Content Marketing is a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and editorial content to gain customers and monetize a website. The information can be displayed in a variety of ways including news, video, e-books, infographics, guides, articles, photos and so on. Content Marketing creates interest in a particular product or service and entertains the audience, to draw the attention of the final consumer. It also aims to attract users through the creation and dissemination of relevant content.
Google Trends allows the user to look at search history over time. By typing the words "content marketing" and hitting Return, the graphic shows that Content Marketing has been around since the end of the last millennium, but it was not as popular as it is today. This form of marketing can be considered the evolution of what is called Viral Marketing i.e. an unusual type of marketing that leverages the communication skills of a few stakeholders to convey a message to a large number of end users. The mode of delivery of the message follows a typical profile that has an exponential trend. It is the content that has to be shared across the web. From Viral the content became Sticky: the information on the page was so good that people would visit a particular website and stick to it. Around 2012, something changed and it was then that businesses and organisations realised that doing content marketing or having a page on Facebook and Twitter was the right move to acquire more customers. To do that thou companies had to produce some interesting material on a very big scale.
The content shown does not have to be advertising; it can simply be informational or illustrative. How the content itself is created and what to do with it has been one of the areas businesses have found it difficult to cope with. Most organisations are still not used to produce content to put online and they often take a very long time to put words, images or videos together. One of the most important things companies should realise is that, to have Content Marketing working for them, they have to stop pushing messages at people and have to move towards the idea of creating something useful, engaging and unique for their audience. The aim of Content Marketing is then to Educate - Entertain - Inform the public.
Companies have to find a way to engage with their customers who are very busy writing their material online. Nowadays people are bombarded by email and information they receive daily and most of them are simply discarded as irrelevant. In the past consumers received information passively, today they can decide whether they want to use that piece of information or simply ignore it. Therefore, it has become more complicated for companies to reach their potential customers. The challenge is to provide useful and exciting material that clients find valuable and different. The power has shifted from organisation to clients who are now in charge of the media consumption. Much more than yesterday, businesses have to understand their Customers' Journey and one of the best technique is to map out their research to see what they do when they are online, what kind of pages they visit, what they look for, which terms they search for and so on. The map can be used as a guide in which every step suggest what content should be created:
New Customers ► Create content that educates them
Customers that know the product ► move them further along
Customers that have moved ►help them to find the right product
Customers that have purchased ► produce something to have them coming back.
Companies need to develop a content marketing approach, knowing clients are in charge and can choose not to engage with them. The new approach is to generate content that comes from customers: that is the revolution of content marketing. Part of the new strategy is to get people to talk about companies and their product or services. Clients do not trust organisations that much, on the other hand, they trust the people they know, therefore, if the content comes from other people rather than from organisations is potentially more powerful. If for example a company decides to promote a product using a video, a very powerful tool would be to use a video from another customer where they talk about the product. That is what potential clients want to see. The platforms created for clients should, therefore, allow them to talk not only about the product a company is trying to sell but also to each other. By doing that new trends are monitored and businesses can get ideas to create new products. On those platforms, the content provided should also be shareable so that people could put it on their personal blogs or Facebook or Twitter accounts.
Content Marketing only works when strategies are clear so the way content will be produced must be clear. There are many different strategies that can be adopted depending on the product and the way the companies decide to advertise it. They may found they need to make their campaign entertaining as the product itself is dull and difficult to interest people, or they may want to make their customers the stars and adopt the so-called Personal Value Content Strategy where is more about the customer than the product itself.
Another approach is the Monetary Value Strategy where a blog is created to save money on a particular product (i.e. electricity bills).
If businesses create websites or web pages for their products where information and tips are given and customers can also find video and photos, those will rate the site attractive and find it easier to trust that organisation. If companies focus on being useful, helpful and valuable then potential customers will come back and eventually become customers. When looking at a web page customers will always wonder what on that page can capture their attention and what information they may found useful.
Many times companies experience what is knows as Curse of Knowledge i.e. they find the content they produce fascinating whereas it may not be as good as they think for their audience. The same happens with Group Thinking where people working on the same project think the same. Group Thinking can be very positive as create cohesion between people but at the same time does not allow a team to see objectively if what they produce is that good. The team has to consider the fact that what they found fantastic could not be that engaging for potential customers. Researching consumers' preferences will help to create the right type of product together with a good Customer Service that can provide the answers to questions and problems clients always ask about.
On top of that Keywords Marketing Research is essential as well as in-depth guides and ebooks.The variety of content that can be produced goes from Facebook to Twitter to blogs. If that thou is the only content created than businesses will only stick to the easy stuff when the material produced should be of a higher quality.
Other content that can be generated includes:
- Infographics & Cartoons
- F&Qs Pages and Google Helpout
- Slideshows, Maps and Games
- Polls & Surveys
Once the strategy is clear, there is a vast variety of material that can be exploited and used. If companies produce more quality content, then consumers will be more willing to share it and the more time business will put into creating quality content the more successful they will be. Videos, for example, are one thing organisations must produce. It is one of the most difficult things to make but it works.
All sorts of digital tools are available online to put the content together. Among the most popular Bottlenose.com finds different types of content to replicate or share onto platforms. Discussion forums like Yahoo Answers are also very useful to see the kind of questions people ask. Soolve is another excellent website that provides answers from different search engines. All these tools can be used by companies to build their Content Marketing Production Line.
Content must be produced on a regular basis. Teams need to decide who is going to deliver the content and when, who needs to approve it and so on. If that is not done, the content production will not be constant. Next is to design Workflows which means to create pieces of content and push them to all the social media and platforms people might check. The process needs to be documented and described not to loose track of it. Companies produce their content internally and then they decide where to put it on their content stream in a structured, measured and planned way. The best way to do it is creating an Editorial Calendar to map ahead of time across the twelve months, what the company is going to produce, what events the team is going to attend, which products they are going to launch and so on. Calendars are very useful because they tell what the business needs and wants to achieve within the year and it will also help to clarify targets. With this tool companies can also monitor where they are advertising their products not to miss any social network or web platform. There are tools available online to create calendars. The result of the creation of such plans should be:
- Curate: it is decided who needs doing what;
- Schedule: tools are employed to make sure that the content goes online regularly;
- Socialise: decide who is checking what and when;
- Analyse: the team analyses what kind of content is working including videos, tweets and posts.
Other than that the team needs to set targets deciding how many pieces of content they are going to create on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. If companies do not set goals, then their production will not be constant. They should stick to a targeted minimum pieces of content in a set amount of time.
As the book "Multicast Marketing" by Koenings and Colligan suggests the secret is to be multicasting to get to that efficiency that will make the difference. They suggest that while a chosen person is writing i.e. an article about a certain product, the same person should also produce tweets and posts on social networks or create a short podcast interviewing a customer. The idea is to create more versions of the same content to show on different web pages at the same time. The book also suggests how to use various free tools available online to be more efficient and effective in the production of contents. These tools also give companies the chance to check some analytical platforms to see which of the content published is performing well and which is not.
When producing contents organisations should also follow a rule called 10 - 4 - 1 or 80/20. The rule says that when producing something to put on line 10 pieces should be created by other people. The pieces might be from Wikipedia or other platforms and websites. The 4 are the pieces of content produced by the company itself which can include videos, white paper, software, etc... and the 1 to finish with, is the sale push. 80% is the time spent by companies producing something valuable and useful for their audience: if the content is good then the clients will appreciate it and will also buy the product. Once businesses have built trust with their potential customers, then they will become real customers.
The material produced should also be coming from the audience: companies can give the chance to their clients to post on their pages uploading videos and photos showing the company product. Businesses should stimulate customers to give them their material. This is called UGC or User Generated Content.
The content produced needs to be designed to be shared, and to be shared it must be extremely engaging. The "Ice Bucket Challenge" i.e. was an incredibly good idea. It was very easy for people to get involved in something like this and with the nomination, the challenge was passed from one person to other people moving very quickly. The book "Contagious" by J. Berger explains how to generate that kind of content people would engage with. He analyses thousands of shares looking at the type of content people put online. He says that the content created should:
- give people what he calls "Social Currency" which means that people will only share material that makes them look good;
- Triggers i.e. talk about things people are currently talking about, like something in the news;
- be Emotional i.e. when we care, we share;
- be Public i.e. when we see other people are doing it;
- have Practical Value i.e. news you can use;
- Stories i.e. narrative structure. Talk about customer challenges. Turn content into stories also by using videos. Tweets might also tell a story with different posts on the same day.
Mark Sheridan of River Pools is an extraordinary example of how Content Marketing can work if used in the correct way. In 2007 when the economy across the world collapsed, he created a blog on his website to help his customers. He was merely answering his customers questions: he used his blog with a utility approach. He wrote articles to respond to the questions of his potential clients and the posts generated 1.5 million dollars in business revenue. On the same page, he displayed videos, pictures and so on. He also produced a free buying guide and once he had his potential customers emails, he started doing Email Marketing marking his customers' journey from the very beginning to the end.
Unfortunately, not all the product produced are interesting. What companies need to do then is to create a UGC where people talk about their things but at the same time on the page, they advertise their products taking advantage from that UGC.
To finish, there a lot of different resources that can be used. One of this is a book called "Epic Content Marketing" by J. Pulizzi.
Other suggestions can be found online. The Content Marketing Institute, a self-proclaimed official body which has an enormous amount of material can be used to get better at Content Marketing.