In some ways, you could say I’ve been working the principles of content marketing before it was a buzzword. As a managing editor and marketing manager in previous positions, I was always looking for ways to tell stories and engage an audience. It was always more about establishing relationships than it was about selling something.
Content marketing, although not entirely “new”, is something businesses must pay attention to if they want to get their messages heard.
What is content marketing?
In short, content marketing is a way to give your target audience valuable information—what they want—by engaging with them and, ultimately, driving action (such as an email sign-up, coupon download, a sale, comment on your blog post, etc.)
Content marketing is not push marketing (e.g. trade show marketing, direct sales/mail, point of sale). There needs to be a level of engagement and understanding of the information your customer wants–which may not be to buy something right away.
Content to solve problems
Think about content marketing as a way to solve a problem for your audience. Rather than come at your marketing strategy from what you want to promote or drive sales toward, think about what your audience is looking for—information, an answer, options. And then think about how that can translate effectively to your business goals.
5 strategies for developing you content marketing plan
The following five areas will help you think about your customers in a new light and move through the crowd and your competition.
Consumers are looking for companies that engage with audiences on a personal level. And heck, even go so far as putting staff names on content that appears online and on social media channels. Another piece that scores big points? Responding.
Make it a point to respond to comments, new likes and posts that come through your online channels (email counts, too!) Think about it: You wouldn’t ignore them if you were face-to-face, would you?
Your customers are everywhere and you should be, too. In fact, 90% of 18-29 year-olds sleep with their smartphones. Your content should be easily accessible, at any time, via the Web, a smartphone, tablet, printed newsletter, email—everywhere.
So rather than think about your content in silos, think about how you can re-purpose it for all of these multiple channels. A PowerPoint presentation can be chopped into multiple blog posts around a specific topic, a video series or a Facebook question. An update on your services page on the website could be turned into a FAQ blog or question and answer day on social media.
Careful though: Make sure your content is customized for each space. Your Twitter followers aren’t necessarily looking for something they can find on your Facebook page or Pinterest boards. Think about your audience and what they expect from each communication channel.
If you’re unsure of where your audience is coming from, utilize a combination of social media tracking tools and Google Analytics as part of your evaluation piece to the plan. These tools will give you better insight as to where to focus your efforts when it comes to posting content around similar topics and themes in multiple places.
Employ your audience (user-generated content)
You customers are already hanging out online–a lot. So, why not utilize them to help generate fun content? User-generated content is a way to engage your audience and find out what information and topics they’re interested in. Let your fans and followers determine the content for awhile.
Example: Land’s End held a “It’s in the Bag” Pinterest contest this summer. Users created an “It’s in the Bag” board and posted their favorite beach adventure items on it (with their favorite Land’s End items). It generated buzz, it got users involved and excited AND it demonstrated to Land’s End what kind of products their customers liked/were excited about.
It’s all about them
It’s time to turn “what’s in it for us?” into “what’s in it for our customers?” Looking at your communication strategies from the inside is simple–you know what you need to sell, you know your goals, and of course you think your company is awesome so why wouldn’t everyone want to hear about that all the time?
But unless you can demonstrate to your customers why it makes sense to develop a relationships with you and, in turn, buy your products or services, none of that matters. Consumers are past the 1950’s marketing speak. They know a sales pitch when they hear one. The buying process is as much about trust as it is about a good deal.
Think about your business from the outside: What do your customers want and expect from you? Deliver that.
I used to think this was a no-brainer, but it really is the biggest struggle companies have when it comes to content marketing, social media and other online strategies. Just because the tools are accessible at any time doesn’t mean you don’t need a plan. Content planning is crucial because there are so many platforms–online and off. Failure to plan topics, themes or general goals to what you’ll say and when will surely leave you in the dust.
Set up ongoing content or editorial calendars for all of your channels—social media, website, e-newsletter, printed newsletter—and capture important dates and information in a “notes” column of each calendar. It’s a quick way to assess how often you’re reaching your audience, through which platforms and with what information.
Where to start
Take a look at your current marketing or communication strategy and use the above 5 areas as a benchmark. Are you doing these things? Are you doing them well? Starting with planning and work your way out from there.
Break out of your content rut by thinking outside the box and engaging with your audience. Develop personal relationships online and offline with your customers–they want to see the real people behind your company. Showing them what you’re all about and reaching them where they are is something your competition may not even be thinking about right now. Get there.