What is Content Marketing? The Absolute Beginner’s GuideDec 05, 2018
Looking to grow your business online? You may be wondering if content marketing could work for you. In this guide, we'll explain what is content marketing and how to make it work for you as a complete beginner.
It's no secret that the language you use to represent your brand shapes the perception your audience has of you and your business.
After all, content is your voice, and one of your most authentic forms of self-expression to help your brand stand out. Establishing your tone of voice, your brand vocabulary, and your overall online presence means giving your brand another dimension for your audience to connect with.
Storytelling is the foundation of any content marketing strategy, but crafting your story is only just the beginning. Every entrepreneur–whether a complete beginner or a seasoned pro–must diversify their content to meet the needs of their audience and industry. The world has become such a well-connected place, with an abundance of different formats of content people consume on a daily basis (blog posts, videos, podcasts, social media, etc.)– you don't want to miss the opportunity to reach those people who are searching for exactly what you offer!
That's why everything you incorporate into your content marketing strategy should be considered with great care and tailored carefully to suit your specific goals and aspirations.
However, all of this may seem complex and somewhat vague for those just entering the world of online business. Defining and understanding your content marketing strategy from the get-go will help you create a brand that people flock to!
So, What is Content Marketing, Anyway?
Let’s start with the most fundamental definition of content marketing. As the Content Marketing Institute puts it:
“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.”
Let's break that down real quick.
First off, "content" can be anything. From a random Tweet, to a YouTube video, a product description, a meme, or a written blog post.
However, content marketing gives all these bits and pieces of creative ideas a clear purpose: all the pieces of content work together to drive sales of your affiliate product, service, online course, or whatever you do to make money.
Valuable, relevant, and consistent – these are the three qualities you want to have in every single piece of content. If your blog post, video, or infographic doesn’t meet these criteria, then you should revisit the topic in question and tailor it differently.
As you can see, content marketing is the exact opposite of the old-fashioned “pushy” marketing approach, where selling is the main purpose of your efforts. Rather than pushing people to become your customers, your content should create a pull, or a magnetic appeal towards your brand. This way, you are helping people out even before they buy, and in the end you'll not only make the sale, but you'll have raving fans.
So, content marketing should first and foremost be customer-centric (focused on what your ideal customer needs and wants), although branded. It should represent your values and clearly show your purpose, without imposing itself on the consumer. It should be designed to nurture real, human relationships over making a sale, thus serving a long-term goal over short-term profit.
When done this way, your content marketing will ensure that every single person who comes into contact with your brand knows that you genuinely care about them, and you will earn their loyalty!
Ready to get started with creating your content marketing strategy?
Great, let's go!
Step 1. Determine Your Goals
The first step is getting up-close and personal with what you want to achieve with your content.
Of course, every business wants at least several distinct results, preferably measurable, from their content efforts, even if you’re a lone-wolf tackling the business world on your own. Would you like more subscriptions to your newsletter? More chatter in the comment section? More shares? More sales that lead back to the links in your content? All of the above and then some?
Here are some tips for setting good goals...
- Make your content goals SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Simply put, there should be no random piece of content that you have no specific purpose for and cannot track its digital footprint and final effect. A vague term such as "brand awareness" (how many people know who you are) can be measured by looking at the number of your followers, for example. So, get specific and start taking notes on everything you do.
- Define your KPIs – Also known as key performance indicators, these are crucial to refining your goals and your efforts to reach them. Once you have defined your goals clearly, you should also know how you are going to achieve them and how you can track their success. For instance, if the goal of your blog post is to get more website visits, you should track details such as monthly blog visits, time spent on website, as well as your readers’ reaction to the blogs and their rate of returning to your blog.
- Think in milestones – Goals can be highly specific, but you should still use them as a wider notion to create more detailed milestones for your branded content. For example, if one of your broader goals is to educate your audience on a regular basis, you should also put that into real-time perspective by creating a writing, editing, and publishing schedule. Defining these milestones (e.g. writing, editing, publishing) will make your goals more do-able.
Step 2. Get to Know Your Audience
The most critical factor for creating the right content marketing strategy is understanding your audience and ideal customers.
Since you’re aiming to dazzle, inspire, and win over their hearts, and not simply spew out several blogs and social media posts per day, the quality of your content should be in the spotlight. Defined by what your audience needs and wants, it will help you reach all the goals we outlined above.
Here are some tips for getting to know your audience...
- Stay informed of the latest content trends – Once upon a time, gifs and memes for instance were reserved only for the jokesters of the online world, but never used by serious brands. Now, even globally famous names such as Marie Claire and NASA use pop culture content to humanize their work and bring them closer to their audience. It pays to know what your audience likes, so that you can both entertain and educate through the versatile content you post.
- Real-time analysis – Data gathered from your customers’ real-time actions is vital in figuring out what type of content receives the most attention, where they click the most, which type of posts get them to engage in a conversation or to share on social media, and the like. Tools such as Google Analytics and Facebook Audience Insights among others serve to show you your most and least successful content. From there, you can make any changes and deliver content that will inspire more conversations and more purchases.
- Analyze your audience’s overall online behavior – where they hang out the most, what type of content they prefer, what tone of voice they respond to. You’ll quickly understand what you should focus on. Some audiences prefer lengthy blog posts, some won’t read them without high-quality images attached, and others will rather consume video guides or infographics. It all depends on what your users want and need.
Step 3. Plan Your Content Calendar
While the quality of your content is certainly #1, it’s important to consider that quantity still plays a role in your strategy.
After you've defined the quality your audience needs and find the way to deliver it, you also need to create a consistent schedule that will provide your audience with the given content according to a defined routine.
In short, you need a content calendar. Here are some tips to get you started...
- Plan your posts – As creatures of habit, we like our weekly news roundups, so letting your audience consistently experience your brand at an expected time and place, you’ll create the basis for establishing trust. A schedule will also help you grow your business down the road, so that all those involved in the process can have a clear idea of your objectives and content needs.
- Keep quality consistent – Brands use schedules to plan the quantity of their content posts, or at least predominantly so. However, if you stick to your schedule only because you need to, the quality of your content will reflect that attitude, and your readers will sense that you’re not delivering your absolute best every time you post. Sure, it’s unrealistic to expect pure perfection from you and your content creators and designers, but you should include a standard of quality that each of your posts should pass before publishing. In a sense, just as you schedule for quantity, plan for quality as well.
Obviously, we're not just talking about blog posts here. These tips apply to any type of content that you are publishing!
Step 4. Spread the Word
Sometimes, your blog posts will get likes and comments through the roof, getting you more attention than you initially anticipated, while at other times, your posts may go by unnoticed.
The key to increasing your content’s visibility is to get it in front of the right people, at the right time, and in the right place. That way, a single blog (or video, or podcast) can suddenly get much more exposure, and more traction will ensue – and we all know that engagement is the best way to inspire a purchase!
Here are some tips for getting the word out there...
- Be network-specific – In your initial analysis, you’ve uncovered which social platforms your audience likes. Whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram (or all of them), you should find a way to leave tidbits of your posts, links, and snippets of relevant information to lure them to your website. They might be able to read the entire blog on Instagram, but Facebook and Twitter sometimes prefer shorter written forms, with links to take your readers to the source.
- Repurpose and recycle – Even though a young brand is miles away from the need to reuse old content, incorporating this idea into your long-term strategy may be a useful way to preemptively fill some content gaps down the road. When a certain piece of content hasn’t done its best in your opinion and if that view is supported by data analysis, then you can make a note in your strategy to repurpose it. That can be done in different ways, from turning a simple blog into an infographic, all the way to creating stories from case studies, and your images into Instagram stories and Pinterest boards.
- Get creative – As much as tried-and-tested tactics will always deliver on their promise at least to an extent, every brand should do its best to be authentic. Even though your means may not be original, the end should certainly create the desired buzz around your brand. For example, creating social media contests by inviting users to take photos with your product, or to express their opinions in comments, you can cause an avalanche of engagement which will surely increase your brand awareness and ultimately your sales. Plus, user-generated content is a brilliant way to inspire others to follow your brand. Discounts and coupons are an age-old method that remains a highly popular one, so include it in your content as a way to inspire more website visitors.
Step 5. Use Feedback to Adjust
In an ideal world, all you'd need is the analysis of your audience’s preferences, and you’d nail your content strategy from the first try. However, the real world is a tad different.
You’re bound to come across setbacks, and you’ll need to make changes on the go. See what your readers actually respond to well, by looking at the metrics that you decide to monitor, and adjust from there.
Here are some tips for implementing the feedback...
- Master the learning curve – In fact, why not learn from the best in the world when it comes to tracking your content performance? For example, incorporating social media monitoring has become a business norm for entrepreneurs and companies that want meaningful data at their disposal at all times. With such information at your fingertips, you can pinpoint the feedback that will ultimately lead you to improve your content performance and make the most of your marketing efforts.
- Damage control – Another vital segment in which keeping an eye on your brand mentions across all channels becomes useful is locating and resolving any customer-related issues and grievances. We are no longer limited to sending email rants to customer service agents or calling to report an issue with a product, on the contrary. The modern user is far more likely to utilize social media tags to call out brands and publicly state their dissatisfaction. Instead of letting negative feedback pile up, it’s best to respond and resolve as many of these issues as possible.
- Don’t wait for reviews – Although the most engaging of content will naturally elicit a reaction from your audience, whether in the form of shares, likes, or comments, there are other ways to seek out feedback to use in defining your strategy. Specifically, young brands can use surveys and online review platforms to adjust their content approach based on this type of data.
As a newcomer in your niche, you will quickly notice that the entire content marketing process is far from set in stone. It does come with a learning curve, hence the need to stay open-minded and flexible.
With such a mindset, you’ll be able to pick up on the latest market changes, and implement them into your strategy without having to start from scratch every time a new trend arises. In fact, by staying flexible and curious to learn about your consumers, you will allow yourself the opportunity to not only be at the forefront of the content industry and your own niche, but become a content trend-setter yourself!
Let's do a quick recap:
To get started, write down your goals. What do you want your content marketing strategy to accomplish for your business?
Next, get to know your ideal customers. What format of content do they like best? What topics are they interested in?
Then, plan out your publishing schedule. It doesn't have to be anything crazy to begin with, but having a plan will help you be consistent.
With those 3 steps done, you're well on your way to becoming a content marketing pro!
David Webb is a Sydney-based business consultant, marketing analyst and a writer. With a decade of experience in a business sphere and a degree in business management, he continuously informs the public about the latest trends in the industry. He is an Editor in Chief at BizzmarkBlog. You can reach him on Twitter or Facebook.