The Definitive Content Marketing Guide
If you are a business operator or owner and have not been using content marketing to grow your business – it is high time you do it.
You must have seen a ton of content produced by HubSpot and Neil Patel, suggesting how to produce content, how to promote content and how to measure the efficacy of your content. This post is not about how to execute content marketing strategies, but more about a first principle approach to what is content marketing and why it is relevant to your business.
What is Content Marketing?
The first step of excelling in your content marketing efforts starts with defining what is content marketing. According to the Content Marketing Institute,
“Content marketing is the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
Now, let’s break that definition into logical classes:
a. A Strategic Marketing Approach:
Marketing in itself is a strategic function to your business, without which, the entire process of lead generation would become ineffective. Many marketers believe that content marketing is a subset of digital marketing or maybe just another insignificant piece of the entire digital marketing puzzle. The truth is far from that.
Content marketing does not start or end with a blog post or a newsletter. Your content marketing efforts have to sit in tandem with your business strategy. For instance, ask a few starter questions – is your audience making big-ticket purchases that require deliberate decision? Or, are you providing a product or set of services that are new to your target audience?
If your strategy is to get the current batch of products off the shelves and move on to the next one – content marketing may not be the right fit for you. Like all other business strategies, it can take anywhere between a few months to a year for it to show tangible results. One thing, though, is assured – if executed properly, content marketing can give you tremendous RoI.
On the other hand, if you are trying to build market leadership or garner the attention of your target audience or build strong moats for your business that will drive up the value of your company – content marketing can be of immense help. So, your content marketing efforts would directly reflect the growth strategy you are adapting as a business.
b. Creating and Distributing Valuable, Relevant and Consistent Content:
This is exactly the point where most marketers slip. Hence, it calls for a more microscopic explanation.
To get started with understanding this part of the definition, understand this – you have to create and distribute content. So, in order to excel at content marketing, you should be able to produce content. In addition to creating your own content, you can also push content that has been produced by third parties which you are allowed to share. The only caveats with creating and curating content are that you should be distributing the content and that it should add value.
This means, that you cannot put up your content in someone else’s marketing communication channel. It is highly recommended that you put up content through your own communication channels. Why? Because this way you are creating media properties that will keep generating value for you even in the future. In addition to that, your goal to generate opinion leadership in your industry also gets fulfilled when you distribute content using your own communication channels.
The next critical part of the content marketing equation is defining the term – valuable content. Every other part can be debated upon, bent for convenience or might have exceptions; every other part, except the term valuable content. Hence, how you define ‘valuable content’ can make or break your content marketing plans. If you are able to get this part correct, all your content marketing efforts will naturally work out.
Valuable content for your audience would mean everything that adds to their knowledge about your offerings, your industry’s offerings and other ancillary information they need to make their lives better. A simple way of ensuring that you are maintaining the line between content marketing and advertising is simple – content marketing is based on all the pain points your customers have, irrespective of whether your specific products can solve them all or not.
When you focus on content that is solving your customers’ pain points or even pointing them in the right direction, without necessarily serving your own purposes, you are creating valuable content for them. If the content provides value to your customers, it will naturally make them associate your brand with reliability and help you generate brand equity.
The fact that this brand equity eventually translates into business growth can be known from the fact that on the date of publishing this blog (February 2019), HubSpot’s share price had touched $166 apiece from $32 apiece, three years ago. HubSpot is known to have created a lot of content around digital marketing to educate its audience; so much so, that many people in the industry associate HubSpot first as an education platform and then as a software company.
Once you have mapped out the pain points of your target audience and produced content that helps them solve these pain points, your content becomes naturally relevant to them. Now, all you have to do is ensure you are regular with producing your content and you would’ve taken care of the very initial steps necessary for successful content marketing.
c. Attracting and Acquiring a Clearly Defined Audience for Business Purposes:
This, the last part of the definition, is the one where value creation attributable to content marketing goes out of the park.
When you sit down to build a content marketing strategy, you will find a ton of data about your target audience. For instance, let’s suppose that you are an ERP system developing company that helps hedge funds keep a track of their investments. Now, the problems of an every-day hedge fund manager are immense and quite nuanced. You may or may not be able to solve all of them as a technology provider. So, what you start doing is mapping out the most important pain points, like something which is critical to the very existence of their business. Once you have the top three or four pain points, you produce content which helps them get rid of it or at least take a step towards getting rid of it.
In accordance with our example, this can include how they can perform better investment research, hire better portfolio managers, look for better quantitative technology or attend new conferences to meet institutional investors. Just about everything under the sky that will help your target audience have a better life – mould it into an original voice and you are ready to get started with producing content.
When you produce such content, you are bound to attract a relevant audience. The number of visitors to your website may not quadruple overnight because not all traffic on the website is relevant, but there will be an increase in relevant traffic if you produce and promote your content.
The question is – what do you do once the user has reached your website or point of sale and has consumed the pieces of content you produced? This is where creating a user journey comes into the picture. A user journey will help you transcend from attracting traffic to acquiring customers. The next part can actually be streamlined because it is more marketing-centric than knowledge centric.
You now know what are the pain points of your customers; so now you position yourself in the areas where you have your offerings and show them how your products or services solve their problems. You show them how your offerings are different from those available in the market. The sub-conscious advantage you have here is that since you started your interaction with them as a solution provider and not as a salesman, you will have the position of a problem solver or a consultant in their minds and that puts you in the sweet spot of pitching your offerings with grace.
This establishes one critical point about content marketing – no matter how well you try to measure the impact you have created with your content marketing efforts, it will all come down to how much incremental business you have been able to generate because of it. This is where we come to a full circle – content marketing started as an effort that has to be cohesive with your strategy and at the end of it all, it has to perform in terms of generating business, just like your strategy.
Why You Should Care About Content Marketing?
Now that we are on the same page of understanding and defining content marketing, the question arises – why should you care about it?
To answer this question, you simply need to look at what content marketing can do for your business. Content marketing can bring great value to your business by doing the following:
Why You Should Care About Content Marketing?
1. Generating Opinion Leadership in Your Industry.
Do you know what is common between Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, apart from the fact that they created highly influential companies which today have an almost cult-like status? They were opinion leaders for their specific industries.
Warren Buffet became the opinion leader in value investing, a field which was formally promoted by his mentor Benjamin Graham. Steve Jobs became an opinion leader in design and personal computing, which at Apple were led by Jonathan Ive and Steve Wozniak. Elon Musk became an opinion leader in space exploration and electric car industries, even though he was not the first player in these industries.
It is imperative to understand the power wielded by a CEO who is considered to be an opinion leader in the industry. It is a fact that companies who have a CEO operating as an opinion leader in the industry tend to have market leadership irrespective of whether they were the first movers in the industry or not.
Think about it this way, what would you prefer – hiring an influencer who will be of use for a definite period of time or creating an opinion leader within your company who will be an asset till the company lasts? This is why it makes a lot of sense for CEOs of even small businesses to engage in content marketing and become opinion leaders.
2. Creating Original Media Assets and Building Your Own Marketing Channel.
For accounting purposes, all the money you put into content marketing will be expensed since it comes under your marketing expenses. That said, you are actually creating media properties that will keep generating benefits for you in the long run.
Take for instance an example, where you publish a blog about a few trends in your customers’ industry that will change how the industry operates over the next 5 years. Now, at the end of 5 years, someone actually picks up the blog and is able to see its projections meeting reality. A blog you created over half a decade ago, can all of a sudden start generating greater benefits for you. So, although the content you create gets expensed in the same year, it behaves more like a long term asset.
Everyone who has been in the business knows it for a fact – the real power is in the hands of the distributor and not the manufacturer. Creating your own audience takes time, but it surely has a ton of benefits. Many marketers have actually been able to monetize the audience they have created over the years by partnering with other services and creating a bundle of services that become a one-stop solution for their audience.
Once your audience growth starts gaining momentum, you will get to see the network effects – the very phenomenon responsible for driving the growth of Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and even Netflix. Network effects are the added value you start seeing in your direct audience with the incremental growth of members in the audience. Hence, it only makes sense to take your time and build an indigenous marketing channel that caters to a community of users who need and consume your content.
3. Reducing Your Lead Acquisition Costs.
This is simple mathematics at play. Your advertising costs get expensed and used in one year. Once your subscription of the media spot is gone, no user will be able to see your ad and hence your ad will not generate any additional revenue. That said, the blogs, podcasts, e-books and white-papers you produce will stay there and keep generating value years after they have been produced.
According to research published by Oracle, the cost/lead drops by over 80% in the first 5 months of effective content marketing efforts. Over a 2-year period, the same costs can drop to 4% of the lead acquisition costs before the business started its content marketing efforts.
Content marketing is much more than a buzzword – it’s a marketing philosophy built on permission-based marketing that takes a problem-solving approach. The ground reality is that advertising, no matter how creative it gets, still remains an overtly crowded space. The average consumer today is looking at a whole lot of ads and with every ad that is bombarded towards her, she is becoming agnostic to the ad’s messaging. Hence one way or the other, marketers have to think beyond traditional intrusive marketing practices.
Eventually, content marketing positions your business as a consultant to your consumers. Once you become regular with your content marketing efforts, your consumers start turning towards you to find solutions for pretty much all their problems. This trust generated in terms of positioning your business is the biggest asset you can create for the long run and content marketing helps you do exactly that.
What is Content Marketing: It is a strategic marketing approach where valuable content is distributed consistently, such that it helps meet the business goals of growing revenues and profits over the long run.
Why you should care about content marketing:
a. It brings down your lead acquisition costs over the long run.
b. It helps you create media assets and your own communication channel.
c. It helps you garner opinion leadership in your industry, a trait which is common to all market leaders in all major industries.