There are two different types of Internet professionals - those who focus on the technical and those who focus on the creative. There is, of course, quite a bit of overlap for those within small and mid-size businesses - particularly at enterprises with employees who find they must increasingly wear multiple virtual hats in the pursuit of Web success for their individual organizations.
That was perfectly illustrated in 2013 with the rise in popularity of content marketing - the technique of creating, designing and distributing content to engage an audience with the aim of driving profit for an enterprise. Content marketing has quickly become part of the digital lexicon (and the long list of responsibilities for your average digital marketer), but in reality, it is something that most businesses have been doing every day for many, many years, whether they know it or not.
Most are likely familiar with the importance of being an "authority" and a "thought leader" in the niche or vertical they are operating within, but may be unclear on what it really means and further, what it means to the bottom line of a business (as well as the steps required to get there).
An authority, a thought leader (some even use the term "influencer") is an entity (a group or individual) that is recognized as one of the foremost experts in a select area of specialization, resulting in that entity being the "go-to" resource. The way to become a thought leader today (as it always has been) is to publish unique and authoritative content. The trick is not to be so linear in the execution.
There are hundreds - if not thousands - of success stories when it comes to content marketing but one of the earliest examples might just be one of the best as a means of illustrating the power behind the approach. Around 1900, Michelin developed the "Michelin Guide," which offered drivers information on auto maintenance, accommodations and other travel tips (like where to dine). It has long set the precedent for enterprises looking to benefit from the production of informative and useful content as a means of marketing a brand and it's served that company exceedingly well for more than a century.
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What was, and is still, so special about the Michelin example is that "hotels" and "dining" are not directly related to the company. Would Michelin have had as much success with its early content marketing initiative if it had been "Tire Maintenance 101" or "The Secrets of Fixing a Flat"? Probably not. Michelin didn't cater to their clients immediate needs but rather their desired lifestyles. That's the secret of content marketing, make it aspirational.
While most small businesses certainly won't fall into the Michelin category, you have to start somewhere. The following will provide a useful introduction, a blueprint and some useful tools, to help you navigate the road to content marketing success.
Anything that is worth doing is worth doing right, but there isn't really an actual blueprint for content marketing success, as each company, product and service that needs promotion is different. The obstacles that enterprises interested in content marketing face are many and quite substantial. Reduce and remove them and you're well on your way.
Most of the challenges that are routinely encountered have to do with the deficiencies of the brand responsible for creating, marketing and distributing the content. For example, there may be a significant problem when it comes to producing original content (or a shortage in general), a lack of an existing social following to consume the content that is created or perhaps a budget shortfall preventing content from being distributed in a greater number of "premium" channels.
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The first obstacle enterprises are likely to face is the overlap between the work being performed internally and the work being developed externally at an agency or consultancy. An SEO adviser might be currently leveraging content marketing to support its link building initiatives, while an advertising agency might be engaged in developing some native ad assets to support its efforts to raise awareness for a business. Understanding who is doing what and when will prove beneficial to the efficiency of your overall marketing strategy.
Another obstacle is in not knowing the sales cycle of prospects. For example, long and complex sales cycles, which involve multiple decision makers, are far different from shorter, more direct sales cycles where only one or two decision makers may ultimately be involved. The reason this is important to the success blueprint of your content marketing initiatives is that it impacts the formats you select, the distribution channels available and methods used to analyze performance.
Keep in mind that these obstacles are faced by every enterprise interested in content marketing. In short, know that you're not alone and that you can learn quite a lot from the experience of others.
Finally, a significant obstacle faced by many brands interested in leveraging content as a marketing tool, is selecting a format that aligns with the consumption preferences of its audience and their needs based on their location in the sales cycle.
Infographics and videos, for example, could be appropriate for an audience that is just exploring their brand options in a specific vertical, whereas case studies, research reports, webinars and white papers are better suited to those consumers who are further down the sales funnel and closer to a purchase. Content marketing doesn't end once a prospect becomes a client however. This is where product demos and illustrative graphics could come into play.
The objective when selecting a format is to understand what will prove most effective and balance that with the difficulty in executing (creating and distributing) that content asset.
The beauty of the Web is that there is a near endless supply of destinations where your message can be seen, your content consumed and channels from which new clients can be acquired.
The website itself is obviously the optimal place to position content, as well as within its own weblog and email initiatives, but many other distribution techniques are important to consider - social media networks perhaps being the most common option. "Social" is not necessarily the end-all, be-all of distribution though. Keep in mind that the aim of content marketing is to drive engagement while driving profit for your brand - not the brands of Facebook or Twitter. That means the first place your own content should be placed and the place all traffic should be directed to should be that of your own website. Having a central location for your content enables you to filter users through a sales funnel.
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In order for content marketing initiatives to be considered successful, it's essential those efforts are measured - because what can be measured can be managed. But what specifically should you be measuring or monitoring?
The list is endless, from a greater number of website visitors or the number of leads generated, to upticks in social media engagement or direct sales; in short, increases in the ROI of marketing in general. Other improvements, including the sales-readiness of leads, client retention or higher search engine rankings, are also cited as reasons why brands are quickly becoming involved in content marketing.
Content marketing doesn't need to be as complicated or mysterious as some of its more vocal proponents make it seem. It's about providing an authoritative voice, producing content in a way that it can be consumed most easily by its intended audience and measuring its impact so that future efforts can be managed and optimized.