At a loss to describe what content marketing is and what it can actually do? Take a look at our in-depth article to gain a greater understanding of the subject and a clear vision of what it can do for your business.
If you stand outside of the marketing or content creation world, ‘content marketing’ can be a bit of an elusive concept. You may hear it bandied about by other businesses or brands but not have a fixed idea of what it actually is, let alone what it does.
But this could be putting your business at a disadvantage and mean you’re missing a vital tool for growth and success.
To dispel the myths and misconceptions we’ve therefore put together this in-depth guide. It should tell you all you need to know about content marketing and how you can begin to deploy it in your own marketing plans.
According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), “content marketing is a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing and distributing relevant, and consistent, content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
That’s quite a lot to get your head around, so let’s dissect this a little further…
What this definition is trying to say is that content marketing isn’t limited to one format of communication. It could include tweets, podcasts, videos, webinars, infographics or a blog post like this one. This content can be long or short, timely or evergreen.
This may seem a little imprecise, but it’s actually very logical. After all, what’s the point of carefully curating a series of podcasts if your customers prefer to read their information? Content marketing is all about using the formats that suit you, your business and your customers.
The words ‘relevant’ and ‘consistent’ are very prominent in the CMI’s definition – and with good reason.
Content marketing is not created on a whim when you feel that you ‘must’ publish something. Instead, it is created to aid specific business goals, whether that is to inform your audience or amuse them. Because of this, it must be consistent. This enables you to build a rapport and relationship with your audience and peers, creating brand familiarity.
However, consistency must not come at the expense of quality. Content must be engaging and, importantly, relevant. For instance, customers of a pet food company probably aren’t going to be too overjoyed to receive a newsletter containing the business owner’s musings on fuel poverty or a ‘how to’ guide on cooking the perfect steak. By remaining relevant, content marketing can offer real value to customers, raising your profile in the process.
Marketing is easy to muddle with sales. But content marketing stands apart, and that is because it plays a long game, creating a series of touch points to guide a customer down the sales funnel (more on this later).
As a result, the referenced ‘profitable customer action’ could be a sale, but it could also be a recommendation to a friend, a positive review or increased engagement with your Instagram posts. It all depends on where the customer is in the buying process and what your specific aim is with the content you produce.
Research has found that content marketing can bring notable benefits to a business.
For example, according to the CMI’s 2021 report:
These benefits can then translate into sales. According to the CMI, organisations that employ content marketing are able to convert 6 times more leads than those who don’t adopt it. Research by Demand Metric has also found that it costs 62% less than outbound marketing while also bringing in 3 times the number of leads.
These advantages are being realised because people don’t buy products or services – they buy solutions. Content marketing is therefore different from typical advertising because it doesn’t just ask the consumer to buy the product – it shows the audience why they should buy it and how your business can help them to solve their problems, reach their goals or satisfy their needs.
This type of messaging has become more important over the last few years because we have access to information at our fingertips at all times. This means that, as consumers, we increasingly expect to be able to do our own research to find out more about things we are interested in. Indeed, according to research by Adweek, 81% of customers now conduct some online research before purchasing a product or service.
Putting information out there for people to find is therefore crucial, and is something that content marketing is well suited to doing.
Conversely – and rather confusingly – modern consumers are also hungry for a connection. They want to get to know your brand and the people behind it, which is something where traditional sales methods again fall rather flat.
Unlike traditional advertising, which adopts more of a ‘BUY, BUY, BUY!’ tactic, content marketing opts for a softly, softly approach.
This is because it can begin to work on customers in the very earliest stages of the sales process, introducing and addressing customers’ problems and why they should buy from your business at the very beginning, well before any sales team gets involved.
Think of it as a long-term relationship. You have to get to know each other before you make a decision about moving in together. Indeed, HubSpot has previously reported that the average customer interacts with 3-5 pieces of content before they make a purchase decision. In addition, their 2022 content marketing statistics round-up revealed that 54% of decision-makers say they spend more than one hour per week reading and reviewing thought-leadership content.
As such, truly effective content marketing creates a series of touch points for customers as they move through the buying process, nurturing your leads. This can be very rewarding – for instance, research by Marketo found that companies which nurture leads can generate 50% more sales at a third of the cost.
As a rough guide, this sales process (or sales funnel) is usually said to incorporate the following:
In this model, content marketing can begin to communicate with the customer at the ‘awareness’ stage.
It usually does this by showing an understanding of customers’ needs, goals or problems and positioning a brand as something that can help them. Educational and informative content is best suited for this phase. This should be optimised for SEO so that it can be found by potential customers who are beginning their research by typing questions into search engines. ‘How to’ guides or videos are a great example of the kind of content you could produce for this stage.
Once potential customers have been coaxed through the awareness stage, their interest has been piqued and they now have genuine interest in what you have to offer. Content marketing for this stage will be more brand-focused and introduce your products more specifically. Free trials and demos are great ideas to include in your content at this point. This could include a video of an influencer using your product or a webinar which takes potential users through your offering, explaining how it solves their problems as it goes along.
When a customer reaches the decision stage, it’s crunch time. For this part of the sales process, content marketing can push customers over the finish line with case studies, testimonials and focused product/service pages which feature key information such as price, specs and FAQs.
Once a customer has bought a product, content marketing doesn’t need to stop.
As you may remember from the CMI’s definition, it is also a useful strategy for retaining customers. This is very valuable as returning customers are not only easier to manage but also more likely to buy something from you; some research has suggested that only 13% of prospective customers will make a purchase, compared to 60-70% of repeat customers.
As such, content marketing can be deployed to touch base with existing customers. Email marketing is ideal for this. Perhaps you could encourage customers to sign up for a regular newsletter or follow your social media channels. This will all help to keep your brand at the forefront of your customers’ minds, particularly if you reward loyalty with exclusive content or discounts.
Offline content can also be useful here too – direct mail such as a personalised birthday card can be a nice way to remind customers of your presence as well as demonstrate that you are aware of them as an individual, not just a sales number.
With a myriad of options when it comes to content platforms and types of content, it is a good idea to prioritise formats that will resonate with your audience.
To ensure you are picking the right platforms – and the right content to put on them – you need to understand your target audience inside and out. As you may recall, the CMI’s content marketing definition clearly stated that content must be directed at a ‘clearly defined audience’. Failing to do so will reduce the effectiveness of your content campaign.
For instance, if your target audience are plant managers for chemical firms, trying to reach out to them via social media during the day will get a muted response if they have to have their phones locked away for anti-static reasons. Equally, if you’re trying to target Gen Z, avoiding video and social media platforms is likely to be a mistake.
Depending on what you are trying to achieve, therefore, you may need to know your customers’:
Knowing this information will help you to tailor your content marketing strategy and increase your chances of your content reaching the right people.
Embracing content marketing for your business can be hugely rewarding but also a little daunting if you’ve not developed a strategy before.
However, we’re here to help! If you’d like to discuss your content marketing needs, you can get in touch with us by dropping a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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