What Is Content Marketing (and How Can I Get Started)?
Gaining visibility for your business in today’s competitive world is not easy. Most of us understand the importance of a website and have come to accept that some level of social media activity is expected. But, once you have a handle on these basics, how do you attract a relevant audience?
This is what content marketing is intended to address. In this post, I will explain what content marketing is and how you can use it to attract the right audience for your business.
Content Marketing Definition
Content marketing is a relatively young field that has come into its own with the growth of the internet and social media. Consumers have become accustomed to researching questions online and marketers have found that providing answers to those questions is a great way to gain visibility.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing can be defined as follows:
“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.”
Content marketing is often considered part of an “inbound” approach to marketing, which favors attracting customers naturally (aka “for free”) by becoming a trusted source of relevant information. That said, it is not unusual to apply some marketing dollars to our content if we wish to boost its reach beyond what we can achieve organically.
This seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, maybe not, because the follow-up question I sometimes get after providing this answer is – “Um, ok, what is content?” Yikes! Perhaps defining “content” would be a better place to start.
What is Content?
“Content,” in this context, can be just about anything that an organization creates to communicate with its target audience. In the digital world, websites, blog posts, e-books, white papers, videos, podcasts, infographics, slide decks, e-mails and social messages are all considered forms of content. In the offline world content typically comes in the form of printed materials such as brochures or one-pagers.
Content, in itself, is not a new concept. Organizations have been creating marketing content for ages and you have probably created quite a bit of it already. What has changed, however, is that buyers are now doing their own research online before engaging with companies. This means that our marketing materials must be different.
Buyers don’t want a sales pitch. They want to be educated or informed in language they can understand and relate to. They may not be ready to hear about what your organization offers, they simply want answers to their questions. By consistently providing these answers, you can essentially guide your customers through their buyer’s journey and become their trusted solution along the way.
Sounds great! How do I get started?
Content marketing is an ongoing activity that strives for continual improvement through careful planning, monitoring and adjusting. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and you must be willing to experiment. At its core, content marketing is all about getting the right information in front of the right people at the right time so they are inspired to take action.
To this end, the most important first step is to create a plan that includes the following elements:
- A clear vision of your target audience (often referred to as a buyer persona) and the steps in their buyer’s journey. This will help you identify the questions your customers are asking, the keywords you will be targeting and the types of content best suited to each stage of your customer’s research process.
- An audit of your existing content to identify what types of content already exists, how well they address the questions of your target audience and what you need to modify or create.
- Measurable and achievable goals and objectives that are in alignment with those of your organization. For instance, if your company is working to break into a specific niche and marketing has been tasked to generate awareness and leads in that market, your content marketing goals should support that effort.
- Identification of the strategies and tactics you will use to achieve those goals. This will help you to focus on a specific plan of action so you can ultimately measure your results and make any necessary adjustments.
Once you have a plan, create a complementary editorial calendar that identifies each scheduled piece of content and who is responsible for it to help you stay on track. It is also useful to think through the process involved in creating these materials and the guidance you will need to provide to your content creators. This will help you to avoid miscommunications and allow enough time for development.
A word of caution. Be realistic about the resources you have available to you. You cannot do everything at once, nor should you try. The focus should be on creating quality content (vs. quantity) that truly resonates with your target audience. Start small, perhaps by addressing just one buyer persona or just one or two types of content and grow from there.
Content marketing is a fantastic way to demonstrate your organization’s expertise and gain visibility for your business, but make no mistake – it can be a tremendous amount of work. Take your time to develop a realistic plan that is centered on the needs of your target audience. With time, patience and a focus on quality you will develop a robust library of content assets that will help you build relationships with your target audience for years to come.