Content marketing is one of the hottest trends in the industry today – in fact, some 92% of marketers are using this technique. Virtually any business can find ways to make it work to their advantage. Simply put, content marketing means you educate and inform customers and prospects about topics relevant to your industry. Thus, you demonstrate your expertise while building relationships.
Content marketing can mean you or someone in your company authors the content, but it can also mean curating useful information – that is, sharing information created by someone else. No matter who creates the content, the goal of content marketing is to educate customers and prospects. Educated consumers make better decisions, and if you’ve effectively demonstrated your knowledge they’re more likely to want to do business with you.
Forms of content marketing
You are undoubtedly familiar with many forms of content marketing, even if the term is new to you. Content marketing can include:
Blogs: The Learning Center, our name for the Prime Design Solutions blog that you’re reading now, is an example of content marketing. Our blog is full of articles on marketing, branding, social media, website development, and other topics relevant to our clients and potential clients. Blog posts can take a variety of formats – checklists, how-to guides, essays, or informational articles.
Podcasts: Podcasts are recorded presentations, sometimes in the form of interviews, that are informational in character (in fact, there are podcasts in the Learning Center, along with written summaries of the topic). They have steadily grown in popularity – in fact, 26% of Americans have listened to a podcast, up from just 10% in 2006, and one in six Americans have listened to a podcast in the last six months. They can be hosted on iTunes or other podcasting websites, or (like ours) on your website.
Infographics: Infographics present information, often statistics, in a visual format. Infographics are easy to scan and effectively break down complicated information. They increasingly popular – in fact, search volume for infographics has increased 800% between 2010 and 2012 – in part because of the growth of visually-oriented social media outlets, notably Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Google +.
E-mail marketing: An extremely cost-effective way to stay in touch, e-newsletters can inform as well as promote your business. Existing customers and those who are interested enough in you to subscribe to your e-newsletter are a great source of potential business – your e-newsletter is an excellent way to remind them of how well you know your industry. People are much more likely to be interested in an e-newsletter full of useful information than one that’s purely promotional – that is, an e-newsletter that’s about how they can help their company, not yours. (You are subscribed to the Prime Design Solutions monthly e-newsletter, right? If not, you can sign up in the left nav bar.) See also 8 Things to Know about E-Mail Marketing Today, another Learning Center article.
Brochures and other collateral: Any collateral that is created with the goal of educating about a topic, rather than selling a product or company, is a form of content marketing.
Videos: Informational videos can be very effective, and can be posted on YouTube or Vimeo and embedded on your website. But they don’t have to be full-fledged video productions – you can share content from a PowerPoint, series of PDFs, documents or other presentation materials on SlideShare, which is owned by LinkedIn and is now among the top 120 websites in the world.
Other forms: These can include white papers or e-books, Internet memes, comics and more.
Sharing your content
No matter what format your content takes, you should actively promote it. There are a variety of ways to do this:
Social media: Your social media strategy should closely overlap with your content marketing strategy. Post your content to any social networks you might utilize. This is also a great place to share others’ relevant content. Also, the nature of social media is fleeting, so once you’ve created good content you can share it more than once. Actively recycle your content in social media over the long-term!
Website: Your website should prominently feature your content and make it easy for users to search it.
E-newsletters: Use your e-newsletter to direct customers and prospects to blog posts, videos, and other informational content.
Business meetings and personal sales calls: Whenever relevant, your sales force should actively direct prospects and customers to your content. This helps reinforce one of your sales messages – you know what you’re talking about, and your company is credible and well-established.
Benefits of content marketing
Content marketing has a lot of advantages, especially when compared to traditional advertising! They include:
It doesn’t involve buying ad space: Content marketing does not involve a media buy or paid placement – in that sense, it’s free. However, it does involve a significant investment of time – time to create (and curate) the content, and time to promote it. Also, content marketing takes time to have an effect. But even taking the time investment into account, it’s one of the most affordable forms of marketing available.
It helps educate your employees as well as your customers: Regularly taking the time to do industry research and create that content helps keep employees at the top of their game. Regardless of who’s in charge of that task, all employees should read the content your company creates and curates.
It works for B2B businesses as well as those that want to appeal to consumers: All businesses have customers and prospects, and you create content that is valuable to your particular audience. A specialty women’s retailer might create content about the hottest trends in fashion, or an organic food store might promote recipes. Such content appeals to a wide variety of consumers. But content marketing also works for B2B businesses with much narrower audiences. For example, a medical supply company might create content about, say, how hospital managers can reduce inventory costs.
It’s self-targeting: In a traditional advertising campaign, how to choose media to target the appropriate consumers is a major concern. But take the example above, of a medical supply company creating content about reducing inventory costs. That’s not of interest to many people, but is highly interesting to that company’s prospects! Thus, content marketing actively attracts the audience you want, even if you’re a B2B business. On the other hand, traditional advertising campaigns can be much harder to target, especially for B2Bs.
It lasts: Content marketing takes time to implement, and must be sustained to be effective. But once your customers and prospects begin to discover and appreciate your content, they develop a sense of trust in your brand because you’re bringing value to them. In time, they will become brand advocates for you. What’s more, once your content is created and posted, your customers and prospects can consult it again and again. Contrast that with a traditional advertising campaign, which is relatively brief, doesn’t have the same capacity to build trust, and disappears completely once it’s over!
It pulls customers in: Consumers are interrupted by traditional advertising while they’re engaged in something else – like watching TV, listening to the radio, reading a magazine or newspaper, surfing the Internet, and so on. By contrast, content marketing pulls them in because they want to learn more about whatever your topic is. People consume content marketing because it’s helpful to them, while traditional advertising is generally seen as an intrusion.
It improves your SEO (search engine optimization): Your first priority in content marketing should be to bring value to your audience, not to improve your search engine rankings. But the fact is, regularly adding fresh content to your website dramatically improves your search engine optimization, which means your site will come up higher in search results. This happens for multiple reasons:
- New content means search engines have more information to index.
- Having new content will drive more traffic to your site, and traffic helps improve SEO.
- Including social media “share buttons” on your content encourages others to share it further, which amplifies the SEO benefits.
An effective content marketing strategy isn’t established overnight, and it’s very much a “soft sell” – in other words, you can’t expect to convert leads immediately. But over the long term, content marketing is one of the most effective forms of marketing because of its impressive staying power, and its ability to build brand loyalty.