What is content marketing?
Content marketing is the practice of sharing content relevant to your target audience to build trusting relationships, increasing brand awareness, sales, engagement, and loyalty. Content may include blog articles, photos, memes, videos, podcasts, infographics, illustrations, or any media created with the intent of educating or entertaining your audience.
Twenty-five years ago, Bill Gates wrote an essay titled “Content is King” predicting that:
…the broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.
And history has proven him right.
Content marketing is king.
And businesses of all sizes can and do, participate successfully.
But, not all content marketing is successful.
So, if content is indeed king, why doesn’t all content marketing succeed? And, how can you ensure that your efforts aren’t wasted?
When done right, content marketing is a key to your long-game brand strategy. It’s the antithesis of pop-up ads that interrupt, demand attention, and annoy people.
Instead, a good content marketing strategy is always present on the web, waiting for your audience to seek and discover.
The most significant benefit of this “inbound” approach is that your audience will already be mentally prepared for your content. So, they’ll be more likely to respond positively when they find your content – and your brand.
Let’s look at how to create a content strategy – and execute it – the right way.
The Definitive Content Marketing Guide:
- How to develop a content marketing strategy
- Set goals
- Assign key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Set a budget
- Choose content type and channels
- Create, distribute, and promote content
- Analyze results, adapt, and repeat
- Content Marketing Best Practices
- Put your audience first
- Provide value
- Lead with emotion
- Choose a range of channels
- Be authentic and human
- Do not ignore visuals
- Make it actionable
- Work smarter, not harder
- There is no one correct answer
How to develop a content marketing strategy
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy.
Every business is unique.
The content strategy that delivers tremendous success for one brand may fall flat for another. Even success is defined differently from business to business, depending on their goals.
But, every business can develop its own unique content marketing strategy by following a few basic steps.
Follow these six steps to develop a robust content strategy for your small business or startup.
Step 1: Set goals
Every successful content marketing strategy has defined goals that guide the content and help measure success.
Content marketing goals may include lead generation, customer acquisition, improving customer retention, increasing brand authority, or any number of other measurable factors that you can impact with content.
Choose the most important goals for your business, but remember that content marketing is a long game. So, choose goals that will benefit your business over the long run, not short-term goals that need results now.
Unrealistic expectations will undermine your efforts from day one.
Step 2: Assign Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Specific KPIs must measure unique goals.
Compare your goals with the data available to you. What metrics will indicate success or failure?
Tracking your progress will help you determine if the effort you’re putting in is paying off. It will also help you adjust and fine-tune your strategy.
So, if you don’t have data you can use to track your progress, either pick a new goal that you can measure or expand your data tracking capabilities so that you can measure your current goal.
Step 3: Set a budget
You have to know how much money you have to spend.
Creating content takes time and money (but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune). Promoting content (via influencers, paid partnerships, etc.) also costs money.
Knowing how much you have to spend will determine what content you create and how you promote it.
So, set a budget and stick to it. Develop a strategy that you can execute within that budget.
And, remember that the first draft of your content strategy will likely have lots of room for improvement. But, using your KPIs, you’ll be able to create a more informed strategy next time. This will help you to develop a more accurate budget, with more effective allocations of your funds.
Step 4: Choose content type and channels
With your budget firmly in hand, decide what you will create, where you will share it, and how you will promote it.
Think about the topics your audience may be curious about – and how those topics can relate to your business. What topics might people who need your product or service search for while preparing to purchase a product or service like yours?
Choose keywords relevant to your target audience to guide your topic choices.
Avoid content channels your audience doesn’t visit. And choose your social channels based on target audience behavior. This may take some time to figure out, but it’s worth the effort.
There are many types of content marketing. These include:
- Social media content marketing
- Infographic content marketing
- Blog content marketing
- Podcast content marketing
- Video content marketing
- Paid ad content marketing
Step 5: Create, distribute, and promote content
Follow the plan you’ve mapped out in the step above to create entertaining, informative, or actionable content.
Then spread it using a tool like Buffer to schedule and automatically deploy your posts.
Be sure to promote your content across all of your active channels. This will help to give that content a broader reach and more return on your investment.
Step 6: Analyze results, adapt, and repeat
Track your progress using the metrics you’ve defined as your KPIs. You’ll probably find that some of your efforts are performing better than others.
Develop a hypothesis about why the top performers are doing so well, and then adapt the weaker content based on your theory.
Continue to analyze and adapt your content to strengthen your results. Over time you’ll learn what works best with your audience.
Content Marketing Best Practices
While it’s true that every content marketing strategy must be unique, certain best practices apply to nearly every business.
Follow these best practices as you flesh out your content marketing strategy and create your content.
1. Put your audience first
Content marketing is marketing.
And, for that reason, it’s tempting to make it solely about your product or service.
Don’t do that.
Don’t do content marketing about your products or services and don’t make it about you.
Your audience will make up their minds about whether or not they become your customer. And, they only care about your product, service, or brand insofar as it can benefit them.
So, make content marketing about your audience.
Talk about the topics they care about. And be on the content channels where they are.
Show them you understand them and that you’re there to speak to their questions, concerns, and interests.
2. Provide value
Content that doesn’t provide your audience with value is a waste of time – yours and theirs.
Don’t waste time writing content that isn’t going to build strong, positive relationships.
Write content that provides real value.
Value can mean many things – pure entertainment has value, but it has to be entertaining. News updates relevant to your audience provide value. Well-researched information has value. And tips or actionable insights have value.
People will come back if your content provides value. So, make sure that anything you share as content ticks one of these boxes.
3. Lead with emotion
People pride themselves on logic and higher reasoning. But, the truth is that emotion motivates people more strongly than facts.
People are roiling cauldrons of anxiety, insecurity, happiness, excitement, anger, confusion, desire, and more. Sometimes we feel more than one emotion at a time. And, often, we’re entirely unaware of how we feel or how it’s influencing our choices.
But, whether we’re conscious of it or not, emotions drive our decision-making.
So, when you’re creating content, your content should be targeted toward emotion over logic.
What positive emotion can your product or service create in people?
And, how can your content help people relate that emotion to your product or service?
Pro-Tip: Keep in mind Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.
Sinek posits that people don’t care what you do or how you do it until they understand why you do it. And the most potent “whys” are emotionally motivated.
So, take the time to figure out why your business was started. What is the greater purpose that drives your team to do the work that they do?
Once you understand your why, share content that reflects that perspective and conjures those feelings.
4. Choose a range of channels
A content marketing strategy should include multiple channels. And, these should be places your target audience already frequents.
Don’t waste your time on platforms where your audience never goes.
The core of a content strategy is a blog with evergreen content. Evergreen blog content can draw in readers years after it was written – quite a return on investment.
Other content marketing channels include social media, podcasts, videos, and case studies.
Each channel has its own best practices for the type of topics shared and the form the content takes (meme vs. article vs. video, etc.).
By posting content in multiple locations, you are creating more opportunities for your audience to find you. And, by sharing different facets of your brand and brand identity on other channels, you are helping your audience to know you better.
5. Be authentic and human
The advent of social media has changed marketing in many ways.
One of the most relevant changes is that today’s customers expect authentic, direct communication with brands.
This runs contrary to the way business was run for decades.
“Professionalism” used to mean presenting a carefully opaque veneer that glossed over any details a business didn’t want to share.
This secrecy promoted an “us” against “them” mentality that created space for sketchy business behavior. And, people grew savvier and stopped trusting businesses.
Today, transparency and authenticity are vital indicators to consumers that a brand can be trusted. And, speaking honestly from the heart is appealing and resonates with people on a human level.
Show the humanity in your business. Share your dreams and joys. Own your mistakes instead of hiding them; vow to do better, and then follow through.
Use your content to share your journey.
6. Don’t ignore visuals
People are visual creatures.
For example, in our look at marketing trends, we highlighted the importance of videos and other visual content.
Visual content captures attention more effectively than text. It communicates emotion on a more visceral level than text. And it shares information faster than text.
Remember – a picture is worth a thousand words.
So, if you want to capture and hold attention, visual content has got to be a part of your overall strategy.
7. Make it actionable
Content needs to offer value. We’ve discussed this above.
But, one of the most valuable forms of content is so helpful that it deserves its own section. And that content is actionable.
Actionable content provides people with information that either directs action (like a how-to article) or provides sufficient information that people can draw conclusions and act on their own.
Content that gives people the resources they need to act on their own creates a tangible impact in their life. So, it creates a benefit far beyond an entertaining meme or an exciting thought piece.
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Create content that empowers people to create their own solutions.
8. Work smarter, not harder
Consistency is essential in content marketing.
Posting fresh content regularly shows that your brand is active, relevant, and worth paying attention to.
But, this means that you always need to be feeding the content monster. And that’s why it’s so important to work smarter, not harder.
- Reuse and promote your content across channels.
- Update your existing content to ensure it’s still timely. (This has the added benefit of giving the content an SEO boost!)
- And share others’ content when it makes sense to.
Ensure that your messaging is consistent. Ensure that your content provides value (especially if it comes from someone else).
But take every opportunity to work smarter, so you don’t burn yourself out. Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
9. There is no one correct answer
In marketing, there is rarely one correct answer. This is particularly true in content marketing.
Your target audience is unique. The content that will appeal to them is also unique.
And, it’s up to you (and your team, if you have one) to figure out what content resonates best with your audience. And, it’s up to you to determine which content channels will yield the best return on investment.
So, approach content marketing as an ever-evolving experiment—plan to measure and analyze your results. Plan to make mistakes – and learn from them. And prepare to adapt your strategy over time.
Research, test, analyze, and adapt. That’s how to get content marketing right.
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We regularly update this definitive content marketing guide. We most recently updated this guide on October 19, 2021.
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