As a consumer, how do you prefer to learn about a company?
If you’re like most other consumers, you fall within the 70% who say they prefer to learn about products through content rather than through traditional advertising methods.
This statistic highlights how traditional advertising has become less effective over time. People have become somewhat immune to having ads “pushed” at them and are looking for companies to be delivering value.
This is where content marketing enters the picture.
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” – Content Marketing Institute
How can you use content marketing to create a system for customer acquisition? Let’s take a look:
Why use content marketing?
When content marketing is done well, it can be a valuable vehicle for helping people to find you online. Distributing relevant, high-quality content can act as a “pull” factor, rather than the push of traditional advertising. People choose to click to read or view something they are interested in rather than having ads thrust in front of them.
Otherwise known as “inbound marketing,” content helps to boost your website SEO if you post information that is relevant to your product or service. This isn’t necessarily content to push your product specifically, but interesting information that is directly related. For example, a cyber security firm might post about “current threats to cyber security”, or the impacts of new legislations such as GDPR.
The key is to offer people what they want. They’re online looking for answers to something and you just might grab their attention if you provide those answers.
“People don’t search for you. They ask questions. If you want to get found, you better offer answers.” – Lee Odden – CEO at TopRank Marketing.
Benefits of content marketing
Just briefly, let’s look at a few of the benefits of using content marketing:
- You can build trust and credibility with potential customers by delivering something of value, without the sales pitch
- If you can obtain the client’s permission by getting them to opt-in, you create a channel to continue communicating and relationship-building
- Popular content can potentially go viral, leading to major PR
- You can establish individuals or your brand as a thought leader, lending further credibility to your product or service
- Content benefits can spill into your other marketing methods, such as SEO, offline events, community building, email and social media
- Content can continue to draw traffic for years, whereas your paid campaigns are over as soon as they stop running
“1 in 10 blog posts are compounding, meaning organic search increases their traffic over time.” –HubSpot.
“96% of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders.” – Demand Gen Report, 2016.
Of course, all of these benefits sound fantastic, but there is a caution to note before diving right in and expecting results – your content strategy will take at least six months to pay off. It requires careful planning, a study of analytics, understanding of your target audience and adjusting your approach according to what you learn. If you’re to gain any traction with content, it also has to be of excellent quality, which is something that takes time and/or money to develop.
There are a number of examples of companies that have implemented a content strategy that has successfully taken their profiles to new heights. Let’s just look at a couple:
Red Bull – While the company is still most famous for its energy drink, content has become such a large part of the business that in 2007 they launched Red Bull Media House, as a totally separate division of the company. The goal is now for this media division to become a profitable enterprise in its own right
Red Bull’s content is certainly related though – it’s all high-energy stories, from extreme sports to backpacking and carnivals. They span every form of media, including publishing its own glossy magazine, The Red Bulletin. A key point to note is that you’re not getting a sales message anywhere within the content.
Buffer – The main product Buffer sells is its social media management software, yet the company has made a name for themselves by consistently producing insightful, quality content on a range of related topics. In its early days, co-founder Leo Widrich did a lot of guest posting on popular blogs, which led them to the conclusion that content was a good strategy for them.
Fast forward to today and Buffer’s content is shared everywhere while its blog has more than 1.5 million monthly visitors.
How to do content marketing effectively
Here’s the sticking point with content marketing; when it is done well it can be very effective for customer acquisition, but when it hasn’t been well executed, it can have the opposite effect.
There are well over 100 million blogs out there now, with thousands also flocking to media, such as video or podcasts. In fact, we’re virtually drowning in content, but there are two key problems:
- A lot of that content is of questionable quality.
- Many companies have great content but fail to use it to its full potential.
If you have brilliant content but you’re stuck on that second problem, the thing that companies are often missing is a clear strategy. In fact, in Content Marketing Institute’s 2017 study of B2B content marketing, of those companies whose results were the least successful, just 14% felt that their organisation was clear on what an effective content marketing program looks like.
What does an effective strategy look like? We’ve got a few suggestions:
#1. Define your objectives and strategy
The Content Marketing Institute sums up the need for defining your strategy and objectives here:
“At its core, your content marketing strategy is your “why.” Why you are creating content, who you are helping, and how you will help them in a way no one else can. Organisations typically use content marketing to build an audience and to achieve at least one of these profitable results: increased revenue, lower costs, or better customers.”
Developing a solid content strategy is always going to be part research and part practical application. You can make some fair assumptions of what your target audience might like to see based on research, but you won’t know for sure until you’ve tested out the content and monitored results. Let’s break this down into steps:
Step #1. To begin with, what are your objectives for content marketing? It’s important that these are clearly articulated so that content can be driven in the right direction.
Step #2. Know who your customer is. Develop clear buyer personas and understand that people will be looking to fulfill different needs depending on which stage of the buyer’s journey they are at. Hubspot provides a simple explanation of the buyer’s journey, based on the decision to go ahead with a doctor’s visit below:
You can see from the different stages above that buyers have different types of problems or questions, each of which can provide opportunities for content at each stage. A good activity to do right now as a first step is to look at your buyer personas and map out each stage of their journey. Brainstorm the questions, problems or burning issues they may have – these are great places to start with a content strategy.
Step #3. Plan out a content calendar. An important rule of content marketing is consistency. You can’t start out with a roar, fizzle out then expect to see results from content.
Step #4. Consider your own “unique tilt.” How will you be different from everyone else? Realistically, there is not much in the way of truly “new” content, but there are unique ways of presenting it and appealing to different audiences. Your own “unique tilt” can be something that makes your content memorable and leads to it being cited in other places.
Step #5. Research for SEO. This should include activities such as keyword research as content featuring the right keywords can help you to rank on search engines for relevant terms. A word of caution here; the content you create should be written for people, not search engines, otherwise you won’t see results. If people come to your content, find it excruciatingly stuffed with keywords, then leave immediately, this can have the opposite effect on SEO.
Step #6. Decide how you will produce content. Generally speaking, this means either having team members take care of it in-house or outsourcing it to someone else.
#2. Produce high-quality content
Of course, after all of that planning, you actually need to produce the high-quality content. There is no silver bullet for this because creating quality, valuable content is hard work.
There is a lot we could discuss regarding different techniques for creating great content; in fact, many of these strategies warrant their own guide, so let’s just break it down into a few “rules”:
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#3. Promote content
One of the biggest fallacies to knock out of the way here is “build it and they will come.” They probably won’t, not without some kind of nudge to take a look. This is where it’s very important to promote your content, and why wouldn’t you? You’ve just spent time and possibly money on getting quality content created, it would be a waste of an investment not to promote it.
Derek Halpern of Social Triggers has an interesting “80/20” rule for content:
“Create content 20% of the time. Spend the other 80% of the time promoting what you created.”
This makes complete sense when you think that your other option for building an audience might be “create even more content.”
A good place to start is with any audience you already have. This might mean your email list and your followers on social media. At the very least, emails should go out highlighting content and it should be posted to your social media channels.
Another “free” method of promotion is to get proactive about finding the right audiences and bringing them to you. This might be through guest posting, or being active in relevant forums. Find discussion groups, answer questions and contribute to the discussion. Forums such as Quora, Reddit or sites for your particular business niche are good places to look.
As a third strategy for free promotion, consider syndicating your content, or repurposing it into other formats. For example, after a few weeks, you can syndicate a blog post to Medium or LinkedIn. Prior to that, you may have also repurposed it by creating a Slideshare presentation, an infographic or tweeting out valuable snippets.
There are many ways you can promote your content but you should also consider paid promotion. This might include sponsored posts on social media channels, using PPC ads or paying for promotion on platforms like Medium. Sometimes a bit of paid promotion is the momentum boost your content needs.
#4. Measure your results
Once you’ve been producing content for a while and set it up with tracking and analytics, you should have a rich source of data from which to draw from in order to make any improvements.
For example, you might look for things like:
- The content formats that get more views, or more time spent on the page.
- The types of content that are getting the most engagement.
- Headline types that get the most clicks.
- Whether any variation in publishing schedule affects results.
- Content upgrades that are the most popular.
- Channels that get the most engagement when you share content or interact in forums.
One of the keys to successful content marketing as an acquisition strategy is to have patience. Content is hardly ever an overnight success and tends to build up slowly. As you measure your results, adjust your strategy accordingly and produce more of what is working.
Content marketing is a commitment that begins with understanding what you want to get out of it. There are many different approaches and strategies that help to make content marketing a success, several of which we have guides for here.
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