Content marketing is the “art and science of using content or stories to sell something,” according to Kari Olivier, director of marketing and business development for Vancouver-based strategic communication agency AHA!.
“Content” includes print brochures, blog posts, website copy, videos, podcasts and information shared via Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. The overall goal, said Lisa Hannah, vice president of marketing for Deltek – Axium Software, a Portland firm that produces accounting, project management and document management software for architects and engineers, is to be “strategic about aligning that content with the buyer’s journey – what they’re doing, what they care about.”
Why Do Content Marketing?
Matthew Janik, CEO of Fringe Digital Marketing Agency in Vancouver, said content marketing offers three benefits to businesses who engage in it. First, quality content can raise your search engine ranking for certain keyword phrases, because Google recognizes you as an “authority.” Second, content marketing can increase your authority with potential customers. Even if they don’t need your product or service right now, they may remember you as an authority when they are ready to make a purchase. Finally, content marketing increases “social proof” – that is, engagement with customers. Quality content gets readers or viewers to take action, such as posting a comment on your blog, or sharing a video with their friends, or tweeting. These types of actions, said Janik, help connect you with potential clients that maybe wouldn’t otherwise have heard about your business, and because the information is coming from someone they know or trust it becomes a referral.
“The most successful content marketing gets a two-way conversation going,” said Olivier. But, she admitted, “content is a beast. It’s a hard thing to do.”
So, how does a small or medium business with limited resources take advantage of content marketing? These three experts share their best practices.
Align your content to the customer’s journey
Any buying decision starts with a trigger point. Then potential customers go through discovery, consideration, decision and purchasing phases. Ultimately (hopefully), the customer becomes an advocate. According to Hannah, 70 to 80 percent of a business buyer’s journey is complete before they talk to a sales person. Therefore, she said, businesses need to design content that can help customers at each phase.
“Ask yourself, what can you do to get them through the whole journey,” said Hannah.
This means businesses need to understand who their customers are – their roles, their questions, where they go for information and how they make decisions.
Know your audience
A good content marketing strategy, said Hannah, pivots on who your customer is – the content must be relevant to them.
“People read what is important to them. It only counts if it’s read,” said Olivier.
To help create audience-centric content, Olivier suggests developing audience personas. Are your customers women with kids and a busy life, or businessmen making decisions for their small companies, or millennials who care about giving back?
“Have the audience at the heart of your effort – you’ll be able to see quickly if what you’re writing resonates,” she said.
Don’t focus on product
Hannah said it is important to realize that product brochures and specifications are not customer centric. Instead, she said, people are looking for educational material – case studies or best practices – that explain how others in their industry have solved problems.
“Think about your story,” Oliver agreed. “Ads talk about products and services. Step away from that. What would happy customers tell another person about why they love you?”
She suggested that a good way to start is to get stories straight from your customers, such as a customer video, post it on your site, then link to it on LinkedIn.
“The most highly consumed content marketing is that which is told like a story and has the audience in mind,” said Oliver.
Write content people want to read
Content should educate readers; be entertaining, jargon free and easy to understand; it should have a story line, according to Olivier. A good source for content ideas, she added, is trends in your line of business.
“Your customers will care about these,” she said, “so be on top of them.”
Janik added that every piece of content, whether words or video, should have a punchy title.
“With all the stuff on the Internet, you have to make it something people will read. Take a stand on something. Be provocative. Open a dialogue,” he suggested.
He also said you should be intentional about the keyword phrase you are including in the content, and include a call to action at the end. This can be as simple as asking the reader, “What do you think? Leave your comments below.”
Janik added that a common theme should tie the title, the keyword phrase and the call to action together.
Once you’ve created a few good pieces of content, Janik said, you should be consistent about posting at the same time and date. He said that Google wants to see consistent added value to the Internet, and readers will start to follow you (subscribe) or put your content into an RSS feed.
“You’ll lose followers if they look forward to something and you disappoint them,” Janik said.
You don’t have to be a professional writer to write good content marketing. In fact, said Janik, one of his writers, who was a journalism major, had to “learn to write less well.” Content marketing should be more conversational, and not read like it’s a newspaper article.
“You’re allowed to break the rules, like having one-sentence paragraphs and italics and bold in weird places,” Janik said.
Olivier said that “evergreen” content can be repurposed and used over and over again.
“Mine your content,” she advised. “Look at everything you create to see if it is evergreen.”
For example, content associated with a news event could be freshened and reused on the event anniversary. Or, for businesses that are cyclical, such as tax preparers, take an old piece of content, cast a slightly different light on it, and trot it out again. Such curation of content, said Olivier, is a “smart, efficient way to manage content.” She also reminded businesses that email marketing is not dead.
“It is still an important way to communicate with customers,” said Olivier. “Keep your database up to date, and when you have a story, let your customers know.”
Create content that Google likes
The magic length for written content seems to be 600+ words, said Janik. This shows Google that more time and effort went into creating that content, and therefore Google gives it more value.
Janik said that you should almost always publish your content on your own website – not somewhere else. Otherwise you’re giving someone else the authority instead of yourself. But then, he said, “syndicate it outward – get it in front of eyeballs.” He gave the example of a client who had 438 blogs on their site, but weren’t ranking as highly as they’d hoped. Fringe helped them launch a massive social campaign that regurgitated their content.
“It was phenomenally successful,” said Janik.
Google can consider content that overuses a keyword phrase, or that is duplicated on the Internet, as spam. Janik said that Google’s contextual-based understanding let’s Google see the relationship between the keyword phrase and other words. For example, if your keyword phrase is “plumber in Vancouver,” Google can relate words like “pipes,” “drains,” and “plumbing” to this phrase.
Start small, but be committed
Hannah cautioned that content marketing “can’t just be a marketing idea of the month – you have to commit to it.” And, she added, to produce quality content, you need solid internal or external resources. Janik said that the typical cost for hiring a company like his to help generate weekly content, optimize it for keywords and promote it socially can cost less than $1,000 per month.
To keep from being overwhelmed, Hannah advised businesses to “start small.” For example, she said, just look at sales from the past quarter and discover the three big questions that kept coming up. Start a series of blog posts around those.
“It doesn’t have to be too daunting,” said Olivier. “Just a little bit is still useful.”
And Hannah’s final tip? Pay attention to metrics. Are people reading your content? Are they responding to the call to action? Do they follow through on the embedded links?
“Learn from that and evolve your strategy,” concluded Hannah. “Get better each day.”