The term “content marketing” means different things to different people. I continually run into people who get the general idea, but they’re missing some of the fundamental pieces of how it works, and hence they don’t execute it as effectively as they should.
The purpose of this post is to offer a primer on how to properly implement a content marketing plan.
Let’s start with a definition:
Think there’s something missing? Did you notice that I did not include obtaining links as part of the definition?
Any good content marketing campaign will net you lots of good links. However, when you make links the primary focus of your efforts, it can lead you astray. By focusing on reputation and visibility first, you will actually net the best links as a byproduct.
While the rest of this post will mention SEO benefits very little, make no mistake: An effective content marketing campaign is a major driver of increases in rankings and organic search traffic.
Links still matter a lot in the world of SEO. However, as noted above, centering your campaigns solely around old-fashioned SEO thinking is often dangerous.
For the purposes of this post, our focus is on content marketing that is designed to help bring new prospects into the top of your sales funnel.
However, in many cases, your efforts will build relationships with people who will never become customers. Those relationships can still have great value if they help spread your content far and wide.
In addition, once people are already engaged with you, the nature of the content that you should produce to move them through later stages of the sales funnel is different in structure from what I will focus on in today’s post.
The best way to think about content marketing, from a relationship and visibility perspective, is that it can drive increases in awareness of your brand, and that’s a pretty good start.
One of the great changes that the Web brought to us is that it put customers in more direct control of the dialog between a brand and themselves.
In the days before the Web, the main channels for communication were TV, print and radio. No interaction was possible, and the largely sedentary customer received the commercial messages whether they wanted them or not.
The Web changed that, as there was no longer any reason for a potential customer to deal with commercial messaging they didn’t want. They could simply go to a different Web page or choose not to consume the content.
Over time, the implications of these changes became more evident. Smart brands began to realize that they really needed to engage the prospect and use content to add value to their lives.
This thinking even penetrated to TV ads, where many commercials today strive to provide some level of entertainment value and can therefore also be considered content marketing.
As the understanding of content marketing grew, so did the number of channels available on the Web. You can publish content on your own site, develop relationships to publish content on third-party sites, or leverage social media platforms.
However, there are so many social media options and so many different sites where brands can publish content that most companies have to choose a few to focus on. For that reason, it’s critical to pick the channels that offer the most value.
Don’t try to do it all. In other words, the goal should be to “go where your prospects are.” By doing this, you enable your target audience to pull down your content when they want it, and in the way they prefer to consume it.
If you can build a strong social channel, this can offer powerful benefits. Or you can use paid social advertising to increase your exposure.
This has been proven to be effective for many brands. Sharing strong content through your social platforms can offer significant benefits, as shown in this chart:
As you can see, the benefit cuts both ways. The content helps you grow your social presence, and your social presence can increase the ROI on your content by sending it visitors, subscribers and links.
As a result, it’s critical that you get the content team and the social team to collaborate.
The collaboration should not stop there. Since content marketing is integral to the expansion of your company’s reputation and visibility, you should involve your PR team. They may have many relevant relationships that can help with the promotion of the content pieces you produce.
You also need to make sure that your outreach efforts to promote your content don’t end up conflicting with outreach efforts or relationships that they routinely manage.
In addition (believe it or not), press releases might still help you develop additional visibility for your content, as shown here:
The reasons for collaboration with the PR team are many, so make sure to include them in the mix.
It turns out that there are other types of people worth engaging with (not just your target audience). These are:
Media people are important because they can write about your content, or they may publish some of your content on their site. In either scenario, you end up getting exposure to their audiences.
Influencers can also be media people, but not necessarily. For example, someone with a large social media following can be an influencer, even if they don’t have their own blog or media site.
Getting them to share your content can have a large beneficial impact, and it may result in many media people seeing your content and then writing about it, asking you for an interview or offering a guest post opportunity.
Or it may be as simple as the media person learning you exist, and at some later date when you reach out to them to talk about some other piece of content, you already have credibility with them, and you have a much better chance of a successful dialog.
The following chart helps illustrate the role that influencers play in the overall mix:
Content marketing targeted at building your reputation and visibility is NOT about promoting your products or services. It’s about adding value to the people who consume your content.
If you do this on a continual basis, people begin to feel that they have a relationship with you, even if they are not interacting directly with you. They start to see you as “good people.” You want that, because it leads to their trusting you and what you have to say.
Given that relationships are a major goal, here are some guidelines you should have in mind while creating content:
As you do more and more of this, your relationships with all of your readers/viewers will grow.
I find that most organizations get hung up on one or more parts of this process. Common problems are:
Getting the foundational concepts right will help you get so much more out of your content marketing efforts. In addition, if you have multiple problems to fix from my list above, fix them one at a time. Each step forward will help you make progress.