It has been over 20 years since Bill Gates wrote his essay, “Content is King,” and accurately predicted that the future of revenue-generating activity online would come from high-quality content.
Since then, marketers have watched a number of different trends come and go. Through the flood of ineffective and often annoying trends (remember how awful pop-up ads were?) content has stood strong; in fact, it has only gotten better.
In the early 2000’s, early content marketing efforts — like blogging and creating ebooks — were more a side-hustle for forward-thinking marketers than a full-time job funded by more than 25 percent of your company’s marketing budget. Companies created content with little or no strategy and absolutely no way to measure their return on investment.
However, with the range of marketing data available today, companies have the power to create high-impact content that helps potential customers navigate the buyer’s journey — from the early research stages all the way through to making a purchasing decision.
Even now, though, just 37 percent of organizations have a defined, documented content marketing strategy headed into 2018. While most companies understand the importance of creating content, there seems to be a disconnect between that understanding and action.
That is why the ReachForce team put together this article to help your organization with the basics of content marketing in 2018. There has never been a more important time to be creating high-value content, and with the quantity and quality of marketing data your company collects on your customers, you are in a great position to make it happen. Here is how.
Start by Defining Your Goals
One of the greatest parts of content marketing is the wide-range of potential applications for your content. While almost all goals will likely roll up to the overarching mission of generating more revenue for your company, the ways in which content helps you get there are diverse.
Sitting down and saying, “we are going to start a company blog,” without any defined goals as to why and what you hope to achieve is a bit like hopping on a boat with no map, compass, or even destination in mind and setting off into the sunset. At first, it may sound like a fun adventure, but you will soon find yourself wishing you had some direction to help guide you.
That is why a set of defined goals should be your first step in developing a content marketing strategy. But you cannot just blindly select goals; you need to figure out where content can have the biggest possible impact on your sales funnel and start there. To do that, you need to analyze your marketing data and determine where there is a gap in your demand generation strategy. That may include:
- Generating traffic to your website
- Converting site visitors (prospects) to leads
- Moving leads from the early stages of the sales cycle to making a buying decision
- Converting leads into customers
- Upselling current customers on new or enhanced solutions
- Retaining customers (aka preventing churn)
Again, the beauty of good content is that it can help you in any and all of these areas. But you cannot tackle everything at once, nor can you expect one type of content to serve all these purposes. That's why taking a deep look at your marketing data and prioritizing your content marketing efforts through well-defined goals is so important.
Keep in mind that you should always strive for SMART content marketing goals. That means making sure your goals are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely. Saying “I want to write blog posts that boost revenue” does not cut it. Instead, a SMART goal sounds something like this:
Write four, 1,000+ word blog posts a week for the next three months with the goal of increasing leads by two percent.
Once you have those goals in place, you are then ready to start the content development process. That process begins with determining the right types of content that support your marketing goals.
Use Marketing Data to Select the Right Types of Content for Your Goals and Audience
When people think about content marketing they often default to blog content, but that is really just one way to reach your audience and, frankly, may not be the most effective way depending on your goals. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2018 Benchmarks and Trends Report, marketers found ebooks and white papers to be the most successful form of content, followed closely by case studies and social media posts. Other content types include:
- Email newsletters
- Images (illustrations and photos)
- Tip sheets
- Competitive analyses
The list goes on. In fact, here are 105 other ones to fill up your content calendar
Even a well-written white paper may do nothing if your content marketing goal is to convert more bottom-of-the-funnel leads. Likewise, tweeting ten times a day does nothing if your target audience is not active there. Figuring out the content types that work best for your audience is an important step in your content marketing strategy, but admittedly, it is not always easy to do. Here are a few ways you can get a better idea of the content types that will work for your goals:
- Survey the competition. Keeping a close eye on the types of content your competitors produce can be a great first step in figuring out what works for your audience. Ask yourself:
- Do they have a big social presence?
- Do they maintain a blog? If so, how often do they post?
- Do they have a YouTube channel? What types of videos do they produce?
- What content do they gate behind lead capture forms versus leave ungated?
There is no shame in adopting the strategies that appear to have proven effective for your competitors. However, you do not want to make all of your decisions based on anecdotal evidence. Do not forget that you have the power of marketing data to help drive your content marketing strategy.
- Analyze your marketing data. Pay attention to the ways your current audience arrived on your website, or the types of content they reviewed prior to making a purchasing decision and then double down on that part of your content marketing strategy. If engagement on LinkedIn is nearly double what you are getting from Facebook, focus your efforts on creating high-value content for that medium. Some of this will inevitably be trial and error, especially if you are brand new to content marketing and do not have any existing content to measure. That is okay; the point is to continuously measure the success of your output and adjust your strategy accordingly along the way.
- Review this blog post from HubSpot. Our friends over at HubSpot have put together a comprehensive blog post detailing the types of content that generally work for each stage of the customer’s journey. Use this post as a starting point but remember to always measure the results and adjust according to your current marketing goals.
Of course, knowing the types of content you are going to create is just one piece of your content marketing puzzle. You need to determine the subject of your content, too. Just as marketing data played a big role in the first two steps of the content creation process, it continues to play a role when it comes to figuring out what your audience wants to learn from your business.
Determine the Right Subject-Matter for Your Content
Knowing how your audience wants to digest your content is important, but it really does not matter if you are not creating content that interests your audience in the first place. Determining the right subject-matter for your content can often be one of the most difficult aspects of a content marketing strategy for two reasons.
First, it is ongoing work. You constantly need to be coming up with new ideas, testing those ideas with your audience, and then making adjustments, at which point you start the process over again.
Second, it is often hard for marketers to determine exactly the right content to achieve their goal. Write something too “salesy” and you might leave potential customers with a bad taste in their mouths. Write something too objective and you may delay the sales process, or worse, push them toward a competitor.
Marketing data plays a key role here because it tells you what your audience is looking for and how they have found your business to-date. Looking at keyword trends, links that drive visitors to your site, and social avenues with high traffic for your company can tell you a lot about what your audience wants to see from your brand.
This is also an area where your sales partners can be a huge value-add. Salespeople field questions from potential customers every day and know the common themes that are important to your target audience. Surveying sales reps for content ideas can quickly leave you with a wealth of options.
With those ideas prepared and the content format set, you are ready to move to the next stage, which is actually creating and publishing the content.
Build a Content Calendar and Distribution Plan
Creating content takes considerable time and seeing results from that content can take even longer. It is easy to lose track of where you stand with content development, especially if you outsource some content creation to an agency or freelancer. Putting a content calendar in place ensures you and your team have a specific timeline for content completion and that your strategy does not get derailed by long wait times for content.
It is also important to have a plan for how you will publish and distribute the content. If your company creates short customer testimonial videos, how do you plan to get those videos in front of leads at the right stage in the sales cycle? This is where marketing data like journey analytics and automation tools can be a huge help for marketers. By understanding your audience, you can know when and where to target them with the content you create. By using an automation tool, you can establish triggers so that as soon as a lead takes an action where your customer testimonial videos would be helpful, they get delivered.
It takes time to build up the marketing data you need to make that process operate like a well-oiled machine, but the juice is worth the squeeze. The more marketing data you have, the easier it becomes to virtually guarantee ROI from your content marketing efforts. But, of course, you need to actually measure that ROI to prove it. That is the last step in the process.
Measure Your Success and Adjust Your Strategy
We have said it several times throughout this post, but it is important enough to bear repeating again. You need to continuously measure the results of your content against your goals and then adjust your strategy accordingly. This happens piece by piece; it might begin with testing new content types and then progressing to experimenting with new subject matter. You might play around with a more rigorous (or relaxed) content calendar or try new distribution channels. As long as you are measuring success along the way, each experiment is a positive step toward a more comprehensive content strategy because you are gathering more and more useful data.
The Importance of High-Quality Data Throughout Content Marketing
As demonstrated, that marketing data plays an essential role throughout the content creation process. But it only works if you are working with the highest quality customer information. Bad data skews your results and pushes you to make decisions that can have an inverse effect on your marketing goals. Collecting data is just one step; unifying, cleaning, and enriching that data makes a huge difference in your data quality.
ReachForce helps marketers increase revenue contribution by solving some of their toughest data management problems. We understand the challenges of results-driven marketers and provide solutions to make initiatives like marketing automation, personalization, and predictive marketing better. Whether you have an acute pain to solve today or prefer to grow your capabilities over time, ReachForce can unify, clean, and enrich prospect and customer lifecycle data in your business, and do it at your own pace.