What exactly is content marketing? The Content Marketing Institute definition says it is a “strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
They go on to say “Instead of pitching your products or services, you are providing truly relevant and useful content to your prospects and customers to help them solve their issues.”
The key words here are valuable, relevant, useful. Content marketing is about being helpful, it isn’t about being overly salesy. Consumers have evolved past the point of wanting to be blatantly sold to. But they are ready to have a conversation, and to engage with brands and businesses that can help them get to where they want to be, or help them solve a problem.
If you have ever downloaded a free guide from a website, read a really relevant blog post, signed up to a webinar, found a “how to” video on YouTube, read a recipe online, followed an Instagram account for their imagery or inspiration or listened to a podcast – you have consumed content that someone has created.
There’s a reason it’s one of the final episodes of the series – because it links to so many other forms of marketing. It underpins many of the types of marketing that we’ve talked about in this series:
So content marketing is all around us, and working hard for small businesses.
What are the ways content marketing can benefit your business?
Content marketing can:
- Build your reputation as an expert – think of blog posts or articles written by consultants, coaches, accountants, financial advisers, lawyers or architects. Every time you read an article you gain an impression of the writer and their knowledge on the subject.
- Engage your audience – if you are routinely producing great content that appeals to your audience (and I’ll talk more about that in a moment), they will look out for it, comment on it and share it. It then also grows your audience.
- Help you gain sign ups to your mailing list – if your content is valuable enough you can ask for people to give you their email address in return and you can start to communicate with them about other things – with the right permission of course.
- Form part of your pipeline – for example asking people to sign up for a free webinar can give you an audience for you to sell a paid for product.
- Ultimately it can create a way to build interest which leads to sales. As a result of good content marketing I have bought from coaches and professionals, bought books and courses – you can probably think of things you have bought too.
It can work equally well in a business to business environment – think of white papers, seminars and webinars, how to videos and infographics as tactics in this area.
Where do you start if you want to use a content marketing approach?
Step 1 Start with your audience
What do they want to know, what are they struggling with, what challenges do they have, what are they interested in? What information would help them in their buying journey?
In a very practical sense if you know what questions they ask of your sector or your product you can create content to answer that. That might be a simple conversation with your team, to find out what prospects ask when they first get in touch. You could survey your customers. You could also go onto Google and start to type a question in the search bar.
Step 2 Look at your marketing goals
Think about the overall goal for your marketing plan and make sure your content marketing supports that. Is it to grow your web traffic, is it to gain more sign ups?
Step 3 Think about the format
This needs to be tailored to your audience – where are they looking for the information they need. What social media platforms do they use? Do they like to read articles or watch videos?
But it will also depend on your business. If you have a highly visual product a video or image based content strategy is clearly going to be more useful. Think what you like to produce, what you have budget for and think about what you can create consistently because the key to great content marketing is to keep showing up.
Create the content that you want to make, as well as the content that your audience needs.
So many small business owners say they know they need to blog, but they can’t find the time. Or they know they need to do more video but they don’t want to get visible on camera (if that’s you by the way, I have a free Marketing for Introverts guide that might help!). But to me that’s just saying that they haven’t found the right form of content. So experiment a little bit. See what you like doing and what works for your audience.
Once you’ve created it, make sure you use it as fully as you can. For example, this podcast becomes a blog post for my website, key messages get shared in social media posts. I can use different apps to clip short snippets of the recording into video posts. I share links to the podcast with my email list, I put links on my email signature. So if you’ve gone to the time and effort to create video or audio content, or photography, infographics or blogs, make sure you make the most of it.
Step 4 Call to action
Your article may answer all the questions but if it isn’t making it easy for your ideal customer to buy from you it’s not doing its job. I see a lot of great content marketing without a call to action. If people are going to read your blog, make it easy for them to click through to book a call. If you create a series of Facebook lives, where can they find out more?
Step 5 Measure the results
Test different approaches, different frequencies of posting. Measure if the content is driving more web traffic or building your pipeline. Work out what you need to tweak and adjust, what you could rework to be more successful, and keep going!
Examples of content marketing in action
Let me give you a couple examples of content marketing with some tips to help them do better.
A big brand one first. At the end of April, Ikea – with all its famous big blue furniture shops closed, released the recipe for its meatballs via social media. The purpose presumably was to keep the brand front of mind with homeowners who were stuck at home. The recipe was produced in the style of flatpack furniture instructions. It’s witty and very on brand for Ikea – although it seems to have been a one off item of content.
And an example closer to home. I bought a lawnmower last week. It’s a very dull purchase but I didn’t know what to buy and the lawn hasn’t been cut for 3 months so I bit the bullet.
I have no idea what to buy so I typed into Google “how do I choose a lawnmower?” The top result was a step by step guide with the heading “how to choose the right lawnmower” from a company that sells lawnmowers. It was very easy to read, a series of paragraphs with very clear headings. So it answered all my questions, what it didn’t do was make it easy for me to buy. If I could have put my credit card details in and got them to deliver it, I would have done. As it was I went to Argos and bought a different brand.
Content marketing can work hard for your business. If you want support to develop your content marketing plan, why not book an hour with me to help you take the next steps. A Power Hour is charged at £120 to include a follow up action plan.