feel that they are being effective in this area. According to the Content Marketing Institute, only about 8% of marketers rated themselves as very effective and 30% said they were somewhat effective. This means that only 38% of marketers felt like they are doing a great job with content marketing, and most marketers thinking they’re mediocre at best2.
Once you implement the program described in this chapter, you will have created a world-class content marketing program that’s directly tied to your organization’s marketing strategy. You will learn how to create the right content and develop the metrics to prove that it’s effective, so that you can be confident that you are making a positive impact on your organization.
Many organizations struggle with creating the content they need. Here are six steps that will help you build a comprehensive content marketing strategy and create content that delivers results:
- Identify your content marketing goals, determine what you are trying to accomplish, and define the business benefits that you’re trying to achieve. In this step, you will also create the metrics you need to understand the impact you are making.
- Review your website analytics, your competitor’s websites, and the content you already have through a comprehensive content audit.
- Understand your buyer’s journey and the process they go through to identify what they want to buy and who they want to buy it from.
- Create personas for the market segments you want to address using market segmentation techniques to figure out who your best customers are and how you can speak to their needs directly. To create personas, you will need to understand your ideal customers, how they make buying decisions, the questions they ask, and the content they need.
- Create an editorial calendar so that you have a solid plan in place to create the content for your program. This will include creating a specific plan for who’s going to write or create the content you need for your program.
- Leverage your content for results. This includes using SEO, digital advertising, email, and a number of other programs to build your brand, engage with your customers, generate leads, and ultimately grow sales.
Content Marketing Goals
There are many things you can accomplish with your content marketing program, so it’s important to focus on the right goals for your organization. According to one study, one of the most popular goals for content marketing programs is lead generation. If your organization markets and sells to other businesses, you’re most likely going to be using your content to drive leads.
Another important goal for most content marketing programs is thought leadership, which establishes your company as a leader in the market. The third most popular goal is brand awareness, which involves breaking through the clutter to build your brand and grow the overall reputation of your organization. Other goals you may consider could include nurturing your leads, driving sales, and building website traffic.
After you’ve determined your overall goals, you’ll need to turn each general goal into specific metrics that you can measure and that your content marketing strategy can accomplish. In a recent survey, when marketers were asked about their most important metrics, they answered that they use website traffic, sales increases, social media sharing metrics, and time spent on the website to measure success3.
If you want to increase SEO visibility, you should set goals for specific keyword visibility and for increasing organic SEO traffic. If you want to increase social media engagement, you should set goals for how many followers or fans you want. It’s important to be as specific as possible about how you want to make a difference. As you plan your social media content marketing goals, you should first create a benchmark to see how much traffic is currently coming to your website from social media, so that you can plan your improvements.
If you want to increase the effectiveness of your digital advertising program, consider what you want your new conversion rates to be, how many leads you want, or how you want to change the cost per lead. If your goal is to improve your email program, you may want to increase your email click-through rates, open rates, or conversion rates.
There are so many goals that you can focus on, it’s best to get specific and create targets for yourself in each of these areas, so that you can demonstrate to the business that content marketing is having an impact.
In order to measure your success, you’ll need to install and use the right tools. Google Analytics is an excellent tool to help you understand the traffic that’s coming to your website and the source of that traffic.
Google Search Console is a great way to see your website the way that Google sees it. Among many other things, it shows your keyword visibility so that you can see the impact of your content marketing program on SEO.
Social Media management tools like Hootsuite and Spout Social can also be helpful to let you understand how your content marketing program is impacting social media followers and engagement.
Before you create a solid content marketing strategy, you have to do your homework and determine what you know, what you have, and what you need. To get started, you should conduct a content audit to understand the content assets you already have in your organization.
As part of your content assessment, remember to review your Google Analytics or other analytics tools and see what content is the most popular and effective, what gets the most mentions and retweets in social media, and which content gets shared and liked in your industry. Before you trust the raw statistics you find, remember that that popularity can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the most popular content may be the content that has been featured or promoted the most, not necessarily the content that is the best quality.
You may have been producing articles, white papers, or videos for years, but you may not feel like your content is high enough quality, or that it is addressing all the different market segments that you need to communicate to. As you do a content inventory, remember to rate the quality of your content and determine how it can fit into your plan.
Next, look at your competitors. What content do they have? Do they have more than you, or less? Are you playing catch up, or do you have an opportunity to go way beyond them in terms of your content marketing program? When you look at your competitors, try to understand the topics that are important to them and the types of media are they using.
While you’re looking at all this data, don’t forget to talk to your customers and your salespeople. Often, your salespeople or senior executives can tell you a lot about what they’re hearing, and what they’re learning from customers and prospects about the content, issues, and media.
Next, review industry research and look at the topics that are most important to industry analysts. Analysts have their finger on the heartbeat of new topics that can be important as you put your plan together.
Once you’ve done your homework and understand the topics that might be part of your content marketing plan, you need to look at your own team to assess the skills you have internally to create new content. Do you have great writers on staff? Do you have a video department? Do you have great people that can produce graphics and infographics? If you don’t have internal resources, you may need to find vendors or contractors to help you create all of the content you want as part of your plan.
Align Content to the Buying Process
In B2B organizations, content like white papers, articles, and webinars fits well in the awareness phase. They help people understand the problem, come up with potential solutions, and think about how to address the situation.
In the evaluation phase, people are more interested in case studies and social media content to help them understand how other people actually solved their problems with a particular product. They also look at product information and company information to understand who makes the best products or delivers the best services.
In the purchase phase, they might be interested in a live demo or trial, or an assessment to get some experience with the product before they make a final purchase decision.
Once you have a solid understanding of the buying process, you can plan your content more specifically. For each piece of content, you should ask yourself which stage of the buying process it addresses. Is it of the quality and timeliness that you really need? By aligning your content with the way people actually buy, you will be able to ensure you have all of the right content you need to win new customers.
Planning Your Content: Editorial Calendar
Once you create your buyer personas, you can begin to plan out the content you will need to produce in order to help your buyers make a buying decision. Your buyer may want to read white papers, blogs, how-to content, and educational content in the awareness phase. In the evaluation phase, you may want to offer case studies, samples, or product and company information that your buyer needs to properly evaluate your products and services.
In the purchase phase, you may want to offer specific engagement tools such as a live demo, a free trial, free assessment, or a coupon that the buyer needs in order to make a positive decision for you. As you plan your strategy and editorial calendar, remember that it all needs to be focused on your specific buyer personas so that you can tailor it to their specific needs.
Now that you have a plan and a strategy, you can focus on actually creating all of the content. The average B2B marketer uses twelve different content types, so how do you create all of this content efficiently and effectively? To get started, it’s best to use tools that are the most popular, such as social media, articles, newsletters, blogs, case studies, and videos.
To make content creation efficient and effective, you can also start with core ideas around your products, thought leadership issues that you want to address, client stories, or even events. Once you produce your core content, you can write more than one article about it and create derivative content and social media posts.
For example, if you’ve gone through the hard work of putting together an important thought leadership piece, the next step is to leverage that core content in as many different forms as possible. One way you can do this is by producing one solid white paper and then turning that into a series of articles. You can then use the articles to create shorter blog posts. From there, you repurpose the content for your website, use it in an email campaign, and leverage it for your digital ad campaign. You can also tweet about it, produce a short video, and even turn it into a podcast.
If you think about your editorial calendar as one continuous stream of content production, you can take one project, such as a white paper, and leverage it in many different ways to produce a wide variety of content for your program.
Once you understand how to use leverage to produce a wide variety of content, you can do the detailed work of creating the editorial calendar to get ready to produce the content itself. The editorial calendar is basically a spreadsheet or project plan to take all of these different ideas we’ve discussed so far, and put them into a detailed plan.
Your editorial calendar (see the chart blow) should include the topic, type of content, due date, the creator’s name, the buying stage, and the persona to which it is addressed. For example, if I want to build an awareness-level piece targeted at Harry, I might create the task and assign it to David. The plan is to produce a white paper on retirement plans, and we’re going to leverage that through a number of channels, including our website, digital advertising, and our email campaigns.
The plan also shows that we want Karen to write an evaluation-stage-level piece targeted at Joe and Deb. The piece is going to be a case study focused on company differentiation, and we’re going to leverage that on our email campaign, website, and blog. With this simple tool, you can create a detailed plan to describe exactly who’s doing what, so that you have a fully functional editorial calendar.
Editorial calendars are an often talked about, but little used technique, so I’d encourage you to get very specific in your plan to determine exactly who’s going to do what in building the content so that you can get it all done.
Ideas for Creating Content
At times, it might be difficult to think of new ideas for content, so here are a few techniques that might help you get new ideas.
- Interview your customers.
- Survey your readers to find out what they are interested in.
- Highlight case studies and customer stories.
- Share success and failures.
- Tell a personal story.
These are just some ideas that can help you come up with good content creation ideas.
Here are the most common types of content that you may use in your content marketing program.
White papers provide customers with information about, or solutions to, problems they might have. They serve in establishing thought leadership and expertise by showing how you can help solve a problem. A good white paper will capture the reader’s attention and draw in a large audience. The best white papers address the “pain” of your target audience in a powerful and provocative way. They can be focused on strategic issues or very tactical tips depending on your target audience.
Like white papers, webinars provide information that promotes thought leadership. Webinars, however, offer a valuable chance to interact with potential and existing customers as well as others in your field. A good webinar has many of the characteristics described above, but it also should have engaging speakers.
The best webinars will feature an industry celebrity who people want to hear from and get close to. Imagine how differently you feel about going to a webinar featuring Larry Page, CEO of Google, vs. one of its many product managers. The actual content from one of their product managers may be more detailed and more useful to you, but don’t discount the value of using a celebrity in your webinars. Once webinars are produced, they can also be recorded and reused as offers and additional content. The content can also be turned into a white paper and provide even more leverage.
Case studies can provide valuable content about your company and the impact that it can make on customers. They demonstrate your problem-solving skills and the impact you’ve had on real situations. The power of the case study is that it tells a story. Most people find it much easier to understand a story than a list of facts, features, and action items. The story can also have an emotional element or sense of suspense to make it more effective. People understand complex information presented in stories better, and they are also better at remembering stories.
Video use on the Internet has grown exponentially over the past few years. It has the ability to tell a story and communicate information in a powerful, creative, and emotional way that cannot be matched by text or even live events. Video can be used to tell customer stories, educate your audience, or sell a product. It can be used alongside other content, such as when you include a one-minute promotion in front of a white paper, or as a replacement for a detailed product data sheet.
Both professionally shot video and personal video is acceptable on the Internet. Personal video has an amateur quality that people often find to be more real and authentic than the slick commercials seen on TV. These can also be much less expensive to produce so that you can create more of them. If you choose to use personal video, make sure that the sound and video quality is good enough so that your users are not annoyed by the video, and they can still get significant value.
A guide to help users make decisions about the types of products they need is a very powerful type of content. People often struggle with finding all of the information they need to make an informed purchase decision and need documents that put all of the issues together for them in an easy-to-use format. Keep in mind that a comparison guide can be written at several levels to help people at each stage of the buying cycle.
In the awareness phase, people need help understanding the types of solutions available. An example of this type of guide would be “Road Bikes vs. Mountain Bikes.” In the consideration phase, people need help understanding how your products are different than others. An example of this type would be, “Trek vs. Cannondale—Who has the strongest frame?” In the purchase phase, people need help understanding which of your products to choose. An example of this would be, “How to choose the right road bike for you.” Comparison guides are helpful because they address the core needs of the reader during the right phase of the buying cycle.
Leverage Your Content for Results
Content makes all of your digital marketing programs easier. From social media to SEO to email and digital advertising, this section will help you understand how and where to leverage your content.
Once you’ve produced your content, one of the first things you can do is promote it on social media channels. You can push it out on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google +, Pinterest, and more. To do this, you will need to host the content on your website, blog, or another place on the Internet, and then create a post and link back to it. The links will be visible to your followers and fans, and many people will see them. Of course the more fans you have, the more traffic and engagement you will have. The top social media sites are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Pinterest, but don’t ignore some of the other social bookmarking sites such as StumbleUpon and Tumblr, that can provide great links back to your content.
There are many ways you can use your content to boost your organic search engine rankings (SEO). The most highly rated tool in SEO is content creation. Since Google has gotten better with their search algorithm, they have weeded out a lot of bad content and links. With recent Google changes, content creation stands out as the best SEO technique.
As you put your content on your website, you should include important keywords on the body copy as well as other html tags to make it look exactly like what the search engines want to see so that it can be effective for SEO purposes. You can also place your content on other sites or blogs and use it to link back to your website.
Email is one of the most popular and important digital marketing techniques and a great way to leverage your content. If you have a multi-touch email campaign, you can use the buying process strategy that we’ve discussed to plan your email campaign content, so it will nurture prospects through the buying cycle. You might want to create a first-touch email that is awareness-oriented, in which you feature a white paper or webinar. Touch two might be an “evaluate” oriented piece that’s more case study oriented or product oriented, and in touch three, you might send a free trial offer or “get started” offer.
You can, of course, leverage the core content you have by targeting it at different personas. In order to do this, you will need to segment your house email list so that you can send specific content to specific people through the buying cycle. This will allow you to customize the email copy to the persona you are addressing, so that it feels personal. Segmenting the list and sending personalized email is going to dramatically improve your email marketing program.
The last technique we’ll discuss is leveraging your content for digital advertising. Strong content featured on well-designed landing pages can dramatically improve the results of your advertising programs. You can promote content using Google Ads Search and Display Ads, and also using social media ads through sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. You may want to use digital advertising to promote content such as white papers that can drive leads, or just get more engagement with your video or infographics content. The chapter on digital advertising will give you much more detail on strategies to drive good results.
I’ve seen advertising programs that leverage good content increase conversion rates by 500%. It can make a huge impact in your program if you’re promoting strong content versus just building traffic to your website. You can get more leads, and it can dramatically increase the ROI of the program.
Content Marketing Strategy Summary
This six-step content marketing strategy will help you create a world-class program that is efficient and effective, and makes a measurable difference to your organization. Remember to start with your content marketing goals, and then do your homework to analyze your buyer’s journey so that you can build personas. When you complete this work, you can build a very specific editorial calendar to get the work done. Once you have a plan, you can leverage your content in every part of your digital marketing program.