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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Content marketing. On the surface, the concept – focusing on developing educational content that pulls people toward your website where they can learn more about what they are interested in – seems rather straightforward and approachable, but these two words often strike fear in the hearts of many marketers. But why?

We find that the hesitation felt by most marketers stems from feeling overwhelmed when contemplating the steps required to either start or maintain and effective content marketing program. So, before we begin, let's evaluate where you may be on your organization's content marketing journey.

Beginner – If content marketing is a new venture in your marketing/communication program, congratulations and welcome! We know how overwhelming it can be when you're unsure of where to begin and embarking on a strategy that is untested within your organization. Just remember that content marketing is all about creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience, with the objective of driving profitable customer action. While starting your content journey requires a great deal of effort, every organization must start somewhere, so appreciate where you are, learn from your experiences and, above all, be persistent.

Intermediate – If your organization has created a few pieces of content and you are not yet realizing your goals for views and conversions, or you are struggling to see a return on the investment you are making with your content marketing efforts, don't give up. Perhaps you are lacking some of the key resources required for a successful program? Or, maybe your strategy and tone needs a bit of fine tuning to take you to the next level?

Advanced – If you have enjoyed some success with content marketing, but you are feeling extreme pressure to demonstrate a larger return on investment for your efforts, or your competition is reaping the benefits of a robust program, you're not alone. A content marketing program is never a one-and-done marketing strategy. In fact, requires a commitment to publishing a steady stream of engaging content that answers your customer's questions, minimizes their objections and helps them make a purchase decision.

Regardless of what stage you are at in your business' content marketing journey, sometimes all you need is a partner to help you get off on the right foot, blast through a plateau or better manage the pace and fluidity of an effective program.

The Importance of Content Marketing

When creating content, it's essential that it acts as a magnet that is designed to attract your target audience. We find that creating interesting, educational, entertaining and/or other valuable content will begin to attract potential leads and position your organization as an industry thought leader.

While attracting people via content marketing is great, you want to be sure to attract the right audience. To do this, developing a clear and comprehensive target audience is paramount.

Once you have developed and initially engaged leads, you want to focus on driving profitable customer action, which includes actions that encourage certain behaviors, such as clicking on a call-to-action to learn more, register for a consultation or a product demonstration, claim a free assessment and more.

Of course, the long-term goal of content marketing is to increase the sales of your product or service, a content marketing best practice includes NOT mentioning your product or service. Since customers are constantly bombarded with marketing and messages everywhere they turn, you will generate more leads and convert your leads to customers by providing insight, education and/or value via your content rather than pushing a sales pitch.

Why Content Marketing Matters and Why it Works

The last several years has seen a major shift in customer behavior. As consumers have become increasingly connected, mobile and social content, email and social media marketing continue to grow and evolve as major channels for product discovery and brand research. Even B2B decision makers, who are often among the most notoriously slow adopters of new technologies and platforms, are increasingly turning to LinkedIn, online forums/communities, SlideShare and online whitepapers when evaluating purchase decisions.

According to HubSpot, an industry leader in inbound marketing – a term synonymous with content marketing – 74% of marketers today are focused on converting website visitors into leads and customers. Additionally, 57% of companies are focused on increasing traffic to their websites and 46% of companies are looking for ways to increase revenue – or upsell – with their existing customers.

Want more proof? Inbound or content marketing tactics typically generate 54% more leads than traditional marketing efforts, and twice as many marketers indicate that inbound delivers a below average cost per lead than outbound methods. On average, companies leveraging content marketing save $20,000 per year by investing more in inbound marketing versus outbound.

If you have been tasked with a mandate of keeping your marketing engine running with a keen eye toward monetizing your marketing activities, content marketing is an exceptional way to achieve all of your goals.

Now, let's dive in to how you can (and will!) conquer your content marketing mountain.

Chapter 1: Assemble Your Team

Before embarking on an expedition, a successful mountain climber doesn't “go it alone.” Surrounding yourself or building a team with the right mix of people is essential to your success. A typical content marketing team includes the following professionals:

Marketing Strategist – In most organizations, a marketing strategist works closely with senior management as well as other departments within an organization – such as sales, operations, product/service development, etc. – to prepare marketing strategy for the company, including new product/service launches and revitalizing previously launched products and services. Additionally, marketing strategists analyze sales data, conduct market research, initiate new and creative ideas in the marketing plan for brand building, promotions, etc.

Content Copywriter – Content copywriters develop a wide range of different long-form and keyword rich content types, which often includes collateral material copy, blog posts, articles, feature stories, whitepapers, infographic content, social media posts and more. They often write in a more journalistic nature, have a strong command of the English language and excel at telling a story and conveying intricate details within authoritatively written pieces.

Graphic Designer – Generally, graphic designers create visual concepts – either by hand or utilizing computer software – to visually communicate ideas that inspire, inform or captivate customers. They develop the overall layout and production design for websites, brochures, whitepapers, advertisements, corporate reports and more. Graphic designers excel at combining art and technology to convey ideas through the images and layout of online and printed marketing elements. They typically deploy a variety of consistent design elements to achieve artistic and/or decorative effects to convey the visual aspects of a brand.

Web Developer – A web developer is responsible for designing, coding and modifying websites, from layout to function to align with an organization's needs and specifications. Most developers strive to create visually appealing sites that feature user-friendly design, clear navigation and foster additional engagement from visitors.

Data Analyst – Data analysts translate numbers – sales figures, market research, logistics, etc. – and utilizes the information to help organizations make better business decisions. In the case of content marketing, a data analyst provides quantitative and qualitative market analysis because of their expertise in identifying key market statistics, interpreting their findings and helping marketing managers understand the numbers behind their marketing efforts.

Because content marketing is an “all-in” strategy, enlisting the help of others within your organization – i.e. creating a culture of content – is paramount to ensuring that content marketing is not an afterthought. The organizations that enjoy the most success in content marketing do so via working company-wide to create a culture that supports the goal of frequent, high-quality content which becomes the lifeblood of the “content machine.” If you are wondering how to create a culture of content within your organization, we recommend:

1. Investing in Qualified Content Hires – Consider bringing in at least one excellent content creator into your organization, who not only has industry knowledge, but has solid writing experience to engage meaningfully with your target audience.

2. Mobilizing Employees to Create Content – Everyone in your organization should have the ability to contribute content and their efforts should be rewarded with benefits, which may include: upward mobility within the organization; increasing their credibility with customers, senior leadership and future employers; the impact they can have on critical business metrics and even being featured in high-profile industry publications. Additionally, enlisting the help of others will help your organization meet the need to create the high volume of engaging content required for success.

3. Inspiring Employees to Create Content – Rewarding employees for content development efforts, creating a bit of friendly competition with content your employees create and leading by example are all powerful ways to encourage a content creation culture.

4. Fostering and Enabling Content Creation from Your Employees – Creating content is not just reserved for members of your organization's marketing team. To ensure that you are getting content that highlights different perspectives and areas of expertise, reach out to sales, R&D, product development, service, etc., and make it easy for them to contribute their ideas. The reward will often be well-rounded content that is sure to address the needs and pain points of all of your buyer personas.  

If you don't currently have all the members listed above, or if your organization lacks the bandwidth or skills conduct your content marketing efforts internally, leveraging an agency or freelancers who specialize in content marketing can supplement your team.

Chapter 2: Take Inventory

Once you have assembled your content marketing team, it's a good idea to take an in-depth look at your current marketing program to identify existing elements that can be utilized to create and/or inspire high-quality content.

If you're unsure where to begin, ask yourself and your team members the following questions:

• What brand assets to you currently have? (website, blog, brochures, social media platforms, videos, sell sheets, testimonials, etc.) – It's a bit challenging to determine which content you should develop if you don't have a pulse on what you already have. Key data points and statistics from your website and collateral materials could be leveraged for infographics, social media messaging and engaging blog posts. Existing videos should be evaluated for potential use in social media. Frequently asked questions of your sales team could be utilized to develop a series of insightful content. And the list goes on.

• How are your current elements performing? – Like most marketers, your team likely cranks out brochures, sell sheets and other collateral materials to meet the needs (and sometimes cries) of leadership and salespeople, but do you know how effective your marketing efforts are in terms of performing for your organization. If not, it's time to take a long, hard look at each element in your marketing toolkit and determine which are over- or under-performing and use this insight to drive future marketing pieces, including your content marketing. Take time to evaluate and benchmark your website/SEO performance, social media metrics – followers, reach and engagement – as well as your sales alignment.

• What are your competitors doing? – Just as it is important to have a clear picture of how your marketing activities are performing, we recommend reviewing the marketing practices of your competitors. Take note of which efforts they are focusing on, how they resonate with their customers and if there are any opportunities they are missing that you can capitalize on.

• What is your current budget? – We understand that many marketers struggle with obtaining sufficient budgets to carry out current marketing priorities, which often makes it impossible to secure additional budget for new initiatives. However, before you embark on a content marketing journey, it's important to assess the budget you have to devote to a program at the outset. This will assist you and those around you in developing a program designed to garner quick wins and further propel your efforts.

Chapter 3: Planning Makes Perfect

We've all heard that practice makes perfect – and while that is certainly true of any activity you commit to – one of the most important elements to successfully conquering the content marketing mountain comes down to developing a well-informed plan. In this chapter, we'll convey the importance of setting SMART goals, in addition to providing insight on the variety of elements that we believe are essential to developing a fruitful content marketing plan.

SMART Goals

Setting goals is critical to success in all areas of marketing. Setting goals for your organization's marketing efforts are much like setting personal goals. When you meet them, you feel like you're on top of the world. But on the flip side, missing the mark can have a devastating effect your marketing mojo, and, on your team. In order to set yourself up for success, we recommend identifying your marketing goals by using the SMART goal framework. A SMART goal stands for:

• Specific – Your marketing goals should be unambiguous, communicate what is expected, why it is important, who from your organization is involved, and convey where and when elements need to happen. Additionally, you should identify any constraints that may be in place.

• Measurable – It is critical that your marketing goals include concrete criteria, communicated throughout your organization, for measuring progress in your marketing efforts and to determine whether or not you have reached the goal.

• Attainable – In order not to feel defeat before your marketing initiative gets out of the gate, set goals that are not only realistic, but are possible for your team to reach.

• Relevant – Make sure that your marketing goals are relevant to your business, in addition to addressing core business initiatives.

• Timely – Set a date when you expect to reach your marketing goals and keep your organization informed of your progress.

Buyer Personas

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. Buyer personas provide tremendous structure and insight for your company, helping you to determine where to focus your time, guide product and service development, as allow for alignment across your entire organization.

When creating your buyer persona(s), the more detail that you can provide, the better, so consider including customer demographics, pain points, behavior patterns, motivations and goals. Doing so will allow you to attract the most valuable visitors, leads and customers to your business.

Content Strategy

Industry experts indicate that a staggering 56% of marketers are engaging in content marketing efforts without a plan. And we wonder why so many people say they struggle with content creation. The reality is, having a content strategy that takes into account your organization's challenges, business goals and key metrics will make you more successful in the long term.

When developing your organization's content strategy, consider the following:

1. Include the buyer personas that you are targeting. – Aligning content around each of your buyer personas allows you to not only stay focused on who you are creating content for, but it helps you keep their goals and challenges in mind so you can provide content that is relevant at every stage of the buying cycle.

2. Understand content gaps in your buying cycle. – Conduct an audit of every piece of content and evaluate the findings to determine whether or not your buyer personas have all of the information they need at each stage of the buying cycle. If you identify instances where your customers don't have all of the information they need to feel confident in purchasing your products or services to meet their goals and challenges, that is a great place to begin.

3. Develop ideas and create a content editorial calendar. – Once you understand your buyer personas and have identified the content your organization lacks to help them move through the buying process, it's time to brainstorm content ideas to help fill in those gaps. However, it is essential to not only track those ideas but create a consistent schedule that identifies what content is being published and the dates that content will be “going live.” When planning your content editorial calendar, there are several schools of thought on frequency. In fact, a lot of it depends on your industry, company size and sales strategy. A recent study from HubSpot shows that B2B companies that publish 16-plus blog posts per months enjoy 3.5 times the amount of traffic as companies that publish 4 posts or less each month. For B2C companies, those that post 16-plus entries a month enjoy 4.5 times more traffic than those that upload 0-4 posts monthly. Additionally, the study evaluated the importance of relevant and sticky older posts that can gain value over time.

Content Mapping

According to Gleanster Research, approximately 50% of an organization's leads are qualified, but they are not immediately ready to purchase something from you. Lead nurturing allows you to bring those leads further into your sales funnel, but correctly nurturing those leads demands specific messaging that meets your leads exactly where they are in the sales cycle. The best way to align your content and messaging with where your leads are in the decision making process is through content mapping.

Content mapping is a process in which you decide what content is most appropriate for a lead to receive at a given time. According to the buyer's journey, there are three stages:

1. Awareness Stage – your leads have either become aware of your product or service, or they have identified a need that must be fulfilled.

2. Evaluation Stage – your leads are aware that your product or service could fulfill their need, and they are trying to determine whether or not you are the best fit.

3. Purchase Stage – your leads are ready to buy your product or service.

Depending on which stage your buyers are in, content mapping is important, because your prospects' needs are different. If a new visitor to your site is interacting with your brand for the first time, they have different informational needs – requiring different content – than a decision maker who has conducted their research and is ready to move forward with a purchase. Mapping the most appropriate content to each phase of the buying cycle will help you to speak directly to the individual needs of each prospect, so you are having the right conversation with the right people at precisely the right time.

Editorial Calendars

After setting your SMART goals, developing your buyer personas, creating your content strategy and mapping your content, it's time to develop your content editorial calendar. Think of this as your roadmap for content creation to support your content marketing strategy, showing you what kind of content to create, what topics to cover, which personas to target and how often to publish to support your content marketing strategy.

Chapter 4: Tools for Success

Delivering on the promise of content marketing means more than just creating content that delivers the right message to the right people at the right time. The truth is, a successful content marketing machine includes creating an effective website that serves as the hub for all of your content marketing activities, regularly engaging on the right social media platforms, and leveraging thought leadership to attract the right leads, convert leads into customers and demonstrate ROI for your content marketing efforts.

Make Sure Your Website Is:

• Professionally Designed and Appealing to Your Buyer Personas

• Easy to Navigate

• Search Engine Optimized

• Mobile-Friendly/Responsive

• Optimized for Lead Generation – including strategically placed Calls to Action (CTAs), forms, landing pages, etc.

• Ready for Content Creation – including a blog and a resources page

When it Comes to Social Media:

• Make Sure That You Are Participating on the Right Social Media Platforms

• You Are Engaging Frequently and Effectively

• Your Messages Target the Right Buyer Personas

In Terms of Thought Leadership:

• Be Sure Your Website Includes a Blog

• Make Sure You Are Promoting/Linking to Your Blog on Social Media

• Actively Participate in LinkedIn Groups, Industry Communities/Forums, etc. to Demonstrate Your Industry Expertise

Chapter 5: Content: Fuel for the Modern Marketing Journey

Just as nutrient-dense meals that deliver energy are essential for an athlete to fuel their performance, feeding your leads and customers a steady diet of engaging content is critical in influencing purchase decisions and brand preference.

Industry experts agree that the best types of content performs one of three tasks: it either educates, informs or inspires your leads and/or customers. And if you're really looking to deliver an action-packed punch, when creating your content, be mindful of:

• Providing specificity to demonstrate your understanding of your lead and/or customer's pain points, their goals and values

• Presenting your brand as authentic or genuine in the eyes of your audience

• Being helpful by offering insight and solutions to guide your reader through the decision-making process

• Creating content that is evergreen, so that it remains relevant for a considerable length of time, or revisiting and updating previously released content. According to a recent HubSpot study, 75 percent of their blog views – and 90 percent of blog leads – came from older posts. This proves that relevant and sticky content indeed gains value over time.

The following is an overview of the many of our favorite types of content that your organization can and should develop to attract customers at various stages of the buyer's journey.

Types of Content:

Website

As we mentioned earlier, an effective website is essential for attracting leads and helping to convert leads into customers, but not many organizations think of their websites as a form of content. In reality, every element that comes together to make up your website – including text, images, sounds, videos and animations – sets the stage for not only your brand, but the overall customer experience. If you're wondering how your leads and customers view your website currently, consider adding a simple survey to those who visit your site and ask if they found what they were looking for. Additionally, ask your current customers for their thoughts on what they think is working well and could use some work on your website.

Blog

When you're looking for a power-packed content marketing source, blogging is a huge winner. Why? First, it helps to drive traffic to your website, because every time you write a blog post it creates one or more indexed pages on your website, which gives you one more opportunity to show up in search engines when people are searching for your topic. Additionally, blogging helps you get discovered on social media, because every time you develop a blog post, you're creating content that people can share on social networks, which helps expose your business to people who may not know you yet. Furthermore, blogging helps you convert your website traffic into leads, particularly if you wrap every post with a lead-generating call-to-action. Finally, blogging helps you establish authority by helping connect leads with answers to their common questions, which often guides leads further into the sales funnel.

Social Media

Having an outdated presence on a social media platform – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Google+, etc. – is almost always viewed as worse than not having a presence there at all. That's why we recommend carefully evaluating and allocating the appropriate resources to maintain an effective and engaging presence – devoting time and careful effort to consistently updating your social media content – before you commit to a platform.

Infographics

According to research, 90% of information that comes to the brain is visual and 65% of people are visual learners. Additionally, presentations that contain visual aides are 43% more persuasive. So, it makes sense to include visuals in your content marketing efforts. Infographics are excellent tools for condensing and organizing complex data and statistics into a compelling, easy-to-understand visual display that helps to educate and inform your customers. Additionally, infographics have the tendency to be shared frequently, helping your content marketing efforts go viral.

Brochures and Sell Sheets

Current company brochures and sell sheets are fantastic sources to help inspire content to fuel your content marketing program. That's because these resources are typically filled with data and statistics, compelling visuals and testimonials that can and should be leveraged to create brand awareness and preference.

White Papers

When done correctly, white papers can be a powerhouse in content marketing because they provide rich, substantive content that educates customers; offer new ideas that encourage innovative thinking; provide insight on highly relevant and timely topics in your industry and are backed by statistically sound data and proven findings.

eBooks

eBooks give you the opportunity to educate your readers by providing valuable information and insight on the products or services they are researching to meet a need or problem they have identified. eBooks are perfect for educating new viewers to your product or service, demonstrating your thought leadership and encouraging leads further into your sales funnel.

FAQs

Chances are, there are several questions that your leads and customers ask on a daily basis. If so, these are prime to leverage for a piece of content in the form of an FAQ. We recommend gathering your salespeople, customer service representatives and others who frequently interface with your prospects and customers, and create a list of potential topics from the most common questions and concerns. Additionally, consider questions that you could pose to your followers on a social media platform, ask during an event or a webinar and then respond to them in a variety of ways to create a wealth of content.

How-Tos

If you know how to do something that your customers want to know, particularly if your insight bests your competitors, it's relatively easy to convey your knowledge and expertise via a wealth of content elements, including blog posts, lists and videos. Just make sure that when you are developing your how-to content you think through all of the steps of your process carefully write your copy as if you were speaking to a lead, customer or colleague.

Top Lists

This tried and true content method provides a mix of original content and aggregation, where you aggregate the ideas and write short blurbs about each one. This is an excellent option for those new to developing content, because of the inherent structure in which the author works around, combined with the fact that each segment in a list is usually short and to the point.

Excerpted Content

If you're not sure what to write, creating a video may be just the ticket. That's because videos are excellent alternatives to FAQ's and How-To's, allowing you to walk your leads and customers through concepts like you would in person. Additionally, videos provide a great opportunity to present interviews, tours, etc. without requiring a hefty investment.

Industry Trends

Conversing about trends in your industry is always a great way to engage with leads and demonstrate your organization's leadership an innovation. Whether you develop a blog post, eBook, white paper, social media survey – or all of the above – giving your business a voice surrounding industry trends always makes for engaging content.

Video

If you're not sure what to write, creating a video may be just the ticket. That's because videos are excellent alternatives to FAQ's and How-To's, allowing you to walk your leads and customers through concepts like you would in person. Additionally, videos provide a great opportunity to convey interviews, tours, etc. without requiring a hefty investment.

Newsjacking

When a topic in the news impacts your industry – or if you can find a relevant spin on a hot topic for your audience – newsjacking provides a quick and timely content marketing format that should not be overlooked.

Chapter 6: Stake Your Claim

Creating content to drive your marketing efforts is just the beginning. In order to enjoy a high rate of return from your content development, it's important that all of your marketing channels work closely together to promote your content across your entire company and to all of your buyer personas.

Purposefully promoting the content your organization develops allows you to increase brand awareness, while setting the stage for establishing brand preference in the mind of your customers. There are several ways you can promote your content, including:

• Social Media

• Communities/Forums/Groups

• Influencers

• Email

• PPC/Paid Advertising

Chapter 7: Reflect and Repeat

Regularly reflecting upon your content marketing program allows you to determine which elements performed best, which elements didn't perform as planned and why. If you're wondering which metrics you should keep a close eye on to track the success of your content assets, consider the following:

• Landing Page Submissions – Look closely at the number of people who engaged with your content offer, as well as the conversion rate to see the percentage of visitors to your landing page. Compare these metrics to previous and upcoming pieces of content you've created to see how well they performed against each other.

• New Contact Rate – This metric tells you how many people redeemed a piece of lead generation content that were new to your database. This ensures that you are continuing to generate leads at the top of your sales funnel.

• Blog Page Views and Traffic – This helps you determine the success of your blog overall – as well as individual blog posts – providing insight on the topics that were more engaging than others. Use this data to help further inform your content strategy.

• Inbound Links – More than just an indicator of the quality of your content, inbound links can also help you identify which content is helping to improve your SEO.

• Social Media Shares – If your content is being shared extensively on social media, it serves as an indication not only of the quality of content, it can help fuel your organic search strategy. If you are interested in filling the top of your sales funnel, content that enjoyed a great deal of social shares can help drive your content strategy.

Conclusion:

Whether you're ready to take the first step or your next step in conquering your organization's content marketing mountain, Meta4 Marketing & Communication is ready to provide sound insight and practical advice regardless of where you are on your journey.

Meta4 is a modern marketing and communication company, providing branding, content marketing, public relations, social media, content development, digital marketing and employee engagement services. Our team of seasoned professionals is on a mission to find the unique story at the core of every client's business and deliver it in a sophisticated way to help them educate, inspire and persuade their stakeholders.

If you're not sure where to begin, check out our Content Marketing Basecamp, designed to efficiently and effectively assess your current program, recommend resources to fill any gaps you may have, and identify opportunities for you to capture the attention of your ideal customers. Contact us today!

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