Content marketing has long been lauded as the most effective way to build customer awareness and generate leads in the digital age, however, how do you make it work effectively?
So many businesses have invested a significant proportion of their marketing budget into content marketing, with little to show for it.
Here I’ve set out our approach to content marketing and how entrepreneurs can make it work for their business.
What is content marketing?
Everyone has a different definition of content marketing but in this article, I’ll be referring to it as; sharing information that is of value to your target audience.
The idea is to replace pushy sales and advertising approaches with helping your prospects, so they choose to come to you (aka inbound marketing).
The information you share can be in any format and it can be disseminated in any place.
So, now we’re on the same page, here are the key points to consider.
1. Create quality evergreen content
Evergreen content is content that remains relevant for extended periods of time, offering value to your audience (and generating traffic or leads, particularly if you’ve optimised it for search) long after it was first published.
The trick to creating quality evergreen content is to write about things that your audience will care about for a long time to come. For instance, someone interested in Content Marketing next year could still reference this article.
I can’t emphasise enough here, the word ‘quality’.
That doesn’t just refer to the writing style or graphic layout (although both are also important), rather the degree to which your content is valuable to your customers.
Content that is too generic or over-simplistic will simply fail to engage.
As evergreen content is a long-term game it’s worth investing in. It may even be worth conducting small scale customer research; relying on real customer feedback, rather than false assumptions, when deciding what to write about and the level of detail you go into.
3. A picture speaks a thousand words
Many consider content marketing to be just about the written word – articles, blog posts, ebooks and newsletters – but that’s far too limiting, particularly given users’ preference for videos and images over text.
With mobile connections improving, users can more easily access visual content and their appetite for it will grow as the written content market becomes more saturated.
But that’s good news – it gives you the opportunity to create additional types of content that relate to your ebook or article (eg. videos, infographics and webinars) and make your core content stretch further.
Different content types will also serve different distribution channels, with visual content being particularly powerful in social media channels where attention spans are shorter, and sharing videos and images are far more likely.
4. Think mobile-first
Assumption is the enemy of a solid content marketing strategy and there’s this pernicious idea that people only use their mobile phones when they’re in a rush or ‘on the go’.
While that may be true some of the time, research has found that 60% of smartphone data is actually used indoors. People are just as likely to use their mobiles whilst at their desks, on the sofa, or even on the toilet (yes, apparently four out of 10 of us do that).
To avoid assumptions and challenge our biases it’s wise to consider device using habits in our initial research – interviewing users and analysing available data. However, with the explosive growth in mobile usage, it’s wise to create your content with mobile devices in mind.
That could mean more concise articles, lighter images or content optimised for touch screens.
In adopting a mobile-first approach you’ll probably also improve content quality. When planning for larger screens it’s all too tempting to add more, less relevant information, which devalues your core content.
5. Add real-time content marketing to the mix
Real-time content marketing is when businesses share simple, topical content in real-time, often responding to real-world events in a relevant manner.
One of the best examples was when Oreo responded to the 2013’s famous Super Bowl blackout in real-time with an image of an Oreo cookie accompanied by the caption: “You can still dunk in the dark”.
Power out? No problem. pic.twitter.com/dnQ7pOgC
— OREO Cookie (@Oreo) February 4, 2013
The campaign spread like wildfire achieving over 15,000 shares in 14 hours.
There’s no silver bullet to content marketing success. It’s part art and part science.
The growing popularity of platforms like Periscope, Snapchat and Facebook Live video streaming, with a less is more approach is partly responsible for the rise in real-time content marketing. And, when audiences are strapped for time, real-time content snippets may be a great way of boosting your exposure.
A few words of caution are required as real-time content marketing can backfire.
You need to be careful not to try to shoehorn your brand into events that are irrelevant or inappropriate as Epicurious did in the wake of the Boston bombings when they offered a grieving nation a “bowl of breakfast energy” to help them through!
Furthermore, the benefits of real-time content marketing are usually quite short-lived, so it’s no replacement for your evergreen content, but a great addition to the mix.
In social media channels, in particular, real-time content is more likely to be shared and re-posted, providing exposure to potential new audiences.
6. User-generated content
A trend that’s really worth adopting where possible is leveraging user-generated content. If you come up with an idea that’s inspiring enough, your users will generate your content for you and then distribute it throughout their networks. And of course, because they’re creating content they’re much more engaged than those just digesting content.
A great example of user-generated content was Nintendo’s Super Mario Maker campaign that asked Nintendo’s ‘fan developers’ to create their own levels. In just two weeks, they had created 2.2m levels that were played 75m times.
User-generated content will soon take on a different form with social networks launching new technology that collect snippets of user-generated content and piece them together into a coherent story (like Twitter’s Project Lightning feature). This obviously has the potential to create huge opportunities in real-time content marketing.
On a related note, it’s also worth forming a relationship with the growing tide of self-made, online influencers (typically vloggers and Instagrammers) to get them talking about your brand.
7. How to manage your time
No article on content marketing would suffice without a brief mention of these last few, more obvious, tips on how to manage your time:
Use a content calendar
A content calendar for all of your evergreen and real-time content may sound like an administrative burden but it actually reduces the resources required.
The calendar ensures that all content is adapted to all appropriate formats and distributed through all relevant channels, meaning, less core content is required. Furthermore, many ‘spontaneous’ pieces of real-time content can be partially planned months in advance with the help of a content calendar.
Customise your content
The more customised your content is to your audience, the more likely they are to engage with it and come back for more. While obvious, you’d be surprised how many companies adopt a ‘one piece of content fits all’ approach.
Resources will clearly dictate the appropriate degree of customisation, but at a minimum, you should consider custom content for different verticals or audience segments. Using the latest tech, you can even create more personalised content for individual users.
Use marketing automation
Marketing automation solutions not only make it easier to customise your content for different audiences but also to manage all of the different content formats and channels that will make up your content marketing strategy.
That way you can concentrate your efforts on creating unbeatable content, while also getting clearer feedback on what is and isn’t working for your company.
Keep up with the times
It’s really critical to stay on top of the latest developments when deciding how to distribute your content. For instance, searching for information on social media is now on the rise (although still not as common as Google).
Couple that with social media content (eg. tweets) now appearing in Google’s search results, and social media takes on a far more powerful role than it did just a couple of years ago.
The last word…
There’s no silver bullet to content marketing success. It’s part art and part science, requiring trial and error, monitoring, adapting and trying again – with a great deal of patience.
Like it or not, it’s here to stay as the impact of more traditional forms of marketing has waned – consumers now fast forward through TV ads, delete promotional emails, block pop-ups and are generally more averse to hard-sell marketing techniques.
The trick is to keep trying, keep testing, and keep talking to your customers to understand what content would appeal to them, garnishing ideas for future campaigns and understanding why previous ones may not have had the impact you’d hoped for.