Content Marketing Basics
Though it’s the buzzword du jour among those who obsess about finding new and better ways to engage customers, there isn’t much new about it. In practice though, it has become the best and most effective marketing tool around.
So what exactly is it?
Simply put, Content Marketing is the practice of using written materials, graphics, and video (i.e. “content”) to attract and sustain the attention of your target audience.
That, in and of itself, isn’t exactly revolutionary stuff. “Content” has always been the foundation of marketing. But what sets Content Marketing apart is that it brings the value and utility of content to the front and center.
“Content is King” is the mantra. And at the heart of that is the understanding that customers (your customers) are dead tired of hearing companies prattle on about themselves and really just want a company that listens to them and can solve their problem.
And in today’s connected culture, the prattlers and the listeners are easy to tell apart. In fact, Google itself has done most of the work for them by severely penalizing websites with stale content and few inbound links and elevating websites that have fresh content that sparks conversations.
The Missing Piece
Content Marketing is far more than just fresh, relevant content and Search Engine Optimization, though. In fact, if that’s all you have, you’re unlikely to see much of any impact whatsoever.
Unfortunately, this is exactly where most companies, especially B2B companies, leave it. And this is why so many of them are frustrated with their Content Marketing efforts.
Yes, Content Marketing is great at making you stand out and get noticed, but it’s useless if it doesn’t leverage that initial awareness into effective relationships.
Let’s say you’ve mastered the first hurdle of Content Marketing and you’re consistently producing content that your target audience finds relevant and useful. Now what?
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the mere fact that someone in your target audience found your content relevant and useful is absolutely huge.
That initial spark of interest is raw marketing power.
If they like what you had to say, it’s all but guaranteed that they want more. And it’s up to you to give it to them.
How to make it work
The big question is, how do you do that? How do you take that initial spark and kindle that into a productive relationship?
The answer is deceptively simple.
Offer them ways to hear more from you. Whether that’s following you on social channels, downloading a white paper, or attending a live or online event. Just make sure the step you’re asking them to take is proportional to their level of interest and the content is worth their efforts.
With most audiences, we’ve found that the shortest path from spark to sales is three or sometimes four steps, each one building on the next.
At a bare minimum, your Content Marketing strategy needs to be designed around three fundamental stages:
- Interest: They like what you had to say and think you might be able to help them. Your focus here should be on locking in their passive interest by following you on channels such as Twitter or LinkedIn.
- Opt-In: They see you as a trusted resource and want deeper insights and information. At this point you can escalate engagement by offering white papers and webinars in exchange for their email address
- Outreach: Once they’ve given you their email address, it’s time to make direct contact. Be extremely careful though. Only send them content and communications that you are thoroughly confident they will appreciate. Anything less is spam and will ruin your relationship building efforts.
When you align your content strategy with your audience’s research and decision process in this way, you’ll find that not only do your Content Marketing efforts improve dramatically, but also you’ll start gaining deeper insights into what truly motivates your targets each step of the way.
And on that note…