Content marketing is the linchpin of demand creation – the link between brand awareness and lead generation. Done well, it builds familiarity, affinity and trust with prospective and current customers by providing information that resonates – in the right format, through the right channel, at the right time.
Search queries for the term have more than doubled in the past two years, supporting the notion that content marketing is being seen as its own discipline. This places new emphasis on content creation and quality. it also spotlights a very real need for organisations to rethink their go-to market plans by adding content to their marketing mix, or refining an existing strategy.
But a content marketing strategy doesn’t create itself. it’s the result of clear intention, careful planning and focused execution. The question is, how does a company get started? Here are six best practices that can help you develop and deploy effective strategies for content marketing across channels and buying cycles.
1. Get Stakeholder Support
Content marketing is not a short term affair. It’s a long term commitment that requires continual collaboration and engagement to succeed. This means you’ll most likely need to sell the idea to the executive team, as well as other key people or departments within your organisation.
One effective technique for getting internal buy-in begins with not talking about content marketing at all, at least not initially. Instead, focus on your stakeholders’ goals and pain points, even their bonus systems – those areas that affect their own success. Then introduce content marketing as a valuable way for them to get better results.
2. Understand Your Audience
Content marketing isn’t about selling. It’s about educating, entertaining, or otherwise delighting your readers in order to earn their trust over time. To be successful, you need to understand who your audience is – and what they want and need from you – in order to gauge how much viable content you already have and what content you’ll need to create.
There are two key activities here, both of which require stakeholder commitment and participation to be most effective:
1. Develop customer personas
This is an effective ways to uncover who your target customers are, which helps identify what topics your content should be covering. Start by asking yourself and your sales stakeholders these questions:
- Who are our ideal prospects and customers?
- How do they go about making a buying decision?
- What are their questions? Pain points? Objections?
- What gaps in information are they lacking that my content can fill?
2. Map your content to the buyer’s journey
By assigning content to the most appropriate buying stage, you not only make the best use of existing content, you also discover maps that need to be filled. Typical steps include:
3. Identify the Right Content Formula
Content marketing is about helping your current and future customers solve an issue that’s important to them. To do this, your content needs to facilitate conversations among influencers, stakeholders, and decision makers, giving them the confidence to take the next step. If it doesn’t, your content marketing strategy will fail. (Or at the very least under-achieve its goal.)
These three steps will help you uncover the optimum content formula:
- Create content your customers want. Many organizations make the mistake of investing heavily in pushing marketing messages that are important to the company, rather than providing information that’s important to the customer. When planning content, always take a customer-centric approach to best ensure you create something of value for your readers.
- Develop an array of content to deploy across multiple channels and devices. Take the time to understand which channels and formats your customers prefer, and then diversify how and where you publish your content to extend your reach. In addition to printed (or PDF’d) content, consider other formats such as HTML-based articles, blogs, social media sites, webinars and videos. Given the steep adoption rates of tablets and smartphones, make deciding what you will optimize for mobile part of your strategy.
- Don’t just create content, curate it. There’s enormous value in not only creating original content, but in curating “best of” content from across the Web. By showcasing and sharing relevant content from other thought leaders – from magazines, blogs, research, etc. – you demonstrate independence and credibility, which can increase customer affinity and loyalty.
4. Create an Editorial Calendar
Every good content marketing program begins with a carefully planned, proactive editorial calendar. It’s the execution plan for integrating content into a cohesive story that you want your audience to see. You probably won’t follow it verbatim, but if it exists up front you’ll be far more consistent and successful at publishing the content you need and generating the results you want.
Your editorial calendar should:
- Enumerate your customer-centric themes, aligning content with appropriate buying cycle phases and audience personas.
- Provide a tentative outline of when different pieces of content will publish, on what platform, and via which syndication and social channels.
- Clearly articulate cadence; that is, the date each piece of content will be developed and distributed. Publishing your content in a consistent, timely fashion is critical.
Additionally, since social promotion and content go hand-in-hand, be sure to map social campaigns to your editorial calendar. Work with your social team during the calendaring process to align the respective publishing schedules and help drive traffic to your website.Include social and share links in your various content – papers, webpages, emails, blogs, etc. – whenever appropriate.
5. Get Maximum Mileage Out Of Your Content
Developing the volume of content necessary to fuel a content program is a challenge. Try using the Rule of 5 – use one piece of content in five distinct ways. Five may not always be the optimal number, the goal is to extend the life of your content by using it in multiple ways, offering it in multiple formats, and distributing it everywhere.
Plan to break long content up into smaller pieces and different formats. For example, after putting time and energy into a fantastic webinar, convert it into a video and publish it on YouTube. Post the presentation deck on SlideShare. Make a PDF of the transcribed audio track available. Break the transcript into a short series of blog posts. Create a Q&A from the session.
Have a robust white paper? Extract two main ideas and create short articles. Take two more ideas and create blog posts. Promote them all through social media channels. Link them to each other, inviting readers on an information journey with your brand. Use the articles in lead-nurture campaigns.
Maximize the visibility of your content and brand by including social and share links in your various content pieces – papers, web pages, emails, blogs, etc. – whenever and wherever appropriate. And don’t forget about search engine optimization. Use keywords and metadata to make your content findable by the people you’ve created it for.
By planning your content for scalability, you’ll reduce resource overhead while increasing visibility and providing value to your audience.
6. Develop a Process for Measuring and Reporting
Decreasing costs and increasing profit margins are as important as increasing sales and revenue. An effective content marketing program can do both. Make sure you track that and measure it over time.
A recommended method is to develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are tied to the business value of your content marketing program. Take a look at everything you’ll need to execute the strategy you’ve created.
- Do you have enough resources?
- Do you have the capabilities – in-house or outsourced – to effectively execute?
- Do you have enough budget?
- What else is on your plate or in development that may affect program deployment?
- Have expectations been set – and bought into – among stakeholders?
- What are the leading indicators of success? The lagging indicators?
- How can the program’s financial impact be measured?
- How can we compare the financial impact relative to other programs that may be more costly?