What is Content Marketing?

Despite the popularity of the phrase in recent years, content marketing is a topic many marketers still struggle to understand and utilise. According to the content marketing institute:

Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

Content Marketing covers a wide range of content types and purposes – from pieces meant to entertain to pieces that are designed specifically to convert. Some key aims of content marketing usually include gaining a good level of exposure from your target audience, but it’s also worth keeping an eye on the more rational, conversion led pieces that can help to turn a website visitor or content reader into a customer. However, the real skill in content marketing is the research element. At the very basic level, researching your audience to target the right individuals with appropriate content is absolutely essential if you’re to be successful with content marketing.

Why content marketing?

Ensuring that your content has purpose and is of an appropriate type is essential for creating the right content to appeal to your audience. Purpose will directly relate to where the content can be used in relation to the buying cycle. Thus, to understand how content marketing works, we need to firstly understand the four steps of the buying cycle:

  1. Awareness. Prior to awareness a customer may have a need, but they are not aware there is a solution.
  2. Research. Once a customer is aware there is a solution, they will perform research to educate themselves.
  3. Consideration. At this point the customer starts comparing different products from different vendors to make sure they’re getting a high quality product at a fair price.
  4. Purchase. Finally, the customer makes their decision and moves forward with a purchase.

To better illustrate this, I’d suggest we use the content marketing matrix model, which is used to illustrate which types of content can be used based on both your audience, and what you’re trying to achieve as a business:

content marketing grid

Image source: First 10

The example content matrix above clearly outlines 4 key purposes related to content marketing, which are as follows:

  • To Entertain – content such as branded videos, competitions and quizzes can be used to entertain potential customers. This type of content can increase awareness in your brand.
  • To Inspire – large scale events (see Red Bull space jump), endorsements, reviews and testimonials can be powerful tools which tend to convert people into purchasers.
  • To Educate – content such as infographics, guides and ebooks can educate potential customers on topics relevant to the industry your business operates in. This type of content can increase awareness in your brand and the services you offer.
  • To Convince – Interactive product demos, individual product reviews and interactive calculators can be used to convince potential customers to purchase your products or services.

One example of content that has been designed to build brand awareness is the Old Spice series of Youtube videos and commercials.

In this example, Old Spice have combined the use of celebrity (celebrity endorsement) with a branded viral video series to entertain potential customers, which in turn drives increased brand awareness. As a result of this, Old Spice have transformed their image by entertaining a generation of men across the globe.

Now, not everyone has the budget to pay Terry Crews to star in a series of whacky videos to promote their brand – but that doesn’t mean you can’t ‘do’ content marketing. To better illustrate this point, let’s look at an example of content marketing which doesn’t necessarily require a big budget – the guideThe Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz, a provider of SEO related tools and resources was created by numerous experts within the company and offered for free. As a result, it has been viewed millions of times, bringing in countless customers who otherwise might never have stumbled across Moz and the services they offer. The same idea (a detailed, topical guide) can be adapted across a range of industries, it just requires the time and effort of a member of staff with significant expertise in a certain field!

Of course, these are just 2 examples illustrated using a couple of formats (a video and blog post). There are many other examples of great content marketing which have been covered in various studies over the past few years that I’d strongly encourage you to check out.

What type of content will interest my potential customers?

Before you can answer this question, you’ll firstly need to consider who your potential customers are. This is usually achieved by creating buyer personas. Buyer personas (sometimes referred to as marketing personas) are fictional generalisations of your ideal customers. Personas help marketers visualise the ideal customer they’re trying to attract, and relate to them as real humans.

Researching content ideas

We’ve discussed using content grids to identify the various purposes of content marketing and how different types of content can be used depending on what you’re hoping to achieve from a content marketing campaign (awareness vs purchase), however the generation of unique content ideas is the real key to success. For example, we know that infographics can be used to educate potential customers and drive brand awareness, but what information can we display as a graphic that will appeal to your target customers to ensure that the content is a success?

Coming up with great content ideas can be tough, but luckily there are plenty of free tools to help aid your content research process. I’d strongly recommend checking out this guide on using Buzzsumo to generate content ideas, and using Distilled’s ‘relevant, resonant, different’ framework for sense checking your content ideation process – both of those articles have pretty much shaped the way I start any content marketing project for clients, so they’re certainly worth taking the time to read and digest.

The key point here is that by spending time on researching what others have done before, you’ll have plenty of data to feed into your brainstorming / content ideation process. It’s important to remember that researching existing content won’t magically give you fully formed content ideas, but it will help you identify unique topics that perhaps haven’t been covered before – and what hasn’t worked historically!

Remember, not all content needs to be related to your core business

Plenty of clients I encounter are uncomfortable about drifting too far away from their core business—for example, if they sell bikes, they’ll only let me create content about cycling. Whilst this is understandable from the clients’ perspective it can sometimes limit their chances of success. In these cases, I often cite Red Bull, who are a great example of a company who create content based on what their consumers love, not what they sell (i.e. Red Bull sell soft drinks, but create content about extreme sports because that’s the sort of content their audience love to consume).

Ensuring your content is seen

Creating great content is pointless without an outreach plan. We have already discussed the importance of creating content with an audience in mind, and the next stage is developing a strategy that ensures they know about that content. Researching industry relevant websites which already have a large following will help to accelerate the amplification of your content. This means reaching out to sites that currently generate huge numbers of social shares, highlighting the content you are creating and suggesting the benefits in them sharing it on either their website or social media.

Of course, there are other ways of amplifying your content other than reaching out to industry websites, as discussed in this handy whiteboard Friday video produced by the guys at Moz.

Measuring success

It’s all well and good researching and creating content, but it’s essential that once you’ve done so you measure and track the success of your content marketing campaigns. There are many areas that can be tracked, counted and analysed, but what metrics really show the difference this work is making to your business?

One tangible way to measure awareness is by looking at new visitors that a piece of content attracts which is pretty easy (although not always perfect) using something like Google Analytics. However, there are other measures that can be used to measure the success of a content marketing campaign, such as:

  • Number of social shares
  • Links to the page the content is hosted on

I tend to report on the success of a piece of content combining all 3 (traffic, links and social shares) which can be achieved using tools such as Google Analytics, Ahrefs and Buzzsumo.

TL;DR

  • Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience
  • Content Marketing covers a wide range of content types and purposes – from pieces meant to entertain to pieces that are designed specifically to convert
  • Purpose is directly related to where the content can be used in relation to the buying cycle
  • Creating buyer personas can help you gain a better understanding of who your target customers are
  • Spending time researching what others have done before will provide invaluable data to feed into your brainstorming / content ideation process
  • Developing an outreach strategy that ensures your target audience know about your content (amplification) is essential
  • Report on the success of a piece of content by looking at traffic to the piece of content using GA, links to the content using link research tools and social share data
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