Content Marketing 101: What are We Doing Here?
Content marketing is not a new concept. Collateral packs, white papers, demos, posters, pamphlets have been around forever. The idea is to educate a group of people about what you do, why you do it, and why you’re better at it than everyone else. That group should be people who are interested in your solutions, not just a random crowd, and they should be actively seeking information.
What’s new about content marketing is what’s new about everything: the internet. If you’re still not sure what content marketing is all about, or how to make use of digital media in your content strategies, get ready to learn.
What Content Marketing is Not
In short, content marketing is not sales. There are no door-to-door content distributors, and digital content marketing is not meant to harass people into buying your stuff. It’s not a sale or promotion; it’s not a coupon or a rewards card. It’s not a high-pressure sales call where you badger the witness into giving you their credit card information.
Content marketing is not blogging. A blog can be a component of your content marketing strategy, but there are all kinds of bloggers out there who have nothing to do with marketing.
Content marketing is not product marketing, which involves direct advertising, paid spots, and product pages full of pricing, product information, and a shopping cart.
Content marketing is not SEO, although both can help the other to be more successful.
Ok, Well Then What The Heck Is It?
Glad you asked.
Content marketing is the strategic creation and distribution of helpful, educational, and entertaining information to improve brand awareness, make connections with people, and increase sales. It is a necessary component of an inbound marketing strategy and a standalone strategy for small businesses.
What Makes Content Strategies Unique?
The entire concept of content marketing rests on meeting the needs of your customers. All of your efforts are focused on your audience--not you or your products. Content marketing is also not disruptive. Rather than interrupting people with ads and commercials, you build a path for people to travel when they’re ready, and at a pace that’s comfortable for them. There are plenty of ways to build in gentle nudges to keep people moving along, but overall, your customers are in the driver’s seat.
Why Does Content Marketing Work?
When you create content--blogs, ebooks, whitepapers, slide decks, social media updates--people will have a chance to see what you know and get a feel for what kind of person or business you are. They can learn about topics that matter to them, find ways to be more effective at work or at home, or connect with an emotional story or a good joke.
Once someone has engaged with your content a few times, you start to establish some credibility and trust with that person. Here you are, providing all this help without asking for anything in return. People can see that you do, in fact, have products and services for sale, but you’re not bugging anyone to buy anything.
Instead of clamoring on about how great your products and services are, you talk about the problems that your customers have. You reach people at their pain points; you speak to their frustrations and demonstrate solutions. You must be some sort of expert at this. In fact, every time I go out to Google to hunt for information on this topic, there you are with all the answers. Impressive. I think I’ll sign up for your newsletter so I can get fresh information from you all the time.
How Content Marketing Improves Sales
Up to this point, all I’ve talked about is not selling. So, then, how do companies make money by giving all this content away for free? Let’s start by taking a look at the buyer’s journey, the fancy name that marketing people have given to the typical process people go through before forking over some cash to a business.
Develop Interest. The first stop in the buyer’s journey is the realization that they want something or have a problem that requires a solution. Sales is often about creating this situation for customers. Content marketing requires the patience to wait until people get here on their own or raising general awareness of a problem.
Gather Information. Whether it’s looking at different brands of a product or determining if a software solution exists for some awful task you have to do at work, this step in the buyer’s journey happens online. In fact, up to 70 percent of buyers visit Google two or three times during this step, and big-ticket items rack up even more visits.
Consider Options. Once a buyer has done his or her homework, they narrow down their options and probably do some more research. Stops 2 and 3 may be repeated a few times, especially for complex solutions or expensive items.
Make a Decision. For most consumers, this stop means buying something and that’s it. For some, it means getting buy-in from a partner, supervisor, or another interested party, and then making a purchase.
Perhaps now you can see where content fits in? In the first stop, content can help spread the word about a problem. For some industries, you don’t really need to do much of this. For example, if you repair HVAC systems, there’s no need to remind people that the furnace needs to be fixed if you want heat. On the other hand, you might need to raise some awareness of the benefits of an annual Clean & Check.
Stop 2 is where the bulk of content marketing happens. The majority of your information should be free and easy to find using Google (that’s where a good SEO strategy comes in). For purchases that require a lot of investigation, step 2 can last a long time and involve two-way communication between you and a potential customer, email subscriptions, content downloads such as spec sheets, and more. In other words, you now have a qualified lead.
Nurturing Leads & Your Sales Funnel
Stop 3 is where most people will take a step into your sales funnel if they have not done so already during stop 2. I won’t dig too deep into sales funnels right now as this post already has a few moving pieces. However, in short, when someone steps into your sales funnel, you can finally begin selling to that person as they’ve shown a bit of intent and have given you some contact information with which you can begin a conversation.
Content for stop 3 should be focused around removing roadblocks and being clear about pricing options and advantages of your specific product, service, or solution. It can be delivered in a number of ways, and generally falls into the category of “lead nurturing,” or the process of slowly warming up your leads until they’re ready to buy.
For many small businesses, there’s not much to do for stop 4 other than to ring up the sale. For others, you may need some dowloadable content at-the-ready for anyone associated with your buyer who needs some convincing. Things like case studies, cost comparisons, benefits statements, implementation strategies, cost/benefits analyses, and other heavy materials belong here as well as for the heavy readers in stop 2.
It is Too Complicated!
If you’re new to this whole scene, this probably does seem like a complicated mess with all these paths and funnels and pages of information to keep track of. But, don’t worry! In action, content marketing can be a very simple and straightforward process. For mega-sized corporations, yes, their content marketing is a whirlwind.
For a small business, you’re looking at a weekly blog post, a monthly newsletter, one or two pieces of longer or more detailed content, and at least one active social media feed. Content marketing is super easy to scale up as you need it, and adding expert-level components can wait until you’ve got the basics down (or you can skip them entirely if you’re getting enough sales).
Next week, I’ll dig a little deeper into the mechanics of the inbound method and content marketing so you can see the process from another vantage point, as well as get into the weeds with some terminology like “landing pages” and “conversions” that will follow you around your content marketing journey.