One of the fastest growing marketing options doesn't come in the form of an advertisement—in fact, it doesn't look like marketing at all. Content marketing, often used in a business website, bucks traditional advertising, because instead of businesses reaching out to the customers, the customers are actually reaching out to businesses. Why? Because content is valuable.
What is Content Marketing?
You know what content is. You know what marketing is. But smash the two terms together and you find yourself confused and lost in a sea of never-ending internet articles. Thankfully, understanding content marketing doesn't have to be that hard. Traditional marketing has a take attitude. It's a company promoting their own product simply to sell that product. Content marketing is a bit different because while the end goal of selling products is one and the same, businesses arrive at that point by first giving. That giving is in the form of content—often informative, sometimes entertaining, but there's always something in it for the reader. The Content Marketing Institute defines it this way: “Content marketing 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.” Traditional advertising is easy to gloss over. Consumers can fast forward through commercials on their DVR. Internet ads are easily ignored. But when a consumer goes looking for information, they're hooked, digging in to find just what they were looking for. Through platforms like blogs and web pages, businesses can develop a relationship with their customers that will ultimately lead to more sales. Get it? Good, let's get started.
So what exactly are you doing here?
Now it's time to sit and contemplate the meaning of life—okay, maybe that's a bit too far. Now it's time to sit and contemplate exactly what you want to get out of content marketing and exactly who you want to reach. That's better. (See, we do a little content marketing ourselves). What are your goals for content marketing? Yes, you probably want to sell more products, but be more specific. Do you want to drive more traffic to your website? Increase local awareness of your brick-and-motor location? Increase your social media followers? Jot these goals down, they'll help you to stay focused later.
Who do you want to reach?
Ask any professional writer—there's a lot more that goes into content then just strings of words with punctuation. There's a strategy involved, and that strategy starts with your audience, or who you want to reach. For example, the audience of a baby clothing boutique would be parents and grandparents of infants because, well, babies don't buy their own clothes. Ask yourself, who is the most likely to buy your product? What are their interests? What do they like? How old are they? Where do they live? Depending on your business, your audience may be very broad, or very limited, but it's essential to identify your audience before you get started on any content marketing strategy.
What's your brand personality?
Identifying your audience may seem like a no-brainer to some, especially if you have a tiny bit of marketing experience. But you should also identify yourself, or your brand. What separates your company from the rest? What is your company's personality? Are you serious, laid-back or humorous? Budget-minded or an extravagant luxury? Let's compare two companies that both distribute beauty products but have very different brands—Dove and Whiskey River Soap. Their personality begins with their names. What do you think of when you think of a dove? Beauty and innocence, perhaps? Now, what do you think of when you think of whiskey or a river? Certainly not innocent and beautiful. Dove has a softer personality—they bring to mind terms like confidence and beauty, while Whiskey River Soaps has a fun, humorous brand.
What's the best way to reach your audience?
So, now you have your goals, audience and brand personality either sloppily written on a piece of scrap paper or perfectly formatted in an Excel document. Now what? Well, the brainstorming isn't quite over yet, because there is more than one way to publish content. Here's the key question: how does your target audience receive their content? New parents devour blog articles with tips, how-tos, and stories from other parents in the trenches. Teenagers prefer more of a microblogging style and spend a lot more time on sites like Tumblr. (Note: social media marketing is not the same thing as content marketing. More on that later.) So, how does your target audience take their content? Blogs, web pages, emails, ebooks, and infographics are all options here, as well as taking it offline with venues like lectures. You don't have to just stick with one, just be sure you're using a venue your audience will actually come to so you're not wasting time. For example, Dove uses a blog for content marketing, by writing articles such as how to take care of your skin this season. Whiskey River Soaps takes a completely opposite approach, with content on their product pages that is so hilariously good, it's worthy of social media shares. Take everything you've learned so far and put it into a content marketing plan—it can be a simple one-page guide or a 76-page company document complete with an appendix—just make sure everyone involved in the process has a concrete, written idea of what content marketing means for your company. Remember in the definition we shared that consistency is included, so draft a rough schedule of how often you'll share each type of content as well.
You could take earn an entire degree (or two) in writing content—but if you're reading this, you probably don't have time for that. Assuming you have the ability to write a coherent sentence, what goes into writing for content marketing that's not in everyday content? For starters, you should always keep everything we just covered—audience, brand, and platform—in mind as you write. All of these things will help you determine whether you should be writing with a serious tone or a funny one and if it's okay to use words like “gotcha” and “dude”. If your audience is senior citizens or business executives, you should probably steer away from using twerk, LOL and 😉 in your content. Content marketing shouldn't be written in a way that sounds like reading an encyclopedia, it should be enjoyable and a bit conversational. Read the blogs and webpages of similar businesses to get an idea. Some are very conversational, while others read more like a casual article. Again, which one is best will depend on your audience and brand. The number one thing you have to do when writing content marketing? Make it valuable and relevant. Ask yourself, why would my audience read this? Traditional marketing content is written to sell, content marketing is designed to build a customer-business relationship through valuable information. Most content marketing is valuable because it is informative. A children's clothing boutique may blog on topics parents like to know, like child safety tips and fun family-friendly summer activities. Relevancy means that same company is writing “15 Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free” and not “15 Restaurants With Senior Citizen Discounts.” Sometimes though, content marketing isn't valuable because it's informative, but because it's entertaining. For example, Whiskey River's Soap For Hipsters generated over 15,000 shares on Facebook largely because the product description (i.e. content) is hilarious. Many businesses that use YouTube as a content marketing platform also use a bit of humor.
How will people find your content?
Writing valuable content is the most important aspect of content marketing—but if no one finds it, all that effort is wasted. The first step is to optimize your content for search engines. Use Google's Keyword Planner to find relevant search phrases related to your content, keeping in mind you are more likely to rank higher in the results when the competition is low. Use those keywords in key places like the headline and subheads and within image descriptions. Simply writing valuable content helps search engine optimization as well—Google recognizes frequent spelling and grammar errors as well as when content is thorough, since the average word count for the top search results is typically around 2,000 words. Links are a big help when it comes to SEO too—reach out to others that may be interested in your content and let them know it's there and available to link to. For example, we should reach out to Whiskey River Soaps—since they're mentioned in this article, they might like to share it on social media. Social media is another way to help your audience find your content. Social media isn't quite the same thing as content marketing, but it's hard to have one without the other. Share all of your content marketing efforts on all of your social media platforms, and integrate your content marketing schedule into your social media marketing routine. Of course, many businesses find success using paid promotions for their content, especially when starting out with few followers. Promoting your content on a Google search or in a Facebook ad are both possibilities here, when your content needs a boost beyond the reach you've gained from SEO and social media marketing. Content marketing is growing rapidly—and for good reason. While commercials and ads are often ignored, content is sought out as either entertainment or as a source of information. By providing that content on your business website, consumers are seeking out you, instead of the other way around. Eventually, that content will build a trust, which will lead to a long lasting customer-business relationship.