Okay, the title is more clever than it is accurate, but I wanted to start this introduction to content marketing off with how it’s an attainable strategy for businesses, before I talked about how its not as easy as you think.
As it implies, content marketing is about the creation of CONTENT. Content is the written word, video production, graphics, visuals, (sound bytes?), as well as multimedia (a combination of multiple content genres if you will). Obviously this is a marketing blog series, so the content we are referring to is messaging that furthers the brand, exposure, and success of your business. This means the ground rules of the content you (must!) create are dictated by that very principal. You are talking to other business owners (BtoB) or to consumers (BtoC), so the content must keep the specific audience in mind, and reach (and succeed) their expectations. Whether it is informational, entertaining (see: VIRAL), persuasive, or any other college paper terminology you can think of, it still must keep the intent of YOUR purpose and YOUR audience at the forefront.
Reality Check #1: Not everyone is qualified to create QUALITY MARKETING content. It’s not remedial work. It’s not a tertiary or even a secondary type of marketing initiative. It is primary, and because of this it deserves the necessary investment in planning, attention, time, and money. Many companies throw this kind of work into their “social media marketing” pile and let the intern handle it. Why? Not to be overly harsh, but it’s because businesses (and their decision makers) often under value – sometimes grossly under value – those things they just don’t understand. But understand this, the way to get the word out about your business, products and services is becoming more fragmented every day. Banner ads, text ads, television commercials, radio commercials…you name it…are being ignored or relegated to the “blind spot” of your audience’s attention. With such consumer-centric ‘phenomena’ such as social media, peer and consumer reviews, word of mouth, and viral buzz, you can no longer rely on PAID messaging (or at least marketing that looks like is PAID for).
So, it’s not Easy, but where do you Begin?
Great marketing starts with planning, and content marketing is no different. Break the seemingly incomprehensible notion of “creating content to grow my business” into easily understood and manageable ‘pieces’. Ask yourself, what is the message (start with one) that I’m trying to convey to my audience about my business? about my service(s)? about my product(s)? Break it out into the different writing styles. Be informative (about one aspect…what makes you different, what makes you ‘worthy’? what makes you interesting, unique, awesome!?). Be persuasive (why are you better than the rest?). Be entertaining (don’t force it. Most people think being entertaining is the easiest, but in my opinion its the most difficult. Ever been to a party and meet a person who thought they were funny, but they just weren’t? Yeah…you don’t want that happening to your brand).
In the planning stage, you must definitively know WHO your audience is and what are actually the strengths (and weaknesses) of your business and brand. Don’t muddy the waters. Pick ONE purpose for each piece and write and create to fulfill that need.
If you are feeling ambitious int he planning stage, create an editorial calendar for your content marketing. Not only will this keep you and your team (or marketing company) on track, but it will keep everyone on the same page. You don’t want to be sending out simultaneously conflicting content messages. You can also use the editorial calendar to assign the tasks (research, creation, review, and distribution) to your team members or third party vendors.
Reality Check #2: Unlike traditional marketing initiatives, content marketing has no shelf life and cannot be controlled. Once its out in the wild world of the Internet, its no longer yours. So anything from grammatical mistakes to untruths or factual faux pas are yours to own up to whether you like it or not. So get it right the first time. Have it reviewed. (Now do you see why your intern should be handling your content?…No offense interns of the world.)
I’ve Planned. I’ve Created. I’ve Reviewed. Now What?
Well, here’s the real challenge. (No seriously. Creating quality content is easier than distribution). There are numerous ways to skin a cat as they say (no cats were harmed in the writing of this article), so distribution is also dictated by your audience and your intent (and your budget sometimes). There are “free” ways to distribute through social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Blogs), through article directories (some free, some paid, some crap, some worthwhile), or through your client/customer database (email for example). And there are “paid” ways such as press syndication or journal/editorial/trade publication inclusion.
A lot of the times, you want your original content to ‘live’ on a company controlled website or blog and tease or push the content out from that originating source. This allows for you to funnel inbound traffic and interest back to your brand controlled hub. This doesn’t always work and this doesn’t always fit the initiative. You can get a lot more bang if the original content lives on a third party site with AUTHORITY, than just references back to your main domain or company (think PR).
Reality Check #3: Content marketing has a lot to do with PR and a lot to do with SEO, but it isn’t exclusively one or the other. Content plays a key role in all three initiatives and thus it’s easy to see how they all intersect, but content marketing is a stand alone initiative. Keep PR and Keep SEO in mind so you get the added benefit from your content in those separate initiatives, but one doesn’t over take the other. Regardless of the initiative that your content is being created for, remember this. You are marketing to PEOPLE (not search bots), so the first expectations your content should fulfill is those of the people, not the machines. After all, search engines rely more and more on the behavior that is induced by your content (click throughs, time spent on that content, bounce rates off that content), rather than quantitative stats such as keyword density. If bots (Google!) were to choose, they always rely more heavily on behavior. Power to the people!