You might call this a guide on content marketing (and it’s free!).
Content marketing is hard. And it’s a lot of work.
When you mention content marketing, companies and brand typically think it’s the easiest thing to do, and they’re not entirely wrong. Create content, post it up and let the content do the work. That’s part of it, but it’s not nearly the whole story (not for good content marketing anyway).
It’s simple in people’s mind - make good content, and it will take care of the rest. But how do you get there? How do you even start creating content?
You need a strategy (one that makes sense, and not one you just copy from somewhere else), and you need awesome content that delivers value (again not something you might have copied from your competitors).
The last thing you need to think of (this is a simplified approach so please bare with me) is you need to understand where it’s going to live, and how to make the most out of the platform (it could work for a company blog, but would it work for Facebook? YouTube? They’re all different in the way they’re consumed, and it’s important to figure these out).
Before we go into details, is it worth it (because it sounds like a lot of work, and yes it most definitely is a lot of work)? YES. If you have your content sorted, you reach the miraculous place where content takes care of itself, and helps you grow and convert (without too much effort afterwards).
Trust me, it’s totally worth the effort.
WHAT DOES A STRATEGY LOOK LIKE FOR CONTENT?
If you know any marketers, they all like to talk strategy. A good strategy is essential to making content work (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a marketer). A bad strategy on the other hand, ultimately leads to a lot of wasted time (and having your fingers crossed hoping that things will go ‘viral’ - it won't).
When it comes to content marketing, what typically happens is that someone sees it working and decides that they should do the same. They go in a blind, thinking that if they can replicate it (or at least a portion of it) results would follow. What they fail to realise is that good content marketing really starts with a rock solid strategy. There are frameworks and multiple components to why a certain type of content is created and how to make sure that the content created is going to make a real impact.
Praying isn’t a good strategy (and it’s the one you see most often). It’s a sign that you don’t know what you’re doing. What it also means is that you’re stuck.
You need a strategy.
WHAT DOES A CONTENT STRATEGY LOOK LIKE?
Let’s start with the basics. What is the point of content? In one word, VALUE. The content (no matter if it’s a video, a photo or a blog) needs to deliver some sort of value to the audience. If the content doesn’t deliver any value (and this can be entertainment, information, rewards, anything!) then there’s no point in having it.
Content is all about delivering value (yes, already mentioned it but it’s worth repeating).
But we need a strategy and a way to figure out how to deliver value.
The strategy needs to cover a couple of key things:
- Objective (Why are you doing this?)
- Audience (Who are you speaking to? Or trying to speak to?)
- Channels (Where is this going to be found? Linked to audience as well)
- Tactics (How will this work?)
- Metrics (How do we know if it worked?
One more thing about the delivering value. Content needs to deliver value to you as well. As much as everyone harps on the consumer, it’s also important that it does something for you - otherwise what’s the point (no boss would let you waste hours/days/weeks on creating content - or will they?)?
DETAILS OF A CONTENT STRATEGY
Now is the scary part - actually sitting down and doing the work.
Each of the key areas that we need to cover in the strategy serves a very specific purpose (duh), time and care needs to be placed in each one to ensure the strategy is sound and your efforts aren’t wasted. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s just dive into it.
The initial questions that you need to ask are (in this order):
- What is the purpose of creating content?
- Are you looking to expand your audience?
- Are you looking to engage your audience?
- Do you need to convert your audience into paying customers?
- Is the content supposed to showcase your brand/change your brand image?
- Are you using this as a sales tool?
- Who are you trying to reach?
- Is this for existing fans or your product/company?
- Are you trying to broaden your fan base?
- Is this for potential clients?
- Is this to attract potential employees?
- Are you looking for investors?
- Where is the content going to be hosted?
- You own website?
- Social media? Facebook? Instagram? Snapchat?
- Would this work better in a physical publication - a magazine or newspaper?
- Do you need to look into using influencers?
- How will the look like in real life (as opposed to just theory)?
- What do you need to do to achieve this?
- Who do you need to contact?
- Who’s going to create the content?
- How will this content reach the right people?
- What does success look like?
- Best case, how will you know if it worked? What will you track to measure success?
- If it didn’t look like success, what can you learn from this?
- How might you change any initiatives in the future?
- Who is responsible for all of this?
Creating content is supposed to help you (otherwise why are you doing it?). But beyond that, the content needs to exist to serve another purpose, it needs to provide some sort of value (I’m just going to keep repeating this until it sticks).
Some companies decide to dive into content because it’s what they’re supposed to be doing. They see other companies doing it, and they read/hear about it on other blogs/articles/industry events. If this is the case, and there’s no larger reason for why you’ve embarked on this treacherous journey, then stop now.
Be focused with your objectives. Choose 1-2 things that the content is supposed to do, and stick to it. For example an objective could be "to drive website traffic by 50% and increase average time spent on the website by 25%". This objective is clear and easy to measure. It gives a general idea of what the content might look like (but first we’ll have to look at the other areas the strategy will help uncover).
On the other hand, if your objective is broad, it could lead to a lot of problems. For example if you’re trying to “get more sales”, it could mean anything. Sure, you can drive more sales, but it doesn’t really help you with the strategy. A good marketer would look at this and ask questions to focus down on the true objective “Get more sales where? Is there a number in mind? Is there a particular segment to think about? What are the problems with sales at the moment?"
Take care in choosing the objectives. If in doubt, fill in the rest and revisit the objectives; it could take a couple of pass throughs to get the strategy right.
This is absolutely critical to get right, and most don’t nearly spend enough time thinking about. You need to know exactly who you are talking to, otherwise the content isn’t going to resonate with them.
One thing that bad marketers don’t realise is that you can’t talk to everyone. It never works.
When you try to talk to everyone, you end up not talking to anyone because you’re just not relevant to anyone. It’s the exact opposite of what you’re going for.
Conversely, if you nail your target audience, speak directly to them, you might actually reach more people that you imagined.
Let’s say for example you run a company that sells headphones. It’s a very crowded space. If you try to keep your content generic (because it reaches everyone), it’s going to be drowned out by all the other messages that are happening at the same time (it’s no longer the early days of advertising, when just getting your message out in the right space would make a huge difference).
If on the other hand your headphones are pitch black (blacker than the blackest black) and you’re targeting goths and satan worshippers, you should only bother thinking about talking to them (nobody else is, so you would stand out). Knowing who you’re speaking to also makes it much easier down the line to figure out the message you want out (hear the crackling sound of fire in the latest videos on satanic rituals) and at the right places (maybe the beginning of music videos for head banging satan music).
Targeting the right audience dramatically increases your chances for success (smaller space, higher click throughs) and reduces costs at the same time (less competition, so lower rates).
Get the audience right, and you’ve done half the work.
You’ve nailed the audience, now you can figure out where you content is going to live.
Let’s get the silly stuff out of the way - if you have content for consumers who like cheap gadgets for the desktop, it’s probably not a good idea to put it on LinkedIn, or use fashion influencers. It just doesn’t make any sense.
Instead, take a look at where you audience is generally found, and where they spend a lot of their time. Is there something that only they do and no other audience does? If so, that’s exactly where you need to be found.
If you decide that Facebook (or any other social media channel) is the way to go, take advantage of their ad platforms (they’re still ridiculously cheap for what they do especially if you know what you’re doing).
Create ads specifically for our audience (and nobody else) - be as specific as you can possibly go. It doesn’t matter if the audience size is small (you want it to be small, anything about 50,000 is a waste of money), you’re going to get massive click throughs and results.
Cater you ads and content to your audience. If your content calls out specific target groups, then ONLY target those groups (and the right age and location).
You might need to create dozens (if not hundreds) of ads, but the results of these are going to be a lot better than being generic.
Figure out your objective, audience and channel - it’s all starting to make a little more sense.
The fun part!
This is where everyone wants to focus - it’s like brainstorm gone wild - and that’s exactly what you should do.
Everything you can think of, if relevant should go here. But keep the objective, audience and channel in mind as well.
There isn’t a one blanket approach that works for everyone or any one company (as tempting as that may seem). This is why agencies and marketing teams exist.
Resist the urge to do this too early, or start here. It’s a mistake too many people do, and they end up falling in love with ideas that just aren’t going to deliver. Content is a tough(and resource heavy) beast, and you need to be very careful.
So what are some example of tactics?
- Run A/B tests to figure out what content people want to see.
- Take full advantage of platform consumption behaviours and engage audiences in ways lazy brans aren’t.
- Create landing pages to specifically address your audience and their needs.
- Figure out how people like to consume content, and go into that space - it might not make sense to you, but live gadget unboxing is a real thing!
This is the question that will inevitably come up - how do we know if it worked?
Well, let’s go through everything one at a time, and think about the best case scenario. From nothing to the best case scenario, somewhere in between lies the target and what you can possibly measure.
The goal of these metrics is to decide whether the resources (primarily money and time) spent on this exercise was worth it.
However, this doesn’t mean that it has to be a black and white YES or NO.
If you weren't able to hit the larger overall metrics for success, all is not lost. if you put the right metrics in place, you're going to be able to learn a lot of information about whether:
- The content was a right fit
- The audience assumptions were potentially wrong
- The price point is too high
- The website was too difficult to navigate, or information was not clear
- The audience is mobile only
Metrics are an important way of figuring out what to do next. Success or not, you need these metrics in place to improve and increase your chances of success in the future.
A COUPLE OF WORDS BEFORE WE LEAVE
Content marketing isn’t as easy as it may seems (the amount of time reading this should convey this message) - it takes serious time and effort to make it work.
However, there’s a reason why the most successful brands are spending so much time and money on creating good content. It’s part of their DNA, and it really works.
Content can achieve a lot, and it’s a very powerful tool when used correctly. And people aren’t stupid (which too many brands and marketers forget).
[Influencers - this is the trickiest part. Everyone is trying to do something, and for good reason too. It’s early, and influencers (the right ones at least) are available for cheap. But because it’s still relatively early days, this also means that neither brands or influencers have nailed the perfect way to work together. The most success I’ve seen so far (this is 2017) is using micro-influencers instead of famous ones with 1M+ fans. Try, try and try some more - before people figure it all out and it becomes too expensive to do.]
Depending on what industry you’re in, standing out with good content could be as easy as writing a couple blog posts. For others, this could mean consistently creating content on a daily basis.
Ultimately what you’ll find is that good content in the right ecosystems brings you an audience that wants to spend time with you (or buy things). Even without calling out sales links in every post, you’re going to get results in ways you didn’t imagine.
Sometimes the best way to sell, is to not sell at all.