In a time where attention spans are short and information is a “thumb-scroll” away, the term “content” has gained a lot of traction. However, not all content is created equal. To help move your business forward, it’s important to know the difference between simply generating content, and building a content marketing strategy.
What is “content?”
Whether it’s intentional or not, you generate content for your business every day.
Think of it as the trail of materials like social media posts, landing pages, marketing announcements, and direct mail that informs people on who you are and what you do. Content is a manifestation of your business coming to life.
Seems simple right? Well, yes, and no.
It’s easy to generate content, but it’s hard to do it well.
In a media-saturated environment, your customers are experiencing content fatigue. Content that doesn’t bring value to their needs will result in unsubscribes, unopened emails, or total disengagement. Because customers today are in the driver’s seat, it’s important to reorient your strategy with a content marketing plan that aims to educate, engage, and add value.
What is “content marketing?”
Content marketing is not just an e-book, landing page, or YouTube video. Instead, it is non-egocentric material that is audience-focused rather than product-based.
What’s the difference between content marketing and traditional brand marketing, you ask? To understand this, we have to explore how marketing as a whole has changed over time. Back up to when you couldn’t simply Google a business or order your latte online for in-store pickup (...we know). In this day and age, businesses not only had greater influence over consumer behavior, but also had less competition for their attention.
In contrast, customers today have more autonomy in what brands they engage with. As a result, “hard-sell” marketing tactics are not enough to inspire customer loyalty and action. Just think about the spam folder in your email. Content marketing is a way for businesses to start a conversation and build a relationship with potential customers–not just push them to buy sometime.
How to develop a content marketing strategy
The Marketing Insiders Group describes content marketing as “culture that delivers customer-focused content... across all the channels your customer uses, ignites conversations and drives conversions.”
For the purposes of this article, we’ll bundle and explore the C’s of content marketing:
Culture and customer
A content marketing strategy starts with identifying a consistent brand voice. Create a style guide that outlines suggested words, banned phrases, stylistic quirks, and visual guidelines that will run through all of your campaigns. Remember that your customer is at the core of all materials.
For example, this Charmin’s Tweet is an example of brand marketing (notice how the product is the focal point). On the other hand, Apple’s iconic “Shot on iPhone” campaign is an example of content marketing. It’s customer-first, product-second. The campaign not only commands attention through strong visuals, but also allows viewers to imagine being able to take a jaw-dropping photo with a device in their own pocket.
Cadence and channel
So, the bad news is that most small businesses don’t have the budget Apple does. The good news is that you don’t need to in order to make an impact with content marketing. To maximize your efforts, be intentional about how often you post and on what channels.
A few things to keep in mind:
How often to post: While pushing content frequently can bring a short-term boost in traffic and engagement, it also generates churn. Don’t just create content for the sake of creating content. Instead, opt for consistency (i.e. one Instagram post every Wednesday and Friday; publish on the blog every other Thursday). Use a content calendar to keep yourself accountable across the year.
When to post: Leverage research and data to understand when your customers are active on different channels. For example, if the best time to post on Facebook is 1-4 p.m. from Thursday to Sunday, schedule a post then to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Where to post: Content marketing that works is not universal. Depending on your audience, you may have a mix of videos, blog posts, newsletters, or podcasts. Remember that most people consume information via their mobile device, so it’s worth optimizing your content for this platform.
Conversations and conversions
At the end of the day, content marketing should make your customers feel connected because you speak their language, engaged in what you offer, and secure in taking the next step with you. Get creative and start a dialogue!
Patagonia is a great example of using a blog to create meaningful exchange with customers. Their content marketing efforts have helped build an impressive following that stands behind their mission to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire, and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” A quick scan on The Cleanest Line will show you how Patagonia engages with customers by sharing stories about the environment and providing resources on how to hold political leaders accountable.
As with any strategic initiative, your content marketing plan should be backed by data and metrics. Each content marketing piece should be tied to a metric that aligns with your objective and channel. As an example: “For this Instagram post, our goal is to gain twenty new followers and engage with users in fifty comments.”
Lastly, remember that content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Like any long-term investment, the benefits don’t come immediately. Be patient, get creative, and track your progress in order to refine your process and engage with potential customers in a meaningful way.