“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 Institute
It’s a buzzy trend that’s oft mentioned, oft misunderstood.
The majority of B2B marketers (91%) and B2C marketers (86%) use it in their marketing strategies, with 78% of CMOs considering it to be the future of marketing. It costs 62% less than outbound marketing and generates three times as many leads. It yields conversion rates six times higher than other methods, is the most effective SEO technique, and generates 126% more lead growth for small businesses than those that go without.
But mention the term “content marketing” and many people I encounter still don’t really know what you’re talking about. They may have heard of it and nod vaguely. I can sometimes see fog when responding to the question, “Now tell me again exactly what it is you do?” Posed by everyone from my mom, to CEOs, to – occasionally and surprisingly – other marketing professionals. (The part about my mom isn’t surprising.)
Content marketing is the main component of inbound marketing, and the reason that it can be confusing is because it’s so contrary to the perception of marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, content marketing focuses first on educating your prospective customers around issues related to their business challenges.
The business methodology of content marketing is built around helping people solve their problems before they’re customers, through consistent, compelling content that engenders trust in your expertise. This literal proof of your authority around topics your audience cares about is the most effective way today to develop a relationship with prospects. As this bond of trust strengthens, people are organically drawn to your brand and more inclined to become customers.
Content marketing isn’t a sales pitch; it’s a conversation. It’s connecting with people by focusing not on you, but on the broader world that surrounds your audience. It’s using stories to create context and meaning, no different than our ancient brethren did at the dawn of humanity.
And it works.
Why does content marketing work?
In 1984, Americans saw an average 2,000 ads per day. By 2017, that number was estimated to reach 10,000 per day. People are overloaded with advertising and tired of pushy promotions. Which explains why more than 615 million devices now have ad-blocking software.
But people do get information and news online. The best way to connect with your customers is by drawing them in through your expertise instead of pushing them away with a desperate sales approach.
A strong content marketing strategy includes:
Creating high-quality educational content through blogs and other types of content (e.g., eBooks, video, infographics, podcasts, etc.)
Posting this content on your website
Promoting your content on social media, email marketing, high-authority websites, and other channels respected by your target audience
Leveraging your content to rank higher in search engine results
The most important real estate for your content
A question I’m often asked by business owners is: what’s the point of posting content on my website? Nobody will find it there.
Many people mistakenly believe that the only destination that matters for content is on social media channels. But remember, while you may think that your LinkedIn account is yours, it’s not. You don’t own your social media accounts and have no control over these platforms – including your own data.
Businesses that bank everything on digital real estate that they don’t own can – and do – suffer rude surprises. Social media channels merge, or disappear, or change their algorithms, or shift their business models in ways that harm your business and jeopardize all of your work.
Your website is the digital real estate that you own and control. It’s where you can go beyond just promoting content on someone else’s land, hoping for a meaningless “like.” Your goal is to drive people to your website so that you can deepen the relationship with people who appreciate your content. Your website is where you nurture leads and eventually convert them into customers.
A strong content marketing strategy uses social media channels as a means to an end. The ultimate goal is to drive leads to your website so that they can engage with you over time, reading other articles, browsing your services and products, watching your video content, clicking on calls to action, signing up for your newsletter, downloading your eBooks, and giving you more information about who they are and what they need.
Your content is a valuable asset. You want to own the media that you create, not rent it.
Successful content marketing requires strategy
Content marketing isn’t just about creating some words, parking them on your website, and waiting for the phones to ring.
Generic babble to a broad audience will get ignored as much as most of your advertising and cold calls do. More content does not equate to more customers. Your content must be high-quality, strategic, and consistent in order to connect with your audience. If content marketing is not integrated within your overall business strategy, it’s a waste of time and resources.
Who is your specific, defined audience? What are their particular challenges? What are the unique problems that you’re trying to solve? How can you approach these problems in a distinct way from your competitors? How can you be the leading information provider in your field for these set of problems? And how can you do all of this through education around the issues, not promotion around your products and services?
Ultimately, all marketing starts with content. Strong, strategic, and consistent content is the engine that should fuel not just content marketing, but all of your communication. Thinking about your customers first and starting with their problems makes sense for every aspect of your marketing and business development strategy.
Content marketing increases sales, decreases marketing costs, and generates better and more loyal customers. If you’re not leveraging content marketing as a key part of your overall business strategy, it’s time to start now.