Originally published on August 19, 2016. Updated on May 19, 2020.
Seth Godin is considered by many as the “godfather of modern marketing,” and back in 2015 he made the bold statement that “content marketing is the only marketing left.” By this, he meant that marketers should create content their audience genuinely cares about and wants to consume, instead of creating content that contains only thinly-veiled and re-purposes advertisements.
In the years following the release of his first book, Permission Marketing, the marketing industry has changed significantly. In fact, the communications revolution that followed the internet (and more specifically, the smartphone) is quite possibly the biggest change since the invention of the printing press, because the modern marketing environment has essentially required us all to throw the rule book out the window and start inventing new ways to connect brands with people.
We’ve moved away from traditional advertising methods, which placed attention-grabbing brand messages in front of the public. Instead, we’re utilizing the philosophy of inbound marketing to squeeze the maximum value from our budgets, ensuring the right people can find us when they need us. It’s flipped the brand/customer relationships on its head, and it’s a good thing for both sides.
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How content marketing works
Content marketing requires brands and media agencies to act more like publishers than advertisers. Internet culture encourages users to share quality content, from humorous memes to informative blog posts and interesting videos. Basically, “quality content” means content that will add value to someone’s day and evoke some sort of positive reaction or response, such as a like or a comment.
It’s all about giving the public things they want to consume, and introducing your brand in a helpful way that makes it clear it will add value to your customer’s life. When content marketing is done right, followers become fans and even promoters of your brand because you have provided something they want and need. Content marketing leverages the words we use in online searches (SEO) to get responses (engagement) and drive action (conversions). It means you can’t just sell. You have to engage in conversations, share helpful information, and develop a brand personality.
Best practice is constantly evolving as content marketing becomes more sophisticated.
Read more: How to develop a content marketing strategy
Developing a content marketing strategy
There are lots of different ways brands can use content to connect with customers. The key is to remember you’re not here to sell; you’re here to help answer a question or solve a problem. Keep this in mind as you’re developing content to ensure it’s attention-grabbing and engaging for all the right reasons. That will open the possibility for each reader to enter the path to purchase.
There is no escaping the fact that video marketing is the most popular form of content marketing around today and it will only continue to grow. There are lots of different forms, including livestreams (such as Facebook or Instagram lives), pre-recorded video (polished content for YouTube or Facebook) and real-time video (such as Facebook or Instagram stories, SnapChat or TikTok).
You’ll need a content marketing strategy specific to each platform, because they’re all favored by different audiences. Facebook might resonate with a middle-aged audience, for example, while TikTok is a great way to make an impact on people aged 18-30. YouTube is the perfect platform for beautifully-produced videos, while shorter conversational-style clips are great for IGTV.
The key is to make sure you plan your video ahead of time. Make sure you’re 100% clear on what you’re trying to communicate and how long it should take so you your message isn’t drowned in a rambling stream of consciousness. Think about the basics, like sound and lighting, to make sure people can hear and see you, and shoot a few takes so you can choose the best one to post.
Read more: Here’s why video marketing is so important
The traditional newsletters we used to get in the mail, with those goofy little circle tabs (remember those?) have evolved email marketing blasts. Some brands still treat marketing emails like the newsletters of old, and pack them with as much information as possible, but there is definitely a better way. Take it as an opportunity to wow them, to maximize the chance of engagement.
Marketing e-mails have to contend with a lot of other mail, and you want people to look forward to getting yours. Make it boring or annoying, and you risk being relegated to the spam folder! Use interesting images, incorporate engaging videos, and make it personable. They want to connect with a person, not a corporate machine, and they want to read things relevant to their experience.
Keep the text to a minimum, with clear subheadings that make information skimmable, and always include a link to a landing page where people can go to find more information.
Social media marketing
It seems like there is a new social media channel popping up every other week. The weirder the name, the better (we’re looking at you, TikTok). Some are a flash in the pan, like Periscope, while others have become juggernauts, like Facebook). You don’t need to be active on every single social platform. In fact, it’s better to nail your strategy on one than maintain a mediocre presence on all, because a strategy that drives genuine awareness and engagement will make a much bigger impact on your sales funnel than a few posts a week that only your mother and grandmother bother to like.
When it comes to social media, it’s important to remember that people are likely engaging with you in their spare time. They might be on the bus on the way to work, eating a packet of chips on a break, scrolling through their news feed on the couch after dinner, or (God forbid) in the bathroom. No-one wants to be sold to in those contexts, so it’s important to keep your messaging, well, social.
Create original, short-form content with strong visuals to maximize engagement. Make sure you respond to every question and comment to make the audience feel good about engaging with you. The key is to be consistent and to focus on content that is helpful, interesting and full of personality.
Google is always looking for fresh content, which means you need to constantly update your website with new information. The best way to do this is with blogs, as they’re very SEO-friendly and can be easily shared across other platforms, such as social media, to encourage discussion.
Blogs are essentially articles, typically 600-2,000 words in length, that discuss an issue relevant to your business. For example, you could answer frequently asked questions, address common issues that come up in sales discussions, talk about new products or services, provide an opinion about something that’s happening in the industry, introduce your team members, or educate the public.
They often provide the first port of entry for a new person coming across your brand, so it’s important to ensure they’re high quality (hello, spell check) and that they reflect your brand’s personality. Make them interesting and informative, and don’t be afraid to have a little bit of fun with the tone and style. They’re a great way to make a good impression on each person who clicks through to read.
You may find that blogs are enough to make people engage with you and take the first step on the path to purchase, whether that’s signing up for a special offer, scheduling a free consultation, or contacting you with a question. Whenever given the choice, we will tend to do business with those that we know, like and trust. When prospects can feel a connection to your business, your brand, they are more likely to call you when they are ready to buy. Keep that in mind as you write.
Of course, the content on your website is just as important as the content you release on the internet in the form of videos, emails, social media and blogs. It’s important to tune-up your website every 2-3 years to ensure all the content is up-to-date and that your pages work as they should. There’s no point doing all the hard work to draw someone into your digital ecosystem if they click on a broken link!
It’s important to make sure every page on your website is clear, well-organized and helpful. People won’t spend a lot of time looking around to find the answers they need (at least, not on their first visit), so you need to optimize it and make everything as easy as possible for them. Use text, images and videos to your advantage so it’s clear exactly who you are and what you offer.
One of the most important pages is the “about us” section. People want to do business with people, and often this is the most-visited page on business websites. Trust is important, so use this page to your advantage and make sure your customers are invested in your brand story.
It’s also important to ensure you have dedicated landing pages for all products and services you’re looking to promote. These pages will ensure people’s questions are answered the instant the page loads, which will position your brand as being helpful and friendly, and it will make it clear what the next steps are to doing business with you. It’s a good opportunity to ask for information, such as an email address, so you can provide something of value and take the relationship to the next level.
Content marketing can revolutionize your marketing efforts. We’d love to help.
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