What is content marketing and should I do it myself? by Chris Tomlinson
Content Marketing Defined: More Than Just a Pretty Face
An attractive man (or woman) walks across the room and catches your eye. You walk up and begin to make conversation. Looking into his eyes, you envision going on your first date together, and the possibilities of the relationship developing further. You look up at this wonderfully attractive, well-groomed person and begin to think of the possibilities, what would your future children look like? Your future partner then opens his mouth and tells you about how he spent the whole of the past weekend drinking beer while watching the shopping channel.
Let me just wait here while you oh-so-subtly try to slip out of the room.
“Attractive” may catch your attention, but substance makes you stay.
The beauty of content marketing is that it takes on a pretty face and, adds in the brains.
The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action”.
Put simply, content marketing is the ability to sell without actually selling.
Content marketing is the ongoing curation and utilization of useful and relatable information that changes or enhances the way consumers decide and inevitably act. Instead of outright selling a product to a client, content marketing sees an enterprise providing readers with valuable information so that they become more informed and intelligent; and in turn, these consumers reward the enterprise’s consistent and valuable content with their loyalty and business.
Unlike intrusive ads that interrupt what you are doing, content marketing drives consumers to buy not because you tell them that they should, but because you give them the ability and freedom to decide to.
So how significant is content marketing? Very. Extremely. Downright necessary if you want your enterprise to succeed. The best thing is that if you can write, with the application of structure and a little discipline, you can become a content marketer. If you do not have the time to produce your own content, of course you can hire professionals. The important thing is to understand how it is done so you can begin to participate in the process.
The significance of content marketing is that effective marketing simply can’t exist without valuable and relevant content. If the information being put out there doesn’t coincide with the decision-making and action you want to encourage in your consumers, your marketing strategies won’t work.
Content marketing gone awry is ignored, while content marketing done right makes people pause, think, come to a realization and act differently.
The Age Divide: Content Marketing and Traditional Marketing
While older generations tended to speak “at” instead of speak “with” their kids, younger parents who have consumed all the self-help parenting literature they could have learned to allow their children to get in on the conversation.
Much like grandpa who told you that during his time, rowdy kids got a spanking, traditional marketing tells you that you should buy a product. If you listened you bought, and the effectivity of the pitch being determined by sales – much like how the effectivity of a spanking is determined by how still a child keeps afterwards.
Enterprises that employ content marketing, on the other hand, want to hear what consumers have to say. It’s a conversation they want consumers to partake in because they want to have a relationship with them. So much like how an older parent used to spank a naughty child, a younger parent chooses to talk it out, and inform the child why he shouldn’t be engaging in such raucous behavior.
While traditional “product-centric” marketing has proven to be effective in the past, people are now responding more to content “consumer-centric” marketing.
Traditional marketing sees companies spending millions to produce ad campaigns in order to buy exposure on television, print and radio – platforms that these companies don’t own. On the other hand, content marketing is about owning media at a lesser cost, and not performing on someone else’s stage.
Content Marketing Benefits
Aside from profitability, businesses can greatly benefit from content marketing in the following ways:
- Content marketing can be employed by any business and industry. From automobiles to fashion to food, there will always be information being sought, and content ready to be written.
- Content marketing generates more traffic to your website. Consumers look for content that is valuable and relatable to them. The more content you produce that is highly targeted to a certain audience, the more likely you will generate more inbound traffic to your website.
- Content marketing creates a dynamic relationship between yourself and your clients. Creating content that caters to a specific niche will enable engagement between your client and yourself. Feedback from consumers will help you determine the most relevant and sought-after information, as well as inform you of the textual and visual format your consumers may prefer.
- Content marketing generates more leads. Compared to traditional marketing, content marketing is also proving to be more profitable. The study “Content Marketing ROI” cited that content marketing has earned more per dollar than its traditional counterpart, producing three times more leads.
- Content marketing generates more sales. According to the Custom Content Council, around 55 percent of readers stated that they are more likely to buy products or employ services from a website that is content-rich since they are able to fully understand the benefits they are to gain from the content that is posted.
- Content marketing allows for easier distribution of work and outsourcing. With business owners believing more in the effectivity of content marketing, more of them have leaned towards outsourcing work, since tasks are more easily distributed amongst in-house staff and freelancers. While 55 percent of content marketers outsourced in 2013, 62 percent used a mix of insourced and outsourced content in 2014.
- Content marketing builds your brand and makes you a thought leader. Being able to provide highly relevant and high quality content builds your enterprise’s image, and makes you an authority on the industry and product or service you are offering. As a thought leader, people will more likely listen and follow what you have to say. According to the LeadersWest Digital Marketing Journal, businesses with reputable images are able to influence the purchasing decisions of around 52 percent of avid blog readers.
- Content marketing makes you more human. While traditional advertorials can feature new slogans and catchy tunes, content marketing shows your human side because it makes you much more accessible to your audience and potential customers.
- Content marketing levels the playing field. Big fish, small fry, small pond, big ocean. Content marketing works for any enterprise scale – whether it be a whale or a guppy.
- Surprisingly, the 2014 CMI B2B Content Marketing report has cited that small businesses that have employed content marketing are thriving, and are enjoying a competitive edge over bigger brands and groups.
- In 2013, 34 percent of B2B small business marketers stated that they have become more successful by employing content marketing strategies. In 2014, the figure grew to 45 percent.
- B2B small-scale entrepreneurs are more likely to have their content marketing strategy documented as compared to their peers and competitors regardless of size.
- B2B small business marketers are using social media more in 2014 compared to the previous year. Large increases are evident in Google+ (40 percent to 61 percent), SlideShare (24 percent to 40 percent), Instagram (9 percent to 23 percent), and YouTube (62 percent to 75 percent).
Begin with the Basics
So, how to begin?
Before tapping away at your laptop to write your very first post, consider the two essential things you need before coming up with a content marketing strategy – your goals, and your mission statement.
Content is not created for content’s sake. Content may be king, but if a king has no plans for his kingdom then his people would be without clear direction or instruction.
Your goals. Create content based on what your business goals are. Whether these goals are raising brand awareness, turning readers into customers and customers into evangelists, or even encouraging consumers to buy more, content should revolve around what you want to happen.
Your mission statement. While your goals ask questions about what you want to happen, your mission statement is about your enterprise’s reason for existing. The three vital parts of your mission include stating who your specific target core audience is, what you want to deliver to your audience, and what your audience will be able to do once your content has been consumed.
The rules for content marketing aren’t written in stone, but there are some questions you can ask yourself while strategizing, such as:
- How much financial resource should be allotted for content marketing?
- Will the content be insourced, outsourced or a mix of both?
- Who is the target audience?
- What tone/style should my content be? Will I take on a formal or conversational tone?
- Where will the content be published; company site, forums, social media or offline?
- Will I rely heavily on text, images and / or videos?
- Who is my competition?
- What is the word count for each item?
- How many posts will I write per week and on which days will I publish new content?
- What is your Return-on-Marketing-Investment (ROMI), or the degree in which your marketing strategies contribute to your profits?
The Customer’s Journey
As previously mentioned, content marketing is consumer-centric rather than product-centric. According to the CMI, information empowers consumers to pause, think, decide and then consequently act.
With content marketing allowing for consumers and enterprises to have more dynamic relationships, businesses are actively seeking to be part of the customer’s journey from discovery to consideration to decision.
Discovery. The reader discovers your content and investigates what the content contains. Not only does a commitment to change start forming at this stage, there is also a loosening of the status quo.
Consideration. This is the stage whereby the empowered reader begins to consider making a decision. He or she looks for solutions, and justifies the decision he or she is about to make.
Decision. The decision stage is a choice between remaining a reader or becoming a customer. If the decision is made to remain a reader, then additional content will be sort until the reader has gathered enough information to answer questions such as product suitability, cost and value.
With many consumers discovering products or services through social media or online searches, businesses often become the consumer’s information source and purchasing companion. The challenge is to ensure that the customer finds your company’s content and not one of the thousands of offerings presented by other companies.
Once discovery occurs content helps the reader evolve into a consumer through relevant and valuable information.
Know What’s Trending
Content marketing can take on different styles and forms, based on the kind of readers an enterprise wants to attract and convert into consumers. Some of the trending content formats and styles include:
Infographics. Information graphics or infographics are visual representations of data. Complex or statistical information is presented in graphic form so that it is easier to understand and digest. Charts and tables alongside descriptive text are examples of infographics.
Memes and shareable images. Memes and other shareable images can be used to drive a point through wit and/or humor. Although memes immediately grab a reader’s attention and don’t require much graphic skill, they shouldn’t be used in excess as they are considered as having low value.
Link page. A link page is simply a rundown of links to other websites that relate in some way to your company, products or services. For obvious reasons it is probably better not to include competitors on this list. Aside from spreading the love around, this also provides your site with authoritative SEO signals, and asserts your position as a thought leader in your industry.
Blog post. A blog allows your audience into the inner workings of your mind, business and industry. Usually written in a more conversational tone, posts are like journal entries that are written to create more brand awareness.
Opinion posts. Opinion posts are innately different from blog posts due to their tone. Ferociously defending your position usually leads to your post getting more views and being shared more.
Case study. A case study provides information about what a business does, and how it has specifically helped a particular client.
Podcasts. Much like a radio talk show, podcasts are audio presentations online which revolve around topics related to an enterprise’s business and industry. Users may subscribe to podcasts, and these audio files can be streamed and downloaded.
Webinars. An online event hosted by an organization broadcasted to a select group of users or subscribers.
Interviews. Not only do interviews enable you to gather unique information and generate more traffic, being able to talk with an industry leader furthers your reputation as an authority in your line of business and industry.
Research and Original Data. People still have a lot of respect for businesses that put in the hard work and do their own research. Being able to share your research and findings with your audience is a very powerful way to generate traffic, assert your authority and build trust.
Guide. Almost like an extremely long blog post, a guide is a very detailed piece of content and requires careful writing, impressive graphics and an elaborative topic.
How-to articles. The formula for these types of articles is pretty simple – point out a problem and offer solutions. How-to posts can potentially reel in more traffic due to much-searched long tail query introductions that usually begin with “How to” and “How do I/you”.
Reviews. Whether reviewing a book, a restaurant or a product, readers are interested in what you have to say about your experience – good, bad, so-so. Not only do reviews enable you to have a say about something, it asserts you as an authority and gives you a chance to interact and discuss with your audience.
Reviews also go the other way around, i.e. you may get in touch with relevant and reputable bloggers to do a review on your product or service.
E-books. Usually packaged as a PDF, e-books are typically offered free as a download when readers subscribe to a mailing list. Aside from being able to share what you know with others, e-books allow you to further assert your position as a thought leader and authority.
Lists. Running down a list allows you to drive a point while making your content more easily digestible and understandable to readers. Coming up with a list begins with thinking of a valuable and relevant topic and then breaking it down into constituent parts.
Crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is the process of generating interest and/or funding by soliciting contributions or aid from a large group of people or online community.
Social Media platforms. Content can be created specifically for social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram, etc.. Social networking sites enables content to be uploaded and shared at a much faster rate, especially if the content is relatable, valuable and interesting.
Make the most of Social Media Platforms
If a person does not have a Facebook page, he has been living under a rock. Truly, Facebook is its own country with neighbouring sites like Twitter, Instagram, Linked In, Google, etc. We have certainly embraced the presence of the Social Media era and there is no stopping it, so utilizing and taking advantage of Content Marketing, may be the wiser thing to do. Marketers benefit from it because once the content is out; it will spread like wildfire, especially if the content is at its best structure. Eventually, this will replicate and bring forth a network of publicity coming from a main source.
In 2012, B2B Content Marketing Usage by Tactic shows that Articles (79%) beat Social Media (other than blogs) by 5%. But in the succeeding report, Social Media (other than blogs, 87%) beat Articles by 4%.i Virus indeed spreads faster.
In 2007, a student by the name of Steven C. Culp of The University of North Carolina published a dissertation entitled “Advertising Amongst Ourselves: A qualitative study of viewer attitudes towards viral marketing, wherein he conducted in-depth interviews to College undergraduates and made use of these to explore content sharing particularly from videos viewed on YouTube. There were 4 themes that were brought about by the study:
However, not all viral content, written or advertorial, are good. It should boil down ultimately to the quality, value and reliability. The company website, if in existence should bear especially the key information to help create content that will be distributed through social media, go for the biggest names at that and integrate – whatever you post on Facebook will be published automatically in Twitter or Instagram or vice versa, ensuring multiple publishing.
Referring to CMI’s 2013 B2B Content Marketing Research results, the use of Social Media to distribute content in 2012 has increased by 13% compared to 2011.
Facebook, who may be the biggest gun at the moment, only ranked 3rd close of 2012 with LinkedIn on 1st pushing Twitter (first place in 2011) to 2nd place
There are a lot more platforms being utilized for Content Marketing like SlideShare, Vimeo, Flickr, Stumble Upon, Foursquare, Instagram but the above survey results show that B2B Marketers make use of at least 5 platforms at an average. Pinterest, which is now becoming a hub for all information pertaining to what people are interested in; here, they can find ideas to guide them to execute any projects related to that particular interest i.e. DIY home decors, Make-up tutorials, Hairstyle trends and pretty much everything under the sun. In 2011, no marketers have expressed usage, let alone knowledge of Pinterest but in 2012, more than 25% of these marketers are using the application.
Video. When done properly, a two to three minute office tour video, company mission video or an explainer video can help relay your message in a very succinct and persuasive way. One thing to note about videos is that if you want them professionally executed, they can be expensive.
More than a billion users watch YouTube videos every month. A hundred hours-worth of videos are uploaded every minute, with 80 percent of generated traffic coming from outside the United States. CISCO forecasts in their Visual Networking Index (VNI) that videos will account for 69 percent of all internet user traffic by 2017.
Create your own Videos
Now more than ever, videos have become the most interesting form of content media as it greatly appeals to the interest of users with its rich format combining audio, visual, motions and creativity. Any content can be transformed into a worthy video that can be uploaded into YouTube, which is now considered to be the second most popular search engine
76% of B2B marketers are using videos for their content marketing according to CMI’s 2015 Benchmark, Budgets and Trends – North America. But there are still organizations out there that have yet to consider this into action. Most of them are afraid to even attempt because they may not be or have people who are knowledgeable in the technical aspects of making a quality content video, let alone just creating any video. The best thing about our world today is that information is limitless. There are hundreds and thousands of resources available to aide us in pursuing projects such as video content marketing. If budget is not available to create professional and powerful videos in YouTube, research and self-help play a big part and here are some options that can help in creating engaging and interesting videos anyway. These are DIY tools in creating videos from scratch with helpful templates and tutorials.
Know What Works
The following are examples of content marketing strategies done the right way:
American Express: OPEN Forum
Intelligentsia Coffee: Brew Guides
Alongside step-by-step instructions on how to brew different kinds of coffee varieties with various coffee-making tools, Intelligentsia's Brew Guides features eye-catching photos and graphics. The guides are free, and furthers the brand as a thought leader and authority on anything coffee.
Good Greens: Product Reviews by Local Bloggers
In 2011, while Keith Pabley was working with a physician to help him improve his dwindling practice. Pabley discovered that the health bars the physician was recommending tasted awful, but there weren't any other health bars in the market at the time that were palatable. To satisfy this gap in the market, Pabley created Good Greens bars - dairy-free, gluten-free, all-natural health bars which contained 40 antioxidants and 3 probiotics.
Since Good Greens was a new and small business at that time, Pabley didn't have enough funding to go down the traditional marketing route. Instead, he fostered relationships with local bloggers so that they would review and mention his products.Good Greens bars are now available in more than 1,200 stores.
Magnolia: Buyer's Guide Place Mini Magazine
A small, family-owned photography store called Magnolia opened in 1954, which later on started selling other electronic products. Since the business didn't have enough capital to fund a television commercial or print ad, marketer Roger Parker helped the struggling business by launching the " Buyer's Guide Place".
The said mini-magazine revolved around educating shoppers about electronics, taking on topics such as what to look for when buying electronics, how to buy them and what to avoid. The company managed to maintain sales for decades, and within a few years, expanded throughout Oregon, California and Washington. A few years later, Best Buy bought the company for $87 million.
Metro Trains: Dumb Ways to Die Video
Australian transportation company, Metro Trains, launched a content marketing campaign to promote rail safety. While most safety campaigns can be too technical, dull and boring, Metro Trains approved a campaign that would get people's attention. And grab people's attention they did with their " Dumb Ways to Die" viral videos.
The said marketing campaign was so successful that around 1 million youths pledged to practice safety around trains, and accidents and deaths were reduced by 21 percent.
Sharpie: User-Generated Content
The beauty of user-generated content is that it not only makes for the distribution of tasks and the creation of free content, it allows users and enterprises to interact. Apparently, there are lots to post about pens and Sharpie has managed to create interest around their everyday, simply straightforward product lines.
From coloring in plain sandals to decorating shirts and jeans with patriotic symbols, the Sharpie blog allows users to comment and add in their ideas about what to do and how to be creative with Sharpie pens.Not only does the post create social media buzz, the content encourages people to purchase and use their products.
The White House: Behind-the-Scenes Gallery
Politics is a hybrid of serious governance and apparent silliness - at least that's what the leader of the free world wants the United States and the rest of the world to think.
The White House photo gallery allows people a behind-the-scene glimpse into what the President and First Lady have been doing the past year. Not only is politics about serious issues, the photo gallery shows the world the fun and funny side of the First Couple not oftentimes seen during press conferences.
The photos are aimed at humanizing the First Couple, and making them more relatable as people, rather than just political figures.
Ultimately, content marketing is about creating a dynamic relationship between enterprise and consumer. Long gone are the days that the consumer merely consumes. Today's consumer is empowered - seeking valuable and relevant information before making a decision to choose or behave differently.Enterprises, despite being separate legal entities, are now only effective if consumers deem them as valuable, relatable and ironically, human.
The value of content marketing is that it helps consumers to know a brand, a service or a product better. A mere glimpse is not enough. It helps with the buying decision, it helps to build relationships, it helps because people are often too busy to do anything other than search online. Content marketing enablesenterprises to promote their businesses, while allowing the consistently hungry consumer to devour valuable and highly relevant information.
Whether they know it or not all organizations are engaged in content marketing. The problem is that many still do not realize it and are allowing other more disciplined, prolific organizations to fill the available space with their content and take away their customers. The time to start content marketing is here and now. Set your goals, decide upon your outlets and your schedule and start writing.
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