The decision to include Content Marketing into your digital marketing strategy is easy for the more affluent companies – but for startups and small businesses, where resources are limited and budget really matters, there has to be a clear ROI before investing.
But before that question can be answered, let’s take a look at what Content Marketing is.
What do you see when you look at this…
Image used under the fair use policy courtesy of General Mills
A bowl of Cheerios – one of the nation’s favourite cereals right?
Actually, this is an early and great example of Content Marketing.
Back in the 1940s, General Mills was looking for a way to promote their new cereal – Cheerios, to children.
But how do you excite children in a bowl of pulverised oats?
By collaborating with some of their favourite characters.
In 1941, the Lone Ranger was a hugely popular radio show with children in and around Detroit, USA. But they wanted the show to go national and were looking for a sponsor.
General Mills saw this as a great opportunity.
As a result of this collaboration, children would now see their beloved Lone Ranger every time they saw a box of Cheerios, and would want the cereal.
This is called Influencer Marketing, a classic form of Content Marketing.
The Cheerios Brand in 2022
Fast forward to 2022 and Cheerios continues to put Content Marketing at the heart of its digital marketing strategy.
Have you heard of Recipes – What will you make with Cheerios?
This is hugely popular with people sharing their imaginative (and sometimes crazy) recipes over social media involving Cheerios.
To make the recipes to share, people have to buy more Cheerios.
What Cheerios had done, and continues to do, is connect with an audience emotionally around something of interest to build a trustworthy and loyal following.
And that’s what Content Marketing is.
So, let’s delve a little deeper and break it down into easily digestible segments, and see why Content Marketing matters and if it could be the solution for your business.
What is Content Marketing?
… a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
This definition was created back in 2010 and a more than decade later it still holds mostly true.
However, today there is now a clear distinction between Product Marketing and Content Marketing, which back in 2010 the lines were a little blurry.
Product Marketing focuses very much on the short-term to drive demand around a product or service to increase sales. Whereas, Content Marketing is more long-term, focusing on building a connection with a wider audience and generating brand ambassadors.
Content Marketing in Digital Marketing
But why do you need brand ambassadors?
Firstly, they help to raise awareness by extending the reach beyond your immediate network.
And secondly, in a marketplace that is highly competitive, brand ambassadors are incredibly useful in helping to influence others to consider your products or services over your competitors.
This is why Content Marketing is the backbone of Inbound Marketing, and part of the overarching Digital Marketing strategy.
Image used under the fair use policy courtesy of Digitaconnect
This great analogy from Evenbound helps to visualise why Content Marketing matters for generating inbound leads:
…If inbound marketing is an umbrella, content marketing is the pole and handle that holds the umbrella up.Evenbound
What Content Marketing essentially does, is enable marketers to behave as self-publicised online storytellers and create a following through engaging content.
This helps build a relationship of trust, and understanding, with a dedicated community of followers, who will send out positive signals about your brand.
However, Content Marketing is a slow burner.
You need to create enough quality content to attract and connect with the right audience.
But how do you make that connection?
To connect, you first need to understand the customer journey, and secondly align your Content Marketing to the various stages of that journey.
Understanding the Customer Journey
There are many variations of the customer journey.
Wizz & Co describes it as 1. Awareness & Discovery; 2. Interest; 3. Customer’s Consideration; 4. Retention; 5. Loyalty; 6. Advocacy.
This is good.
However, my preferred explanation is the 5C’s from The Golden Vineyard Branding Company.
Image used under the fair use policy courtesy of The Golden Vineyard Branding Company
I have summarised and curated it below, but it is worth checking out their full article How to Master All 5 Stages of the Customer Journey.
A prospect finds you through different channels – social media, blog, word-of-mouth etc.
The content they read, or heard, through your various digital marketing channels made a connection with them, and it generated some level of interest in your brand.
Once the customer has connected with your brand, you need to stay in touch and keep them interested.
This is challenging, as it can take quite a while to nurture prospects before they consider purchasing from you.
And often they never will.
However, just because they won’t purchase doesn’t mean they cannot be useful in other ways.
If they stay connected with your brand they are likely to become “brand ambassadors”, and circulate your content to other prospects.
Now your prospect is interested in purchasing from you. However, they are just as likely to buy from one of your competitors.
Your Content Marketing strategy needs to connect with them emotionally, so you make the shortlist.
The prospect is now a customer, but it’s not enough to just convert.
You need to convince them that you are as good as you say you are and continue to keep them happy.
A happy customer is going to be a conduit for attracting other prospects.
The customer is now a regular purchaser.
It is highly cost-effective to put in additional effort to keep them happy, as it can cost up to 5 times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one.
A happy customer also has the potential to become a brand advocate, and help attract new prospects too.
Why Content Marketing Matters
Once you understand the customer journey and why it matters, you can begin to use Content Marketing to target prospects.
But with so much competition today, the direct and hard sales approach is no longer the winning formulae as it once was.
Your target audience now needs to be coaxed, nurtured, and gently influenced in a way that feels totally natural.
So how do you do this?
The answer is simple – just be yourself.
By making your content 100% authentic, it will resonate and connect with your audience on an emotional level as well as a logical one.
And it’s through the building of that emotional connection with individuals that Inbound Marketing today is much more popular than Outbound, and why it yields a greater ROI.
ROI of Inbound Marketing compared to Outbound Marketing
cheaper lead acquisition
greater close rate
Outbound Marketing still matters, but there are significant advantages to Inbound Marketing particularly using Content Marketing to focus on longer-term gains.
Content Marketing Types
Ok, so hopefully you now understand why Content Marketing matters.
Let’s take a deeper look into the different types of content, and how to place them into your digital marketing strategy,
Hubspot identifies the list of the Content Types as follows:
- Case Studies
- User-generated Content
- Testimonials / Reviews
- How-to Guides/Academies
- Influencers/Paid Ad Content
In the words of the infamous Douglas Adams – Don’t Panic!
You don’t need to use all these content types but instead, focus on a few and deliver those well, rather than do many really poorly.
And be consistent!
Great Content + Consistency = Success!
The Content Marketing Secret Sauce
Whatever content types you decide to use, it’s how your words connect with the reader that is key.
Whilst storytelling has been around for a very long time, it’s in the last decade that marketers have been using storytelling as part of their Content Marketing strategy.
I have seen many definitions of storytelling when it comes to marketing, but this one for me by Neil Patel knocks it out of the park.
Storytelling is the art of communicating your idea, message, or event, by creatively weaving words, images, and sounds into a narrative. Visual stories, written stories, and verbal stories – this is the content we love.
Over the last 10 years, we have been increasing our media consumption year on year.
In the last 5 years, that increase has been quite significant.
In the United States alone, overall media consumption amongst adults in 2021 is estimated to be around 666 minutes per day or 11.1 hours — that’s a 20.2% increase from 2011.
Mobile usage has also grown 460% over the same timeframe to 252 minutes per day.
Media Consumption Amongst Adults (USA) 2021
Using Storytelling to Beat the Competition
With such high demand for consuming digital media, it’s not surprising there is also a lot of competition to create and market the right content to vie for the attention of prospects.
So how do you stand out from the competition?
What will influence prospects to buy from you rather than your competitors?
Create an emotional connection between the audience and your brand.
And the way to do this is through storytelling.
Storytelling has become a powerful digital media tool in the Content Marketing arsenal.
It enables you to convey your message to an audience and connect with them on a deeper level. And with the attention span of Gen Z as little as 8 seconds, you need to connect with them quickly.
It’s when you create that emotional connection, that people will begin to fall in love with your brand.
Apple is probably the best example of this.
So Why Do People Love Apple Products?
The products they create look amazing and are incredibly tactile, and their Product Marketing strategy is highly effective.
However, most people love Apple because of the brand, not its products.
When you see Apple ads, you will notice that the focus is on people smiling and feeling happy when they use their iPads or iPods rather than focusing on memory size or features.
Take a look at the ad below from 2019.
Image still from video ad used under the fair use policy courtesy of Apple
The product marketing topic is a serious one – encryption of conversations with Apple’s iMessage.
However, you don’t see the encryption feature at all in this ad.
You see a woman laughing and clearly enjoying herself with an Apple iPhone, making you wonder what has made her laugh so much.
But you will never know as the conversation is encrypted.
And this is why Content Marketing matters and is highly effective for companies like Apple.
They need to tell a story and make an emotional connection with the consumer, and sell the new feature without actually “selling the feature”.
It’s actually a genius advert.
Why Content Marketing is Critical for SEO
It’s fair to say that Apple is a fairly unique company.
However, there is a lot we can learn about their approach to Content Marketing.
Have you heard the following before?
Content is king, but the distribution of that content is queen, and she wears the trousers.
However, both content and distribution have a significant impact on where search engines rank your website.
For more info about search engine ranking read SEO: A Simple Guide For Growing Any Size Of Business.
And when it comes to distribution, it’s not just about the channels you use but also the brand ambassadors you generate along the way to amplify your content.
This is where the power of social media really comes into its own.
Lyfe Marketing describes it as a 7-step process.
Image used under the fair use policy courtesy of Lyfe Marketing
They highlight the importance of publishing content that is creative, inspiring, and informative.
But why is this necessary?
Until your brand is established, and you have a loyal following, you need to continue to attract ambassadors that will amplify your content.
When people share your content it grows the community around your brand, and it sends positive social signals to Google.
Oh, and just in case you have forgotten…
Great Content + Consistency = Success!
And success is two-fold.
Firstly, it will provide credibility, trust, and loyalty around your brand.
And secondly, it will improve where search engines index your website. The higher the ranking, the easier it is for people to find you.
Is Content Marketing Right for Your Business?
So far I have covered the following:
- what Content Marketing is and why it matters
- where Content Marketing sits in your overall business strategy
- what the different Content Marketing types are
- the need to understand the customer journey and align content to the various stages
- the value of digital storytelling in creating an emotional connection
- and why Content Marketing is critical for SEO
However, I haven’t yet answered the most important question – is Content Marketing going to add value to your business and will you see a return on your investment?
The answer is YES and YES.
However, the truth is you don’t really have a choice.
Your business, like every other business, has competition. Most likely hundreds of competitors.
And as Inbound Marketing generates 3x as many leads as Outbound, has a 10x greater close rate, and is considerably cheaper to convert, you cannot afford to ignore it.
Content Marketing Matters to Google
Now consider these statistics:
- Google accounts for 84% of searches across all search engines (Statista)
- 88% of people only look at the first page of search results on Google (Platonik)
- The first five organic results account for 67.6% of all the clicks (Zero Limit Web)
You don’t need to be a mathematical statistician to understand that your business needs to be competing for these top 5 spots on Google.
And on a level playing field, this is going to be challenging.
Content Marketing matters as it is how you differentiate yourself from competitors that have similar product and service offerings as you.
It will improve your chances of competing for those top 5 spots.
So, whether you are starting a new digital media freelance business or providing a virtual personal assistant service or have even invented a new type of lightbulb, Content Marketing is for you.
The strategy, however, will depend on what you see as your priorities.
Content Marketing Priorities for B2B and B2C
In a recent study by parse.ly of more than 800 content marketers, the following Content Marketing B2B and B2C priorities for 2022 and beyond were identified.
B2B Content Marketing Priorities
- for brand awareness 91% 91%
- to generate demand and leads 85% 85%
- to build credibility 81% 81%
- to educate the audience 79% 79%
- to nurture leads 68% 68%
- to generate sales 64% 64%
B2C Content Marketing Priorities
- for brand awareness 84% 84%
- to educate the audience 78% 78%
- to build credibility 73% 73%
- to generate leads 60% 60%
- to build loyalty 60% 60%
- to generate sales 56% 56%
In their 2022 outlook survey, they also found that blog articles came out on top at 91 percent for content effectiveness with marketers stating that it was the most searchable and digestible of all their content.
Social media at 88 percent, and email newsletter / eBlasts at 78 percent, were also identified as the most successful distribution channels in the same survey.
But the customer journey varies from business to business; therefore, your focus on Content Marketing priorities will be determined by your mapping.
Content Marketing for Startups and Small Businesses
The size of your company or the budget you have available doesn’t change the fact that you need to make Content Marketing the backbone of your Inbound Marketing.
However, you will need to be a little more selective in your strategy.
Here are some quick top tips:
1. Identify your target audience
The first step is to determine who you want to target and to understand the problems they are facing. Generating content to solve these problems will make it feel like you are talking specifically to them and develop an initial connection.
Once connected, you can move onto stage 2 of the customer journey – cultivation.
TIP: Include a clear call-to-action (CTA).
2. Communicate where your target audience is
Identify the online spaces where your target audience engages in conversation and the distribution channels they use. Wherever your target audience is, you need to be there too.
For example, if you sell a new flavour of ground coffee, this Espresso Aficionados community on Discord is a great way to promote your brand to your target audience.
3. Be selective on the Content Types
It’s natural to want to produce as many different Content Types as possible. However, quantity does not trump quality when it comes to Content Marketing.
Focus on a few that you are comfortable with in the beginning and can sustain a consistent flow of. You can always include others later.
Check out your competitors and see which are most successful for them.
However, the following are strong recommendations:
a) Start a blog
It’s free, the most effective and searchable of all Content Types, easily shareable and great for improving your SEO.
b) Start an email newsletter
It will take a while to establish enough of a following to be effective, but it is simple and quick to do. Email Marketing is still a very strong inbound marketing option for generating leads.
4. Create a Content Calendar
Planning and scheduling your content and time in advance ensures a consistent flow of great content.
It will also build trust in your brand with your readership.
This is a Microsoft Excel calendar schedule we created for one of our clients.
It’s simple but effective for the planning of content and the choice of communication channels.
5. Optimise for SEO
Ensure the content you create is optimised for search engines to crawl through and index correctly.
Even if you decide to not invest in SEO initially, you should still be doing basic on-page SEO and writing content around specific keywords.
Content can still rank high with search engines crawling through your site if you choose your keywords wisely and write accordingly.
Read SEO: A Simple Guide To Grow Any Size Of Business for more information on the benefits of SEO.
6. Build a Narrative Around your Brand
Research your competitors and see how they are attracting people to consume their content.
Find what makes you unique from your competitors and build a narrative around it.
To celebrate 70 years, Landrover Journey to Maneybhanjang, ‘the place where all roads meet’ deep in the Himalayas and discover why this remote village in the sky is known as the Land of Land Rovers.
Tell your story, your way, using your own words.
7. Get creative
In the business world that is predominantly grey, colour will always stand out.
In short, when many companies are selling the same product or service, you need to stand out from your competitors.
Creating your narrative around your brand is key, but how you communicate that narrative is where a touch of creativity can help elevate it.
For example – videos.
Almost 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every single day. And with today’s tools, it is so simple to produce your own videos. However, if you prefer to outsource your videos, the cost is a lot cheaper than you may think.
So don’t dismiss videos as a possible channel for your communications.
8. Listen and engage
There are many great tools out there that can help you listen to social signals about your brand.
Use them to understand how your brand is being perceived.
Tips for engaging online:
- Be respectful at all times
- Ask questions to gather additional feedback
- Say thank you
9. Include subscription opt-in
Your ultimate objective is probably to sell a product or service right?
However, that is unlikely to happen from the initial connection.
You will often need to cultivate prospects before they can move to the consideration stage of the customer journey.
Adding an email subscription option will allow prospects to stay in touch with your brand and its progress.
It also adds another communication channel for you to nurture your relationship with them.
This is a great example from Quest Nutrition which draws all your focus to providing your email.
Also, check out this article from Hubspot which provides a step-by-step approach to improving email sign-up.
10. And finally, be consistent and patient
Building a brand takes time.
Content Marketing matters for all types and sizes of businesses and needs to be a key part of your digital marketing strategy.
But should be considered long-term.
Apply the following to your brand, and you will improve engagement and increase your lead conversions.
- Create a brand narrative that your target audience can connect with on an emotional level to generate ambassadors to amplify your story
- Understand the customer journey and use storytelling to connect with prospects
- Always be 100% authentic, genuine, and consistent