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Content marketing basics for business owners, entrepreneurs and other non-marketing types.

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “content marketing” enough times to know it’s a thing. A thing you should be doing. In fact, that’s probably why you’re reading this.

Maybe a well-meaning colleague or fast-talking marketing expert has suggested content marketing as an effective way to grow your business. Maybe you read it in another article on marketing.

Guess what? They’re all right. And so are you for wanting to learn more about it for yourself.

In this article, I’ll go over some of the basics of content marketing and content marketing strategy in a way that I hope will help you understand its potential. I’ll even give you an idea of what it might take for you to put it to work for your business.

So, let’s get started…

What IS Content Marketing… really?

In a nutshell:

  • Content marketing is the use of online content (articles, videos, graphics, etc) to promote a product, service or brand
  • It’s a powerful promotional tool… when used wisely
  • It’s affordable and gets a great return on investment
  • It’s more than just social media
  • It’s something you and/or your staff can do

Content marketing is relatively new compared to traditional marketing methods, but it’s been around long enough to mature and have a proven track record. In many ways, it’s a new application of time-honored techniques made possible by digital media.

When you read articles online from a publisher or a business, you’re witnessing that company’s content marketing strategy at work, good or bad. (Keep that thought in mind as we go along.)

Why is Content Marketing so important for growing a business?

Content marketing has revolutionized the way companies promote themselves, thanks to social media and the modern web. Here are some of the goals you can hope to achieve:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Build a loyal customer base
  • Launch new products and build hype around them
  • Generate sales leads and customer lists
  • Stay top-of-mind with your customers so they don’t forget you

It is also EXTREMELY COST EFFECTIVE. You will likely spend 75% less on content marketing than you would on other forms of marketing (such as display advertising and commercials), and get far greater results. This also opens you up to take greater risks, be more experimental, and market more freely than you would other wise.

If that weren’t enough, consider this: Your competition is already doing it.

That’s right, you need to get on board just to keep up. And if you’re lucky enough that your competition hasn’t caught on yet, you’ll gain a considerable advantage.

What is Content Marketing Strategy and why do I need one?

At its core, content marketing is a process. It works something like this:

  • You write an article on your website that appeals to your target audience
  • You share this article on social media and elsewhere
  • People read it because they are (pay attention) interested in the content, and get to know your brand or take a particular action (such as buy your product)

But there’s more to it than that. What you publish and where you publish can make a huge difference in terms of marketing success.

Before we go any further, let’s get a common misconception out of the way.

You’d be surprised how many business leaders I speak with who started out thinking all they needed was a Facebook page and a bunch of posts saying “Hey, look at us!”.

Pretty soon they become frustrated, wondering why nobody outside of their friends and employees are liking and sharing their posts, and even more so, why their efforts aren’t turning into sales.

If you take anything away from this article, please let it be this:

Content marketing is about giving something first, then reaping the rewards.

I think the Beatles said it best, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” It’s really the nature of the universe (but more on that in another article).

Or maybe you’ve heard it put this way: “To have a friend, be a friend.”

We all know that one guy who is always first to pitch in when someone is in need, who you can count on to lift others’ spirits or to offer helpful advice without expecting anything in return. That one guy you’d help move if they asked you to.

Be that guy.

Content marketing is about building a community around your brand. It’s about finding your tribe and speaking to their needs and desires. Whether it’s professionals in a particular industry or fans of tennis shoes that look like cats, it’s about interacting with them and serving them.

You must provide value. Otherwise, why would anyone bother?

Teach them something. Entertain them. Make their lives just a little bit better, their jobs a little bit easier. Let them get to know you before you go for the sale. Be a giver. But be ready to receive.

This builds trust and loyalty. Once people realize who you are and what you’re about, those who connect with it will become fans of your brand, and some will even become brand ambassadors who sing your praises to their like-minded friends and colleagues.

That’s why it helps to develop a content marketing strategy to serve as a guide.

Sound intimidating? It shouldn’t, but it’s totally okay if it does.

Luckily, your audience will tell you what they want by how they respond. By tracking and measuring response, you’ll be able to tweak your approach and find your voice — that right way of communicating that resonates best with your target market.

Okay, so I’ve covered why you need a strategy, but not what one is. Silly me. Let’s correct that right away.

A content marketing strategy, like any other strategy, is a plan. It’s the path you draw up before you start. Here are some key elements of a solid strategy:

  • Market research. Who are you trying to reach? I bet you’ve already got a good idea about this, but be open to adjust your view in case data tells you differently.
  • Channel selection. The main channels for content marketing are Search, Social Media and E-mail. There are others, but we’ll stick with these for now. You should try to target as many channels as possible, but which you choose may depend on time, budget, or your industry. Channel selection will also help you determine the next element:
  • Content. Will you be producing informative articles, funny videos, in-depth white papers? Most likely a combination, but it’s good to figure out your focus. You should also consider things like frequency, timing and whether it’s free or premium content.
  • Planning and Scheduling. Planning ahead will not only keep your content on track, it will make your work a whole lot easier. You can plan out an entire series of related articles, with videos and other cool stuff to go with them, then dribble them out gradually over time instead of having to come up with something fresh every week. You can promote ahead and build anticipation. And with a little help from software, you can even automate the publishing process so your content goes live on social when you want it to. Better yet, when your audience wants it to.
  • Testing & Tracking. As you publish content, it is absolutely vital that you measure results and try different things. This will help you know what’s working and what isn’t. It may sound dry and boring, but it’s actually an opportunity to show some creativity and spontaneity. How else would you find out your audience REALLY LOVES ELEPHANTS? And good news, most of the tools you’ll need are completely free.

Remember: Your strategy should be a living thing. You can always adjust as you go, and believe me, you will.

What’s the investment?

Unlike traditional forms of marketing, such as display advertising or commercials, content marketing is remarkably affordable.

That’s because the distribution platforms are already built and free to publish on. All you need to do is create quality content.

Depending on what you can produce in-house, your main investment will be time. You or your staff will spend time writing content, producing graphics (here are some great online resources for the graphically-challenged), and making videos.

Thanks to the capabilities of smart phones and webcams, even high-quality video can be produced without hiring professionals. It just takes some inventiveness and making limitations work to your advantage. (One of the easiest formats to emulate is the “reality show” format. Just leave out the hair-pulling, unless that’s your thing, okay?)

You’ll also need someone to take charge posting to your website, maintaining your social media channels and responding to your audience. This part can be done for a minimum of 6 hours a week, although you might count on 10-12 hours on average, depending on your situation.

One important caveat: Be prepared to spend money to boost posts on Facebook in order to improve their visibility, especially in the beginning as you begin to grow your audience. Fortunately, you can get by with a minimal spend, and it will help improve reach tremendously. The analytic and audience data provided by Facebook Ads is invaluable, and well worth the investment in boosted posts.

In-House or Outsource?

If you have capable people on staff who can take the reigns of your content and posting, great. Maybe you’ve got good writers, videographers, or people with a marketing background already on hand. If so, you are way ahead of the game.

Keep in mind you will need to factor in time for them to learn the ropes and improve their technique as things move forward. It may help to have a consultant come in and give them a crash course on content marketing before they begin.

However, if that’s not your situation, you may need to handle this yourself. It can be done, but it’s like a second job. You can also hire freelance copywriters, artists and videographers to produce your content, but you’ll need to keep them fed (with ideas, of course).

And here comes the pitch…

Many companies without unlimited resources or an in-house marketing team opt to partner with a content marketing expert who can oversee the creation of content as well as publishing tasks and social media management. They will take care of just about everything needed to produce great content.

An experienced consultant will draw up a comprehensive content marketing strategy, but should also work with you to understand your business and its unique offerings to get the right message about you to the right customers. They should also provide detailed progress reports and ongoing insights based on the data.

You will probably see quicker results if you outsource due to the consultant’s higher level of expertise and dedication to the task (they’re not “finding time” to do it between other tasks).

Where to go from here

Here are a few useful articles to take you through the next steps. Of course, you can always reach out to me with your questions, or if you’d like some help reaching your content marketing goals.