This post originally appeared on Single Grain, a growth marketing agency focused on scaling customer acquisition.
Then again, while these numbers indicate the prevalence of content marketing as a practice, they fail to capture the efficacy of the respective campaigns. In fact, only 34% of B2C and 42% of B2B marketers believe that they are "effective" at content marketing.
Any content marketing campaign requires a solid foundation of knowledge, preparation, and execution in order to succeed. Failure to lay this foundation can lead to misguided efforts, disinterested readership, and a waste of company and human resources.
If you are just beginning to develop your content marketing campaign, or you are looking for a fresh start, the process of building from scratch is actually not so complicated. By understanding the aims of content marketing, developing your corporate identity, building your platform, and establishing a process of content creation that's optimized, your team can count themselves among the growing number of marketers who feel confident and effective.
Understanding Content Marketing
Content marketing is frequently billed as the next evolution of digital marketing. For any discerning business owner, claims like these should give pause. It goes without saying that any solution that purports to be the next step in business development should not be accepted without discerning consideration.
So, before we discuss the construction and actual application of a content marketing campaign, it's important to understand exactly what your goals are, and what purpose content marketing serves in shaping your brand image and positioning your business. Doing so will help you better recognize the aims of each step of the process and frame your decisions and expectations in an applicable context.
Content marketing is, on the surface, precisely what it sounds like: marketing through content. In a cursory way, content marketing is about developing blog posts, videos, slideshows, photos, infographics, webinars, and other media pieces that capture audience attention and build a positive association with your brand.
On a much deeper level, content marketing is the practice of developing engaging and meaningful relationships with your customers. Traditional advertising methods are designed to entice viewers using depictions of positive benefits and lifestyle fulfillment attained through a solution. Content marketing, on the other hand, enters into a discussion regarding the needs and aspirations of the customer through value-driven media.
From a top-down perspective, content marketing is the establishment of one or many customer facing interface channels that help better fulfill their needs and inform your products and marketing. Your blogs, webinars, and YouTube videos become the face of your company, demonstrating your personality and authority and welcoming customer connection in the process.
This is the theoretical basis for content marketing. The execution of this theory is a matter of seeking, establishing, and cultivating those customer relationships through a variety of channels. Research shows that buyers go through 57% of the purchasing journey before ever talking to sales, and content is designed to address their needs, questions, and concerns during that time.
Blogs are likely to be a major source of content marketing for your business. In fact, 82% of marketers who maintain a company blog see positive ROI for their inbound marketing efforts. Blogging involves the creation and monitoring of articles, both textual and visual, that deliver value to your customers. Additionally, your team will be tasked with responding to comments in the both the discussion section and on social media.
Other platforms possess their own respective responsibilities. The platforms you adopt will depend on your available budget and creative resources. According to Content Marketing Institute, 87% of businesses adopted a video component, while 86% and 85% adopted articles and in-person events respectively.
However your campaign materializes is dependent on your specific industry, resources, and goals. What matters most is that it is based on a solid foundation of strategy, self-knowledge, and quality.
Laying Your Foundation
It's important to note, before we dive into the specifics of development and execution, that any marketing campaign must stem from a foundation of focus. Without understanding your objectives and your assets, any marketing, inbound or otherwise, can and will suffer from a lack of vital direction. So, before we write our first blog post or start filming our first video, let's lay that foundation.
Defining Your Goals
The first thing to identify about your campaign is what it is designed to accomplish. For obvious reasons, no two businesses find themselves in the same market position, subject to the same brand perception, level of awareness, or share of available revenue.
First ask yourselves, "what would we like to improve," and let all subsequent efforts arise from the answer. For companies with low market share, the answer may be "awareness". For businesses with unfavorable perception, positive association may be your goal.
Whatever answer arises from your unique position in the market, make sure that your goals are well-constructed. A common technique for ensuring this is referred to as making goals "SMART". This stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Further reading regarding SMART goals can be found numerous places, but for the sake of demonstration, here is an example of a SMART marketing goal:
"Grow our Twitter audience by 15% over the next 6 months."
As you can see, the goal has each of the SMART components. The goal is specified to Twitter, given a number against which to check current progress, attainable to our hypothetical company, relevant to the aim of increasing brand awareness, and time-sensitive with the goal of 6 months.
Defining Your Unique Value Proposition
The identity of your content marketing plays an important role in your efforts. Customers want to see the human side of your company; a side with personality, consideration for their needs, and happy to impart value from a unique position of knowledge.
This position is referred to as your "unique value proposition." Simply put, your unique value proposition is the one thing you can provide the market that others can't.
The nature of this value proposition varies between industries. B2B enterprises must adopt a position of knowledge and authority, acting as a source of valuable information to guide the work of other businesses. B2C enterprises must adopt a position that contributes to the lifestyle of the consumer. Consumer goods and services are designed with the intention of improving customer lives, so depicting a desirable lifestyle made possible by your product is a prudent strategy.
This value proposition will become the source of your creative and logistical planning. Design your efforts around the fulfillment of customer value in a way that others cannot, and idea generation, brand positioning, and cross-channel marketing begin to fall into place.
Gathering Your Resources
Content marketing, like any other marketing effort, costs money. With blogs, videos, man-hours, and paid promotion in the mix, it's easy to expect that such an endeavor might be an unnecessary drain. However, research has shown that content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates 3 times as many leads.
Two primary factors motivate this reduction in cost and synergistic increase in lead generation. The first is the cost of the distribution channels involved. Social media and YouTube accounts are free for anyone to register, and while some may offer premium resources for businesses, these are by no means necessary. Blog hosting can be acquired through existing web properties, and email campaigns are far cheaper to produce (and far higher ROI) than direct mail campaigns.
The second factor lies in the availability of resources. Advertising campaigns may require the enlistment of an advertising agency, and interactive web properties may require the services of a web developer. In the content marketing arena, however, your knowledge is your resource. With a little writing talent and some creative minds at the helm, content generation is a process of taking what you know and putting it to paper.
The formal definition of intellectual capital is the "the value of a company or organization's employee knowledge." In the specific context of content marketing, this refers to the proprietary and expert knowledge that your team possesses that you can wield to create unique content.
For B2B enterprises in particular, intellectual capital is the primary source of inspiration for white papers, articles, and infographics. The ability to analyze a complex situation and prescribe a solution or set of suggestions for industry fellows is the formula for building a position of authority within the market, and your intellectual capital makes that possible.
For B2C enterprises, this concept is a bit more nebulous. Knowledge of garment production or bicycle manufacturing does have some value, but consumer facing publications should focus instead on the lifestyle that you company espouses. In this sense, your intellectual capital is the collective workplace and consumer culture that you've developed, and the ability to articulate that culture to others.
Intellectual capital refers specifically to the knowledge that your team possesses that is relevant to your vertical. Creative talent, on the other hand, refers to the talents your team brings when tasked with expressing that information in unique and meaningful ways.
The capacity of your team can vary greatly and, depending on your budget, can be outsourced to trustworthy vendors. Many firms possess the creative abilities to make your campaign a success, giving you the time to supply the knowledge while talented professionals manage the visual and textual details.
One thing upon which blogs thrive is guest posting. Other creative outlets, including podcasts, webinars, and video series can also benefit from the utilization of prominent names and talents within your vertical. Utilize your available professional connections to your benefit and give both your guest and your company a platform on which to shine.
Building Your Platform
The next step in the process is to construct the platform for your campaign. In a general sense, this includes all social media accounts and web properties needed to distribute a variety of media types.
Since you are starting fresh, it is useful to begin simply with a blog on your corporate website and some basic social media accounts on high-traffic sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. This will provide your business with a solid foundation on which to work, but it is important to realize that the location and preferences of your customer base can vary greatly. Later, we will discuss the importance of monitoring and iterating your approach in order to specialize your campaign to your needs.
Blogging has become a veritable essential to any content marketing work. Blogs enhance web presence, providing 434% more indexed pages and 97% more indexed links than sites without one. Furthermore, B2B companies that blog generate 67% more leads per month than those who do not.
If your business is larger, consult with your IT department regarding the establishment of a blog. Your IT team likely has their own protocols for web design and development, so they will possess the knowledge needed to set it up and set it up correctly. With the blog in place, coordinate with other constituent parties, including marketing and design teams, in order to complete the development process.
If your business is smaller, establishing a blog is possible through a number of free services. An examination of each platform individually lies outside the scope of our discussion here, but WordPress is a time-tested go-to for professional and personal bloggers alike. Additionally, WordPress features a vast library of free and premium themes for visual customization, widgets for functionality, and forums for support.
If your team has some available budget room, a web designer may be a prudent investment. These individuals understand both the technical and aesthetic aspects of blog development, and can work with your existing web infrastructure to create a platform for your use. They can be a bit pricier, but the net result is a polished and professional look.
It is important to note, however, that blogging is not for everyone. B2C enterprises, for example, may benefit more from a well-curated social media account. This is because, while blogging offers the opportunity to share and discuss in-depth topics, many consumer interests are better expressed through other types of media. Rock climbing, for example, is far better demonstrated through YouTube videos instead of text. Retail clothing is better expressed through a medium like Pinterest, where sharing and discussion are enabled by the platform's unique capabilities. What's most important is for your business to identify what works for you, and execute it well.
Social media accounts are much simpler that blogs, but no less important. In 2012, 72% of adult Internet users were active on social media, making it one of the most centralized channels for customer contact. This presence is not passive either, as 67% of Twitter users indicated that they were more likely to buy from brands they follow.
Sign-up is free and painless. Select a moniker that can be easily related to your company, if not the company name itself. Fill out your full profile on each channel, as this makes it easier for users to trust the veracity of the account. Where applicable, select graphics for backdrops and profile pictures that fit your corporate image. Once again, the services of a designer can help make your profile pop and create a positive impression with your customers.
Other media accounts are available at your discretion. YouTube is highly recommended considering the digestibility and potency of well-managed channels. Other options include SlideShare, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and Soundcloud, just to name a few. The priority of each of these channels depends on your team's evaluation of their use in your practice, and none are mandatory in a content marketing context.
Other types of content are just beginning to arise as audiences demand more compelling and engaging formats. Charts Ninja, for example, creates embedded, interactive charts that dynamically express data. Thinglink is a service that creates hotspots on images and allows users to hover over them for additional links, comments, media, and more. From these services to animated infographics, to interactive microsite eBooks, the future of content is only limited to your creative capacity.
Creating, Monitoring, and Engaging
The next step in the process is an establishment of a creative engine. Once content marketing work begins, it is important to remain both consistent and focused on the needs of your readership in order to make an impact. According to one case study, the expected maturation period for businesses who nail their content and reliably blog 2-3 times per week is 6-12 months. This figure is certainly not gospel, but carrying reasonable expectations once you begin the process is tantamount to success.
This is where everything begins. No infographic or blog article is created without first developing a concept.
Idea creation is usually a team-wide effort, pooling the best ideas of everyone involved in order to select the best items for the week or month ahead. Common methods for idea generation include spreadsheets, roundtable discussions, or project management systems like Trello or Asana. Digital platforms in particular enable the generation and development of ideas clear through to completion, housing the creative process in one place.
When ideas run dry, there are plenty of places to find inspiration. Other industry publications or blogs offer a look at what's on people's minds at the moment. Comment sections provide direct feedback from your audience regarding what topics should be covered. Current events is another fruitful avenue, particularly when a news item offers an opportunity for your company to comment and provide guidance.
Whatever the specific method or source of inspiration, idea creation should start early and continue often. All ideas can then be added to a master content calendar in order to maintain a consistent flow of publication for voracious viewers. Remember that consistency is more important than quality (not that you should sacrifice either!) and your audience will reward you for your efforts.
You will not master content marketing the first time through. Understanding your specific market and audience requires repeated iterations of idea creation, publication, and monitoring.
In order to enable this process, make sure that your team sets up Google Analytics for all applicable web properties. If your company is larger, your IT department can assist in this process. If you are smaller, plugging the platform into your website is actually quite simple.
With analytics, your team is given a multitude of data from which to draw insight. Web traffic, bounce rate, new visitor percentage, and time spent on site can all help determine the efficacy of your strategy. More advanced analytical techniques require a discussion that is outside the scope of our discussion here, but a bevy of resource may be found through the Google Analytics YouTube channel, Analytics Academy, and other independent experts.
As mentioned, your content marketing efforts are a conversation. Building a platform to share content is important, but its ultimate purpose is to enable meaningful interaction with your audience.
This is where social media truly shines. What once was a static process of publishing on a website and hoping for the best has become a dynamic process of exploring and engaging with users through social tools.
Each social platform bears its own strengths and weaknesses, and understanding these is crucial to successful distribution. Twitter, for example, only allows 140 characters worth of text. However, the news-feed style of the platform allows for rapid, frequent updates on developing stories or for blogs with frequent publishing schedules. Google+ allows you to effectively create a blog-post teaser with full formatting and attach a high-resolution image for greater visibility in user news-feeds.
Due to these unique capabilities and specific strategies, social media is a component of content marketing all its own. Savvy businesses would do well to recognize the capacity and importance of social media, and allocate resources to effectively use each platform to their potential, distributing content in a way that enhances the content itself.
With your creative and logistical framework in place, make sure that you have a plan to monitor and respond to social media and forum activity. Depending on the size of your company, this may involve one or many people, just make sure that user questions and comments receive a reply. Content marketing is the human face of your organization, and no audience likes a bad listener.
Expanding and Beyond
From this foundation, the sky is the limit. Through the information provided here, you will possess a strong strategic, logistic, and creative framework to begin and cultivate your content efforts.
While we're all sitting on cloud-nine about our new content marketing campaign, it's important to keep our feet on the ground. Ideally, every piece of content you create would be a home run, social posts would take off because of the intrinsic quality of the piece, and your company would grow overnight. However, due to a combination of moving pieces, hit-or-miss ideas, and fickle social audiences, content marketing takes time to develop. During upticks and doldrums remember: reasonable expectations and persistent work are far more valuable than shattered dreams and pessimism. You'll get there, it just takes time to get it right.
In the mean time, create. Additional content ideas and campaigns are only limited by your creative ability and strategic foresight. Nissan went so far as to develop a full action movie sequence designed around enticing potential buyers. The experience included an interactive website and social media sharing activities, all built to inspire positive associations with the Nissan brand.
Know your company and what it has to offer, gather your resources, build your platform, and create with the reader in mind. No matter how small your operation may be, your business can enter the world of content marketing. The process of corporate self-discovery, viewer engagement, and positive business output has few equals in an increasingly connected and user centric business world.