"Content marketing" has recently become one of the most talked about trends in the realm of digital marketing. Increasingly, this has led companies to change their thinking from "What do we have online that we can get our customers to pay for?" to "What assets can we give to our customers for free in order to build brand loyalty and ultimately drive sales of our product or service?"
In this instructional video on the basics of content marketing, Marketing Specialist Stephanie Walton breaks down the different roles of a content marketer, the origins of content marketing, how to effectively apply it to a marketing strategy, and what types of content can be applied to your existing marketing strategy to create valuable content that will keep customers engaged with your brand.
Stephanie also breaks down the process of effective content creation - from evaluating what types of content will be most effective at reaching your target audience, to creating the content, identifying distribution channels, and analyzing how effective each piece of content is at achieving the goals that were originally laid out.
While recent studies have found that marketing professionals aim to increase their content marketing efforts by 59% in 2014, many still are having trouble organizing, contextualizing, discovering and sharing content.
While most marketers can identify that the basic purpose of content marketing is to build brand awareness by attracting and regularly engaging customers by consistently creating valuable content, many are still having trouble integrating it into an overall marketing strategy. By better understanding the role of a content marketer and how to build a content marketing strategy, integrating content marketing should become an easier process that allows your business to reap the benefits of this powerful marketing technique.
So, where you were previously used to paying a lot of money, now you could get it for free and this changed the relationship that businesses needed to have with their customers, because what businesses could previously charge for now their customers weren't willing to pay for anymore. What this also led to now is the development of content marketing – a new concept where businesses are suddenly asking what can we give to our customers for free. So content marketing is the sharing of stories, knowledge and information in a way that promote engagement and evangelism. So instead of saying, “What do we have that we can get our customers to pay for?” we’re asking, “what do we have that we can give away for free?” “What are our assets?” “What is our knowledge base” “What information do we have that our customers that our customers can benefit from that they want that we won’t make them pay for?
Ultimately now we have this content marketing concept, where we are sharing this information with consumers in a way where they then want to go share it with their friends and build brand awareness and get people excited about this business. So if we take this concepts of what content marketing is supposed to be in this new marketing economy and how incorporate this into our current marketing programs you have to start asking questions about what the role of content marketers is going to be in a business – because this is a really new concept for most businesses – having somebody who is strictly dedicated to the creation and promotion of new forms of content previously you had copy writers and you had creative teams but you didn't necessarily have a person on your team who was strictly in charge of mapping out a strategy and methods for how to get this content out there and decide what type of content to create.
If we start asking questions about what is the role of this content marketer going to look like in a business (it is incredibly essential to have this person in your business now because no marketing program whether it’s SEO or Social or PPC can really succeed unless you have this content creation that’s backing up the rest of your programs. While you’re asking those questions about how to get a content marketer into your business and what that role is going to look like, again we have to rewind a little bit to when the term “content marketer” first got thrown on the table. The term “content marketing” actually was first used in 1996 by journalists at a round table discussion from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which gives us some really interesting insight into how we’re supposed to think of ourselves as content marketers. Content marketing includes a wide array of specialties – it’s not just copywriting and it’s not just marketing.
I found it really interesting and really helpful to read a book by Erin Kissane who wrote the “Elements of Content Strategy” (which I highly recommend for everyone to read) and how she describes all of the elements that go into being a successful content strategist in a business and it’s not just marketing.
The first element of being a great content strategist is actually being an editor like a newspaper editor. All of the skills that an editor has and that they bring to the table in a content marketing world is incredibly valuable. Editors are skilled and knowledgeable on how to create a good story that people are going to want to read. They are putting the reader before the needs of the business. When you are coming from the content marketing world, we are so used to dealing with the needs of our clients, and the needs of our business, and our goals, and meeting our KPIs, and not necessarily putting the needs of our customers first – but the first rule of content marketing is you need to put the needs of your customers first or ultimately your plans will fail.
Learning as much as we can about the editing process: how to create a good story arc, how to come up with topics and content that your customers are going to find exciting and relate to and want to share. So it’s not just essential to be up to date on the latest SEO tactics, it’s essential to read; read New York Magazine, read the New York Times, read Vogue, read anything out there that is going to give you experience and knowledge on what the consumer is looking for, how to give the consumer what they’re looking for and in what way to present it in a way that is going to be relatable and sharable for them.
Another element that is very involved in being a good content strategist is being a curator. Imagine a museum curator – for example, someone who is curating an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They have all these beautiful pieces of art and they know each one so thoroughly and they know the purpose of each one. It is their job to create a space where the people who are going to be enjoying this art are going to be able to enjoy it freely and in a way that is meant to be enjoyed. This requires not only a deep knowledge of what you’re presenting but a deep understanding of how you’re visitors are best going to experience that art, but also knowing that every piece of art in that exhibit needs to have a purpose for being there because you can’t have any purposeless art. There’s a lot of movement of just throwing content out on the internet just because you think it’s gonna help your SEO efforts, but that is not where content marketing is moving. Many will say that throwing meaningless content on the internet is neutral – it’s actually detracting from what you’re trying to do. There’s no such thing as a neutral piece of content. If it is not curated and impactful and for a specific purpose don’t put it on the internet because it is going to be a waste of space and take away ultimately from what you’re trying to do.
Next essential role of a content marketer or content strategist is of course the marketing aspect of it. Marketers bring to the table a really deep knowledge of persuasion and rhetoric. How to take that piece of content to the next level and how to talk to the consumer in a way that is going to make them excited to engage with this business.
Lastly, information architecture – which tends to be a separate role in a business structure they tend to be associated with building websites and navigation – but in order for content marketing to really be a success, it’s essential for content strategists to be involved in that navigation process from the very beginning because we’re bringing our curating skills to the table and we understand how our visitors are best going to engage with the content that we are presenting to them, we need to bring those skills to the information architect phase and know how to craft a website and the navigation of that website in a way that will make it easy for our visitors to find what they are looking for. So those are the essential elements that go into creating a great content strategist and making that role a really essential part of the organization.
If we’re asking what is included in the actual content marketing process: “What goes into creating this great piece of content?” That is the question that every marketer out there is asking – everyone wants to know how to create that great piece of content that’s going to go viral and take off on YouTube and get everyone sharing it on Facebook and…the truth is it doesn't happen by accident. It happens by a very long and thought out process, a very deep understanding of what your customers need and a lot of strategy.
The very first step to that process is the evaluation phase - knowing who your clients are and who your business is trying to reach. The messaging needs to be dead on and you really need to have a deep understanding about what you want the tone of your business to be. Are you formal and presenting whitepapers? Or, are you casual and using memes and throwing out infographics? You need to respond to your user personas with the right type of information that they are going to share. Audience modeling is very important and then and then of course setting goals. In this evaluation process you need to determine what is the most important element of this piece of content and what do you want it do. Do you want it to be shared a lot? Do you want it to bring visitors to your site? Do you want it to generate leads? Whatever that goal is will shape what type of content you create.
Lastly, you have to identify the hurdles very early on tin the process. We all have hurdles are going to hit – whether it’s a clog in the pipeline of actually creating the content whether it’s going to be a lack of resources, or a lack of an appropriate distribution channel (maybe your social media profiles aren't built up enough to get the content out there?). Whatever it is, try and identify and predict what those are going to be as early on in the process as possible so that you don’t go to the trouble of creating this incredible piece of content and then you’ve hit this hurdle and you can’t get over that and everything comes to a grinding halt.
So after you’ve spent some time evaluating your customer base, your hurdles and your goals, the next thing you have to do is the actual creation of your content. So the first thing you need to ask when you get into the creation phase is “What’s the story?” This is where you bring your editing skills to the table. So, what type of story is going to engage your customers – and if you’re a B2B business it can be somewhat difficult because you’re thinking: “Well, we share information, we share products and services we don’t necessarily have a story we want to talk about.” I would challenge you to frame what you’re presenting to your customers with the aspect of a story – with a conflict, with a premise with an arc with a climax and with a resolution, because that is going to be the story arc that really engages your customers whether it’s about B2B services or anything else that’s on the table. So identify what your story is and then explore what type of media you want to present that story to. So blog articles tend to be the basic one, but get outside of your comfort zone, maybe an infographic might be a great idea.
There are a ton of great tools you can use that will help you create infographics for free. Easel.ly is one of our favorite to use and there a whole lot of others that are really great pipelines. You could explore whitepapers and case studies and interviews with industry influnecers which is a great way to build up relationships with other people in your industry. You can use memes and .gifs and there are countless types of media types that you can use to put that information out there in a way that is going to be much more engaging and exciting than the average blog post.
After you decide what your story is and what media type you want to use you need to gather your team resources in order to create that piece of content. So, are you going to need designers? Are you going to need developers? Do you need a PR person? Do you need a social media team? Who are you going to interview? Come up with your list of the people that you need to make this happen and reach out to them in a way that is going to make them excited about participating in the project and then come up with a timeline for when you want to get this piece of content created. Make sure to set really clear expectations about deadlines and communicate openly with your team members so everyone is on the same page about what’s being accomplished.
Now that you have this great piece of content created and you’re ready to shoot it out to your customers you need to identify what are going to be the best distribution channels to reach your customer base with this content. Hopefully you've thought about this a little bit when you were in the evaluation phase and you know your customers well enough to know which channels you can find them on. Once you have this piece of content created you want to focus on how you’re going to get it out there and go about the process of doing that. Many people tend to think that SEO in and of itself is a marketing tactic or social in and of itself is a marketing tactic, but what really goes in to making those distribution channels successful is this piece of content. You need to identify what distribution channel you want to use and then go about using that channel in order to get that content out there in a way that your customers are going to engage with. Make sure that whatever you’re shooting out there that it is really easy for your customers to share it. If it’s a blog post on your website and your distribution channel is SEO, make sure that you have social plug-ins on there and that you have comment boxes and make sure that you have all those elements that are going to make it easy for your customers to take the next step with that content. An RSS feed, an email subscribe sign-up, any of those elements are going to be essential to making sure that your content marketing campaign doesn't end with that one piece of content but that you’re taking it to the next level.
Many people tend to think that once you create the content and once you get it out to your customers that that’s the end of the process, but there is actually one more step after that which is the analysis of how that content performed. So if you end the process right after you send the content out there you’re going to miss out on so much information that is going to help you do better in your content marketing campaigns the next time around. We at Blue Fountain love using Google Analytics, we love Excel, we use all of these different platforms to try exactly how each piece of content performed. What were the greatest referral sources? Where did most of your traffic come from for that piece of content? Which stories had the highest share rates? What was the most engaged source of traffic? All of these elements that you want to consider to find out where your most targeted customer base is and then start generating ideas on how you can keep taking that customer base to the next level. This type of analysis is going to circle back to the evaluation phase and it’s going to inform the goals that you set on the next time around. So say, 5% of the visitors that came from email ended up sharing your article. Now you know that email is going to be a very valuable source of shares for you and probably want to spend some more time making it even easier for your email customers to share that piece of content. Or if there’s a certain distribution source that you can see is a weakness – maybe don’t focus on that one as much the next time. All of these are going to be really essential pieces of information for you to incorporate into your larger picture and understanding of what to do to make this campaign successful.
Once you've done the work of identifying what goes into being a great content strategist and going through the process of creating this content, then you’re well on your way to incorporating your first content marketing campaign into your current marketing scheme. The most important thing to remember while you’re going through this whole process is that above all content marketing is about helping and about telling stories – we need to start understanding ourselves and our role in this process as helpers – how can we help our customers and what stories can we tell them that is going to help them do something. If you have any questions about the movement of content marketing or where we’re headed please feel free to ask us questions at our blog, and we’ll make sure to continue the discussion there.
Now that you've gone through this process of identifying what is going to make a great content strategist and how to great piece of content, the most important thing to remember while you’re going through this is that above all we are helpers and we are storytellers. We’re not just marketers, we’re not just editors, we are here to help our customers. It is our job to identify what type of story is going to most help our customers accomplish the goal that they want to accomplish.
Have you had success with your content marketing efforts? Need help with a hurdle you've been unable to overcome in your content marketing campaign? Let us know in the comments section below or by tweeting us @BFMweb.