Unless you’re brand new to the internet, you’re probably already aware that content marketing is the weapon of choice among businesses with an online presence. Broadly put, the term refers to the distribution of helpful online content to boost customer interaction and increase profits.
However, while creating material for your website or social media channels may sound simple, getting it right can be a difficult, complicated process. In fact, the ugly truth is that many companies fail at content marketing.
According to a study, 66% of B2C brands surveyed reported failure with their content marketing efforts.
Without the proper investment of time and money, mistakes are easy to make. Dormant Facebook feeds, poorly written blogs, website copy that’s not optimized for SEO – these are just a few common signs of unsuccessful content. Whether you’re an enterprise level corporation or small business, every brand needs a thorough strategy behind their content.
To help focus your efforts, here are 9 lessons I've personally learned from my experience working on content marketing plans.
Understand your audience
[tweet_box design=”box_10″]With any form of marketing, you need to understand your audience before advertising to it.[/tweet_box] What’s the age range and gender of your demographics? What are their interests? What do they want to read, see or watch?
Research is the cornerstone to all of your subsequent efforts. Once you can answer the fundamental questions about your audience, start creating a plan. In addition to general info, pay attention to its online behavior. For example, are people drawn to video, or do they prefer text? Implement your content and watch how users engage with it. Optimize as you go, replicating the types of posts that perform well, and nixing the ones that sink to the bottom of the internet.
For one reason or another, many companies assume that content marketing is only a part-time task, or that it’s something to be done by interns. While the allocation of marketing budgets may prevent you from spending as much time as you’d like on your content, brands should understand that digital marketing will only be successful under the guidance of experienced, paid professionals. And even then you need to do your homework and be selective.
Figure out exactly what you want to accomplish from your content (brand awareness, more conversions on your website, sales, etc.), and hire someone who can demonstrate accomplishments in these particular areas. Don’t just hire someone who’s “good at Facebook”, and expect big ROI.
Emphasize benefits over features
The age-old rule of advertising applies to online marketing as well: your content should emphasize benefits over features. (An exception might be made for, say, a B2B company with technical software; the complex features may require just as much explanation as their benefits).
This is your opportunity to think big. Sure, your discount jewelry store may provide pendants at a lower price than your competitors, but how does your offering enrich people’s lives? Nike advertises their gear of course, but much of their content marketing is centered around achieving greatness, and pushing yourself to go farther than you thought possible.
By contrast, poor content marketing is dry and purely informational. You don’t just want to inform people about why your product or service is great, you want to use it as a launch point to inspire them.
Create a community
Content marketing is a great opportunity to tell your brand’s story to the world. Brand storytelling is a way for a company to add a little personality and show a face to its business. By using it, you give customers a human element with which they can relate.
Whether you post blogs in the voice of your brand, or create a social media presence demonstrating your business’ personality, unique, personalized content offers something to people other than traditional, canned marketing. It allows customers to participate in your brand.
For example, Ben & Jerry’s created an instagram campaign around the theme of “euphoric” experiences (not necessarily limited to ice cream). The company asked its followers to post pics documenting extremely awesome moments with the hashtag #CaptureEuphoria, and the highlights were then featured in official ads.
The outreach transcended fans’ love of ice cream, and united them around a bigger human experience. In turn, Ben & Jerry’s created a compelling and unique story about its values.
Headlines are everything
Because there’s a seemingly infinite volume of content online, yours needs to be scannable. Copy should be succinct and valuable (entertaining doesn’t hurt either, if appropriate). This all starts with your headline. Think about your own scrolling habits. Do you stop to read every single article in your RSS or Facebook feeds? Most likely what gets you to pause is a catchy headline.
But as anyone who’s ever tried to write a headline can tell you, it’s not easy. In fact, they’re a bit of an art form, which is why journalists work tirelessly to perfect them. Ideally, your headline should boil your topic down its nut, and clearly state the stakes involved. If you’re struggling to nail it, try writing a headline 20 different ways. It’ll force you to get increasingly creative and eventually you’ll stumble on that magic combination of words that will greatly improve your chances of a click.
The reality is that, without a well-worded headline, your content won’t be read, no matter good it is. If you’re trying to clamor for attention online, avoid boring, long, or overly complicated headlines.
Include evergreen content
Content online can generally be separated into 2 categories: topical and evergreen. Being topical is a great way to join the conversation online about current events or trends. It may also earn you a short-term spike in traffic, which shouldn’t be discounted.
However, evergreen content pays off nicely over time. Typically this category addresses people’s ongoing, broad needs. Rather than being limited to a trending topic, it’s always relevant. To get meta for a moment, an article on tips for improving your content marketing is evergreen, as content marketing has been an important topic for several years and doesn’t look to be losing steam any time soon (whether or not anyone wants to read this particular article, however, remains to be seen).
Evergreen content also has the added benefit of providing sources for future, related materials. You can re-purpose one blog, and re-contextualize the information for a separate post.
Perhaps the most common mistake companies make with their social media accounts is failing to engage with its audience. Whether you’re running a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other page, people expect you to not just post relevant content, but to follow up as well.
Best practices dictate that community managers respond to people who engage with your content. In particular, thanking people who leave favorable comments is a great way to show that you appreciate them. Social media is ideal for customer service, so you always want to put your best face forward, and encourage responses around your content.
Promotional content is important. After all, you’re running a business, and your products and services aren’t going to advertise themselves. However, online audiences tend to be allergic to too much self-promotion. Over posting about your business in social media, or sending too many promo newsletters will result in a steady decline of followers and subscribers.
Instead, the bulk of your content should provide value. Again, this goes back to the fundamental questions of what your audience wants to read, see and watch. In digital marketing, customers, not brands, drive interaction, so you want to give them information or an experience that’s relevant or useful to them. If you can prove yourself with valuable content, customers are more likely to invest in you.
Track your content
Creating compelling, useful content is crucial. Without it, your whole strategy will collapse. However, even the most incredible copy in the world is fairly useless if you just dump it online, and don’t monitor it. You need to track the performance of every post, see what’s faring well versus what’s dying, and determine if your conversion goals are being met. Conversions simply refer to desired actions that you want people to take (clicks, downloads, sales, etc.), and almost always result from the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts.
It’s important to remember here that you probably won’t win big right out of the gate. Because content marketing is relatively new, there are no iron-clad strategies. But tracking your efforts will allow you to tweak your strategy, and bring you closer to your goals.
- Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less
- Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business
- Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype