Ten years ago, the concept of content marketing was barely a speck in the media galaxy. Now, it’s a dazzling comet with a value soaring past $400 billion, consuming vast chunks of conventional marketing on the way.
But despite all this growth and excitement, content marketing is still an inexact science. Despite the amazing insight provided by a handful of pioneers, such as New York Times bestselling author Neil Patel, there is no one set of ‘rules’ that can guide you to content marketing success.
What does exist, thankfully, is a series of principles that apply to any content marketing campaign you wish to run, in any vertical and for any audience. In this article we’re going to run through them, so you can develop your own awesome campaigns.
Understand the possibilities
What is content marketing? There are reams of articles devoted to this very subject. For most people, it’s all about blog posts. And that’s understandable. After all, around 4.4 million blog posts are now published every single day.
But in reality, blogs are just part of the package. As the Content Marketing Institute says in its definition, content marketing is an approach, rather than a single product. It can embrace all kinds of content across all types of media – literary, audio and visual.
So think carefully about your audience, and what sort of content will appeal to them. A lot of your people will be receptive to a blog, but some will prefer a handy explainer email, or a quick video guide: some may even appreciate a podcast, in which you explain the topic you want to promote.
Understand your audience’s journey
Indeed, your audience should be at the very centre of your content marketing strategy. As well as defining the type of content they prefer, you need to understand the way they access your brand.
Every time we buy anything, it’s the culmination of a journey. The stops on that journey will vary from one consumer to the next, but it usually involves five key steps:
- The identification of a need or problem.
- Initial research, to understand the market and scope out potential providers.
- More detailed research to decide which provider is best.
- Engagement with the chosen provider.
- Purchase and acquisition of the product or service.
To create great content marketing, we need to provide tailored content at each stage. What’s more, our content marketing strategy needs to understand how people will access our brand.
Will they reach us online, or in a physical location? Will they access our messaging via Google, or through more traditional channels such as magazines or billboards? And what sort of mood, and environment, will they be in when they access the content? These factors should all shape the material we produce.
As part of this research, it’s a good idea to build personas of your audience. Essentially, these are composite sketches of the types of people who need your product, broken down by key filters such as:
- Familial status
To build your personas, you can draw on analytics tools to see who is visiting your website and social media channels and find out who is interacting with your sales team. You can send online questionnaires, using tools like Typeform, and ask relevant questions via Twitter or Facebook. And don’t forget to look at the reviews your customers are leaving – these can offer you some priceless clues.
The more accurate your personas, the more relevant your content will be.
Now add value to your readers
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time for the crux of your content marketing strategy: the creation of the content itself. And there’s an important nuance to bear in mind here.
Traditional marketing tends to talk about the brand in question: What it is, what it does, what it offers. But to create valuable content for your audience, you need to flip the idea on its head.
As the Content Marketing Institute says, “instead of pitching your products or services, you are providing truly relevant and useful content to your prospects and customers to help them solve their issues”.
Rather than persuading your customers to buy what you’re selling, think about why they might need it. Then, create content that offers advice around this pain-point, only mentioning your own solution in passing.
Here’s an example of what we’re talking about. A software company I’ve worked with for several years provides a tool that allows developers to test apps. Instead of blogging about how great the product is, we offer developers general advice about fixing bugs, working with new programming languages, or finding hacks for their everyday problems. Then we mention the testing tool at the end.
This is valuable content, and the audience appreciates it. Rather than feeling like they’re being spammed or pushed, they’re grateful for the information. And you can extend this principle to emails, infographics, whitepapers or whatever other forms of content you publish.
Use the calendar
Content marketing is a bit like journalism, in the sense that the best content always has a hook. This can be a trend or event that provides context for the material you’re providing.
To cite one obvious example, the UK is leaving the European Union. For marketers and event planners, this will create a whole world of uncertainty. We can help our audience with a quick blog post or infographic advising readers on preparing for Brexit (the Spacehuntr team has already published a blog post on this subject).
The hook doesn’t have to be ‘in the news’ either. You can also create advice around fixed-time festivals and celebrations, like Christmas or Black Friday, or specific times of the year which require their own distinct preparation.
Don’t get hung up on keywords
SEO is important to content marketing, but if you really want to succeed at content marketing, you need to create content marketing pieces that are natural. Content marketing is about balance, and good content marketing needs to always put the reader first.
See what I did there? Spotted the keyword (well, the keywords)? Yep, it wasn’t very subtle, was it.
Unfortunately, many blog content reads like this: impossible to read articles stuffed with keywords, written for a Google robot rather than an actual human. So when you’re writing your content, it’s important to keep SEO in perspective.
Yes, keywords can boost your article’s SEO ranking, particularly when placed in hotspots such as headlines and subheadings. But there’s no point getting your article high up on the Google charts if no human wants to read it.
Ideally, your content should contain plenty of examples of the top four or five keywords you want to write for. But if it’s starting to look clunky and unnatural, slow down. Good content marketing should always look natural; the reader should never be able to identify the words or phrases you’ve inserted.
Ok, that’s all for now. We hope these tips help you develop a winning content marketing strategy. Stay tuned for more advice on how to triumph in the events and marketing space.