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Content marketing is the new way to do marketing online. When it comes to define what it is, many self-proclaimed gurus might create fancy slogans and descriptions, but what it really boils down to is this: creating relationships with free content.
Some people say content marketing is the new SEO, not only because it is replacing SEO, but also because high quality content marketing ultimately helps search rankings.
Why is content marketing different from other traditional forms of marketing? Let’s take a look at what it means for your business, your customers and the future of your online activities.
The cornerstones of successful content marketing
In a world where everyone is trying to get our attention, what really makes the difference is interacting with someone that actually delivers value. Interruption-based TV advertisement does not work anymore. Online tutorials do. Even sites giving insurance quotes for free generate millions in revenue. What’s changing?
Don’t pitch, teach
Successful content marketing is based on providing value without expecting anything in return. This simple act significantly lends to overall trust, loyalty and sales. If a business is not willing to invest in providing value for its prospects, in the long term, it will more than likely fail.
Authority and sales
Companies who are doing content marketing right understand that they need to be perceived as authorities in certain fields. Free guides lead to consulting and speaking gigs; free video series lead to TV interviews and book sales. Brands that reach authority status win a lot of business doing little traditional marketing.
Conversation is essential
Will you just email your list an eBook or send them a video link? If you’re serious about this new type of marketing, you should be ready to start a conversation with your audience. If they benefit from what you share, they will be willing to help you understand more about them.
One thing is for sure: you cannot improvise. Let’s see how you can get started when it’s time to create a content marketing plan. According to your skills, audience and type of business different approaches might work.
1. Learn more about your audience
One of the ways you can get started is learning more about the audience that will interact with your content. Why do you need to do this? Providing value with content usually means:
- Entertaining and/or inspiring people
- Solving a problem
- Teaching something new
If a business wants its content marketing campaign to produce results, a clear understanding of its “tribe” – as innovation expert Seth Godin would call it – is needed. What do people want? What problems can you solve? How can you entertain them or teach them something valuable?
If you want to learn more about your audience and create better relationships, there are a few approaches you can adopt.
Just ask! Online surveys are probably one of the most underrated marketing tactics. With a few questions you can learn so much about the people you’re trying to serve better. Try to focus completely on them: why did they get in touch with you in the first place? What’s their biggest pain? How do they think you can help them? You can reward people who complete the survey with a free product or with a discount if need be to get a broader response among your followers.
Interactions on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks should definitely be informal, but these platforms are a great way to test the water and dig deeper into your customer base. Ask questions that relate to your audience problems, see what pieces of content get the highest engagement, and you will end up with a clearer picture of who they are.
Is email old-fashioned? Maybe, maybe not, but for some of your customers it might be the only channel through which they will ever share. Encourage your followers, subscribers and simple prospects to email you. This will create a more intimate relationship that can help you understand more about your audience’s needs and desires.
2. Find “the one”
Especially when you already know a lot about your audience, the success of your content marketing campaigns may not depend on a deeper analysis of your prospects, but rather on a field test of what works best in terms of formats.
If you do not want to invest too much time and money into your campaign, a wise step is to try out a wide variety of formats and see which one generates the highest level of engagement, traffic and new business.
Once you get clear on the topic and the goal of your content, try at least 3-4 different formats.
Let’s see the most effective ones:
- Tutorials: teach people something in a clear, compelling way. With step-by-step instructions and comprehensive information, you have the potential to generate lots of page views, interest and ultimately benefits for your business.
- Infographics: a smart way to present information engaging your audience with visuals. Piktochart, Visually, Infogram and Canva offer free and premium templates to get started.
- Content curation: a great way to provide value is curating collections of resources, links and information that can make your prospects’ life easier.
- Interviews: for some types of companies, interviews to relevant authorities or company members spark a lot of interest from their audiences.
So go start a mini video-series, produce a few high quality infographics and a couple of curated collections. You will instantly understand what connects the most: that format should be the foundation of your content marketing plan.
Sales Benchmark Index’s success case is represented by a content campaign targeting newly hired VPs of sales. A simple e-guide that generated more than 5,000 downloads.
Limelight Networks and its “For Dummies” campaign teaching prospects how to handle their digital presence was a great case of content marketing success.
Zady’s Beyond the Label stories tell something about each product’s maker, adding a personal touch to sales pages and allowing customers to feel a sense of connection to the brand.
Law firm Levenfeld Pearlstein realized its website had to be less boring and more personal. With a series of interviews of employees and partners, the firm sparked curiosity and interest.
Other cases of successful content marketing might come from your competitors or other companies who target a common type of prospect. Be on the lookout for both.
Connecting the dots
You should never forget your plan should ultimately serve your business goals. It’s great to connect with your audience and nurture real fans, but your content marketing campaign has to generate real results in terms of new leads, email subscribers, followers, sales or any other metric you are interested in.
Whether you start with approach #1, #2 or #3 your plan will eventually pay off if you focus on how to generate attention or gain trust and authority. Unlike traditional marketing, based on “renting” the media, content marketing allows us to take full control and own the media for our own good.