More and more businesses are starting to reap the benefits of content marketing and to recognise the crucial role it can play for lead generation and customer retention (not to mention boosting search rankings).
In a nutshell, content marketing it about helping a potential customer find your business, by providing interesting, informative and relevant content online. This content should help grab the attention of a clearly defined target audience, to pull them in and nurture them along towards a sale.
Get your strategy right and you could create a consistent stream of leads, with your content working hard for you night and day.
So, what does it take to be successful? Here, we’re going to take a closer look at the secret of putting together a winning content marketing strategy - whether you’re completely new to the tactic, or want to boost the effectiveness of your current efforts.
Know who you’re targeting
The number one priority – and this it true no matter what type of marketing strategy you are planning to execute - is to get your targeting right. It all starts with a clear understanding of who your target audiences are and what they will be looking for.
You need to be able to answer the question: Who is my ideal customer? And to understand how your product or service can help make their life easier.
If you go too broad with your content, you could find you end up getting in front of lots of people, but only a handful of them are right for what you are offering. Or you might find you get very little interaction at all, because it isn’t clear to anyone that your content is relevant to them.
Buyer personas are a great place to start. You don’t need to go too mad in the beginning, just concentrate on pulling together one or two initially. A top tip here is to work on this collectively, with people from across the company, so you are all aligned in your thinking. It shouldn't just be something for marketing or sales, it concerns everyone. You need to agree on who the ideal customer is and how you’re going to go about targeting and landing the sale.
Each buyer persona should be a representation of one of your core buyer types. Give each one a name if it helps, for example, a software company may wish to target ‘Gary – IT Director’ and ‘Sarah – Marketing Director’. Make each persona very detailed. It shouldn’t just be about a job title, or company size/location, you’re trying to establish all the factors that may be at work and influencing their purchasing decisions.
For example, think about each persona’s key challenges and pressures. Work out how your product or service can help them and what the future could look like for them, with your product in it.
All this information will help you make more informed assumptions about what content they are likely to respond to, how best to deliver it and in what form it should take. You can then adapt and revise what you're doing, once you are up and running and have some actual data to work with.
Once you are clear on exactly who your target customers are, it will become far easier to start putting together your strategy and plan for delivering it. Just make sure you refer back to them regularly. And keep them updated, in line with any changes to your company and product offering.
Get your core content in place
Once you know who you are targeting, it’s time to start work on a content plan and getting some core pieces in place.
Take each buyer person in turn and think about the main pain points they may be facing. This will reveal the type of information and questions they are likely to be searching for – and so, the content you should be providing.
Brainstorm the key topics and issues your target audiences are likely to be interested in and begin producing a few pieces of high quality content. These should be related to your product or service in some way, but not be salesy!
What you’re aiming for here is content that’s interesting and engaging – for example, that answers a key question your audience may have.
If you take this blog, one of our target audiences is B2B businesses who are interested in driving more leads. They may have the question: ‘How can I generate more leads online?’
We therefore provide informative content that offers advice on this topic and how to leverage content for online lead generation. This relates to our product (as we support clients with the creation and execution of content marketing plans and lead generating web copy) but it isn’t written as a sales piece or advert. It’s just designed to be helpful.
If our target audience sees one of our blogs and likes it, they may be tempted to look at more blogs, or to have a nosey around the website to see what kind of clients and projects we have worked on. We will have shown through our blogs that we know what we’re talking about and can communicate well - all very positive messages for a potential customer and could be the start of a valuable relationship.
Ditch the sales pitch
One of the most common traps businesses can call into with their content marketing, is going big on the sales spiel. Buyers don’t like it and will just move on. Your content will also never be shared, which is one of the easiest ways to get in front of a wider audience.
Your aim should be to show your target audience that you’re knowledgeable, an authority on your subject, that you communicate well and clearly, and that you don’t put on the hard sell!
In the beginning, what you should be aiming for as your core content, is as follows:
For each buyer persona you need a couple of interesting blogs and a data capture mechanism that you can include as a call to action. By this, we mean one downloadable piece of content that can only be accessed in exchange for a name and email address.
This gated content should be hosted on your website and it needs to be of adequate ‘value’ – so a visitor is successfully encouraged to handover their contact details in exchange for it. When they receive the content itself, it also needs to live up to the hype. You wont be doing yourself any favours by giving them something substandard, or that doesn’t match their expectations.
For example, you may offer a comprehensive ‘How to...’ style guide, a whitepaper, or a special report. Whatever it is, again it must be high quality, tailored, not sales and professionally designed.
In the case of written blogs, remember that size matters. Your content is more likely to be ranked higher by search engines if it ticks certain boxes - and size is one of them. While the ideal length is the subject of some debate, generally the rule of thumb is that longer is better. But quality always come out on top, so don’t just try to pad something out for the sake of it. And also don’t feel that you have to cram in every keyword or phrase going. Just concentrate on well written content that’s presented clearly and easy to read.
We suggest aiming for around 1000 words per blog is a good place to start. It’s also good to have a few more substantial pieces in the mix, of around 2,500 words, on the topics you really want to lead on.
Build up your content library
One you have your core content in place for each persona, you should start building up your content library. Add more and more content over time and remember to link relevant posts together, each time you add a new piece. It’s also good to link out to other relevant sources. For example, if you use a quote from a good industry study or trade body.
Another key strategy that will also benefit your SEO, is to aim to create content clusters. This means you look to own a certain topic and create lots of different content around it, which is well linked.
Review your website
You also need to make sure your website is fully optimised, so it’s working as effectively as possible. (Ensuring you make the most of all the traffic you are driving to it).
Look for any gaps and enhancements that are needed. See what’s working and what’s not. If you’re not already doing so, then use a tool such as Google Analytics (which is free) to keep an eye on your web page performance and usage patterns.
The experience visitors receive on your website is hugely important. There is no point pulling in potential leads with great content, only to have them find a confusing or poor quality website that doesn’t offer them anything they need.
Modern websites are all about user experience (UX). If information is hidden and visitors have to dig around for it, you’ll lose them. If the language is jargon-heavy, with long sentences and complex words, you’ll put them off. If the navigation is poor, slow or annoying (we’ve all been caught in a loop at some point), they’ll just move on to a competitor.
Step into the shoes of a web visitor and think what their experience on your website is really like. How are they likely to move around it? Does it flow properly? Are you guiding them along from one part to the next? Are there clear CTAs throughout? It is up-to-date and relevant?
Monitor, assess and refine
Another important link in the chain is to regularly analyse what you are doing, so you can adjust your strategy and plans as needed. Do more of what’s working! And to do that, you need to know what’s actually happening.
Develop and expand your activity, and keep increasing and optimising your activities whereever you can. Look at the impact different content is having and make informed decisions about what to do next.
The better and more targeted your online marketing activity is, and the more time and effort you dedicate to doing it, the more results you will get. And it will get easier once you’re up and running with it and your bank of content grows.
Boost your success
The process you will typically follow with content marketing is as follows:
> Post a new blog post on your website
> Share links to it across your social media channels
> Share links to it through email marketing to your existing contacts database
The next stage to consider for boosting the reach of your content is paid-for social media ads. If you see that one of your blog posts has really hit a nerve and is getting a lot of attention, then test the water and put a little money behind it, to see what happens. You don't need to spend much, for example £50-£100 would be a good start.
The beauty of social media is that you can be very targeted. You will be able to specify a distinct target group who you wish your content to be put in front of. Again, you should always monitor what happens and perhaps try tweaking your wording, or using a different image, until you hit on the most effective combination.
And of course, before you press go, make sure everything is as strong as it can possible be. Check any links are working, that you have a clear call to action and define an aim for the post. Think what success will look like for your mini campaign, and go for it.
Top tips for using content marketing like a pro
Make a commitment - You need to commit to doing content marketing for a reasonable time and to a reasonable level. At least 6-12 months as a guide. It is not a quick fix and takes time to get established, so go for it and give it a proper chance of working.
Have a strategy - Invest time in creating a proper strategy before you get started, as this will give you the best outcome in the long run
Work together - Get everyone involved (from sales to marketing and beyond) in the planning and content brainstorms, so you are all aligned and on the same page and sharing valuable insights. For example, sales and customer services teams may hear questions from customers that marketing can use as the inspiration for content. The more questions you answer on the website and through your content, the better. Give potential customers the information they want to see.
Manage the process well - Have at least one person who is dedicated to overseeing your content marketing. It needs to be regular, of a consistent quality and updated in line with evolving company goals.
Review and improve - Constantly analyse what you’re doing so you know what’s working and what isn’t, then adjust and repeat to improve your results.
Have a plan for data - Think how you will use and store the data you are capturing. Make sure it is linked to your CRM and that you are compliant with all data protection laws (GDPR for anyone operating in the EU)
Use digital tools - Enhance the whole process with the help of digital tools, such as Google Analytics, which will help you analyse, measure and track your effectiveness
For an informal chat about any of the topics covered here, and whether content marketing could benefit your business, please call Amy on 07857 145 257.