3 Steps to Getting Started with Content Marketing

Ah, the great outdoors. Something you likely won’t see often if you are as busy as you should be writing great content for your readers!

So, you’ve heard a lot about the value of content and how important it is to your marketing efforts, right? From “Content is King” to the fact that more and more marketers say it is the most important element of success, content is definitely front and center when it comes to the marketing conversation.

First, a definition.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action. The key word here is “valuable.” — Forbes
… 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… — Content Marketing Institute

Content marketing is all about creating great content and getting it front of the right audience in a way that gets them to take an action that is valuable to your business. But, how do you create great content? And, more importantly, how do you get people to see your content?

Before we get there, let’s clear up some other terminology.

What is Content Strategy?

Planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content. Kristina Halvorson
Content strategy deals with the planning aspects of managing content throughout its lifecycle, and includes aligning content to business goals, analysis, and modeling, and influences the development, production, presentation, evaluation, measurement, and sunsetting of content, including governance. What content strategy is not is the implementation side. The actual content development, management, and delivery is the tactical outcomes of the strategy that need to be carried out for the strategy to be effective. — Rahel Anne Bailie

And here are a few other definitions from the content folks at Distilled.

If you are just getting started I think an easy way to differentiate between content strategy and content marketing is this:

  1. Content strategy sets up foundations for long-term content success.

2. Content marketing is one way to capitalize on those foundations in order to deliver business value.

3 Essential Questions

Now that you have a little grounding, how do you actually start? Well, my advice is always to build a foundation first and then experiment, experiment, experiment.

How to build your foundations:

  1. Define your business objective.
  2. Define your audience and their needs.
  3. Define your unique opportunity.

While you don’t have to answer these questions before starting, I highly recommend it unless you are just writing for the sake of writing — but let’s save that for your personal blog, right? Your organization probably wants to see ROI from your content efforts and your customers wills certainly appreciate something that helps them accomplish their goals.

I recommend using a lightweight tool like Lean Canvas from Jeff Gothelf because it will help you think about the alignment between your business and customer objectives, your hypotheses and inexpensive MVP tests you can run with content without getting bogged down into huge strategy or planning efforts.

Or you can define a lightweight content strategy based on what you know about your industry and audience. Just make sure you include the following:

  1. Audience: Who are you writing to and for? Here’s a helpful primer for writing personas. Wait, what’s a persona?
  2. Content Types: What types of content will be most effective? Competitive research is critical but so are user interviews. More on both to come soon.
  3. Process & Workflow: How will you develop and manage content? Where will it live? How will you get it out the door and measure it’s success? This is all about planning, organizing, defining workflows and managing the lifecycle of content. If you are just getting started then keep all of this lightweight for now but don’t forget that all this new content requires long-term care and feeding and a little planning can make a huge difference.
  4. Why: Why are you developing content for your audience? What is your “unique” voice and your unique position that adds value only you can add? I recommend reading “Start with Why” or watching Simon Sinek speak on the Golden Circle at TED for a primer on why this matters.

Building on Your Foundation

If you’ve answered the three essential questions then you are ready to start writing. Here are three essential steps to build upon your foundation:

  1. Define Your Topic: The competitive research you did as part of your lightweight content strategy will help here. You did do competitive research, right? Competitive research will help you understand where there are content gaps that you can fill. Is there a question no one is answering? Is there a unique customer segment no one is addressing? Do you have unique knowledge that no one else has?
  2. Define Your Unique Position: What do you know that no one else knows? What data or experience do you have? What experts do you work with that can provide or support your content?
  3. Develop a Promotion Plan: Let’s start with a fact, in almost all cases “publish and pray” doesn’t work. To be successful you’ll have to promote your content. Start with your owned channels — make sure this new content is front and center on your site, share it through your social channels, share it with your partners and ask for them to help get the word out. You may even want to do outreach to make sure influencers are aware of your new content.

Quality over Quantity

Now that you are started, it is critical to remember that quality is more important than quantity.

This is true both to help your current customers and partners but also to get your new content to rank. It is also true in terms of how often you publish and how much you write per article.

Favor writing unique content that addresses relevant questions in a way that adds value over just publishing more of the same. Word count matters and longer posts tend to perform better but overall quality is more important than quantity when it comes to word count.

Be Consistent

It is rare to see results early. It can take months for a new piece of content to begin to get traction in search results. If your goal is to drive traffic then you should plan to publish consistently and to be patient in terms of results.

Plus, if your goal is to attract new visitors you probably don’t want them to come once, right? Or to come to you site and then bounce. Having rich content and making it available to visitors is critical to establishing yourself as an expert and to keeping your new readers engaged.

If your goal isn’t just traffic but is also to add value for existing customers then more content is even better assuming you are writing content that is helpful, informative and unique. Talk to your customers as often as possible to make sure you are on the right track.

Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

Last but not least, run experiments. Try new headline formats, try different lengths, use images, embed videos and test each approach with your readers. On the web, nothing is ever done and it’s okay to constantly experiment your way into success!

There you have it — a few easy steps to getting started. Thanks for reading. Please feel free to post questions and comments below!