What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing has been around for more than ten years. However, 2013 put content marketing at its lifetime popularity when the term expanded its reach by nearly sixty percent, and peaked in early 2014. ‘

content marketing interest

OK, content marketing is popular. But why is it important for business owners and marketers?

In the last six years, the number of searches for various terms on Google alone doubled to 120 billion in 2012 from less than 60 billion in 2008 . Based on these numbers, we can definitely say that people now look for information online much more than they did earlier.

search behavior devices

Content Marketing helps businesses and marketers cater to this information need. Earlier, newspaper, television, and radio along with other print material were the only sources of information. These media mostly supported the Push model of communication as readers had access to only the information that was published through these specific information carriers. Internet penetration and search engines have changed the information access game. Customers now prefer to look for information they need through search engines – an information Pull model.

Content marketing supports this information pull model and helps a small Ma and Pa shop reach customers from a wider area who are looking for the products and services that they offer.

search in buy cycle

Content Marketing Definitions

In simple words, content marketing is creating information that your target audience wants and making it accessible to them. Let us now look at some definitions put forward by marketing associations and thought leaders.

“Content Marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with objective of driving profitable customer action.”

~ Joe Pullizi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute

“Content Marketing provides consumers with useful information to aid purchase decisions, improve product usage and entertain them while achieving organizational goals without being overtly promotional.”

~ Heidi Cohen, President, Riverside Marketing Strategies

“Content marketing is the production and dissemination of interesting content for the purpose of generating inbound leads or, simply put, posting digital content to attract people to your website.”

~ Carol Stuckey, Assistant Dean, Communications and Marketing, Harvard Division of Continuing Education

“Content Marketing Is … offering a substantial experience or piece of thinking that is useful, entertaining or solves a problem in a way that also helps to promote a product, service or belief.”

~ Rohit Bhargava, CEO & Founder, Influential Marketing Group

“Content marketing is the discipline of creating quality branded editorial content across all media channels and platforms to deliver engaging relationships, consumer value and measurable success for brands.”

~ Content marketing Association, UK

“. . . a continuous process of creating, publishing and sharing content that drives business outcomes for a brand. It is a publishing mindset that seeks to deliver the content customers want and the ability to convert that attention into quantifiable results for the business.”

~ Micahel Brenner, Head of Content Strategy, NewsCred

“. . . the creation and application of all marketing content formats across relevant touch points where your brand “touches” customers.”

~ Mark Burgess, President, Blue Focus Marketing

“Content marketing means you consistently create and share information that is packed with utility, seeded with inspiration, and is honestly empathetic to attract customers to you.”

~ Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs

Based on these different, but converging definitions of content marketing, we can say that,

Content marketing is

  • Creating useful, entertaining, and branded content
  • Publishing this content across multiple media channels

to

  • attract, engage, and convert the target audience

for the purpose of

  • achieving specific business objectives.

What is Content?

Content is the physical part of content marketing that communicates information. People get information about their environment using the five senses – vision, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Anything that communicates to your customers through these five senses is content. Of course, we have not yet reached a stage where computers can communicate through smell, taste, or touch. But I guess innovations similar to 3D printers will soon allow to create a 3D model of products or blast smoke. Until then, we have to restrict ourselves to concentrate on eyes and ears.

So anything the users can see on their screen and hear out of speakers is content. The following image shows classification of content that you can create to communicate information to the users.

Shareable Content: Content Networks

Text

This is what comes to our mind immediately when we hear of the word content. This is also the most important and the largest component of the content mix used in content marketing. Text is everywhere. We still search for information and consume critical information via text.

  • Website text provides basic information about what the company does, its location, and other important information using text.
  • Blogs extend the website and provide potential customers additional information about the product and services and advise visitors on the related subjects.
  • Similarly, a weekly or monthly Newsletter or a eMagazine helps keep your blog subscribers updated and helps you share information related to your new products and services or advertise new offers.
  • Case Study and White Papers are other text intensive content marketing artifacts that help you communicate important findings with your website visitors.
  • Traditional content marketing artifacts such as Brochures, Flyers, and Press Release are also text intensive and can be used in online communication.

Visual

Visuals designed with the audience profile in mind are an effective alternative mode of communication. With image sharing social networks and increased ease of capturing the world on-the-go, visual communication has become hugely popular.

Visual content can be without text elements or it can be a combination of image capture, diagrams, and text. Some of the most common types of visual content marketing artifacts include Infographics and Cartoons.

Why You need a Website

Cartoons can help you communicate important messages in a funny and witty way. An infographic is usually a combination of images and text and is used to explain a complex subject in a visual language. The most important advantage of using this visual artifact is that it can provide the salient points of an entire topic in an image that is easy to digest and requires less time to communicate.

Audio

A plethora of mobile devices are now available to users and majority of the population consumes information through these devices. Moreover, multitasking has become a way of life. People like to listen to news and informational programs on the radio while traveling to their workplace or listen to podcasts.

Repurposing your existing content in to a podcast or a series of podcasts provides an alternative for users to access your information. Content in this format also provides you additional platforms and channels to communicate with your users and increases your content exposure.

Audio Visual

Mobile devices are not limited to audio anymore. And with significant, rapid improvement in Internet connectivity, access to information at all times is everyone’s need.

Use of videos to get information has improved in the last few years. Information Videos, Tutorials and Video Presentations are widely shared and uploaded to networks such as YouTube. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index Forecast, 69 percent of the global Internet traffic will be in video format.

Recording Webinars and making them available to your website visitors later helps you include more people in your live discussions who otherwise cannot be a part of your online discussions.

The Shareable Content image above provides a quick snapshot of what we discussed as content. I could have just as easily created a small video, or elaborated this in an audio format in the form of a podcast and all of that would be content.

Content Marketing Process

A well-defined process helps you plan ahead and stick to that plan. It also helps you determine all the tasks that you need to perform to achieve your content marketing goals.

content marketing process

Analysis

Analysis is perhaps the most important and most difficult of tasks. To make your content marketing efforts successful, you need to create awesome content that your target audience wants. The first step then is to find out what your audience wants and how you can be the best.

A detailed audience analysis can help you look at your audience in a structured manner and find out who they are and how they access information.

Step 1: Who is your audience?

Audience definition is easier said than done. If you are just starting out and have no previous data, how do you know that a certain group is not your audience? You can always define your audience based on your product and service. For example, if you sell athletic shoes, people interested in sports and exercise enthusiasts will be your audience. Another option is to look at your competitor’s audience. For example, let us say you offer social media management services. By evaluating other successful businesses in your area that offer these services, you can get a fair idea of who your target audience is.

Step 2: Create audience personas

A persona is a sketch of your typical readers. Depending on your product or service, you may be able to club everyone into one persona or, normally, you will need to create 2 to 3 personas to accommodate all of your target audience.

Creating a persona is like building a complete profile of your reader. You will need to gather information about the reader’s age group, their education, work experience, their attitude toward service providers like you and most important, their information needs.

This sketch will help you define the tone of your content and the type of content that you should create for your audience. You can download the persona template to build your audience profile. Just answer the questions and you have all the information you need about your audience.

  • Download our Persona template

Step 3: Define your audience’s information needs

People browse the Internet and perform searches to get information about something or for entertainment. To generate leads through content marketing, it is essential that your content solve your audience’s information needs. It could be an evaluation of different products, a list of resources and tools that will help your audience meet their goals, an elaborate conceptual tutorial instructing them what to do, or a step-by-step tutorial instructing them how to do something.

Based on your audience analysis in Step 1, you can define the typical tasks of your audience related to your product or service. To define your audience information needs:

  • Prepare a list of questions that your audience will have at the macro level about the subject, domain, and industry.
  • Determine the buyer cycle in relation to your product or service.
  • Prepare a list of questions your target audience will have at each stage of the buying cycle
  • Prepare a list of tasks associated to your product or service
  • Prepare a list of tasks related to the audience’s occupation

For example, let us say that you have a product used in the Marketing domain and Marketers or Marketing managers are your primary audience. Typical tasks associated with a marketing manager typically include:

  • Formulate, direct and coordinate marketing activities and policies to promote products and services, working with advertising and promotion managers.
  • Develop pricing strategies, balancing firm objectives and customer satisfaction.
  • Compile lists describing product or service offerings.
  • Use sales forecasting or strategic planning to ensure the sale and profitability of products, lines, or services, analyzing business developments and monitoring market trends.
  • Coordinate or participate in promotional activities or trade shows, working with developers, advertisers, or production managers, to market products or services.
  • Consult with buying personnel to gain advice regarding the types of products or services expected to be in demand.
  • Advise business or other groups on local, national, or international factors affecting the buying or selling of products or services.
  • Confer with legal staff to resolve problems, such as copyright infringement or royalty sharing with outside producers or distributors.

Based on this task list, you can determine the information need of your audience and create content that caters to these needs.

  • You can use the CareerOneStop website to explore other job profiles and determine the tasks associated with these jobs.

Step 4: Gather competitive intelligence

Just as it is important to know what your target audience wants, it is important to find out what your competitors are offering. Here by competitors I mean anyone who has a similar product and service and is offering it to the same audience. Therefore, if you are offering services only in a local area, you don’t really have to worry about the content offered by someone in another country.

As you start evaluating your competition, look for following things:

  • Products and Services: What products or services are they offering to your target audience? Are these similar to yours, more advanced, how are the products or services packaged and so on.
  • Blog: What type of content are they creating for the target audience? What media formats are they using to create content for the audience?
  • SEO: What keywords are used across different posts and the topics that they cover in their posts regularly?
  • Distribution: Where is the content on their blog shared? What content promotion methods is your competitor using to reach the target audience.
  • Outreach: Monitor the competitor’s name to see where the competitor or its content is discussed elsewhere online. What guest blogging strategy is the competition using?
  • Social: Which networks does your competitor use to share its content? What posts are most popular or have highest engagement online.

Here’s is list of tools that you can use to research and monitor your competitors:

  • Giga Alert: You can provide the keywords that you want to monitor and get emails every time the keyword is mentioned on the Internet.
  • QuickSprout: Use this tool to gather data about how many times the post is shared across different networks  to find your competitor’s most popular posts.
  • SEO Spider: Use SEO spider to get a list of all the content on the competitor’s blog and their on-page SEO strategy.
  • Google Alerts: Similar to Giga Alert, you can use Google alerts to know where your competition is being mentioned.
  • WhatRunsWhere : Use this tool to see what advertisement platforms your competitor is using to advertise its products and services and the websites where they are advertising.

Step 5: Perform Content Audit

Content audit is a huge and complex activity. A content audit can include merely a quantitative audit. A quantitative audit will be like taking an inventory of your existing content. Adding a qualitative audit will take more time, but will help you perform a gap analysis. Based on the inputs from your audience analysis and competitive intelligence, you can compare the present content on your blog with what is needed. This information will help as you go into the planning stage of the content marketing process.

 

Planning

As Warren Buffet says “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Planning is sowing the seeds of your content marketing success. An ad hoc approach to content marketing will not help your blog discovery or help you build the right audience for your product or service.

Step 1: Define your content strategy

You need a strategy to differentiate your blog from the rest. To stand out and stay ahead of your competitors, you need to provide something unique to your readers that will keep them coming back to your blog.

Formulating and formalizing a content strategy will help you achieve your goals. Let us look at some of the definitions of content strategy.

“Content strategy focuses on the planning, creation, delivery, and governance of content.”

~ Usability.Gov

“We define content strategy as: getting the right content to the right user at the right time.”

~ Kevin P. Nichols. Director and Global Practice Lead for Content Strategy, SapientNitro

“I define it as the mindset, culture and approach to delivering your customer’s information needs in all the places they are searching for it, across each stage of the buying process. It is a strategic approach to managing content as an asset, with a quantifiable ROI.”

~ Michael Brenner, Head of Strategy, NewsCred

Your content strategy should then answer all the questions about your content. For example,

  • what information should your content provide
  • what formats should you use
  • what and how much of the content should you create in-house and how much should you get from other sources
  • How should you amplify your content and where do you advertise

But the most important question that your content strategy needs to answer is what additional value does it provide to the user over your competitors.

Step 2: Create a Content Plan

A content plan is your guiding document to keep you focused on your goals and ensures that you create content adhering to your content strategy. Your audience analysis and content strategy will provide input when you begin creating a content plan. A content plan typically includes:

  • Information types that you will create
  • Content formats that you will create and frequency of posts
  • In house Vs. Work for Hire
  • A list of blog topics: Based on inputs from audience analysis, competitive intelligence, and your content strategy.
  • Content creation process
  • Responsibilities

Step 3: Create an Editorial Calendar

A content strategy helps you define where you want to go and determine what you need to get there. A content plan elaborates on the analysis phase and paints the big picture. An Editorial Calendar will keep you organized and on the road to achieving your goals. An editorial calendar lists the exact topics that you want to publish on your blog so that you don’t have to spend time looking for a topic every day or week.

Content Creation

You have done all the hard work. The planning phase is over and you are all set to begin creating awesome content. But what makes content awesome? Do you remember the last time you felt that you found something really helpful and became a fan of the blog or the author? The reasons that you felt that way are your best guide in creating awesome content. Here are some pointers that you can use on your way to awesome content.

  • Research your topic in detail before you begin to write the post.
  • Create a rough outline of your post and decide the focus.
  • Classify the post type that you are writing. Is it an introduction to a subject, and short How To? Or is it a complete tutorial?
  • Provide all the information required to explain the topic. Make sure that the reader gets all the information to understand the topic or to complete the task.
  • Provide additional references and links that can provide supplemental information to the readers.
  • Use simple sentences and bulleted lists to make information easy to digest.

Marketing and Distribution

Awesome content is pivotal to your content marketing effort. However, it is useless if it stays buried in the Internet’s content pile. To be appreciated, your content needs to rise up on the SERPs. But you can’t depend entirely on the search engines to solve your traffic problems. Internet traffic is generated from many sources and your traffic source spread should include everything: organic search, paid search, referral traffic, direct traffic, and traffic from social networks.

According to Lee Odden (@leeodden), Joe Chernov (@jchernov), and Amanda Maksymiw (@amandamaks), content promotion will be the deciding factor for successful content marketing in 2014.

  • Advertise your latest posts to your subscriber lists.
  • Share the post across different social networks.
  • Share the feed on different RSS directories.
  • Share posts on high traffic websites that get your target audience.
  • Share the post with the people you have mentioned in your list.
  • Run a paid campaign to promote your post on Facebook, Twitter, or StumbleUpon based on your audience.
  • Use content syndication

Monitoring

If you do not monitor your content marketing efforts, you will never know what you are gaining out of the effort. More importantly, you throw away any chance of improvement and fine-tuning your efforts for better results. You can monitor many things. However, to improve your content marketing efforts you need to know the things that you should monitor. This choice depends more on what you have planned to achieve and the goals you define at the planning stage.

For example,  if your content marketing goal is to get subscribers for your Newsletter, how you rank on the SERPs or just measuring how many page views you get does not really tell you if your content marketing campaign was successful or how successful it was. On the other hand, measuring the number of subscribers signing up through the new content pages gives a better measure of calculating the returns on your effort.

Here are some of the most common metrics a content marketer or a business owner should monitor to track ROI on their content marketing efforts.

To assess Visibility

  • SERP position and impressions for the relevant, shortlisted keywords
  • Post Reach on Facebook and equivalent on other networks
  • Reach of videos and shared documents

For website engagement

  • Website bounce-rate and user behavior
  • Returning visitors
  • Shares and Likes on social networks
  • New subscribers
  • Genuine reader comments
  • Number of Giveaway downloads

Tools to assess your website visibility and engagement

  • Google and Bing Webmaster tools
  • Searchmetrics
  • SumAll

We hope this short brief gives you a fair idea of what content marketing is and the hard work you need to put in to make content marketing successful.

We hope our buyer persona template ( given above) will get you started.

Let us know what you think and participate by leaving a comment below.

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