What is content marketing?

Feb 5, 2017 · 18 min read

With the majority of the public becoming savvy to advertising, brands realise that they need to generate ‘stuff’ to keep their loyal customers and potential new ones interested, trusting and wanting more. That is where Content Marketing comes in.

It is not a constant hard sell. We have seen this does not work on many social campaigns. Users want to be informed, entertained and inspired. An example to make here is Facebook pages that still push product constantly, most times users have followed your page for things other than your product. Why keep pushing the same thing if they have bought it already? Rather prep them for an upsell, or a new product that’s coming. Plus make it so interesting or helpful, they want to share it.

What Is Content Marketing?

When I first researched this article, I came across the CMI’s definition of content marketing, which in my opinion sums it up.

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.

Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute

Then I figured that why rely on just one definition and get some thoughts from the leaders in the field

Content marketing is the process of developing, publishing, and distributing useful information that engages prospective customers and propels them toward purchase.

Anne Murphy, Director of Marketing Content, Kapost

Content marketing is anything an individual or an organisation creates and/or shares to tell their story. What it isn’t: A warmed-over press release served as a blog post.

Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs

Content Marketing means creating and sharing valuable free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell; in other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you.

Brian Clark, Founder & CEO, Rainmaker Digital

Content is the emotional and informational bridge between commerce and consumer. Building that bridge requires more than a budget, editorial calendar, and vision. It requires people who care, who love content, and what it can do for people. Not just what it can do for revenue, but rather how it helps people live their lives.

Jay Baer, President & Social Media and Content Marketing Strategist, Convince & Convert

What are the benefits of content marketing?

the benefits of content marketing
the benefits of content marketing

It comes down to building trust, providing content that interests, answers and inspires your current and potential customers. (As well as avoiding the adblockers that a savvy audience is putting in place)

Content comes down to building trust, providing content that interests, answers and inspires… Click To Tweet

The other benefits to take into an account are:

It helps you establish your brand or company as an authority or influence in your industry.
You become more visible thanks to shares, comments, feedback and not to mention it helps with your SEO. Your brand awareness increases as well as recognition.

In most cases content marketing makes you seem more human, with this, your users or customers start interacting with you more. This creates a loyalty and trust not only for current customers but potential new ones.
Of course, we cannot forget traffic, your content will help you with visitors, leads and more.

Content marketing is inexpensive, safe, available for anyone in any industry, and beneficial in many different areas. The sooner you start investing in it, the sooner you’ll start to see results, and the better results you’ll eventually see. Whether you’re in it for the increased traffic, higher conversion rates, or just better relationships with your customers, there’s no reason content marketing shouldn’t be included in your marketing arsenal.

Jayson DeMers

In addition to being impervious to ad-blocking software, good content is something consumers want to interact with, which makes it more effective and welcome on a foundational level.

Julia Mccoy

Content Marketing in the user Journey

On that note, content marketing plays a vital role in the user’s purchase journey.
Take a look at this chart:

So as an example, let’s say you are selling carpets.
You launch a video about how your carpets are made and the care that goes into them, plus you introduce Tom, a carpet expert. He lists the benefits of the new stainproof layer in a video. The consumer thinks ‘I keep spilling wine, plus there’s that spot in the lounge I just can’t get out, this might do the trick’ They decide to visit your site.
On the site are some Instagram images of satisfied customers, plus a downloadable guide on how to remove stubborn stains. ‘Wow not only are they selling the stain-proof carpets but they are also letting me know how I can clean them’ I like these guys. I wonder how that carpet there will look in the lounge. Ah, I can request a sample or download their app to see it.’ The customer goes away and tries the sample or app; now they are considering purchase ‘but wait maybe I can get it cheaper’, no fear, when they requested the sample you had an auto responder with a list of FAQ’s and in there was a comparison chart to competitors.

The customer goes away and tries the sample or app; now they are considering purchase ‘but wait maybe I can get it cheaper’, no fear, when they requested the sample you had an auto responder with a list of FAQ’s and in there was a comparison chart to competitors.
‘Wow not only are they selling the stain-proof carpets but they are also letting me know how I can clean them’ I like these guys. I wonder how that carpet there will look in the lounge. Ah, I can request a sample or download their app to see it.’

The customer goes away and tries the sample or app; now they are considering purchase ‘but wait maybe I can get it cheaper’, no fear, when they requested the sample you had an auto responder with a list of FAQ’s and in there was a comparison chart to competitors.

Almost convinced your potential lead has taken to review sites and forums, but luckily your team is all over the top-ranked blog, and there is evidence of customer service and satisfied customers.

They convert, order the carpet. Straight after installation, they post their new lounge to Instagram and your customer service team is ready to engage. You take the image and add it to your sites user gallery. The following week you create a Facebook gallery of the week’s top ten installations. The new customer is proud she made the list and shares it with her friends and family. The process starts again.

Granted, it does not always go that smoothly, but it gives you an idea of having content in place so that you can tap into the different parts of the journey. Even if a user has researched and chosen the company they want to use, your comparison chart could be hosted on an influential site she may come across and then change her mind and bring her over to you.

Content marketing can tick the boxes of each stage of the journey, it’s not an intrusive ad but informative, helpful information

Content marketing can tick the boxes of each stage of the purchase journey. Click To Tweet

How are brands using content marketing? Birchbox — content that establishes trust and authority

Birch box is a great beauty subscription service, plus it has a handy section for men too. Each month they send out products you need or want to try. The brand is supported by a very informative YouTube Channel where, in this case, men, are given great grooming tips or reviews on products. There is a separate channel for women too. Content that is uploaded is seasonal too, so they take into account things like valentines day or how to protect your skin in the cold months.
Here’s an example of one of the videos:

Using content, Birchbox is not only talking about the products they have but answering current and potential new customers questions. This helps them ensure returning users and establish them as an authority in this space. Personal grooming videos.

Moz — content that is regular and very informative

Moz is one of my favourite tools for SEO, and content marketing for that matter. AS powerful as their tool is the information they provide on a regular basis is invaluable. It established them as the go-to site for all things SEO and more. One of their approaches is to have regular features, namely their ‘Whiteboard Friday’, a video that is presented by experts in their fields and packed with information. Having a regular content post is great for your fans as they look forward to the content in its regular spot.
Check out one of the white board Fridays:

Not only are the headlines attractive to those working in the SEO and content industry, but the content itself is also very informative. On top of this, MOZ embeds the video into a blog post which has whiteboard screen grab available for download but includes the entire video transcribed below. This is a great approach to SEO as well, not only are they being discovered on YouTube but the transcription allows for Google to index the content for search discovery. (I mean MOZ would know how to optimise a blog). Whiteboard Friday is not the only content they are churning out, check it all out here: [Moz Blog — SEO and Inbound Marketing Blog — Moz](https://moz.com/blog)

Petsmart — content that knows pet owners obsessions

Petsmart content marketing
Petsmart content marketing

Petsmart is aware of their audience; they know that pets are the owners ‘children’ and that information to help them is priceless. Using data they can create content on their blog that answers the most popular questions, building trust with their audience and potential new consumers.

Topics like ‘unleashing the secrets of puppy behaviour’ for the new dog owners, or ‘Getting Your Finicky Cat to Eat’, or ‘Pet Bird Checklist’. All written in easy to understand guides. The amount of content they have has allowed them to create a search functionality that lets users ask any question. This then displays some possible answers. The great thing about this search feature is that it will store questions asked and help the content team come up with more content based on actual questions from pet owners.

Kat Von D Beauty — user generated original content

Kat Von D content
Kat Von D content

Having users submit content is an absolute win for a brand. It makes it real, it is not a series of professional shots with models but the users of the product. Just having a user upload content showing them using the product shows loyalty and that reflects onto potential new users. It also lets fans of the product be in the spotlight and gives the brand original content.
Asking fans to tag their Instagram posts when using the products, Kat Von D then uploads them to the site. Having access to many fans showing new ways to use products or tips and tricks enables Kat Von D to have a bank of content that’s not dependent on photo shoots every time they launch something new.

These brands also used their social channels and communities to spread the content.

Research shows

A while ago we published The Content Marketing 2017 preparation infographic. Looking at content and social media channel performance in 2016, we could see where marketers had concentrated their efforts, or what types of content were most popular.

content marketing types
content marketing types

As you could tell from the above case studies, video and blogs are prominent in the content marketing world. Blogs and video are the preferred way users and potential customers want to consume your information. However, the above chart should not deter you from other types or formats. The lower counts may prove to be opportunities. There is no harm in attempting to cater for other formats; these may be completely different audiences to visitors on your blog or viewers of your video

For instance, eBooks are great pieces of content for growing email lists. The same can be said for Interactive tools and templates.

why people follow social channels
why people follow social channels

When placing your content, we need to look at reasons users follow brands. What are they expecting from you? In data published by sprout social, we can get an idea as to why consumers choose to follow brands, this then gives you an indication of the content you should provide.

Of the number researched, 1,022:
73% follow a brand as they are interested in the product or the service it provides. The type of content you can create here are videos on the making of the product, audience response to product ideas, a weekly live stream of the latest news, a blog that answers regular questions customers email you or search on the site for.

59% Follow for promotions, self-explanatory. These are users that want a discount or other special offers. This can also include competitions. One thing to point out regarding this audience is that they can be of low quality. A few clients we have worked on in the past used to constantly promote sales and competitions. Once we took over and looked at the data, we could see the audience were just there for the free stuff. They would not interact with regular content. There is a subculture of discount and competition hunters that share this information on various forums. Be careful with this type of content

51% follow because the brand is entertaining. Paddy power is a prime example of this. Instead of constantly sharing odds on the next betting opportunity, Paddy power adds in funny posts and engages with their audiences. They also support these with great videos that are on trend with current events

42% want incentives. Again this is an audience you need to be careful with. Not as ‘fickle’ as the competition crowd. Your content can be exclusive or first looks as well. Rewarding a community with access to things before the general public is a great way to retain loyal followers.

41% are interested in the industry. This is content that shows how you are a leader in whatever industry you are. Be it fashion; the content can show how you ethically source goods, or a story how someone on the shop floor became a top fashion designer. Provide tips on getting into the industry too

25% follow you because they want to communicate with the brand. In most cases, due to human nature, this is probably to complain. Content can serve a purpose here by creating pieces that answer the most frequent complaints. Prices, delivery issues, faulty goods. Stories of fixing issues, videos from the call centre showing a human face. However, some users want to communicate that they love the brand, or want to make suggestions for improvement. This is an excellent way to get user content. Say someone comes up with a very good idea, turn it into a campaign.

21% follow thanks to their friends and family. This is a great loop if your content is resonating with one user that shares on their channels they will bring more potential customers. Content that encourages shares and community growth is a great way to start a circle of new acquisitions. Each person recruited from this activity will influence someone else in their circle.

Knowing why someone follows your brand is essential in knowing what content you should create. Click To Tweet

Although the above chart is a generalisation, you can start to measure the performance of your content theme by what it achieves. For instance, if a video you create shows how to make the perfect poached egg gets lots of shares and off the back of that you see more subscribers or traffic to the site, create more how-tos. Keep an eye on your primary key metrics and see if they are affected by the content you create.

content marketing
content marketing

The difference between most useful content types in the above chart does not differ much. We know marketers are churning out different types of content yet all are performing within 10% of one another.

It does not hurt to try them all and find your sweet spot as it will differ brand to brand or audience to audience.

It doesn’t hurt to try different content types to find your sweet spot Click To Tweet

E-newsletters, email has and will always be one of the most effective forms of content marketing. Think about it; these are people that have willing given you their email address and want to hear from you.

Events surprisingly is a great tool for content, attendees to your event will buy into your presentations or demos and seek you out online, be it your Twitter account or email list. I spoke at an event a while ago, dropped my twitter handle into some of the slides and increased my following with quality, interested in my content leads.

Illustrations and photos are pretty self-explanatory. For instance adding images to your tweets or Facebook posts has been proven to increase engagement.

When people hear information, they are likely to remember only 10% of that information three days later. However, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people retained 65% of the information three days later Vision | Brain Rules

Staying with the illustrations type of content, Infographics have proven to be a phenomenal type of content.
Infographics are “liked” and shared on social media 3X more than other any other kind of content. In the past month, there have been up to 100,000 searches for the term ‘Infographic’ They are perfect for your blog too as you can create embed code for users to add it to their sites, helping you create links. Pinterest was built for infographics (that is not a fact, that is just us stating that)

As we move down the above online presentations is an interesting one. Most of us have had to sit through those death by powerpoint presentations with someone going through boring slide after boring slide. However, slide share is a great site to push interesting presentations to. Not your typical boring ones we just mentioned, but straight to the point factual slides that consumers want to read. They become great traffic drivers to the rest of your content, plus help build you an authority on your topic or industry.

Strangely enough, blogs appear lower on the list. As you can imagine the amount of blogs on the web today is staggering, and getting cut through is difficult job. However, blogs are a standard issue in the content world. They will always appear in strategies, not just for the information but for SEO purposes too. All of the above content discussed can be embedded and expanded upon within a blog post too.

Why does content marketing work?

The problem with advertising is that it concentrates just on the purchase. It is targeted to hit a consumer that fits a demographic or behaviour or another trigger. They do not consider the journey the user is on or about to embark on.

The problem with advertising is that it concentrates just on the purchase. Click To Tweet

If you are watching Jason Bourne and an ad break suddenly offers you discount on a carpet its not going to work. (Possibly with a few it ‘luckily’ got in front of them)
Whereas with content marketing you are building trust, you are helping that user move along the journey through informative, honest and in some cases fun content. Consumers are savvy today; they want substance, they want to know a brand or product is genuine and right for them. Instead of bombarding them with intrusive ads you are giving them content they choose to consume.

The challenges of content marketing

challenges of content marketing
challenges of content marketing

Up till now we have sung content marketing’s praises. However, what are the downsides?
Before going through a list of points, the first thing you need to consider is your commitment. So many time brands or companies have decided to create blogs, or video channels only not to update them frequently. Content becomes stagnant, out of date. (unless its Evergreen) This does more damage than not having any content at all. You need to ensure you are in it for the long haul. Making sure you are consistent in delivering focused content that helps increase your visibility, discovery and trust.

Ensure you are in it for the long haul. Delivering consistent focused content Click To Tweet

Some other challenges faced when putting your content strategy together are:

Defining the goals.

Content Marketing goals
Content Marketing goals

You may find that in your google analytics you are getting many visits to a particular post, yet what do those visits mean? The sales team does not care about bounce rates or unique visitors; they want to know where the money is.
Setting your goals is a question as to what is your end game. Is it to grow an email list? Build a community, drive traffic to a website, Fill your restaurant with bookings. Once you define the end game, you can start to work out where your content market efforts would come into play.
There are many ways to attribute things like ROI, or conversions. Which deserves its own post. Simple setups in Google Analytics, for instance, using ‘Goals’ can attribute which assets on your site aided in achieving targets.
Work out to the end game then go backwards. Use the chart above as a reference

Finding what your audience needs and understand them

There have been many cases in agencies we have worked with where the content team was just filling in the blanks on a content plan. They were tasked with 2–3 blog posts a week. All they would do is quickly thumb suck some headlines and fill it in.
This will not work, you may luck out with one or two, but in the long run, your audience will not be interested. That’s why you need to research and define what your audience needs. Again, reference the chart above to identify what sort of content you are creating, then look into data that will tell you what your audience needs and what interests them

Simple ways to get inspiration for the content people are looking for is to look at search data; Google keywords tool is a good start. Alternatively, use answerthepublic.com — a great site that shows you questions users are searching for on Google related to your industry or topic.

You can then go a step further and look at Buzzsumo, type in keywords and get an idea of the sort of things people are sharing.

You will also need to keep an eye on your data you have access to. This will include you channel analytics and your google analytics. Look at what gets the mosts shares, comments, retweets, views, embeds and more. If one particular piece of content stands out, build on it. Expand it even more.

Also keep an eye on what channels work, there is no point in using up your time on a channel that is just not working. Move your efforts to the ones that are and then try again later.


content marketing time
content marketing time

Talking about time, content marketing is very time-consuming. Not only are you committing to a regular supply of informative content but you are committing to the time it will take to produce it. Automation can only go so far, plus it will not help define your brand’s authority as you will be merely sharing other people’s content.
Put time aside and stick with it. If you are creating a video channel on Youtube, create a project schedule and stick with it. Film and edit on Monday, publish on Tuesday.
There is no quick fix to high-quality content. You have to put in the time

Final thoughts

When you commit to a robust content strategy and when you know what your channels and assets do for your goals, you can establish a well-oiled content machine. Each week or month you plan your next pieces you will know what to create, how to build it, where to put it and how to measure it.

Hitting that sweet spot where your audience is engaging and sharing everything you put out and hitting your goals is the nirvana of content marketing. Take a step back from what you think isn’t working now and run it through the touch points, see what past pieces have worked and dig deeper into them.

Content marketing is in our opinion the most powerful form of marketing today. Users are savvy, they know Jlo does not drive a fiat, or that George Clooney drinks Nespresso. They make their own minds up. Being a brand that is there every step of the journey, answering every question, or driving that inspiration is a very powerful thing indeed. With content marketing, it is very possible.

Content marketing is the most powerful form of marketing today. Click To Tweet

*Credit : Content Touchpoints graphic is based on this original http://www.i-scoop.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Content-marketing-strategy-content-formats-the-funnel-and-the-buying-journey-via-Adido.gif

Originally published at vhdigital.co.uk.

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