These days, having a website isn’t enough. Online collaboration, content sharing and content generation have proved essential for generating customer attention and increasing brand awareness. Content marketing is considered an inbound marketing tactic because it attracts customers to your brand through interesting and desirable content. In contrast, outbound marketing tactics – in-home and out-of-home advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, radio spots, etc. – are considered interruption marketing since these channels seek to sell to customers without their explicit permission.
According to Ropers Public Affairs, 80 percent of business executives prefer to receive company information via articles versus advertisements. The same survey reveals that 70 percent of these decision makers feel content marketing helps build a stronger relationship with the marketer.
Content Marketing 101
The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable consumer action.” In contrast, traditional marketing initiates the conversation with customers and focuses on selling a product or idea, rather than delivering information that customers find interesting.
Content marketing communicates to prospects and customers without selling. Instead, the focus is to deliver compelling, quality content that will help target audiences regardless if it results in a sales lead. However, by consistently delivering high-quality and engaging content to prospects and customers, companies hope that this will lead to an increase of sales, whether through increased brand awareness, SEO or by simply establishing themselves as a leader in their industry.
Some of the most prominent forms and methods for sharing content are:
- Search engine marketing (SEM) or (pay-per-click marketing)
- Public relations
The Difference Between Copywriting and Content Marketing
People often refer to copywriting and content marketing interchangeably. Although both are integral to marketing, each one accomplishes different things.
You’ve probably heard of copywriting within the context of advertising or digital marketing. However, small and large corporations use copywriting every day to get customers to perform a specific action. Sales copy usually includes a call to action – this encourages users to purchase a product, submit an online form, register for a webcast or subscribe to a newsletter, or take some sort of action that benefits the company (some examples of copywriting include direct sales letters, billboards and direct mail). This call to action is what separates the primary goal of copywriters from the goal of content writers.
Content writing focuses on creating interesting, humorous, insightful or otherwise desirable content assets such as blog posts, tweets, industry reports and white papers. These collateral pieces are meant to deliver information that educates and engages its target audience. The primary goal of a content writer is to help, to impress, to engage and to build trust with the consumer, not to focus directly on the sale. Thousands of case studies and examples have proven that this approach, when executed properly, is less threatening to consumers and eventually leads to a sale.
While copywriting and content marketing have some differences, they do and should intersect. Even if you’re giving away a free eBook, there’s no guarantee that people will find it and read it. To grab the interest of the web user who is bombarded daily with sales messaging, emails, banner ads and social media marketing, content writers must employ engaging headlines and clearly communicate the benefits of their content to readers.
Besides building audience trust, brand awareness and positive sentiment, content marketing should have a marketing purpose. In other words, your blog post, e-book or podcast shouldn’t just focus on being witty or amusing. It should be both useful and educational, and should eventually include a call to action to guide the reader, listener or viewer toward the next step in the marketing process. With content marketing, you must show through your copy why your web visitors and readers should listen to you, follow you and consume more of your content.
Developing a Content Marketing Strategy
Now that you know why content marketing is important, where do you start? Like any aspect of marketing, you need a strategy. A content marketing strategy will not only help you plan, but it’ll help anchor your content around specific information that resonates with your target audiences.
Like any marketing plan, tailor your content marketing strategy according to your business needs and industry. If you don’t have a content strategist to help you assemble the building blocks for a plan, then try following these steps:
- Run an inventory of your old and current content. Can you use an old web story or details from a press release published two years ago? Do you have any poor-quality content that should be taken down? Take note of your existing content, and include the title of the document (or webpage title), content type and notes on a spreadsheet.
- Define your target audience. It can be challenging to develop content if you don’t know whom you are speaking to. Determine what audience your business is targeting and the best systems for approaching them (for example, a younger demographic will be easier to engage on Twitter). Consider using keyword search tools like Google’s Keyword Planner to identify keywords web users are typing into search engines to find similar companies and products. Social media management tools like HootSuite can help you monitor the conversations happening around your products as well as capture user demographic information.
- Set goals and targets. Whether you want your business to be perceived as the industry’s top thought leader, or you just wish to nurture relationships with brand advocates, setting goals will help orient your content strategy toward the most appropriate marketing channels and tactics. Determine the desired outcome from your content marketing, as well as the budget and timeframe you are working with. What type of content do you want to produce, and how often? What sort of results are you looking for?
- Choose the print and digital tools and people resources you’ll use to create and deliver your content. Now that you know what you’re trying to achieve with content marketing, how will you get there? If you want to get your most loyal customers excited about new and upcoming products, then viral videos and podcasts can be effective tools for keeping them engaged. If you’re aiming to establish yourself as an authority in your sector, industry reports, eBooks and guest blog posts featuring insight from leading experts can build your offline and online credibility. Sharing your company’s insight and takeaways (for example, writing a blog post on your email marketing testing and results) can also be extremely valuable.
Be sure to have an editorial calendar to set content goals in advance and crosscheck publication schedules with product launches and other company initiatives. Also, check that your content’s messaging is consistent and connects seamlessly across your digital and print materials.
Setting the groundwork for your content marketing strategy will take considerable time and patience, but it will also prove invaluable for building long-term customer relationships. The type of content people consume and share, as well as the channels they use to distribute that content, are constantly evolving, and your content marketing strategy should evolve with it.
An October 2013 Forbes article revealed that already 60 percent of companies are using some form of content marketing, and this number is sure to increase in the coming decade. As your business joins the legions of content marketers, focus on creating and delivering high-quality content to attract customers and strengthen your brand.