Editor's Note: This post was originally published in July 2020. It's been updated with additional content in June 2022.
A long time ago, marketing involved a lot of interruption. To get the word out about a product, service, or brand, marketers, and advertisers would place ads in newspapers, between TV shows and songs on the radio, on buildings, and on billboards – hoping to catch a consumer’s attention during some other activity.
Some efforts were more subtle: paying a celebrity to wear a particular brand, or showing a beloved character in a movie using one specific type of dish soap. Others even more closely resembled today’s content marketing, like educational brochures on a front desk, free checklists mailed to your house, or a sponsored article placed in a popular magazine.
The Rise and Fall of the Content Farm
Then came the internet, a breeding ground for cheap and fast content production. Businesses realized they could attract new customers by answering their questions rather than creating expensive printed materials or interrupting their media, so they commissioned content farms to produce cheap, low-quality content en masse.
Many businesses used shady SEO practices to “hack” the system so their unhelpful content would rise on the search results page.
Fortunately, Google caught on and began rewarding high-quality content and penalizing the junk. Today, marketers face a unique challenge that also presents an opportunity. Consumers have access to more information than ever. They can choose which media they want to consume, and which they wish to ignore.
The solution? Content marketing.
What Is Content Marketing?
Content marketing strives to be the media that customers want to consume. Instead of interrupting a TV show, for example, content marketing is the TV show.
Content marketing isn’t limited to one type of media, either; it spans many formats and channels, with more being invented every day.
Content marketing can be a:
- Loose-leaf printed material
- Movie, TV show, or YouTube episode
- Video game
- Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn post
- Quiz or other interactive content
Why is Content Marketing Important
Now that we know what content marketing is, let’s discuss why it is so important. Its purpose is to attract and involve the consumer audience while creating value for them and the businesses utilizing a content marketing strategy. We will answer some questions on how to do this.
How do you increase loyalty by building relationships between a business and customers?
Increasing loyalty is about showing customers your business values them as more than customers or someone to sell to. Monitor feedback channels and offer solutions to common pain points. Make them feel special by recognizing their status as valued customers, highlighting accomplishments they share, and sending personalized correspondence. Allow customers to share their ideas and experiences with others.
How do you boost conversions?
Conversions happen when you get the audience to complete the desired action, such as clicking on an ad, reading a blog, and ultimately purchasing a service or product. Use a clear call to action (CTA), mention a trusted authority figure, or answer some common questions users of your product or service have.
How do you create a sense of community around a brand?
To create a sense of community around a brand, you must first identify what your brand is beyond your products and services. Define what will make people emotionally invested in your brand. Once you find your audience on the platform they are most active, use your content marketing efforts to consistently engage with them. Give them a reason to stay involved. Respond to questions and encourage new conversations.
How do you show the audience your products and services solve their challenges?
Before you show your prospects how your products or services solve their challenges, you must know what their problems are. Source information directly from customers and employees working in sales, support, and services. Provide free tools and apps, and use images and videos to show specific use cases. Let the audience know how their needs are met.
Which are the benefits of Content Marketing?
Effective content marketing provides benefits to companies and customers. But what value does content marketing hold for companies?
Increases the client’s lifetime value (CLV)
A client’s lifetime value is the revenue they generate over an entire relationship with the company. Ideally, you want the client to return repeatedly to buy your products and services. Quality content, offering relevant and usable information that solves problems, will keep clients interested even after the purchase is complete.
Reduces the customer acquisition cost (CAC)
The customer acquisition cost (CAC) is the amount invested in marketing and sales to acquire a new client. The right piece of content can reach a large audience and generate results for a long time, lowering the CAC. It also frees the sales team up to focus on personalized client contact.
When you provide content that answers your customers' questions, but they can only access it by providing basic information on a form, that information is a lead. You can then look at the information and decide whether this lead will turn into a potential client. The content lets customers come to you.
Drives more sales with bigger coverage
Through content marketing, a few pieces of content have bigger coverage, increasing the possibility of sales. It reaches more customers than a salesperson could and is available round the clock. Potential customers can be targeted in a focused manner with content, driving the audience until the final decision or sale is made.
Grows site traffic
Content creation is at the core of growing site traffic. Within a great piece of content lies search engine optimization (SEO) and keyword optimization that generates search traffic. When you optimize content and ensure that content is useful and fulfilling, an audience will find it and it will draw interest. Promoting relevant content on social media or via an email marketing campaign increases brand awareness resulting in more visits and traffic to your website.
Content Marketing is Used by Leading Brands
Remember the Coca-Cola campaign that had everyone searching for the Coke can or bottle with their name on it? Did you “Share a Coke” with anybody? It was a prime example of the effectiveness of content marketing combined with a great idea. Coca-Cola Australia found that teens and young adults valued the iconic brand but did not feel it spoke to them. The company realized it is more important to have an open conversation with an audience than to broadcast advertising to them. They based their content marketing plan on three elements: storytelling, consumer-generated content, and a unified brand experience. The campaign was eventually used in more than 70 countries and today, Coca-Cola has nearly 1.7 million fans on Facebook.
Porsche wanted to influence the future car-buying habits of millennial and Gen Z consumers. They used branded content, like The Art of Drive, in a collaborative storytelling partnership, to provide a unique glimpse into the lives of creators and innovators, including a Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter, a tech founder, and a stylist. They used branded videos, interviews, panel discussions, and editorial articles in Condè Nast magazines that merged digital and traditional marketing. The stories aimed to inspire aspiring creators to pursue their dreams, and Porsche hopes that one day when they can afford to buy a car, these creators will think of Porsche.
Useful Content Should be at the Core of Your Marketing
There are many discussions on what defines useful content, and just as many differing opinions. A good start to creating useful content is to learn what your consumer audience needs. What are their problems, frustrations, and challenges? It’s not what the customer can do for you, but what you can do for the customer. High-quality content should entertain and be educational. It should also achieve its business goals.
It can get complicated, as according to business-to-consumer (B2C) content marketing research, creating content that appeals to different segments within a target audience is challenging. Every business should define what is useful content to them. Sometimes content is useful to the audience but does not convert. At other times content converts but does not encourage engagement, and there is little customer retention.
No matter how many types of content you use, whether blog posts or social media posts, consistent content will always keep the brand, product, or service in front of the audience. Use data from tools such as Google Analytics to help define what your target market deems useful content. Quality, consistent content will attract and retain a clearly-defined audience and ultimately result in a conversion.
Your Content Marketing Strategy
Your content marketing strategy, like any digital marketing strategy, should be tied to your broader business goals. Are you launching a new product, expanding into a new target market, or focusing on client retention and increasing customer lifetime value? Define your business goal, and then you can lay the framework for your content marketing strategy.
Next, consider the topics related to your business line that you want to be known for – and connect those back to your more prominent business goal. If you’re a plant nursery hoping to increase brand awareness, your broad topics might be “landscaping,” “vegetable gardening,” “annuals,” and “perennials,” for example.
Before you get into the nitty-gritty of what you’ll create, you’ll want to spend a good chunk of effort identifying and getting to know your target audience. Remember – content marketing is all about the people consuming your content, not about you. If what you create isn’t entertaining, informative, or educational, it isn’t effective content marketing.
Getting to Know Your Target Audience
Defining your audience, and catering your content to them, is one of the hardest parts of good content marketing – but possibly the most essential. There are many different ways to garner information about your target audience’s interests, beliefs, and problems:
- Talk to the sales team. Your sales teams, no matter how big or small, interact with prospects more regularly than anyone else. They’ll be privy to common objections, questions, and concerns your leads are facing – and they’ll have insights into what’s driving customers to make a purchase.
- Study the data. Get a Google Analytics account for your website to learn about what people are doing on your site, which pages they prefer, and which search terms are leading people to you. Use Google Search Console to conduct basic keyword research for free, or opt for a paid service like SEMrush or Moz for more in-depth functionality.
- Conduct primary research online. Consumer behavior on social media, review sites, and forums can tell you a lot about your audience's issues. It can also serve as an excellent tool for brainstorming content ideas.
- Talk to them directly. Content Marketing Institute states that while only 43% of B2B content marketers talk to customers directly, and open conversations are some of the most effective ways to get accurate, updated information. Conduct a panel, survey, focus group or reach out to individual customers directly for feedback.
Once you’ve gathered data about your target market, create customer persona documents for your content team to reference. Your writers and designers will be thankful for this, but a clear definition of personas will guide the next step in your content marketing efforts: choosing which types of content to produce.
Content Planning for Content Marketing
The biggest mistake you can make, as a marketer, is to create a whole bunch of disparate content pieces and publish them at random.
Even if they’re all related by subject matter, they won’t have any impact on the business if they don’t relate to one another and work together to move customers down your sales funnel.
To get the most out of your strategy, let your marketing funnel guide your content production. Some types of content work better as top-funnel lead magnets, while others are superior for helping you close a sale.
Top Funnel Content
This is content for your cold leads and prospects. These are the people who either haven’t heard of you or don’t know enough about you yet to make a buying decision.
Top-funnel content should make your potential customers excited to engage with your business. Humor, uniqueness, and authenticity help content stand out in this phase. Common goals for top-funnel content include generating leads and nurturing prospects. Here are the types of content that usually perform well as top-funnel pieces:
- Blog posts
- Lead magnets (valuable, free resources)
- Explainer videos
- Helpful/interesting newsletters
For more on using content marketing for top-funnel initiatives, check out our video series on attracting new customers with content marketing.
Middle Funnel Content
Middle-funnel customers are aware of your brand but haven’t purchased yet. They may not fully understand your product or service or see how it will make their lives easier.
Your job as a content marketer is to help mid-funnel prospects weigh their options while providing a deeper understanding of your offerings. The best content for the middle of the funnel includes:
- One-pagers and flyers
- Software downloads
- Educational resources
- Discount or coupon club emails
Bottom Funnel Content
Bottom-funnel customers have their credit card in hand and are ready to buy – but haven’t pulled the trigger. They may also be previous customers who are thinking of buying again.
Bottom-funnel content should focus on landing the sale. It should show why you’re trusted, the most exceptional value, or the best at what you do. It should inspire existing customers to come back for more.
- Company newsletters
- Case studies
- Landing pages
- Demo videos
- Rewards programs
- Free trials
- Direct mail and letters
Read More: Content Marketing Ideas to Try
Writing Creative Briefs: The Nitty-Gritty
Once you’ve identified the types of content you need for each stage of your funnel, it’s time to get down to the details and write your creative briefs. A brief can be anything from a single paragraph to a full page (or two), as long as it clarifies to your writers, designers, video editors, and other professionals as to what you’re looking to receive. Here are some things to include:
Title or Headline: Plan your headlines, video titles, lead magnet titles, and more based on the topics you want to cover, or the keywords you want to be on focus. It should be descriptive and compelling; even if you create great content, your prospects will never consume it if the title does not hook them.
Final format: What will the final piece look like? Is it a blog post, PDF, or printed eBook? Is it video content or social media image? For design content, specify whether you need final files, design files, or both.
Distribution channels: Where will this content be distributed? It could be your website, a guest post on a popular media site, YouTube, or a podcast platform, for example. An organic Facebook post has different technical requirements and best practices than an Instagram post, so lay out your expectations.
Length/word count: If it’s a written piece of content, how long should it be? A blog post may be in the 800 to the 1500-word range, while a long-form piece of content might vary from 2,000 words to tens of thousands.
Purpose and description: What will the content be about? What questions should it answer, and what should the viewer or reader feel after consuming it?
Call to action: What do you want the prospect to do after checking out your content – click a button, send an email, make a phone call, or buy something?
References: If you have transcriptions of SME calls, reference URLs, images on Pinterest or Shutterstock (for design projects), or anything else that will help your creative team see your vision, include it.
Read More: How to Create a List of Blog Topics
How to Create High-Quality Content Marketing
Since the key to content marketing success in 2019 (and beyond, we’re willing to wager) is quality over quantity, you will get the best return on your investment if you focus on creating top-tier content.
Here are a few tips for creating content that wins:
Remember that you get what you pay for. There are still many content farms racing to the bottom, charging very little for content creation. But this comes at a high price for you. If what you’ve created is unclear or poorly designed, your content may hurt others’ perceptions of your business or brand.
Look for specialists rather than generalists. It’s easier than ever to find someone with the exact experience and skill you’re looking for. Use freelance platforms like PeoplePerHour, Upwork, and Hubstaff Talent to find the perfect contractor for the job.
Measure and improve. Don’t release your content into the world and move on to the next thing: use the tools you have
Don’t be promotional. Content marketing isn’t about promotion. That’s what ads are for, and even they’re shifting toward a customer-centric approach. When you write about your customer’s world and take the ego out of your content, you’ll produce something worth reading and sharing.
Do what only you can do. As more information becomes readily available for free online, merely having answers isn’t enough to compel prospects anymore. If you have a unique perspective or story, share it – nobody else has that same gift to give. Give your content marketing a distinctive touch that your audience won't find anywhere else.