The How-To Guide That Will Help You Start A Success Content Marketing Campaign
In this article, I will share with you the essentials of content marketing. Today, the majority of your potential customers are too smart to fall for the “in-your-face” kind of advertising we all experience on a daily basis. They want to be informed, entertained, amused and, most importantly, they want to benefit and receive true value even before they make a purchase. And if you want to outperform your competition and sell your products and services, you have to think out of the box.
After you've gone through the advice shared in this article, you will understand the importance of content marketing, and you will be able to recognise some of the opportunities that it can give you. I will also show you how to choose the right content that will suit the needs of your audience. Too many business owners focus on what they think is interesting instead of looking at the needs and expectations of their customers – and those are the people who are ultimately going to read the content. But first, let’s start with the basics.
Introduction – What is Content Marketing?
Unlike typical marketing methods, content marketing is all about creating and sharing valuable content with your current and potential customers. By creating and spreading quality information using blogs, social media and rich media websites, you can expand your audience, educate them and convert prospects into customers. Unlike copywriting, content marketing is less about persuasion and conversion and more about relationships, education and brand awareness. This makes it an incredibly profitable tool - especially in the “sharing” culture that we have today.
Most of the time content marketing is associated with blogging, which is a great tool for both small and big businesses. And that’s where the majority of them starts – no matter the niche. Even if you are dentist, you can easily come up with valuable content to share with your readers (sample taken from Personal Care Dentistry in Roseville, Minnesota):
I will get back to blogging later. Now, let’s focus on why you should invest in content marketing in the first place and what benefits it can bring to your business.
How Content Can Help You Grow Your Business
The Internet has made it easier for many small and medium businesses to reach out to their customers. At the same time, because of that low entry barrier it has quickly become an incredibly competitive environment, in which hundreds of businesses compete for the attention, and ultimately the loyalty and money of their prospective customers.
Numerous companies use local ads and social media to connect with their audience - but only a small percentage of them do that right. Most of the time, they focus way too much on selling and too little on providing value and trying to establish a fruitful relationship that benefits both parties. By using content marketing, you can sell without being straightforward about it (and your customers will love you for that). Moreover, it can help you:
- Distinguish your small business from the crowd of other, similar ones. Only a minority of small & medium businesses care to provide valuable content and educate their customers, solving their problems and preparing them for purchase.
- Establish yourself as a trusted expert and authority in your niche. Clients prefer companies that are sharing (and hence proving) their expertise before they even ask for money.
- It inspires your customers to take action. By helping them overcome obstacles and learn more about your offer, they become more eager to make a purchase decision.
- Provide you with fresh content for your social media channels and blog - typically, you can share one writing piece across multiple channels, as long as it fits the audience.
- It’s a great way to build reputation for years to come. By producing and sharing valuable content, you help create associations of particular qualities with your brand.
- It gives you SEO boost. Probably the no. 1 reason why so many businesses start a blog in the first place.
Content marketing is a great way to appeal to your audience – even if you operate on a local scale. As you’ll see below, there are many tools which you can use to grow your brand awareness and attract potential customers. The choice of the tools most of the time depends on the type of your business and the preferences of your clients.
Types of Content in Content Marketing
In the previous parts, I have already shown you some of the tools and tactics that are frequently used by content marketers. The most popular ones include:
While the majority of small and medium businesses focus on sharing content using Facebook, there are tens of different social media networks out there. By choosing the right ones, you can quickly appeal to your prospective customers – as long as you frequently share something of value.
Sharing content on social media has one other benefit - your posts can go viral. Moreover, people who get so much free value from you will ultimately feel the need to give something back. While the types of content will differ between the platforms, I’ve prepared a few examples that work exceptionally well on multiple SM networks:
Because they are incredibly engaging and easy to digest, people stay focused on them much longer and retrieve a lot more information. Because they are so easy to read and are visually appealing, people eagerly share them with their friends and family members - as long as they contain valuable and helpful information. To learn the basics of a good infographic, check out the infographic from ClickMeeting (webinar hosting).
The below infographic contains a lot of data. Of course, an infographic doesn’t have to provide any statistics. It can be a guide or anything else that’s helpful for your customers and helps you attract new ones. But data is an excellent way to emphasise the importance of a given topic. That’s why it begins by introducing you to the topic and explaining to you how the company gathered the data:
And provides you with a lot of statistics to get your brain juices flowing:
Then, it explains to you why people organise webinars in the first place. Doing that is a great way to show possibilities and benefits of your product. In this case - hosting a webinar:
Followed by information on how to organise one:
And plan and invite participants. Providing prospective customers with this information helps you overcome their objections – they are closer to making a purchase:
Of course, while there’s no direct sales pitch, no one should forget to mention the brand – especially that in this case, statistics come from real data gathered by the company itself:
People love to be educated. By giving them clear instructions, you can help them solve their problems and push them towards taking action. Sometimes, prospective clients don’t act because they don’t fully understand the topic and think it’s all too hard for them. By proving them wrong, you can inspire them to action. And the fact that they learn all of the stuff they need from you, helps attract them once they are ready to make a purchase.
Other time, you can help people solve problems that are not even directly related to your product (but still relevant in your niche) – a perfect example of this strategy are blog posts published on the blog by Elegant Themes (WordPress themes developer):
Your readers are busy. They want content that is easy to digest, scan, and take away the most valuable information. The topic of the list can vary - from tips, through how-to guides, all the way to lists of products or services to solve a problem. Make sure that the choice suits your audience and the needs of your potential customers. Don’t be too salesy – keep your content educational. To make your posts even more powerful, you can focus on solving people’s problems or helping them make a choice – just like Weber (grill manufacturer) did:
This is the type of content that your audience can do something more with than just read, comprehend, and forget. It works best when it helps in making a purchase of your product or service - for example, calculators (diets or finance products). Other great examples include quizzes, interactive infographics and guides – perfect for increasing your brand awareness and educating your audience.
A great way of building brand awareness using interactive content is getting it shared on popular websites. Of course, the medium that you choose to share it will depend on your budget. While Skittles (below) went all the way to Buzzfeed, sometimes it’s enough to share it using your own social media. If it engages your audience, they’ll quickly share it with others. In this case, it might be better to invest in the quality of the piece rather than the channel that it gets shared on.
These relate to all the news articles that include a positive reference of your company. For example, sometimes these can be mentions of a great success of your brand, other times news websites might publish helpful articles about a trending topic or an event, and include your name within the content.
The bigger your business is, the easier it will be for it to get a mention. The biggest players in each industry are eagerly chosen as topics of news content (because the audience loves them). If you are a small or medium-sized business, consider starting your content marketing campaign with local news outlets, before moving on to bigger news websites (of course, this works with newspapers, TV news and anything you can think of - but this course focuses on online marketing).
Even if your business is shared in other media, it’s a great idea to use that information and inform your social media audience about it and get some authority and social proof. A local company The Ice Dam Guys, does that with all the mentions they get on TV, usually during the winter season, and share those with their potential and current customers on their social media channels (remember that although there are not many views, typically they are highly targeted):
All of the above content types fit into a variety of social media channels (as well as other marketing channels) – this is important especially for SME owners, as that’s where they usually start their content marketing efforts.
When sharing content on social media, don’t forget to make it visually appealing - no one likes to read through a wall of text (and no one does). People want to get valuable information with as little effort as possible. And remember that even the best content shared on active social media feeds won’t be picked up by your users immediately every time. Sometimes, you might have to pepper it with some social ads. Other times, you might want to reach out to influencers – people and social media accounts that are popular in your niche and have a significant following in your industry or area (if your business is local). Because people usually trust those who they follow, you can get a lot of exposure at a low cost - as long as you choose well.
Promoting your content using social media PPC and with the help of influencers might require you to invest some money up front. But if you choose well, the return on investment may be huge. If you would like to learn more about promoting your already created content, don’t hesitate and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will go over your content marketing strategy or help you build one if you don’t have any yet.
Because I have already said a lot about newsletters in my Digital Marketing Guide For Beginners, there’s no point in going all over them again – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them as part of your content marketing strategy. When it comes to sharing content, they are an amazing tool. You can use newsletters (and e-mail marketing in general) to establish a strong relationship, educate your audience and share all the content that you produce for other channels. If it’s interesting and helps your subscribers, they’ll keep coming back to your business and remember about you anytime they need your products or services.
People love reading and listening to stories. More than anything, they love real-life stories with a happy ending. By producing case studies, you can share a story about the relationship between your company and some of its customers with your prospective clients. A real-life example of how you impact the lives of others can help your audience understand what kind of solutions they might expect from your company, how you can tackle their problems and why they should work with you. All that without even trying openly to sell them anything.
Sometimes, people who come across one of your case studies might not even know they could use your products or services up until they read how it helped others. The great thing about case studies is that they are equally popular for B2B and B2C products - some companies take care to frequently share the stories of their customers to bring their products closer to new potential clients. A great example of this strategy is Microsoft and their “Customer Stories” (below). Of course, even a small business can (and should!) implement case studies in the content marketing strategy.
Most of the time, a white paper is an in-depth report, written in an authoritative way on a specific topic that’s common in a given industry. It provides the reader with strong presentation and analysis of a problem and suggests a solution to it. As opposed to short e-books or comprehensive infographics, white papers usually include a lot more data, charts, and references.
Many times, they are also much longer than typical “giveaways”, ranging from as little as five to as many as fifty or even over a hundred pages. As opposed to the majority of content types, they are not written with the intention to be skimmed but rather aim at people who want to go over them and comprehend all the information. Perfect for establishing you as a go-to authority, especially in B2B and high-end products and services – such as the below white paper on cloud productivity tools from Rackspace, an American cloud computing company.
A webinar is an online-based, live presentation (sometimes it’s pre-recorded) or discussion that allows both the company and its audience to interact, exchange ideas and provide each other with valuable feedback. Most of the webinars follow a predefined topic and include a Q&A session at the end, during which viewers may ask questions to both the presenter and audience members.
The majority of webinars include visual and audio components and as such are a great tool in explaining important and difficult concepts and providing feedback on solving certain problems. Typically, webinars end up with an OTO (one-time-offer) in the form of a great discount for the product or service related to the topic. Because of the interaction between customers and the presenter, webinars are one of the best content marketing tools in terms of educating, warming up and converting participants.
One could talk for hours about videos - there are hundreds of ways in which companies can use them to increase brand awareness, educate, build stronger relationships and sell their products. Of course, the majority of companies use YouTube to share their videos – some don’t even do that using their own channels but instead, choose to cooperate with already popular and established channels - just like Purina did when they released their viral videos promoting Purina cat food (and later dog food):
Last but not least on the list are blogs – one of the most basic forms of content marketing today. While many companies use blogs as a way to publish content that will help them rank in search engines for certain keywords, frequently updating your website with content that is helpful and can provide your audience with valuable tips and information is a great way to establish a relationship and acquire returning customers. In fact, I believe that every company should use a blog - no matter how big or small - as part of their content marketing strategy.
Why Every Business Needs a Blog?
Some of the above examples of content marketing are best utilised if you already have some level of brand recognition and audience or you can afford to either boost your content efforts using paid advertising or produce such great content that it will quickly go viral (the majority of today’s viral content is pre-planned). Luckily, even if you aren’t a multi-million-dollar company, you can still nail it using a simple blog - as long as you connect with your audience and provide them with things that really click with them.
Apart from SEO, a blog can help you establish a community of loyal readers who later might become your customers. It’s also an excellent way to establish yourself as a go-to authority and an industry expert. Moreover, it provides you with a large number of articles for your social media (you should in fact actively promote the best of your blog posts on social media) and a newsletter (you can also use it to build your list by implementing opt-in forms within your posts or a sidebar. But remember to never beg for emails in exchange for revealing the rest of the post – this is counter-intuitive in content marketing and can put off a lot of potential customers).
A fantastic example of a successful brick and mortar business blog is the example of a company called River Pools and Spas. Thanks to content marketing, its owner not only managed to save his swimming or business but in fact established a new one, based on the success.
What’s interesting, while people often say that they succeeded because of the blog, it’s only partly true. In fact, they did it because their blog followed all the principles that are fundamental to content marketing (and to any marketing effort or running a business). Unfortunately, many people forget that their goal and the goal of their content marketing is to help their customers. To do that, in your content marketing efforts you should:
- Answer your customers’ questions
- Teach people about your product to make it easier for them to make a purchase
- Help your clients overcome obstacles and solve their problems
In fact, that’s what people at River Pools Manufacturing believe has happened - they transitioned from being builders to being teachers and problem solvers - when you visit their website, you get a convenient access to their blog full of tips as well as a ‘learning centre’ about swimming pools:
The success of their content marketing campaign has led to a quick growth of their business and multiple mentions, including the New York Times and bestselling marketing books. And because most of these media had a national and international audience, this led the business to further transition - from pool installers to pool manufacturers. All thanks to simple philosophy of answering your customers’ questions and educating them:
When creating content for your blog, it’s important to keep the needs and expectations of your customers in mind. But how to find out what is the best type of content to promote your products or services? Luckily, you don’t have to base your choice on a pure guess…
How to Choose the Right Content to Suit Your Audience Needs?
Content marketing is simple – but it’s not easy. Many business owners invest a lot of money into content marketing only to see little to no increase in revenue – and no profits! The majority of those who lose money, avoid content marketing like the plague and go back to traditional forms of advertising. Others don’t even try it as they are afraid of the perceived high cost of creating quality, relevant content. Both of these obstacles – cost and relevance - are very easy to overcome. When creating content:
- Leverage your business expertise - no one knows your business better than you do. Make sure that you use your knowledge to the benefit of your audience.
- Listen, listen, listen. And answer all questions of your current and potential customers.
- Focus more on solving problems rather than amusing people with cool designs and theoretical definitions.
You don’t have to spend thousands on graphic designers and copywriters - as long as your content is genuinely helpful and solves important problems of your audience. Take a look at the below infographic – as you can see, in terms of design it’s a low-budget one. And yet it clearly explains problems of the customers of Next Day Carpet – a local company specialising in flooring:
Apart from the above principles, you have to make sure that your content suits your audience regarding the form used. There are a few things which you should to make sure the piece you end up with brings you closer to your business goals.
Research Your Audience and Competitors
As you could see, there are many different types of content which you can choose from. But without knowing your audience, the demographics, and preferences of a typical buyer, it’s impossible to have a successful content campaign. An excellent way to learn about the current expectations of your potential customers is to watch the trends in your niche.
To do that, you can use tools such as Buzzsumo or Google search to look for popular searches and things that people talk about frequently. The former tool also allows you also to look at what type of content in your industry is eagerly shared by others and on which networks (how-to, guides, etc.). Imagine you are a massage therapist and look at the below example – as you can see, the most popular articles are related to the benefits of the therapy:
By looking for the most and least popular types, you can quickly see what your customers love to read and what’s not that appreciated. Keep in mind that sometimes the fact that particular type of content is not as popular might not be a drawback - you might want to use that fact to your advantage and see whether your audience appreciates this type of content.
Apart from that, you should follow your competitors (you might even come across some of them on in Buzzsumo search results). Look at those who run successful content marketing campaigns and analyse what they are doing better than you do. Search for ways in which you can outsmart them - if you see that their content is mediocre, don’t hesitate and come up with a better piece on a similar topic.
Of course, nothing will ever provide you with better results than listening to your customers, social media followers and newsletter subscribers. If they don’t openly tell you what their problems are, ask them. You’ll be surprised how eagerly they’ll give you relevant content ideas on a silver plate. But there’s more to choosing the right content. Even if the topic is great, your post still has to present itself and be readable.
Principles of a Well-Written Content
While every content type will have slightly different requirements, there are a few general rules that apply to each one of them:
- Make sure that your content tackles real problems and expectations of your potential and current customers. There’s nothing worse than creating content that no one wants to read. Every business should have a mix of a few different content types to deal with a variety of needs and appeal to different audience members.
- Create your content with search engine optimisation in mind. While your customers should come first, it would be a waste of resources if you published posts that are not optimised for search engines. If you are targeting local markets, edit your posts accordingly. You can for example write from a perspective of a local customer who’s going to look for a solution to his problem locally.
- Make sure that your content is easy to read and introduces headings and subheadings. Use a clear structure with multiple paragraphs of just a few lines of text each. Anytime you need to list items, do that using numbered or bulleted lists. While all of that makes the content easier to scan, it actually encourages the reader to pay more attention and increases information comprehension and retention. Consider the below post from a company I have already mentioned – River Pools and Spas. Their posts look clean, have short paragraphs and are very easy to read:
- Add relevant statistics and quotes from and about your company, and regarding your industry. Good quotes and statistics can add a lot of authority to your content and make it more believable and persuasive.
- Use unique, high-quality images. No one wants to go through a wall of text with no visual aids. It’s best if you can use photos from within your own company as those bring your business closer to the reader. Avoid obvious stock photos - these are never helpful and most of the time are perceived as unprofessional (if you don’t have any images of your company you could share, don’t panic. Sometimes it’s even better to use illustrations or vector graphics). Again, you can look at the above example - the majority of their posts include photos of their work.
Content marketing rarely leads to overnight success - unless you’re incredibly lucky and your first post goes viral. But if you keep nurturing your audience, provide them with a lot of value and experiment to find the type of content that they love, you stand a high chance of acquiring a lot of long-term customers, who will keep coming back for your products and services.
Sometimes what makes people hesitate before they make a purchase are little obstacles that are easy to overcome using the right content. Many times, people who found answers to their questions in the content shared by a given company, eagerly used their services because they perceived it as an authority in its field.
If you would like to start building long-term relationships with your potential customers, establish yourself as a go-to authority and attract new customers, you can’t underestimate the power of content marketing. Contact me and together we can work out the content strategy for your company – no matter its size, niche or audience. Simply hit me up at email@example.com. As you could see in some of the examples, it doesn’t matter what is your niche. Content marketing works great, as long as you know the problems, needs and expectations of your audience.