How to Content Market
Content marketing is the hot marketing trend of 2013.
There is much to gain from a strong content marketing program – better presence in search results, inbound lead opportunities, thought leadership, social media community engagement and more.
With diminishing media resources for the general public, people are looking to other sources for information. Their searches now extend beyond traditional indexes like Google, Bing and Yahoo! to other social networks and review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.
In addition, blogs and other new media outlets have created a new type of information resource, focusing on niche topics with granular efforts. Anyone can become a subject matter expert on a nano-topic. Consider all of the different types of marketing experts within our own sector today: search, social, influencer, content, ads, online ads, native ads, social PR,
traditional PR, email, mobile, apps, customer experience… the list goes on.
Marketers have adapted quickly to meet their customers’ information needs. 91 percent of business-to-business marketers and 86 percent of business-to-consumer companies now use content marketing as a primary outreach tool.
Content marketing offers an amazing opportunity. However, there are many choices to make and pitfalls to consider.
The eight rules in this guide will help you understand the trends and the dynamics driving content marketing, build a content marketing plan to support your overarching business strategy, and delight your customers.
Rule #1: Use Content to Serve
Your content should serve customers with valuable information. It also needs to serve your larger business goals. Build every aspect of your content plan with a combined view: relevant topics to your business and customer interests (so they like your content and share it), search optimization via balanced keyword methodologies and social optimization.
Before creating any content, ask yourself: what do your customers want?
Make sure your content serves stakeholders with answers to problems, entertains them and/or improves their lives. Content that serves and adds value works better than oneoff ideas that strike you as cool or that everyone else is doing.
Content is not always about witticisms (Grumpy Cat aside).
Take Starbucks, for example. How many people want their coffee to talk to them in the morning? Not many. Part of the Starbucks experience, however, is ambiance, and the right content for this is mood music. Thus, the free song of the day on iTunes is brilliant yet subtle content, which generally
serves and builds value for customers.
Ann Handley, co-author of “Content Rules,” conducted a webinar last December for Vocus. In it, Ann used the example of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board establishing the Grilled Cheese Academy. By offering recipes for gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, the marketing board’s content provided value to the customer.
Questions to consider:
- Does your content help customers enjoy your product or service more?
- Will your content answer your customers’ questions?
- If you are in a does it make them better professionals?
- If they are consumers, does the content improve their lives?
The answers help determine if your content serves stakeholders with content rather than simply publishing a hit-or-miss Instagram joke.
Rule #2: Use Research to Differentiate
Before starting any initiative, always examine the competitive marketplace. Analyze your top competitors’ content efforts en masse. Leaders usually talk about the same general group of topics and miss trends that affect the industry.
Look for a bigger-picture story, a new wrinkle about a current hot topic, or a breaking trend that’s changing the sector. Then, look at current content formats.
Questions to consider:
- Are they text-heavy?
- Does the competition use pictures, whitepapers, videos, graphics and podcasts, or do they offer straightforward blog posts?
- What about tone and style?
Rules, best practices, rights and wrongs, etc. espoused by top content producers don’t mean much – unless you want to become another version of said person (or business). There’s nothing wrong with emulating competitors you admire, but it will be hard to surpass competitors using their signature tactics.
GM was an early social media leader with blogs and content. Ford leapfrogged the brand by crowdsourcing video content and engaging with its stakeheolders using the Fiesta Movement. Fans embraced the content, which continues to this day with 100-person crowdsourcing missions on the Fiesta Movement website.
If you want to lead your market, get over thinking, “Me too”.
Look for systematic weaknesses in your competitors’ thought leadership and write them down. Look at your own offerings and knowledge areas and decide what is unique.
The next step is to examine the general marketplace and as many of its voices as you can. Again, begin your analysis by looking at headlines. What is trending, and what could be?
These topics are rarely new. Instead they are overdiscussed and will weigh you down in your effort to differentiate. Avoid them and cross them off the list. (The exception to this approach is when you cut against the grain in a new topic that is just beginning to bubble to the fore and provide a significant new insight to that topic. Innovation can be a differentiation point.)
Look at the remaining topics on your list.
Questions to consider:
- Are there any sites or bloggers covering these innovative topics? (Read them religiously.)
- If they are not discussed, why not?
- What are the content weaknesses?
- Is it too complicated, antisocial, or boring?
- Are the content producers just publishing and not interacting online, failing to use visuals, inconsistent in output, etc.?
- What could they do to make their ideas more palatable to the larger market?
Once you understand 1) topical areas that can be mined, and 2) why the market has or has not accepted these topics yet, you have the iron to forge your editorial mission.
Rule #3: Build an Experience
Customer experience represents the heart of any brand. Specifically, “experience marketing” uses tools like content to communicate expectations to customers and extend elements of the product to a customer’s business, home or computer/device. After the purchase, communications continue that experience.
In return, what customers say about their experience extends the product or service brand to their own networks. This is word-of-mouth marketing assisted by communications. Some say it is the modern form of branding.
When your customer experience delivers or surpasses their expectations, every tactical toolset works better. From customer loyalty programs and grassroots social media to content and public relations, your marketing resonates more. Conversely, if the experience suffers, brands risk losing customers.
In experience marketing, content becomes a tool – a means to achieve success.
The “Fast and the Furious” movie franchise uses content to extend the movie experience for moviegoers. Whether it’s singular one-off pieces of content on Vine or the Fast & Furious timeline, the brand’s entire site and all of its content gives moviegoers an inside glimpse of the actors, deeper immersion into the franchise and a celebration of fan insights.
Another example is the Tough Mudder race, a militarystyle trial marathon with obstacles. Tough Mudder is a fastgrowing brand in sports, primarily through word of mouth and social media. As part of their word-of-mouth strategy, they develop professional-grade content, which their customers love to share, especially photos and videos of themselves hurtling through obstacles.
Content is not the strategy; rather, it is the means of extending the larger customer experience. Tough Mudder is smart enough to know what fans the flames, and it’s not an ongoing conversation with the brand itself. Instead, customers serve as brand ambassadors.
In an experience-based marketing approach, the customer is the center of the strategy.
Questions to consider:
- Does this content serve as a vehicle for brand messaging or extending the experience?
- Is the content serving a larger corporate and/or editorial mission to build value for customers?
- Will the content entertain, help or inform stakeholders?
- How does the content help support our larger service or product by offering experiences for customers?
It’s hard to answer these questions, but adhering to a customer focus with content will build a larger, better experience for customers.
Rule #4: Integrate Content, Search & Social
The Tough Mudder example shows you how content plays an important role in social media. There is no avoiding integrating content, search and social for a complete digital strategy. They are irrevocably tied together, and increasingly so with Google, Bing and other search engines focused on adding social context to search.
Social is how people hear about you. Search is how they find you. Content is how they qualify you.
Top Rank Blog and CEO Lee Odden‘s “Optimize” tackle the triple crown of online marketing – SEO, social media and content marketing – with a deft hand. If you haven’t read it yet, Optimize does a great job of taking readers through the process of conducting research, choosing approaches, and using familiar and new tactics alike to optimize just about every imaginable part of your online presence.
In the beginning, social media was completely searchdriven, with content and blogs sourced as primary content. Marketers began using blogs to complement traditional marketing, trumping traditional web pages with fresh new content. Then social networks like Facebook and Twitter became entrenched in the online space. Search increasingly used social verification to qualify online content.
The result is a seamless intertwining of the three disciplines. Social is how people hear about you, search is how they find you and content is how they qualify you. Usually, one of them alone is strong enough to succeed. Together, however, you can deploy knock-out online marketing strategies.
With more than a third of traffic coming in on mobile phones (62 percent Apple, 22 percent Android according to Net. Applications), it‘s important to optimize web content across platforms for searches. When Papa John’s built their mobile site, they focused on three simple questions people ask on the go: where to find a store, how to order for takeout and how to order for delivery. It was a simple acknowledgement of the basic needs of finding a pizza on the go, as opposed to making every piece of corporate information fit onto a mobile browser.
Alone, unoptimized content — while it may be good — does not get found. Search optimization alone may drive traffic but people will “bounce” and leave. Social may drive attention and traffic, but if your content is not relevant (see Rule #1) or searchable, it loses opportunities.
In the end, it’s all about helping people find your information. They are looking for answers.
As Lee Odden says in his book, “The primary value provided by search engines is to connect people with anwers, and that fact shouldn’t be lost in the sea of tactics, tricks and pontification that goes on in the digital marketing world.”
Understanding that isolated content pieces don’t work is critical to developing intelligent content. Making sure your content, search and social work well together is the best way to achieve that goal.
Questions to consider:
- Is this the type of content that my customers search for?
- Have I built content that people will want to talk about and share with their friends?
- Is this content sharable in form and function?
- Does the content naturally include keywords and subjects that matter to the brand?
By architecting a content strategy that includes other forms of marketing, you dramatically increase your chances of success.
Rule #5: Build an Editorial Calendar
From a psychological perspective, when trying to develop influence and loyalty through content delivered on social channels, email and a website, we need to be consistent. People trust people who deliver reliable, consistent acts and are even lulled into trusting them without thinking about it.
One of the most important and still prescient works on the topic, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” goes deep into the importance of commitment and consistency as core trust factors to get people to do things. “Someone without [consistency] could be judged as fickle, uncertain, pliant, scatterbrained or unstable; however, someone with it is viewed as rational, assured, trustworthy, and sound,” says author Robert B. Cialdini, PhD.
Intel offers regular original and curated stories on its IQ site. The site, says its editorial mission, “narrates our modern world and the cultural, societal and personal impacts of technology on our lives, in the media and on our planet. All designed for the devices we hold closest at hand, i.e. smartphones, tablets and Ultrabooks.” Clearly, the content is aimed at Intel’s customers – equipment manufacturers – and their customers who are willing to pay a premium for equipment with Intel chips. Content appears regularly and is always on-mission.
When you stay on topic with an editorial mission and deliver regularly and consistently, people come to trust your brand as an information resource. Specific and consistent editorial content will create growth.
Search sites reward frequency, so when you determine your ability to deliver regular content, consider doing it as many times as possible a week without harming content quality. We recommend posting three times a week if at all possible, but once a week with a strong content offering does suffice.
Questions to consider:
- Who am I writing for and how can my content best serve them (mission statement)?
- Which types of content do my customers care about most?
- What resources can I deploy to create content?
- How regularly can I create content?
You can plan out content over periods of weeks and months using simple tools like calendar applications. These types of apps can be shared with team members so they can know what’s coming next and integrate appropriately.
Rule #6: Develop Quality Content First
More brands and more people are filling online channels with their blogs, infographics, photos, videos, whitepapers, etc. Customers are experiencing a deluge of content, most of it sub-par. In a recent study, 73 percent of consumers said finding information locally through search, social, business sites, review sites and apps is now more difficult than in the past.2
When readers find themselves inundated with ever-increasing quantities of the same content, creators end up producing content with diminishing value and returns. The situation devolves to the point where content becomes spam.
Spam doesn’t get read. It gets unsubscribed from, deleted and relegated to the annals of digital indexing somewhere deep in Google.
Marketers need to focus on delivering substantive insights that are differentiated and valuable. Differentiation includes more depth and passion to provide greater insights. Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi calls this “epic content marketing.”
People remark that every company and content creator (blogger) is now a media company. No company has excelled at this model more than Red Bull, with its magazine, videos and of course, its well-known space jump. But how many companies have the resources that Red Bull does? Consider whether or not success is possible by mimicking media production quantities.
The ultimate rudder for your content has to be value for external stakeholders. The primary objective of all communication between brands and stakeholders is building relationship equity.
“The most daring content marketers don’t aim for viral,” Ann Handley says. “Rather, they’re looking for a longer term play for their brand. They’re looking to have a longer term relationship with their customers.”
Questions to consider:
- Does this content adhere to an editorial mission?
- Will customers see a tie to the brand?
- Is this content high-quality or does it meet a quota?
- Will the content overpromise and put the brand into a compromising position?
When building content, put quality before quantity. Honestly assess your resources and determine how much quality content you can produce on a regular basis.
Rule #7: Weave Content Together
There are many, many types of content that you can produce. You have to decide which forms are the right ones for your company.
Much of today’s content is haphazardly published, singular one-offs with no thread or larger purpose. It’s sloppy and insults customers to an extent, providing a disorganized, confusing experience.
Editorial calendars can do more than simply drive traffic. Use pieces to provide a series and hook people.
A marketing story isn’t necessarily linear in nature. Customers access branded content through a variety of media these days. “The Walking Dead” TV series — based on the comic book serial — was written to empower back-stories with two to three-minute webisodes.
This smart move filled another access point: YouTube. It also acknowledges that people seek content in a variety of ways – trade shows (ComicCons), books, TV, web, search engines and so on. Someone may view a TV program and then read a book to learn more. Their experience takes a horizontal leap when they visit the website or YouTube and see the outtakes.
The challenge here is for marketers to become more like party hosts than conventional storytellers.
Brands should unfold a story with more than words. In essence, we have to master content creation in a variety of media. There will be casual customers and most of them won’t want to access deeper levels of content. However, brands need to build layers to reward customers who continue to access multiple levels of content, much like lead nurturing.
Questions to consider:
- Do your different types of content refer to each other, allowing customers to access them?
- Will customers find a path towards content that offers more information and a deeper experience?
- If a customer accesses a single form of content will they get what they came for (answers, entertainment, etc.)?
- Will the brand website offer a central access point to all of the content pieces?
Try to see your content from the customer’s viewpoint. Build an experience that allows them to access your information however they like.
Rule #8: Measure Success
Measuring results is a fickle art in the online business. Metrics range from “vanity metrics” (followers, likes, retweets) to hard ROI metrics like new customers and revenue.
When you design content, it’s often to achieve interaction for your brand – to move from brand awareness to the early stages of lead development. Only you can determine the ultimate metrics and the key performance indicators for your content.
One critical component of building a nurturing path towards ROI is creating smart calls to action on your website. On most social content sites, the authors or brands offer additional types of actions for readers. Examples include registering for webinars, downloading whitepapers, taking a demo, attending an event, signing up for an e-newsletter, etc.
These additional engagement paths offer more information and content on related topics. They also often require readers to identify themselves with a name and an email address.
The call to take more action (or to engage with more content, if you prefer) builds a path of permission-based nurturing for leads. This, in turn, helps companies track how content creates ROI.
You can also measure content marketing’s brand impact. Measurement methods include periodic tonality surveys, as well as monitoring inbound links, topical mentions via social networks and earned media mentions.
There are a few metrics to consider when looking at content performance on your website.
Questions to consider when assessing content performance:
- How many visitors does an individual piece of content get on your site?
- Which networks and distribution channels are driving the visits? (This shows you where your community is.)
- Are Google searches that reference your content topics increasing?
- Are your site’s visitors increasing month-to-month?
- How many new leads and prospects are coming in through content?
Whatever you measure, make sure that your content serves your overall business and marketing objectives. That way, a win is truly beneficial to the business and your customers alike.