Content marketing is a subject that has been around the block for not more than a decade and a half. In its nascent stages, it has shown incredible results for brands who have done it well. There is no formula for it. At least not yet. But there are a few practices common among successful content marketers and writers.
Be it Uber’s ingenious emails or Budweiser’s simple yet impactful content across platforms, we have seen enough not to underestimate the potential of content marketing.
In its initial stages of evolution, the field has shown key elements and practices that make for a successful content marketing outfit. Discussed below are a few of them.
Note: We have tried to keep it sequential and as simple as possible.
A lot goes into work before the content is actually produced. Therefore it is key to have a complete team of writers, editors and strategists before starting any content marketing campaign.
A lot of blogs out there suggest that it is all about establishing content gaps, finding content gaps, make it audience-ready as well as client-ready. All the important points. They make it seem more complicated than it already is.
It all starts with research. There are three aspects to research when it comes to creating impactful content. First, the team needs to ascertain what the brand/business/client wants. It could be creating awareness, introduce a product, hire people, change brand conception, etc. Typically an industry researcher/expert and a business developer/client service manager would be the right person to give insights into this.
Once the goal is ascertained, it is the job of the SEO expert to do research and help the content strategist come up with a strategy. Most content strategy material posted online to give out steps and essentials to help formulate strategies based on audiences, goals, platforms, resources, buyer stage, etc. (explained in detail in point number 4).
Usually, a content strategy is elaborate and covers all necessary platforms and forms of content that suit different buyer personas. The third aspect of research is gathering information to create a buyer persona (discussed below). It is important to know ‘who is buying what you’re selling?’ in order to optimise results.
Once the strategy and buyer persona are made, it is all about execution by writers, editors & platform executives (video/photo editors, animators, videographers/cinematographers, DOP, etc. for visual content).
2. Buyer persona/s
A buyer persona or a typical consumer is a simulated character created to include all characteristics that a member of your target audience may have. Typically a product, service or piece of content has multiple buyer personas at its core. It is up to market researchers to conduct thorough research and create the most appropriate personas so that the content is targeted at them specifically.
There’s a lot of literature out there on how to create a buyer persona. However, from our experience, we have devised an elaborate methodical approach that is self-evolving.
A. Uncover trends – Industry trends help us identify sample audience in different sets. They can be based on age groups, profession, income groups, geography, IQ, gender and so on.
B. Interview – In the aforementioned sample will lie existing customers, readers, followers, etc. Interviewing subjects from these subsets helps gain insights into their routine, habits, wants, needs, preferences, spending habits, decision-making markers, etc. The key to excelling in this area is by asking objective questions (preferably ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions).
C. Quantify – A survey or interview results are only as good as the useful data that they provide. For example, in a survey among men of age group 40-50 years, one is likely to find a large number of shaving equipment users, a more useful data would be ‘what percentage of them use aftershave?’ or ‘what percentage of them prefer to buy them online?’. The questions to these answers are ‘Do you use aftershave?’ or ‘Do you buy your shaving equipment online?’. Both are ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. They result in actionable data.
D. Definition – Once inference is drawn from different sets of actionable data, it is time to segregate them and define each segregated set. These sets will have characteristics. Characteristics that make buyer personas.
Tip: give a name to each of your personas. Really personify them to help your creative team to come up with good content.
3. Budget allocation
Budget allocation is all about prioritising on the basis of goals, resource availability, company size, staffing options & ROI.
Most content marketers believe that more often than not the biggest priority is the quality of content, hence the largest part of the budget should be allocated to content creation. There is a lot of evidence to support this logic. Quality of content in any form has almost undisputedly been the reason for innumerable successes in the recent past.
In this matter however, there is an uncomplimentary statistic that content marketers must be wary of. 70% of B2B content created go unused. This is far from optimal. Therefore the process of allocation and investment in content creation must be evolutionary. If last year’s budget is the same as this year’s budget with the same or less output, then there has been no learning.
The content marketing industry is already closing in on $300 billion in its worth, compared to less than $200 billion of digital marketing. Looks like our heads are already in the right places.
4. Content Strategy
Research by Content Marketing Institute uncovered that 63% of businesses across the globe do not have a documented content marketing strategy. Despite this, the industry has managed to amass a massive value. It is evident that the potential of ‘content’ as a primary marketing tool is yet incomprehensible. Thus, an appropriate ‘content strategy’ carries just as much weight in the marketing world.
The key to curating an effective and efficient ‘content strategy’ lies in identifying three basic aspects of consumer/buyer behaviour and one internal aspect:
Preferences/trends: As has been amply emphasised by successful content marketers all over the world, one can not feed salad to a lion. Preferences of consumers are the root cause of their behaviour and collective trends.
Most of the information & inference in this area are data-driven. It helps marketers continue to fine-tune their strategy every step of the way. It’s not just about what buyers prefer, its also about where they prefer for it to come from. A younger population is more likely to be influenced by communication from Instagram. Platforms like Quora could be useful to sell products & services where users like to do a substantial amount of research before purchasing.
Platforms like ‘LinkedIn’ & ‘Indeed’ are indeed made for professional communications. However, they’re quite different in many ways. You can reach out to a CEO or a CMO on LinkedIn but not on Indeed. The key to cracking these niche-driven platforms is research. It all depends on ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ & ‘who’. Some platforms like social media and email are apt for mass communication. However, on platforms like ‘LinkedIn’ the audience must be narrow, and the communication- appropriate & accurate.
Stage: As defined by Hubspot, a typical buyer goes through three stages in their decision-making process: awareness, consideration & decision. Identifying these stages are pivotal to figuring out the aforementioned ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ & ‘who’. Once the persona of the buyer is defined, putting the right content at the right places for them to find assumes prime importance. At each stage, a different form and type of content need to be presented. A different/tailored ‘Call To Action’. Even the length & design.
Each of the content pieces must be backed with appropriate rationale.
Queries: This is perhaps the most important of them all. Being on one end of a sale-purchase cycle, it is hard to understand what the person on the other end is looking for. As mentioned in (1), knowing ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’ & ‘who’ are means to understanding consumer preferences. Mixed up in all this is what they’re putting out there. What queries are they sending in to search engines? These queries have keywords & phrases.
There may be gaps between what they need & what they’re looking for. But the process of giving users what they need starts with coming to their attention. Keywords are the key to this. There are quite a few tools out there that help you do this, including the ‘Google Keyword Planner’. If you’re looking for simpler alternatives, ‘Keywords Everywhere’ is one of the best for on-the-go research.
Resources: Internal resources of a content marketing outfit depends on various factors such as the size of the organisation, budget allocation, technology available, human resources, etc.
An effective & efficient strategy is one that analyses the available resources and lays out the best courses of action while leaving ample room for flexibility.
A lot of this aspect has been covered, already. However, there are some specifics that successful content marketers take into account while setting goals. There are five basic goals that define the approach, medium & type of content. They are:
Brand awareness: One of the basic goals of content marketing since time imperial is ‘brand awareness’. It is a common understanding that creating awareness is what gets startups to shoot up from the pavement. However, this is not to say that established names do not have any use for it. Before digital media came into being, big names like CocaCola, Pfizer & Volkswagen Group thrived on brand awareness through the traditional media & word of mouth.
Continued efforts at spreading brand awareness is what keeps them ahead of the competition. With social media, it is much easier now than it was 15 years ago. All that is need is a piece of quality content that goes ‘viral’. Another medium for creating awareness is getting talked about in reputed publications. Be it magazines, newspapers, or journals, these mediums have the advantage of being a credible source of information.
Brand positioning as a thought leader: If there is one thing that all industry-leaders have in common, it is the fact that they have a long history of starting trends that the competition fall in line with. Be it through innovation or even CSR, behemoths like TATA, GM, P&G etc. have set exemplary standards for the competition to reach & uphold.
The reason for thought leadership being critical in moulding the image of a brand is that it tells the world that it cares about more than just sales.
Driving traffic: This goes in line with the general goal of most number of people. On one hand, in the aforementioned goals, the main requirements for a suitable piece of content would be something like a representation of sentiment, use, storytelling etc. On the other hand, in order to drive traffic, the most important factor in digital content is SEO.
This is the reason why despite decreasing popularity among online content consumers, marketers continue to assert blogging as one of their primary tool of content marketing. More about this in another article.
Generating leads: After a point, website traffic becomes pointless, unless it is generating qualified leads. This is where the landing pages prove to be the most valuable pieces of content. All landing pages, be it the home page, the products page or a form, it must add value for the user and provide a trouble-free experience.
Email is also one of the most sought after tools for lead generation by marketers because it has some of the highest conversion rates.
Converting leads– Let’s revisit ‘strategy’. We’ve already mentioned that a buyer goes through different stages (awareness, consideration & decision) before making the purchase. Now, the content presented to them at each stage is aimed at nudging them to the next.
Such is the power of a good CTA. Leads are generated and filtered at each stage. If the goal of a content marketing strategy is to generate quality leads, the information presented in the content must be pertinent and apt for a specific audience. Specialised offers, subscription plans & time-limited discounts presented at the right place at the right time are some tools that not only generate leads but also convert them.
Any creation has no use unless it is inspired. Be it from need, another creation, event, or even humanity, it serves the basic purpose of connection. Inspiration transcends ordinary experiences & limitations.
Only inspired content can inspire consumers to take favourable action. Consumers are inspired by content that speaks to their human experience & lifestyle.
We spoke about what inspires content creators. Now, here are some of the things that speak to consumers and inspire them:
How to be an achiever
Ideas & tips
A message on innovation
As already mentioned, inspiration works both ways when it comes to content: it is required to produce good content and it is required to prompt consumers to take favourable actions (eg. make a purchase.
7. Storytelling/ story
All the strategy, research, team-building, budgeting, buyer persona building & inspiration means nothing if it does not lead to a story that is worth the consumer’s time. This is where, a writer, a designer, a director, an animator, an illustrator or any other creative executive earns his/her money.
Phrases such as “Once upon a time…” or “In a galaxy far far away…” may be cliches, but they represent memories & evoke feelings. People are more likely to subscribe to a thought that makes them feel something or makes them smile.
Evolution has programmed us for stories. That is why a good story not only lights the brain up, it also breaks down barriers & helps build relationships.
Analytics– This one completes the cycle. The role of data in marketing is undeniably pivotal. It helps track behaviour and thus improves on practices that are less than effective & efficient or replace them.
Online data analytics go beyond just page views. Consumption metrics are designed to dive deep into consumer behaviour and answer questions like:
How many people are arriving on your site and reading your content?
How many people that start reading your content will finish it?
What per cent of readers will read at least half of your article?
How long does the average full-article reader take to finish an article?
What channels did people come through?
Which channels are correlated with a higher read-completeness?
Do read-complete visitors come back more frequently than the skimmers?
Much like other forms of marketing, content marketing is a continuous process. When you get to the end of one cycle or one stage, there is data to help you improve when you start over. Learning is the way to stay ahead of the curve. The better a brand knows how well to communicate with its consumers, the better an image it has in their minds.