23 July 2014
Consumers are getting better and better at avoiding traditional marketing campaigns that rely purely on paid media and advertising. What they will engage with is personally relevant content that correlates to their interests and desires.
Marketers are quickly realizing that they need to shift their communication model and embrace content marketing.
Why content marketing?
As defined by the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behavior. It is an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy, and it focuses on owning media, not renting it.
Content marketing is the technique of communicating without selling. Stories are at the heart of successful content marketing, and while it’s challenging, the rewards are undeniable, and a well-run content marketing program has comprehensive business benefits.
Quality content marketing is not about being a content factory – it’s about producing the right content, in the right format, at the right time, for the right audience. And once the content is produced, it has to be aggressively marketed as though it is a product in itself. Marketing has to be considered along a continuum with cycles and recurring themes. It’s complex, and can be a lot of work, but it delivers results that many traditional media campaigns fall short of.
We’ve been producing content marketing campaigns since we were founded 25 years ago. Here are lessons learned by our Content Marketing and Social Media Teams when establishing content strategies for our clients. The continuum includes discovering, creating and publishing content, as well as promoting and measuring it so that the content matches the business objectives they are setting themselves.
Find the story
Even for a major enterprise, creating content that an audience wants to consume can be tricky. If your business is lucky enough to have content creators who are happy and willing to publish professional content in addition to their regular responsibilities treat them well because they are like golddust.
Active content creators are typically in short supply, especially in smaller businesses. In that case, content creation may need to be added to your employee's responsibilities, and supported with gentle encouragement, such as incentives or rewards. Keep in mind that not everyone is a writer – you may need to interview subject matter experts to pull their bright ideas, and then have someone else craft it into marketable content.
For more advice, check out Social and Content Lead Mark Pinsent's blog post on unlocking the content of a company.
Match the story to your business objectives
We already established that the content needs to communicate without selling – but it should communicate messages in alignment with your business objectives. In marketing, content is only useful if it is working positively for the business in some way. The best stories are those that overlap between your business objectives and your audience’s needs.
For example – do these stories have any meaning for your audience? Are you considering content in relation to your sales cycle? – How can your product or service story appeal to a rational buyer?
If you're writing an article as a piece of web content, is it doing positive things to your SEO? Do you know about the latest changes in Google's search algorithms and how these might affect to you?
You can hardly expect somebody with little writing experience to suddenly come out with a 500-word blog post that ignites customers. Sometimes you might need an idea or theme to prompt them, or engage a copywriter who can draw that story out tell it effectively.
Please note – content is not just written words like blog posts and white papers. Any storytelling technique qualifies as content. Did you notice how many of the top advertisers during the FIFA World Cup relied on video? Have you enjoyed the beautiful and informative infographics on social channels? These are every bit as important as blog posts, by-lines, and case studies. If your business has a powerful story, you should tell it in as compelling a manner as possible. If you don’t have video production or illustration capabilities in-house, engage an agency.
Check out Copywriter Asavin Wattanajantra's article on why a good business writer is worth their weight in gold, as well as advice on handling an agency (and the design review!).
Edit, organise and publish the story
Typos dsetroy credibility*. Someone needs to be responsible for collecting, editing, curating and publishing the content. This person (or team, if you work with an agency) needs access to the publishing platform, a system to quickly post content on a website and social channels without delay.
A content calendar is necessary to achieve a regular rhythm of content production and publication. Whether using Excel spreadsheets, Google docs, and project management tools like Trello offer ways to track content from initial ideas to published and marketed content.
Promote the story
Having lots of content is great, but it's nothing without an audience. Content promotion and distribution is a vital part of the content continuum, and it should be taken into account before any content is published.
It starts with publishing content on the outlets that you can most easily control, including your company's blog and social media channels. Because organic reach is declining, particularly on Facebook, you should plan to promote and advertise your content.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and StumbleUpon offer ways you can promoting and advertising content. This is an important step to reach your target audience, especially if are still building your social community.
Syndicate the story
Consider telling your story on non-owned channels via guest blogging and syndication. Research influential bloggers with similar target audiences and contact them directly to pitch your content. You can also use platforms likeLinkedIn Influencers and syndication sites to expand your reach.
Track, measure and adapt the story
How will you know if your content strategy is working? Analytics. We use a variety of techniques, but you can start with Google Analytics and native social analytics tools to track how a reader interacts with the content.
If you want a wider view of content your audience is consuming, there are powerful social media measuring tools that can listen to conversations people are having about your brand or competitors. Use this information when planning your content strategy and adapting the story for different channels.
And finally: Evolve and flex
This isn't a step by step process. A content continuum is cyclical, and each stage of the content marketing process is as important as a cog in a well-oiled machine. Take a look at the changes that proper news organizations like the New York Times have made – the strategies they are applying may work for your business.
*we did that on purpose