Essential for those brands that want to establish a competitive presence on the Web, content makes it possible to attract new users and retain loyal customers.
As traditional publishing fades from the consumption habits of modern consumers and the rise of independent and in-house content producers take center stage, it is time for everyone to ride the digital wave and learn all they can about content marketing to ensure their success in the many years to come.
It seems that every brand today is currently engaging in the practice. A report from the Content Marketing Institute, for example, found that 86 percent of B2B marketers and 77 percent of B2C marketers are actively using a content marketing strategy today. There is good reason for its adoption; content plays a fundamental role in nearly every aspect of the digital experience and carries with it the ability to greatly influence success.
Who better to develop content than brands in this new reality? And the best part? It seems to be working. Seventy-two percent of marketers, in fact, indicated that the production of relevant content was the single most effective tactic in search engine optimization (according to Ascend2). The problem, however, is that only 28 percent of brands' total marketing budgets are (according to the CMI) currently allocated to content marketing. One thing is certain: prospective buyers are consuming content - 47 percent, in fact, viewed 3-5 pieces of content before ever engaging with a sales representative.
Companies that publish with regularity are also reaping the rewards. HubSpot reported back in 2015, for example, that those businesses producing 16 or more blog posts each month received 3.5 times more traffic than companies that did so only 1-4 times per month. That is not a statistic that should be ignored.
Today, there are hundreds if not thousands of similar statistics (check out Stat Watch on page 9 of this issue), which confirm the incredible impact the trend of content marketing has had on the revenue of enterprises and the positive influence on the user experience.
Content marketing is not really a "new" practice; in fact, it has been around for years although it has gone by a variety of names and has been the responsibility of numerous people within organizations. Did you know, for example, that the Michelin Guide (a popular guidebook on restaurants and hotels) was created by the tire manufacturer in order to get people into their automobiles and exploring the country (effectively encouraging them to use their tires in the process)? There are hundreds of examples of effective content marketing like this in use in the present day.
Website Magazine has aggregated some of the most interesting, compelling and effective instances of content marketing providing a positive influence on the success of enterprises.
Despite numerous instances of success, however, not everyone is ready or willing to ride the wave of content marketing.
It can be difficult to convince stakeholders to make an investment in content and those trying to make such a case encounter a variety of arguments against doing so, such as "aren't we already doing that?," or "we don't have the resources." The truth of the matter is that yes, enterprises are likely already engaging in content marketing (but may not realize it) and as such do indeed have the resources. That being said, it is actually quite common to receive pushback for an increased focused on the development and marketing of content.
Some arguments that can be used to convince others in an enterprise might include:
+ Content creates familiarity, familiarity leads to trust, trust leads to conversion, conversions leads to revenue and revenue is how enterprises become profitable.
+ "Content" fuels every single inbound channel marketing initiative - social, email, search, everything! Companies cannot leverage these channels without content.
+ Content can be used not only to create interest and generate demand to acquire new users, but to retain existing clients as well, reducing total marketing costs and increasing the lifetime value of customers.
Making the case for greater investment in content is really about exposing a brand's priorities, helping focus its attention on what matters and planning for success. It is often more a shift in mindset than resources (time or financial).
Perhaps the greatest mystery in digital marketing today is figuring out what is really meant by "quality content." What is appealing and engaging to one type of audience is dry and uninspired to another. There is no single definition, nor should there be. Content is "great" or of high quality when it satisfies the user and helps the enterprise achieve its objectives. It is no more complicated than that. Time and again, however, content that is engaging and action-oriented fits a rather obvious mold - it serves a purpose and is useful, and it is entertaining and enjoyable to consume. Ultimately, whatever content is developed needs to be thoughtful (catering to the needs of the user) and strategic (providing value to the enterprise on some level in order to accomplish objectives).
It really is that simple but great content rarely (if ever) happens without a plan.
Content marketing is so much more than putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and producing materials for user consumption. Success with content, as with anything, starts with a solid plan. For the most part, brands are well equipped to produce and distribute content for the benefit of raising awareness, acquiring new users, generating sales and improving mindshare.
The truth of the matter is often that brands just do not invest enough of their energy and resources to do so, and ultimately fall behind the curve. Let's look at what a content marketing campaign might look like and discover some tools and solutions to help make executing such an initiative possible.
It may seem elementary, but it is important to know the reasons why a company wants to engage in content marketing. Is it for greater awareness of the brand? Is it to better educate consumers so the customer service team spends less time on the phone? Is it, simply, to make more sales?
These are all very reasonable and respectable reasons to engage in content marketing, but if the person or team ultimately responsible does not know the primary (or the secondary) expectation, it is likely that the initiative will result in wasting immense amounts of time, as content will be crafted that is not suited to the objective and will never help fulfill it.
The first step of any content campaign should be to identify the objective of the entire initiative and align it with each individual content piece. Is the purpose to generate new business leads? Reduce customer service inquiries? Increase the spend of existing customers? When goals are defined, marketers can focus their effort and attention.
It is not enough to indicate that the goal is "greater awareness" or "more revenue" - a better approach would be to suggest that through content marketing initiatives the enterprise will achieve a certain state and indicate specifically what is needed to achieve the organizational objectives.
For example, say that an Internet retailer produces a content asset such as an infographic on summer fashion trends. Instead of suggesting that the objective is to generate an (arbitrary) increase in the number of pageviews, a better goal would be along the lines of selling two percent more swimsuits and six percent more flip flops in the month of August.
Goals and objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound (or S.M.A.R.T.).
Planning for content marketing success requires that enterprises conduct research on the activity on their website (analytics), the industry in which they are participating (perhaps through social media) as well as on competitors (via search engines or other means) to learn how they can differentiate their efforts. The approach here should be to identify ways to improve upon what has already been done by the enterprise in question and others.
Can a brand provide more detail (go into more depth)? Leverage alternative formats? Distribute in more niche venues? In almost every case, there is room for improvement. To get where a marketer wants to be, of course, it is useful to know where the enterprise already is.
Companies should take inventory of any existing content that has been published in the past and attempt to determine what has been most effective (in terms of goal completions for example). If a Web professional is just coming into a content marketing role, one of the best (or easiest) ways to do this would be to check social media channels, analytics accounts and even email service providers. Identify content that has high rates of shareability (social media), high conversion rates (Web analytics) and high engagement rates (email).
A tool like Buzzsumo, for instance, can indicate what content is most popular within a specific industry whereas Google Analytics can indicate what pages are being visited the most or are beneficial to conversions and, beyond that, a social media management tool like Sprout Social or even Facebook Insights can show posts with the most engagement, and an email provider can provide detailed reports on opens, clickthroughs and more.
Another good (if not essential) practice is to start building personas to model desired audiences, addressing both the demographic and psychographic characteristics of users. Then, use different buying stages to align content to desired objectives and outcomes.
One of the objections that those not keen on content marketing offer is that content and its related initiatives can be somewhat difficult to measure. That is not entirely untrue, but with some forethought, the impact of content is most certainly trackable. The secret is to align key performance indicators (metrics) to the pre-defined objectives. By first establishing a variety of metrics to track including those related to consumption, sharing and sales, and monitoring how they impact user behavior and organizational and campaign performance, marketers can prove that content does play an important role in the success of enterprises and make the case for greater investment in the future as a result.
What has not yet been addressed is the actual production or development of content - a tribute to the fact that successful content marketing initiatives are as much about planning and promoting (more on that in a bit) than production.
While it is not feasible to go into the ideal method of production for each possible type of content, it is important to highlight some high-level best practices and tactics regardless of the format:
+ Produce content for each and every persona that has been created, content for every stage of the buyer journey for each of those personas. Take it a step further by addressing the challenges each persona might have in every buying stage.
+ Establish an execution or production plan for the campaign that address the date, format/channel, personas, needs, funnel stage, call-to-action and measurement approach for each individual content item.
+ When designing content, focus on those elements that emphasize key aspects of the brand message, including headlines, subheadings, summaries, bulleted lists, quotes, etc.
+ Commit to producing content in multiple formats; turn blog posts into infographics, infographics into videos, videos into slideshows, slideshows into ebooks, ebooks into case studies, case studies into microsites, microsites into newsletters, newsletters into email courses.
Essentially, content marketers need to use every available format at their disposal, develop content for every possible consumption scenario and plan pretty much every step of their content initiative.
While most brands are rather proficient at the development of traditional content formats such as website articles and weblog posts (not to mention ebooks, whitepapers, email courses and the like), an immense opportunity exists for those looking to tap into alternative forms of content and that means going visual with more dynamic content, infographics, memes and gifs. For many brands, visual content is at the core of how their brand story is communicated. And as search engines get better at understanding the content of these visual assets, companies are now beginning to produce with that effect in mind. Video, of course, is one of the most popular forms of alternative content and today nearly 61 percent of businesses are using video as a tool in their marketing campaigns, according to Wyzowl's survey on "The State of Video Marketing 2016."
Explainer videos are currently a popular subset of the video marketing trend that deserve close attention from nearly every brand. Another form of alternative content is that of virtual reality (VR). Many brands have used the technology to enable their customers to experience their brand in rather innovative ways, versus forcing them to read, watch or listen to their messages. Ashley Furniture, for example, announced last year it would be pursuing a virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) strategy to enable consumers to create interior layouts and experience living spaces in 3-D.
What should become clear to marketers today is that storytelling and experience-based marketing is a core component of success when it comes to content.
Companies are not just sharing information, they are also crafting a narrative, a narrative that is used to engage with the audience and which is used to tell a more interesting story.
No content was ever considered "great" until it was distributed (promoted) to an audience. Getting content in front of audiences, however, is an entire undertaking in and of itself and there is no shortage of opportunities to do so. First, however, it proves useful for marketers to engage in a process where their "customers" are messaged separately from "influencers" - those most capable of aiding a brand in distributing content.
Most of the content on the Web (at least that of a lower quality) tends to be similar in scope, broad in focus and accessible only through the same destinations where everyone else is doing the same. Search engines are saturated with such overly general content. The savviest brands, however, see the value in concentrating their efforts on serving ever smaller (and smaller) interest groups.
Who knows more about a brand's products and services than those within the business itself? If the answer was "customers" then the marketing team at an enterprise is doing a spectacular job engaging users and it is on the cutting edge of digital trends. Since consumers will often trust the content made by other people more than content crated by companies, savvy brands are finding ways to get more creative in using this content to help them establish trust with their audiences in the years to come.
Perhaps the most significant challenge in content marketing today is that there are so many more "publishers" that the competition for consumers' attention is at an all-time high. While some brands are learning to optimize their digital experience in order to acquire more leads and continue marketing to those individuals at a later date, others are employing paid advertising models to get their content in front of new prospects including on platforms such as Taboola and Outbrain.
Another way to ensure content is distributed as broadly as possible is to engage influencers. While the practice is not new, influencer marketing has risen in popularity (recently thanks to social media), particularly among brands that want to establish trust and acquire new users. The effect of engaging in influencer marketing can be impressive. Research from TapInfluence found that the practice produces an ROI 11 times higher than that of traditional advertising. Whether it is working with industry insiders or pop culture influencers, aligning a product or service with a similar, engaged audience can prove lucrative.
Content has always been an important part of the digital experience and there is no indication that will change in the foreseeable future. What will change, however, is how consumers prefer to consume that content and it will be the responsibility of businesses to deliver experiences that enable them to do just that.