Getting Started with Content Marketing

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There’s no doubt content marketing is the way of the future: it costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates approximately 3 times as many leads. You might know that, and you might know you need to get started, but you’re left feeling a little fuzzy on exactly how to do content marketing in a way that works for your business and actually gets you results.

Don’t worry–we’ll be explaining all of it in this series, starting with getting started!

What is Content Marketing?

When most people hear “content marketing”, they think “blog posts,” if they think of anything at all. It’s true that articles and blog posts (and what is a blog post but an article, anyways?) fall under the content marketing category, but so do:

  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Presentations
  • Ebooks
  • Whitepapers

In essence, content marketing is just creating useful content that fits these criteria:

  • Your potential customers will actually want to read/watch/etc. the content.
  • They’ll find it useful, too (and probably share it with others).
  • And ideally, the content isn’t very self promotional.

“Wait a second there,” I hear you say, “It’s NOT self promotional? Then how does it count as marketing? How does this stuff help my business? Is this a pyramid scheme?!”

When many companies start content marketing, they’re essentially just using their blog or Youtube channel to run ads about their company. And here’s the thing: some people will want to watch or read what’s basically an ad, if they’re in the “comparing products and choosing a solution” stage. But a lot of people–even if they still might be interested in becoming customers some day–aren’t, and by not offering anything that interests those people, you’re losing them.

However, if you create useful content that improves those peoples’ lives, they’re going to remember your business and eventually become a customer. You’re setting up your business as an industry influencer, and cementing your business in the minds of potential customers as a member of the light side of the Force who will be able to help them, when the time comes.

You might still think that sounds kinda touchy-feely and like not much of a strategy, but I’ve got some more cold hard facts for ya:

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  • 70% of consumers feel closer to a company as a result of content marketing (Demand Metric)
  • 34% of all leads generated by marketers in 2013 come from inbound marketing sources (Hubspot)
  • 79% of companies that have a blog report a positive ROI for inbound marketing in 2013 (Hubspot)
  • B2B companies that blog generate 67% more leads per month than those that don’t (Hubspot)
  • Small businesses with blogs generate 126% more leads than those without (Think Creative Digital) And one last stat with some commentary from Hubspot:

Content Marketing Institute recently reported that 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus in an advertisement. The bottom line: We don’t want to be sold to, we want to be educated, and articles deliver the kind of information your prospects are seeking in order to make smart, well-informed decisions.

Now that we’re all on the same page about how useful content marketing is, let’s move on to…

Creating a Content Plan

There are several steps here, outlined below, but here’s a few things to start thinking about in respect to creating a content plan:

  • How often can you can commit to creating content sustainably.
  • What format you want to distribute that content in, whether that’s videos, articles, webinars, or something else.

When it comes to how often you’re creating content, focus on sustainability, not necessarily volume. It’s better to blog once a week consistently than to have radio silence for three weeks and then post five articles in a week. With consistency, your readers know they can check back on Tuesdays and there’ll be a new post; it shows that your company reliable and trustworthy.  For more on creating an effective editorial calendar for content marketing, check out the Quick-Start Guide To A Successful Business Blog.

The format for your content will depend on your audience/target market and the kind of talent and technology you have on hand–more on those in a moment.

Setting Your Objectives

As with any marketing strategy, before you start outlining your process, you need to figure out what your objectives are. Obviously, you want to make more money, but that’s not a very clear objective. Instead of starting out with that, here’s a few questions to help you get clearer:

  • How much more money do you want to make in the next 6-18 months as a result of your content marketing strategy?
  • How many leads a month would you like to get as a result of your content marketing? (Make sure those two numbers–the money and the leads–match!)
  • Are you looking to increase your credibility with industry peers as well as your leads/revenue? (This will affect the type of content you create.)
  • How many hours a month do you have to spend on your content marketing strategy? (Don’t sell yourself short, but at the same time, if you know you only have a few hours, it’ll affect the type of content you create depending on what comes easiest to you and your team.)

Defining Your Audience

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A less than ideal blogging scenario.
Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

Defining your audience is key to figuring out what kind of content to create and where to share it (which is really a whole other issue, but certain types of content do well on certain social media networks which, you guessed it, also have certain demographics).

There’s two very common mistakes that businesses make when it comes to starting with content marketing, and these mistakes come down to a misunderstanding about who the audience is:

  • They share mostly internal company news. “Look at our team building seminar!” “Susie got promoted to head of HR”, etc. While this is relevant to people inside the company, it’s almost entirely irrelevant to a potential interested customer. A few photos on Facebook or Twitter every once in a while is all right, but content like this should not be the bulk of what you’re sharing.
  • They talk to others in their industry. This can work as an expertise-building tactic (which can get you more referrals and revenue, though in a more roundabout way), but you’d do that by contributing articles to other publications for industry professionals–not by sharing this content on your site. This is a classic mistake and usually looks like, say, a graphic designer posting articles like “Three common mistakes graphic designers make.” But other graphic designers won’t buy someone’s graphic design services; a better blog post would be “Three ways to clarify your business’s branding before you hire a graphic designer.”

Make a concentrated effort to avoid both of those, and if you’re still struggling with defining your audience, talk to your customers:

  • Find out what questions they had before they bought your product or service.
  • Find out what questions they have now after buying it.
  • Find out who they are now, so that you can trace back and see who they were a few years ago before they had ever heard of you. (Then you can figure out how to create content that will reach others who are in that state right now.)

Developing a Strategy

We’re going to go in-depth on developing a solid content marketing strategy throughout the course of this series, but for the sake of this article, here’s how to take what you’ve got so far and start creating a strategy:

  • Look at your ability to create content–what types of content creation comes naturally to you? For example, you might hate writing but love creating infographics.
  • Once you have a list of the kind of content you’d actually enjoy creating, see if there are any that obviously don’t make sense with your audience. If you know that your audience is busy and always on-the-go, doing webinars might not make any sense (because they’ll have a hard time showing up live or watching a 60 minute video replay). A podcast might make more sense, because they can listen to it in the car to and from work.
  • After you’ve crossed any obvious no-gos off your list, look at the content types you’ve got left, and carefully consider how often you can create content in those formats. Again, sustainability is important here, so don’t overdo it. Better to start with one time a week and go up than to start with three times a week, get overwhelmed, and stop before you see results.

If you can, choose two complementary types of content to create. This will let you repurpose the content easily, which means more ways to reach potential customers with less work from you. Video and writing is one example of this–a video post can easily be turned into a written post and vice versa, and people who watch the video might not want to read the blog post (again, or vice versa).

Leveraging Technology

Creating a solid content marketing strategy takes enough time in and of itself, so once you embark on actually implementing said strategy, you’ll want to make sure you’re leveraging technology to make the whole shebang easier to deal with. Here’s a few useful resources:

Scheduling and staying organized:

  • If you’re working with a team, Trello can be used to manage your editorial calendar, and it’s free. Here’s a how to video on using it for editorial calendars:

(Here’s another, longer video in case you want to watch more!)

  • Coschedule is a social media/editorial calendar plugin for WordPress that starts at $10/month and helps you manage not only your blog posts, but the social media shares of them.
  • Hootsuite and Buffer are two social media scheduling tools (both with free options) that can help you get the word out about your new content once you’ve created it.

Video tools:

  • Screencast-O-Matic ($15/year) can make it possible for you to start recording and sharing screencasts tomorrow, with a low price and built-in integration with Youtube that makes it easy to upload your new creation.
  • Camtasia does video recording as well as screen recording, with built-in video editing tools and the ability to create interactive videos with links on-screen, but it costs more at $99.
  • If you’re on a Mac, iMovie is probably all you need to do light video editing; Windows Movie Maker and Lightworks are two free options for Windows users.

Idea generators:

Talent:

Okay, so this isn’t an app, but it’s worth thinking about the talent you have on hand when you’re tasking out your content marketing strategy. If you’ve already got someone on your team who’s great on video and knows how to edit video, then it might make more sense to start out with videos, see what does well, and then transition into creating written content later.

You’ll spend less time creating the content, which can help you get data quicker as far as what your audience actually wants to learn about, and once you know that, you can create content in a variety of formats to suit their needs.

Recap & Your Next Steps:

Content marketing:

  • Cements your business in the minds of potential customers and creates an emotional connection
  • Comes in many different forms–not just blog posts
  • Should be done consistently and sustainably, instead of creating and publishing a bunch of content at once

Now that you’re done reading this article, you need to:

  1. Figure out what type of content you want to create for your marketing strategy, and how often you can create it.
  2. Set clear objectives for your content marketing strategy.
  3. Make sure you’re creating content with your audience–i.e., potential customers–in mind.
  4. Start mapping out your content strategy for the next few months so you can get started on it (don’t worry about mapping out a twelve month plan just yet; when you’re getting started, it’s more important to start than it is to spend a lot of time planning how you’ll start).