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What Is Content Marketing?

April 5, 2016 - Uncategorized

If you’re trying to expand your business,
chances are you’ve heard the term “content marketing”. You may have been told
that it’s a great way to reach new customers and build your business’s profile
and profits at the same time.

But what exactly is content marketing?

In this tutorial, I’ll help you get up to
speed. We’ll start by looking at a simple definition of content marketing, and
then we’ll talk about how it can help your business.

Although content marketing has many benefits,
it comes with some downsides too, and I’ll cover those in section 3. Then
finally we’ll look at some strategies you can use to be successful in your own
content marketing.

Content marketing graphic
Content marketing (graphic)

1. What Is Content Marketing?

Let’s define content marketing first of all.

Here’s the definition of content marketing
given in the Random
House Dictionary
:

Marketing that tries to attract customers by
distributing informational content potentially useful to the target audience,
rather than by advertising products and services in the traditional way.

So let’s unpick that a little. “Attracting
customers” is clear enough, but what’s “informational content”? It could take a
variety of forms: maybe a blog post, an article, a video, a set of social media
posts, a webinar, a podcast, or something else. What’s important is not the
form, but the fact that it’s packed with information
that’s “potentially useful to the target audience”.

The idea is that by providing people with free
information that’s useful, enlightening, and hey, maybe even fun, you convert
them from strangers into fans. If they really like your stuff, they may share
it with their friends, giving you even broader reach, and they’ll be more
receptive when you finally ask them to become a paying customer.

As the dictionary definition notes, this is
quite different from traditional marketing. Here’s a simple example to
illustrate that. Let’s say you run a small web design studio and you want to
attract new customers. Here’s how the content marketing approach would differ
from the traditional approach:

Traditional Marketing

In the traditional marketing approach,
you’d create an advertisement and pay to place it in front of potential
customers: perhaps in magazines or newspapers, as sponsored search results, or
as banner ads on websites.

In that case, your ad might read something
like:

Looking for a fresh website design for a great price?
Try ABC Design Studio! For a limited time only, get 10% off all design work.

OK, you could probably come up with better
ad copy, but you get the idea. Traditional marketing is about getting in front
of your potential customers and trying to convince them to choose you. It’s
very direct, and if you’re persuasive enough it can lead to immediate sales,
but if you don’t grab people’s attention, they’ll just tune you out.

Content Marketing

The content marketing approach is very
different. It’s more about playing the long-term game. In this case, you might
start posting articles on your website or blog, giving small business owners
useful information on things like the elements of good website design, mistakes
to avoid when setting up a website, and more. Then you promote those articles
to draw readers to your blog, and at the end of each article you try to entice
them to stay in contact, perhaps by offering more great information in exchange
for their email address.

Once they’ve signed up, you follow up with
a series of emails providing more useful, free information, while also trying
to entice them to sign up as a paying customer. Even at this stage, the ratio
is still something like 80% or 90% free information and 10% or 20%
self-promotion.

This is just an example, of course—there
are lots of different content marketing strategies out there, using a variety
of different media, and we’ll examine some strategies for successful content
marketing later on in this tutorial.

The point for now is to show you that
content marketing is much less direct than traditional marketing. Instead of
asking strangers to part with their money immediately, you’re trying to build
trust with them first. It takes longer to go from first contact to money in the
bank, but if you do it well, it can be very effective, as we’ll discover
shortly.

What’s New?

In the example above, I’ve presented content
marketing in sharp contrast to traditional marketing to help clarify the
definition, but actually, advertisers have been using some form of what we now
call content marketing for decades. Think of the “advertorials” you’d see in
newspapers (like the Suburban Home example below), or the brochures that would give useful information about a topic
while also subtly nudging you towards using a particular company’s products to
solve your problem.

By Atlanta Constitution pre-1923 Fold3com images of Atlanta Constitution pre-1923 Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
By Atlanta Constitution pre-1923 (Fold3.com images of Atlanta Constitution pre-1923) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What’s new is that changes in technology, combined
with changes in consumer preferences, have given content marketing some
distinct advantages that it didn’t have in the days of print, and as a result,
it’s become much more widely used. We’ll look at some of those advantages in
the next section.

2. Why Use Content Marketing?

As we’ve seen, content marketing is quite
an indirect approach. So why take the time to do it? What can it do for your
business? In this section, I’ll answer those questions by covering some of the
benefits of content marketing.

People Hate Ads

OK, that might be putting it a little
strongly, but more
and more people are using ad-blocking software
(198 million people, with a
41% annual growth rate). And even of those people who aren’t actively blocking
ads, many are simply tuning them out—the average click-through rate of banner
ads is just 0.06%, and about half of clicks on mobile ads are accidental,
according to this HubSpot
roundup
.

While these stats are for online ads, don’t
think that print or TV are doing much better. People, especially young people,
are increasingly tuning out traditional ads. They want useful information,
which is exactly what content marketing aims to provide.

Your Fans Become Your Advertisers

If you produce stuff that strikes a chord
with your readers or viewers, they’ll share it with their friends, giving you
much broader reach for no extra investment. In rare cases, a post or video may
“go viral”, reaching huge numbers of people that would cost a fortune to market
to via traditional advertising.

But even if only a few people share your
posts, it’s still a tremendously effective way to reach new customers. Why?
Because when people see your content, they’re seeing that it’s been recommended
by someone they trust or respect—perhaps a friend or family member—and that
gives you a powerful head-start. Even if the recommendation is just from
someone they follow on Twitter but don’t really know, it’s still a connection
that gives you an advantage over just being discovered out of the blue.

People Love Free Stuff

Who doesn’t love a freebie?

That’s particularly true online. In the
early days of the web, pretty much everything was free—the internet was built to
facilitate the free flow of information. These days, people have got used to
paying for products, services or information they value, but there’s still a
lingering expectation that at least the basics should be free.

By giving away free, useful information,
you’re giving people what they want, and that’s a great way to build a
relationship with them.

It Doesn’t Cost You Much

You can get started with content marketing
for little or even zero up-front investment. A snazzy website certainly helps,
but people will still share and value a post written on a free blog or social
media platform. (There’s a caveat to this, which I’ll cover later.)

It’s How People Make Buying Decisions These Days

People don’t tend to make snap buying
decisions online. They prefer to use all the information out there to help
them compare products and do research. According to a PwC
study
, 80% of people do online research before making purchases even of
small items like books, music and movies. Other studies have found similar
results.

So expecting strangers to buy right away is
unrealistic, particularly if your brand is not well-known. It’s more effective to engage with them first, to give them
information that helps them with their research, and try to build trust so that
when they do buy, they buy from you.

You Build Your Profile

Many of the people who read your posts or
watch your videos will never buy anything from you. But even so, that effort
wasn’t wasted. You’ve built brand awareness, gained credibility, and raised
your profile. And if the content is hosted on your own website, you’ve probably
improved your search engine rankings too.

Long-Term Sustainability

When you buy an ad, you get a flood of
visitors and possibly customers. But then, when people are no longer seeing
that ad, the tap gets turned off. You’re back to square one—unless you pay
again… and again… and again.

A popular blog post or video, on the other
hand, can keep providing you with new customers for years. As long as people
can still find the post (i.e. it ranks well in search results or other popular
sites have linked to it), you can get thousands of new visitors for a post you
wrote five years ago.

The more good content you produce and the
more popular you become, the more your traffic increases, both for new posts
and old ones. It’s a cumulative effect, unlike paying for leads, which is a
one-time deal.

3. Challenges to Overcome

Although content marketing has lots of
advantages, it’s not a panacea. There are significant downsides.

Everyone Else Is Doing It

According to the 2015
B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks
report, 86% of businesses are using
content marketing. While the popularity of content marketing is an argument in
favour of using it, that popularity also means that it’s a very crowded field.

Whatever industry you’re in, there are
probably already hundreds or even thousands of blogs, podcasts and YouTube channels covering your
topic. The sheer volume of it all has led to a frequent complaint of
“information overload”. That makes it hard to stand out and gain an audience.

It Takes Time and Effort

I mentioned low cost as one of the
advantages of content marketing, but don’t be fooled. Although there’s little
cash investment required, you will need to put a lot of hours and a lot of
effort into doing it.

Whether you’re composing blog posts,
recording podcasts, or indulging in the distraction by a thousand cuts that is
involved in maintaining an active social media presence, content marketing sucks away time and energy that you’d otherwise be devoting to other parts of your business. And you may not see a return for a
long time.

You could hire someone to do it, of course,
but that could be expensive. And you need to be careful who you hire, because
authenticity and reliability are key. Dishing out bad or shoddily presented
information will damage your reputation just as much as good information will
build it.

It’s Hard to Measure Success

How can you tell if you’re doing it right?
Increased website traffic? More social media followers? A bigger email list? Or
should you measure it only based on actual customers brought in?

What if you’re not seeing much tangible
growth, but you’re getting positive comments and engagement and building your
profile with potential customers and influential people in the industry? Is
that enough?

And given that it takes time to build an
audience, how long should you stick at it before deciding that enough is
enough?

Some of the benefits of content marketing
can be tracked quite closely, but others are intangible, and it can be
difficult to tell which one to use. I’ll cover the problem of measuring the
success of content marketing in more detail in a future tutorial.

4. Content Marketing Strategies

So we’ve got some clarity on what content
marketing is, and we’ve looked at its main pros and cons.

So what strategies can you use to be
successful in your content marketing?

Pick Your Channels

As I mentioned earlier, there are many
different ways to do content marketing. Here’s a brief, non-exhaustive list of
options:

  • Write a blog.
  • Create an audio podcast.
  • Produce videos and publish them
    on YouTube or elsewhere.
  • Build a following on social
    media.
  • Create some fun, informative,
    shareable infographics.
  • Write guest posts or articles
    for popular publications.
  • Write eBooks or white papers
    and distribute them on your website and elsewhere.
  • Run a free webinar.

A good content marketing strategy will
probably include several of these, but it’s important not to spread yourself
too thin. It’s better to pick just one or two channels and show up regularly
than to have a half-hearted “presence” everywhere.

So make an honest assessment of your
skills, and decide which of those you can do best. Do you have the personality
and presentation skills to produce fun, engaging videos? Are you more
comfortable with the written word? How are your technical skills in each area?
What will fit best in your schedule—dedicating blocks of time to producing
long-form content, or producing shorter stuff more frequently? 

When you’re picking channels to use for
content marketing, consider also what you’re trying to achieve, what your
target audience is looking for, and what the competition looks like. For more
on this important topic, see the following tutorials:

Don’t Be Boring

The words “corporate blog” make me want to
stab myself with a fork. They bring back painful memories of all the dull,
stilted propaganda I’ve seen churned out by corporate PR departments who’ve
just heard that all the cool kids are blogging these days so they should do it
too, although of course every post has to be approved by five levels of
management before it can go out.

Small businesses can make a similar mistake
too, by mixing up “sounding credible” with “sounding like an economics
textbook”.

If you want your content marketing to be
popular, you don’t have to “dumb it down” completely and post only cute cat
videos. But you do have to make it personal, engaging, informative, and at
least somewhat fun to read or watch. Don’t think about it as “producing
content”—try telling stories instead. It’s likely to be more interesting both
for you and your audience.

Don’t Be Cheap

Another mistake I’ve seen businesses make
is to churn out masses of substandard content in a cynical attempt to drive up
search-engine rankings for particular keywords. They don’t want to invest the
time and effort in creating truly useful content, so they hire the cheapest
possible freelancers to throw something together quickly.

That misses the point of content marketing
entirely—it’s about building trust with your customers. What use is a high
search-engine ranking if the content people see when they arrive does not
inspire confidence? 

Your content is your reputation. Be
prepared to make a significant investment either of time or money in doing it
right.

Make a Conversion Plan

It’s easy to get caught up in the challenge
of creating great content and to forget that this is a marketing strategy. At some point, you will have to convert all
those visitors or followers into paying customers.

If you’re posting your content on social
media or elsewhere, you’ll need to link back regularly to your own website, providing
enticing reasons for people to click through. And your site needs to be set up to
receive visitors and encourage them to sign up, perhaps with a dedicated landing page. You can grab a landing page template from our marketplace or learn more about landing pages in this article: 

Then you’ll need to set up an email
marketing campaign to convert those signed-up visitors to paying customers—you
can find out more about doing that in this email
marketing series
, or try one of these email
templates
from Envato Market. Learn more about email marketing: 

And if you’re blogging on your own site,
make sure the site is set up to encourage people to do more than just read that
one article and leave. There are lots of options for making your site more
“sticky”, such as having email signup forms pop up or appear at the bottom of
the post, including calls to action within the post, linking to related
content, and more. You may also want to offer white papers, short eBooks, or
other types of “gated” content that people have to sign up to receive.

Having a professional-looking website helps
too—try one of these WordPress
themes
from Envato Market if you want to give your site a makeover. You can
find general corporate
themes
, or themes aimed at specific types of business, like real estate,
technology,
or retail. Or browse through our best WordPress themes: 

Next Steps

I hope this tutorial has given you a clear
idea of what content marketing is and how it can help your business to attract
more customers. We’ve also looked at the pros and cons of content marketing,
and some strategies for doing it successfully.

It’s a big topic, so we’ve got more tutorials
planned. In the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at how to measure the success
of your content marketing and how to start a blog for your business (one that
doesn’t make you want to stab yourself with a fork). 

Stay tuned for those—or sign up for our newsletter if you really
want to stay in the loop—and, in the meantime, let me know any thoughts and
questions in the comments below.


Source: Photoshop | Tuts

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