More and more companies are using content marketing. And more and more are failing! Here I’ll try to find out why, and will explain how to avoid the most common pitfalls and how to succeed.
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s recent investigations, 35 per cent of all North American companies have a proven content strategy. 42 per cent publish content every week, and 55 per cent of companies plan to increase their investment in content marketing in the coming year. These are impressive figures for a kind of marketing that – even if it is more than a hundred years old – is currently experiencing a relatively recent renaissance. The figures suggest that content marketing works, makes a difference and is a successful form of marketing. Yet at the same time many companies fail, give up or don’t achieve the results they expected.
Content marketing is not just another marketing method – it requires a completely new approach. Content marketing requires thinking along new lines and saying goodbye to old truths. For many companies and for many involved in marketing, this is a big step. They’re used to an inside-out perspective and have trouble putting their products or services into a larger context. They are simply unable to create enough interesting, relevant and engaging content for their audience.
Here are three basic steps that any business that wants to succeed in content marketing must take.
1. Analyse more
Many ventures in content marketing begin with wild ideas – What content should we create? Who will create it? Where should we spread it? And who will pay? Then you bring ideas to the table, create content and distribute it to the best of your ability. This method is doomed to fail from the start.
Instead, you should take a step back and first ask yourself who you want to create content for. Who is the beneficiary? What does your target audience look like? What questions, concerns, doubts and problems do your potential customers have? And how can you help them? First you must ask yourself who your existing customers are, think about who your potential customers are, and find out what they want to know. This is most easily and effectively carried out by using one or more of these methods:
- Interviews with existing customers.
- Interviews with the company’s sales personnel.
- Questionnaire survey among potential/desired customers.
- Analysis of the visitor statistics on your website.
- Interviews with a customer service representative.
- Analysis of activities on the social media forms you are using.
Once you have analysed your findings, you can create personae to personalise your target audience. This makes it easier for those who are planning and producing the content to remember who they are writing for.
The next step is to link these personae to the sales cycle or customer journeys that you imagine they are part of. What kind of questions do you need to answer at different times in order to be relevant? Make a simple list of different types of content and have it handy when you produce your material. How you design the customer journey and how many steps it consists of depend on the type of service or product you are selling, and how long your sales cycle is. The most basic customer journey consists of three parts:
- Familiarity stage: Your potential customer is not yet interested in your goods or services. But here you can create awareness about your brand.
- Evaluation stage: Your potential customer is interested in the type of goods or services that you sell. Here you have the chance to brand yourself as the leading provider in your particular branch.
- Decision stage: Your potential customer has decided to buy the kind of product or service that you are selling. At this stage you should present content that makes it easy for customers to choose your product or service instead of choosing one of your competitors.
These three elements are essential, but for many companies a fourth part is equally important. In the fourth step, you take care of and nurture existing customers. You give them content that confirms their purchase decisions, helping them to maximise the benefits of your service or product. It is in this fourth and final step that you have the opportunity to create loyalty and a long lasting relationship that should make the customer return to you in the future.
2. Tell the right story
Only when you have acquired knowledge of your target audience, created personae and made a list of relevant content related to different stages of the customer journey, does the time come to actually create content. You now have all the knowledge and all the insights needed to create interesting, relevant and engaging content.
At this stage of your content marketing efforts, it is important to begin with your target group’s needs, rather than your own. This is the crucial difference between content marketing and traditional marketing. Traditional marketing trumpets its product’s excellence and low price, often with half-truths and lavish excess, whereas content marketing starts with what the potential customer might need to know, what they are engaged in and find interesting. To create and publish content about your products and services is to anticipate events. If you want to take up a role as an expert in your industry – and if you have read this far then this is precisely what you want – then you must focus on the customer and their needs. If you are selling washing machines, you can become an expert in the renovation of washrooms. If you sell outdoor clothing, you can be the undisputed source of information about ice depth, avalanche dangers and walking trails. If you sell office interiors, you can become an expert in working environments.
Remember to produce content for all the different personae that you have created and remember also to create content for the various steps of the customer journey. And never forget that content must be interesting, relevant and engaging for the recipient!
3. Distribute, evaluate, redo it and do it right
Content marketing consists of two parts: content and marketing. Many people create great content but forget to market it. When your content is complete and published then the real work begins.
You now have content that is customised to your personae and the different parts of the customer journey; it is interesting, relevant and engaging, but the content will not reach the right recipient without some effort. And content that is not consumed is simply wasted resources. Time, money, knowledge and effort are all squandered. Therefore, it is important to invest at least as much time and resources on distribution and follow-up as on actual content creation.
The first question you should ask yourself is where your content is published. This is where many companies get lost. We know that a recipient who is led to a website via traditional sales messages is quicker to depart than a recipient introduced via an exciting and inspiring editorial environment. It’s therefore a great idea to create an editorial content hub, such as an online magazine, a blog or a newsroom. In a customised editorial environment, it is also easier to install a marketing automation system and identify each user by getting them to log in with their email or LinkedIn account.
Once the content is published, you should of course spread it via your own channels – social media, newsletters, various websites, LinkedIn groups etc. Make a careful inventory of where your target group is moving, the discussion groups and forums in which they participate and where they prefer to consume content.
Even if content marketing is based on the principle that marketing should be based on your own channels, you should also consider the possibility of promoting your content in different commercial contexts. In many cases this is a worthwhile investment. These are some examples of ad spaces that are well suited for content marketing material.
- Advertising in social media.
- Advertising with Google AdWords.
- Native advertising.
- Advertising in niche industry media.
- Retargeting to extend the area of contact with those who visited your website.
It’s easy to publish content and then forget about it. Many companies believe that, because their content is so good, it will spread by itself (which almost never happens), and they rarely find out if this is the case. It is important to examine and analyse how the content is performing, and compare it with the expectations you have. This analysis can then form the basis of how to change the content in the future.
These are some examples of standard criteria that you should measure to see how your content is performing:
- How many unique visitors have seen the content?
- How long have they stayed on the page?
- What type of content is most consumed?
- What keywords have been used to find content?
- Which ‘calls to action’ work best?
In addition to these key indicators, you should consider deepening your analysis with more measurements. The more you know about your recipient, the better your content will perform.
- Source and technology. Where does your traffic come from? Do visitors use mobile phones or computers? How much does it cost to recruit visitors from each source? This is important for every business, but can be crucial for companies with a high proportion of commercial distribution.
- Develop your personae. Which roles in your business consume the most content – and what kind of content? This is important information, particularly within B2B, when many different company decision-makers can influence a purchase. The answer is discovered using marketing automation.
- Time. At which time of the day can you most easily reach your target market? In some cases, 90 per cent of the whole day’s traffic is active during one single hour. This is important information if you work with commercial media in a high traffic environment, such as native advertising.
- Conversion Paths. Which combinations of distribution points are best for creating the desired effect and convertion on your site? This is particularly important for e-commerce.
The answers to all these questions are important and should be the basis for how to develop and improve your content marketing. Embrace the ‘fall forward’ principle when you experiment. Test different types of content, distribution methods, and measurements. See what works and what does not. Redo it and do it right. Again and again.
It is said that about 90 per cent of all content marketing projects fail. This is because of the communicator’s negligence and lack of attention to detail in any of these three important steps. In theory they are easy to understand, but in practice it is deceptively easy to stumble.
To succeed in content marketing, you must:
- Know your audience.
- Learn where to find them.
- Understand your customer’s needs.
- Create content that is interesting, relevant and engaging.
- Distribute this content properly.
- Analyse the result, redo it and do it right. Again and again.