Content marketing has been talk of the town, or at least the marketing community, for some time now. It’s little surprise that content (the actual stuff people read) has come to such prominence. For far too long marketing has suffered misrepresentation from those brands who chose to say very little of value, but do so in a highly polished manner.

So, what is content marketing?

Put simply content marketing is the effective use of content to both answer the needs and interests of the target audience and move them towards an end goal (e.g. purchase) set by the content provider. There are two fundamental vectors to consider here:

  • Who the audience is
  • What content is appropriate at each stage of the buying cycle

Both of these vectors warrant a blog in their own right, but here is a short explanation:

Who the audience is

  • What is their role in the purchase process? Are they the sole purchaser or part of a buying team?
  • What stage in the buying cycle are they at? Is this initial awareness, evaluation of options or even a customer who could become an evangelist (handled in the right way), or perhaps a stage in between these?
  • What needs do they have? This determines the sort of content that would provide them VALUE and most likely get engagement from them and perhaps even encourage them to share this
  • How do they like to discover, consume, engage with and share content? This will determine where your content can most effectively be distributed, what type of content it is and how you can encourage viral spread of this across social networks

Mapping content to buying cycle

  • For smaller purchases the buying cycle may be very short. Most people buy small products online after a cursory glance at options in a Google search, perhaps backed up by a glance at reviews and balancing pricing against delivery time, reputation, returns policy and other important factors. Being aware of even these small steps in the buying cycle is important. They can all be influenced to your benefit.
  • With larger purchases there is often a more defined research, evaluation and discussion process. This often involves multiple stakeholders, or at least a key buyer and group of influencers. Mapping the needs of these individuals to content that will answer their questions will go a long way to improving sales conversion.
  • Different content works best at different stages of the buying cycle. For instance, most buyers filter out products and services that don’t meet certain key criteria early on – make sure you know what these criteria are and make sure they punch through your messaging early on; detail can be supplied later on.

A bit about psychology

Beyond all the value of answering customer needs and producing great content that will be shared, there’s a fundamental principle that connects high content engagement with higher brand affinity – people hate to waste time. To explain this better: imagine you’ve just spent 2 weeks reading up on various products and then a new product enters the market, if that product appears only just as good as something you’ve already spent 4 hours researching then you’ll feel more compelled to go with the one you know best. Not to do this would be a waste of the 4 hours research into that product.  This is why so many ‘free trial’ offers are out there – people like to justify any trial or research time as time well spent.

What does this mean? You need content that will keep delivering value to your audience so that they are compelled to spend time reading or engaging with it. The longer you have their attention, the more attached they become. The same (crucially) applies to brand advocacy – you must keep talking to your customers even AFTER they have purchased. The more you can build this relationship, the better the chance of them promoting you to their connections online and offline.

Content marketing and SEO

Google continues to refine its search algorithm to improve how this evaluates content. Google also takes into account how much content is shared across social media, so producing content that will be shared is crucial to a successful content marketing strategy. Recently Google started to penalise websites who produce ‘thin content’ – keyword-rich content that doesn’t go into any great depth, has low engagement from the audience doesn’t change much over time. Consequently websites need to produce more content than ever before to measure up, but content of the quality Google seeks takes time to produce. For this reason businesses are increasingly reliant on third party support – content creation and marketing agencies – to assist with production and distribution of valuable content.

Content for Marketing Automation platforms

Marketo, InfusionSoft, Eloqua, Pardot, ClickDimensions and countless other Marketing Automation platforms have provided a fantastic platform for businesses to deliver content to their audiences. Whether this is a posting of content to websites over time, or sophisticated nurture email programmes to escalate their audience towards a purchase, these systems require a hopper full of content to do this.

The most effective use of a Marketing Automation platform is to marry up the automated distribution of content with a clear map of buying cycle and audience profile. This takes time to develop, which is why many businesses choose to work with an experienced partner to map and develop content to maximise their return on investment already made in a marketing automation system.

What content works best for content marketing?

This question has a thousand answers (at least), but hopefully some of the pointers above will help you define this – across audience types and buying cycle stages. I’ve seen almost every type of content perform well in certain circumstances, and badly in others. I’d love to help you understand what would be the most effective content marketing strategy for your business, so please do get in touch to get help with your content marketing needs.