Secrets to a successful content marketing strategy

“The goal of a successful content marketing strategy is to have a disproportionate share of the conversation going on in your industry.”

This was an often heard quote at the second annual Content Marketing World event held recently in Sydney, Australia by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), which helps brands attract and retain customers through compelling, multi-channel storytelling.

There are various definitions of content marketing floating around the web, and perhaps even around your office.

“Our website is full of content. So, that’s content marketing, right?”

“We have a blog. That’s all content marketing is, isn’t it?”

“What about our Facebook page? Does that count?”

As the go-to authority on content marketing, we’ll turn to CMI for a handy, universal definition:

“Content marketing is the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract, engage, and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

Content marketing is not a direct sell, rather, its purpose is to change or enhance consumer behaviour. To do this, your brand needs to be seen as a credible and knowledgeable expert on a given subject matter. And one of the most effective ways to earn this reputation is for others to share this message, not you.

In other words, you need endorsements, not a megaphone.

In essence, content marketing has been around for eons, it just hasn’t been formally recognised as a clear process and strategic element within an organisation’s marketing plans until recently. But rest assured, this is not just a buzz word, and as each marketer’s toolkit gets ever bigger and each customer’s attention span gets ever shorter, the power of content marketing has intensified.

And it’s not just marketing gurus who have taken note. Some of the biggest brands in the world and the most powerful CEOs have gotten behind a content marketing approach, and the others… well, they’re just trying to keep up.

To make sure your brand falls into the former category, let’s dive in with several tips and best practices shared at the recent CM World to ensure you create and distribute content effectively.

Do a content audit

Chances are, the longer your brand has been around, the more content you have. Before you start to think about how each piece of content will align with your brand’s goals, you might first find it helpful to conduct a content audit and create an all encompassing inventory of the content you already own.

consider-the-different-type-of-content-you-could-create

Types of content. Source: Kevin Cain

As you list each piece of content, be sure to note its location, how often it gets updated, and the purpose it currently serves. What is the reason for having this content, and why does it sit where it does?

In one Content Marketing World seminar, Robert Rose, Chief Strategist at CMI, outlined the various roles that content can play. For example, an industry blog or magazine might exist to educate consumers and win their trust, whereas your corporate website or sales materials serve to facilitate the sale of your products or services, they drive a call to action.

Keep in mind that content is not restricted to words. Images and videos are essential forms of content that, according to Mr Rose, “can drive emotion and bind a brand to an audience’s belief system.”

You’ll also want to indicate how effective each piece of content is at the moment. Consider certain content characteristics, such as its usefulness to your current and potential customers, how accessible it is (both to people as well as search engines), and how influential it is towards driving engagement and ultimately, sales.

This content quality checklist is a useful guide to help you along the way, however, we recommend that rather than answering “yes” or “no” to each question, you rank your answers on a scale of 1-5. This way, when you review the results later, you can quickly identify the biggest problem areas.

Later in this article, we’ll show you how to map each piece of content to a matrix to identify content gaps in the buyer process. But before we dive into that, let’s talk strategy.

Crafting a content marketing strategy

Once your audit is complete, it’s time to do some critical thinking about where you stand right now, and where you want to be in the future.

In the plenary speech that kicked off Content Marketing World, Joe Pulizzi, founder of CMI, stressed: “The number one thing that makes content marketing effective is to have a strategy, a plan for success.”

And that plan wont be realised overnight; it takes time, persistence, and consistency. But Mr Pulizzi believes that you’re on the right track if your content marketing strategy can achieve at least one of these goals: drive sales, save costs, or make your customers happier.

Some questions Mr Pulizzi suggests you consider at the outset of your content marketing planning phase include:

  • What is our objective?
  • What are we trying to achieve and who are we trying to reach?
  • Who do we want to talk to?
  • What do we want them to understand?
  • What is in place already?
  • How do we scale up?

To these, Jesse Desjardins, Social Media and Advocacy Manager with Tourism Australia, would add:

  • Can we build a content platform that can grow over time?
  • Is our strategy repeatable and scalable?
  • Does it lead a customer on a path to purchase?
  • Who can we partner with?
  • Can we make our audience the hero?
  • How much value are we capturing?
  • Are we sharing our work?

Mr Pulizzi also emphasised quality over quantity: “You must develop best-in-class content. Your content must be more valuable than what your competitors are doing. You can’t just tell a story better. To stand out, you have to tell a different story.”

To do so, lean on your strengths and focus on your unique selling points.

But be careful not to put sales at the front of the process. Emma Rugge-Price, Vice President of Branding and Communications at GE Australia and New Zealand, said things changed for them as soon as they “started to think like a publisher.”

Indeed, this mindset shift is taking place in major corporations around the world. Mr Pulizzi elaborates: “Content marketing has now become a critical component in all organisations. Right now, enterprises are adding content marketing, editor and journalism-based roles to their companies.

We see this evolving into a situation where content marketing is becoming less of a department and more of an approach, where there is a content centre of excellence in the organisation that works within all product silos. It’s tough to say for sure what the best solutions will be, but it’s clear that the marketing department as a whole is looking and feeling more like a publishing group.”

One inspiring example of this approach that was shared throughout the conference was that of JyskeBank.tv, a television station run by the second largest independent bank in Denmark, or is it a bank with its very own TV station? The lines are blurred but the picture is clear: this radical approach has enabled Jyske to build brand awareness, solidify their reputation, and retain customer loyalty – all on their own platform and through their own voice.

Not every brand can own their own film studio, but a successful content marketing strategy doesn’t need to be so elaborate. Another high profile speaker at CM World was Mark Schaefer, author and marketing consultant. He believes that content marketing success is achieved when you strike a balance between three key elements:

  • Relevant audience
  • Meaningful content
  • Consistent engagement

key-elements-of-content-marketing

Key elements of content marketing success. Source: Mark Schaefer

When all three work together, you are able to generate what he calls “return on influence,” and this is how you create content that moves across the web and ignites action.

Using content effectively

So, you’ve got your content audit and your strategy. The next step is marrying the two.

Industry expert Kevin Cain offered up a highly practical content matrix that could be used when plotting your content against your strategy. As the visual below shows, you’ll need to ensure that each piece of content is reaching your audience at the right stage in the buying process.

pick-content-that-makes-sense-at-each-stage-of-the-buyer-journey

Pick content that makes sense at each stage of the buyer journey. Source Kevin Cain

And there’s more. Not all content is created equally. What is valuable for one customer might be irrelevant for another. So you’ll need to make sure the right person sees the right content on the right platform at the right time. Piece of cake, right?

Mr Cain suggests that you begin with what matters most: your customers.

He recommends you create several different buyer personas outlining their needs, motivators, pain points, concerns, role in the buying process, influencers, and demographics. Identify which factors matter most to a buyer in making the purchase decision, as well as where the buyer is getting stuck in the buying process and why. Once you know this, you’ll know where to step in to help. Or rather, where to appear.

CMI also refers to content marketing as “non-interruption marketing,” which implies that the information needs to appear in the right place at the right time without looking like an obvious sales pitch.

As you can probably imagine, each type of buyer needs a different content strategy, a different message, and a different channel. Your goal in content marketing, as with all effective types of marketing, is to tailor your topic, messaging, and delivery to each of your target audiences’ needs.

And, not only must your content match the person, it also needs to match your brands’ goals and ultimately, increase profits. To achieve this, it’s essential to create multiple opportunities for each type of consumer to engage with your brand as often as possible. From a simple tweet to a brochure request to an enrolment application, driving conversions must remain at the heart of your strategy.

Finally, be sure to set clear goals and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for your content marketing strategy so that you can measure results along the way and adapt your plans accordingly.

Readers looking to dig deeper into content marketing strategies may like to consider CMI’s signature event taking place in Cleveland, Ohio from September 8-11, 2014.



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One thought on “Secrets to a successful content marketing strategy

  1. Very relevant to international education, but some issues that could be added include need for ‘inbound’ marketing strategy vs preferred ‘outbound’ to events, and importance of other language marketing (estimated in Europe 90% search through their mother tongue, even if fluent in English).

    Tourism Australia gets many things right, i.e. understanding that flatter organisational structures and communications across boundaries need to be two way.

    Accordingly, any marketing strategy is impacted by organisational culture e.g. do international recruiters now have the required digital/SEO etc. marketing skills reflected in their job descriptions and all year round strategy (social science or anthropology) vs. ‘distribution of marketing materials’ at one off recruitment events (sales with targets outsourced to agents)?

    Apart from those who prefer or demand many international travel opportunities, everyone should be winners in a well through out marketing strategy, how?

    Evaluating the experience of new starters re. academic and social welfare (before issues emerge), information sources and using feedback for marketing content in their language.

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