What is Content Marketing?
According to Wikipedia, “Content marketing is a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing and distributing content for a targeted audience online. It is often used by businesses in order to:
- Attract attention and generate leads
- Expand their customer base
- Generate or Increase online sales
- Increase brand awareness or credibility
- Engage an online community of users”
My definition of Content Marketing (CM) is somewhat similar, but with one distinct difference – the “what”. Content marketing is the process of creating and distributing valuable content that is relevant to your target market. When you are consistently delivering highly relevant content, it will attract new customers as well as support the retention of current customers. This process is an important first step in the development of a customer-driven marketing strategy.
Yes, I just defined it as a process rather than a strategy. Here is why… any sort of marketing strategy or approach to business promotions cannot exist without content.
What does “content” mean?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us the definition of content is:
“The topics or matter treated in a written work” or “the principal substance (such as written matter, illustrations, or music) offered by a website.”
Another way of defining content is all of the ways that we express ideas – through words, images, videos, music, audio, and the mixture of these mediums. These are the ways we tell stories to each other. Sharing stories is a vital way for promoting your business in a powerful and memorable way.
“Stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts.”
Some call it the customer-driven economy or the consumer economy, but it all comes down to our complete environment. As you are fully aware, I suspect, we no longer live in an era when the advertising companies can shout a message out and convince you to buy something. The power is in your hands and you, as the consumer or customer, has the ability to shape the way a company speaks to you.
It is an especially poignant issue for smaller companies that we live in a time of the customer-driven environment. All aspects of your business are shaped by the customer demand. The four P’s: Price, Product, Promotion, and Place are not determined exclusively by the business owner. The needs and wants of our customers shape the delivery of the desired product or service.
An effective customer-driven marketing strategy thinks of the customer from start to finish from the design to the promotions and to the delivery. In this new kind of selling environment, content marketing is an important process to integrate into your marketing and sales.
A Thoughtful Strategy With Content Marketing
Your business story is unique, just like you. In the same way, the processes you put in place to manage your business’ marketing will be specific to your style and needs. Your existing customers have gravitated to you for this reason – they are your tribe. The way you communicate and methods used align both with your business AND your target market.
The most valuable advice I can share about content marketing are these 5 steps:
1. Have a Plan
This is a compliment I often receive from collaborative partners and clients. Finding a way plan and organize your content makes a big difference in your work. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the requirement to constantly be creative and come up with “brilliant” blog posts, emails, social media posts, etc, you can create a plan that fits your working style.
For me, it’s all about planning 3 – 6 months ahead and working from the big picture down to the individual content pieces. If you can plan out a whole year, then go for it. I like marketing campaigns to run for 1 – 3 months at a time with a theme in mind (big picture). Then I write content out in 1 or 2 weeks in advance (individual tactics).
2. Know Your Audience
Clearly, your target market is a driver for your content marketing and sales content. If you have this person in mind while you are writing or creating, then it’s hard to go wrong.
Not all of us have taken the time to pause and understand our target market / ideal customer. There are many resources here that can support you with developing personas and researching your tribe.
3. Share Your Stories
Just as professor Paul J. Zaks says in the quote above from his article “How Stories Change the Brain”, sharing content in the form of a story is highly effective. You can read more about the neurological effects of storytelling in this blog post.
4. Follow a Process
Everyone has their own method that works for them. Mine is all about a balance between planning the long term big picture ideas in a spreadsheet, then laying out the specific tactics and posts in separate tabs by month of the year.
5. Measure, Listen and Learn
The final step is to measure your marketing. Use it as a listening tool and learn from what you see in your analytics. You can read more about social media analytics in this blog post. Each tactic you have (social media, email, website, blogging, podcasts, etc) can and should be measured. You can follow competitors to learn from what they are doing well or poorly with content. Read reviews to truly understand your target market.
A Short Story About Content Writing
I remember the first time I was asked to “write copy” for a business. It wasn’t like writing a paper for a professor or a letter to a friend. It was this whole new concept for me, but I didn’t run away from it. Sitting at my little cubicle in a giant high-rise in midtown Manhattan I starred at the wall where I had pinned photos of my family and quotes from people I respect. One quote stood out among the rest. It read, “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”
Bernstein, such a wise creator, reminded me that I needed a plan. So I decide research was the first step, then a first draft, share it with a coworker for review, make some edits, and finally I would hand it in to the head editor. The final product was not perfect, but it gave me some confidence that I could do this and improve. That head editor mentored me and supported my professional growth. By the end of my two years with that company I was in a position to be excited about writing content for promotions.
Don’t avoid it. Embrace it.
You have the ability to write something that will connect your audience with your business, and you can make a positive impact.