Most businesses have already adopted the Content Marketing ethos and a lot of firms already know the positive commercial impact content marketing promises.
You will find a lot of declarations online stating that content is king, that content is an excellent marketing tool. If this is truly the case, why is there so much confusion surrounding content marketing and its capabilities?
First, it’s partly due to a million different definitions floating around. Each agency provides its own meaning for content marketing. Here’s how Ian Lurie, CEO of Portent, simply defines content:
“Content isn’t ‘stuff we write to rank higher’ or ‘infographics’ or ‘long-form articles.’
Content is anything that communicates a message to the audience. Anything.”
For simplicity’s sake, we define content as all the information that is relevant to your customers and stakeholders. This can be anything from an annual newsletter to the pictures you use on a supermarket standee. In this sense, content marketing deals with the creation and execution of all content created for marketing purposes.
The second confusion (and one we hope to do justice) is that people just can’t figure out how content marketing works. Some think its an ad-hoc technique where you create and curate content on the go. Others believe its a forced necessity to stay in competition with competing firms. Not surprisingly, another common belief surrounding content marketing is the quantity over quality mantra, with people believing such gimmicks will help with SEO rankings.
We are here to clear these misconceptions and show you how you can take steps to master content marketing and get rid of all the confusion surrounding it once and for all.
Have a Well Designed Content Strategy
First things first, let’s ask the important questions.
Why do you want to do content? Who are you making it for? What benefit do you think content marketing will provide and how do you plan to achieve that benefit? What platform will you use?
There are numerous benefits to be enjoyed with content marketing. It can help to:
- create brand awareness
- build respect for you in your industry as a thought leader
- create customer conversations.
On the easily measurable end of marketing benefits, it provides site traffic and improved SEO (if done right).
Now that we know how content marketing benefits us, it’s time to plan how to achieve these benefits.
Figuring out a vision for your content is a good way to start planning and to get your marketing team thinking along the required lines for good content.
You need to ask yourself, your team and your bosses where they see the company in 3-5 years and how content can help them get to that point. This exercise will refine the direction, and give your content purpose and meaning.
The next step is to figure out who will buy into your vision. Or more aptly put, which audience will help you achieve your vision.
This is an important step in developing your content strategy as you need to understand your target audience like you do your very own yourself. You are aware of your dislikes and likes, you know what problems you face and you know the sort of people you will let help with those problems.
If you can attain the same insights about your audience, the chances of them paying attention to you increase greatly. They will feel like you truly understand them.
To start, you should define your target audience using demographics and psychographics. This includes asking them questions like:
- What age/income/sex/location does my audience fall under?
- What is their occupation, race or level of religion?
- What channels do they use to communicate? (Twitter, Instagram, email?)
- What are the interests of my audience?
- What activities do they enjoy?
- Will they find my brand message relevant?
- What attitudes do they have towards subjects particular to my industry?
Of course, not all of these questions will apply to your case but these are a good starting point to devise questions that will help you learn your consumer.
To gather data on these questions you can:
- Conduct surveys
- Interview existing clients
- Hire a marketing research company
- Use analytics tools like Google Analytics, ClickTale (behavior mapping tool) and CrazyEgg (for heatmaps)
After you have gathered this information. You can classify people according to the type of responses they give and create general personas (an ideal customer profile) for each segment. Then you can examine these personas and ask yourself which of these customer groups will best help your company achieve its vision. Here’s an example of what a buyer persona can look like:
With buyer personas, you will know what sort of people you are writing for, and it will also guide your content style and help you come up with content ideas that are specially tailored to these people.
The key is to set your goal and then write the blog, article, or eBook, and not the other way around. When you know what you want to accomplish with each piece, you’re more likely to choose the right approach. You have defined your vision and you know your audience. Goals are the objectives that will help you actualize your vision.
If you want to build awareness, you’ll write a white paper, for example. On the other hand, if you want to improve conversions, you’ll want to craft a killer landing page to add to your website. We’ll talk more about that in our next section.
Goals make your content strategy efficient because they point you in the right direction for reaching the people that are most likely to engage with your content. To get the best results, your goals should be SMART:
Let’s say you want to reach a broader public. While it’s something you can certainly work toward, it’s not a SMART goal yet. On the other hand, say you decide to work toward getting 1,000 new website visitors per month by the end of the year—this is specific, measurable, timely, and, depending on your current traffic, could likely also be realistic and achievable.
With a SMART goal in mind and buyer personas on deck, planning your content strategy becomes a lot easier. You can now put together a content calendar where you plan out articles, guest posts, landing pages, and other content along with what you expect to achieve from each piece. Keeping tabs on your content in this format lets you easily measure whether your efforts are bringing you closer to your goals.
If you also want to learn the best ways to distribute your content, you can do so here.
Use the Sales Funnel to Optimize Content
The sales funnel is a marketing concept that basically maps a consumer’s journey, starting from them hearing about a brand and ending with them making a purchase decision. The four basic stages are:
Each stage requires the marketer to engage potential customers in a different manner. The message you’d deliver to someone who’s discovering your brand will be much different from a message tailored for an existing customer.
The same logic applies to content marketing, you need different content at different stages of a sales funnel.
MailMunch wrote a comprehensive post on how to utilize the sales funnel. You can access it here.
At the top of the funnel, the discovery stage, the goal of content is to stir up indirect customer conversations and spread awareness of your brand. At this stage, people don’t really care about your company and the only way they will engage with your content is if you educate them regarding a need they didn’t know they had (and your product can solve) or if your content is interesting and specific to your readership.
The content that works best at the discovery stage includes:
- Blog posts
- Landing pages
- Your website
- How to guides
- Email newsletters
Canary specializes in selling home security systems and they use social media as a tool in their content strategy. Have a look at one of their Instagram pages, centered around animals:
They’ve brilliantly combined entertainment with their solutions. They encourage Canary Security System owners to upload funny videos of their pets, caught on camera. This way not only do people get to share their love for animals but a lot of viewers get exposed to the Canary brand, keeping them top of mind if people ever consider investing in a security system.
If a consumer starts to associate you with the solution that you offer, he has entered the consideration stage. Here, your goal is to acquire customers. The tactics you will use are building trust and providing solutions to their challenges. At this stage you need to create:
- Case studies
- Product showcase information
- Demo videos
It’s important to remember that even though customers are showing interest at this stage, you don’t have to get sale-sy with your content just yet. They are still evaluating between options. The best you can do is provide them with all the information they may need to come up with a decision. This way you’d be building trust with them as well.
Next, you have the conversion stage. The customer is convinced of the benefits of your product but he’s still not quite at the finish line yet. Maybe they don’t believe you’re worth the money or maybe they have you pegged head-to-head with a competitor. This is where you have to make your final pitch, this is where you win the customer.
Your content goal is to support sales teams and help them. And the absolute easiest way to close a prospect is through ratings, reviews, testimonials, and case studies. In fact, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
When a sale is imminent, use content that is straightforward. Such content doesn’t beat around the bush and mentions things buyers want to know like features, product descriptions, competitor comparison charts, and sales process guides.
Content Marketing doesn’t end with a sale. You have new customers on board now. Who’s going to guide them through your product and get them set-up? Who’s going to keep the existing customers happy?
At this stage, your content needs to be focused on retaining customers. Some forms of content that help with this are:
- Special Offers
- Surveys/Outreach and follow-ups
- Product usage guides
- Technical assistance literature
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t be sharing your latest blog posts or videos with your customers. It just means that the aforementioned content forms are just specific to customers. It’s in your best interest to keep these customers happy and have them become ambassadors of your brand so they may spread the good word among their network too.
Use Principles of Persuasion
With your content marketing strategy ready, It’s time to look at the qualitative aspects which will make your content persuasive. How can you execute a successful strategy if no one will watch, listen to, or read your content?
Your content has to persuade, be informative, useful and entertaining for your audience. To infuse these qualities, we’ll refer to marketing and psychology professor Dr. Robert Cialdini’s 6 principles of Influence.
According to Cialdini, the six principles of persuasion are:
- Social Proof
“In brief, we are inclined to go along with someone’s suggestion if we think that person is a credible expert (authority), if we regard him or her as a trusted friend (liking), if we feel we owe them one (reciprocity), or if doing so will be consistent with our beliefs or prior commitments (consistency). We are also inclined to make choices that we think are popular (consensus [social proof]), and that will net us a scarce commodity (scarcity).” Says Dr. Kendrick in summary of the six principles.
So how do these principles apply to your content?
To build authority through your content, it must be factual, credible, thought-provoking and make the audience feel like they really learned something.
To earn liking, your content should relate to your audience and make them feel like it was designed especially to entertain them, address them and solve their problems.
To create scarcity, you can offer valuable content for free or offer discounts on your products. When you do this you also create a need for reciprocity in your customers. Potential customers may feel like they ‘owe you one’ after you give them something for free.
To earn influence through social proof or consensus, use testimonials and customer reviews throughout your website to convince your audience that they are making the right choice. It’s a principle that’s based upon the idea of safety in numbers.
You may have noticed that you are more inclined to watch videos with higher views or read articles with greater engagement. The reason is simple, we buy into popular opinion. As an extension of this concept, you can even have influencers in your industry share your content to really give it that stamp of consensus.
Look at this website from Fitbit. They’ve added reviews from credible sources who vouch for the brilliance of their product. When a visitor comes across such content, he’s more inclined to consider buying a product.
Finally, leveraging the principle of consistency means reinforcing the audience’s beliefs and ideas. If you have already studied your audience and understood their attitudes and beliefs, your content should automatically be consistent with their ideas.
Content Marketing is often shrouded in mystery and small businesses tend to be a skeptic of its results. We pointed out that for most businesses, content marketing provides benefits like:
- greater brand awareness
- respect for you in your industry as a thought leader
- Creation of customer conversations.
- Increased site traffic
- Improved SEO
The way to unclutter content marketing related confusion is to have a strategy in place which includes defining a vision, audience, and goals. If you define these aspects, you have a strategy in place which you can follow and measure to achieve specific results.
You also need to consider your content in light of the sales funnel. Each stage in the funnel (discovery, consideration, conversion, retention) requires different types of content. There’s no one fit for all content.
Finally, to give your content that extra juice, consider using Dr. Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion. They are
- Social Proof
If you design your content keeping these factors of influence in mind, your content will pack a lot more punch and really resonate with your audience.
Using these tips and tools, you can really make 2019 your year by mastering content marketing. Apply these tips to your business and tell us how your experience goes. We love to hear and learn from our audience!