It’s time to integrate your content (the basis of your entire content marketing strategy) within your inbound marketing tactics.
Generating content is of course. the key activity within the whole strategy.
The foundation of the whole cycle is having information and material which provides your target customers with value.
Once you have a proper strategy to create valuable content you need to reach customers and promote your content.
The content marketing cycle is therefore subdivided into phases and each phase is crucial, presents different challenges and requires different skills and know-how.
Here’s a schematic view of an extended content marketing cycle:
This stage is essential in order to set the stage for the entire content marketing strategy.
We need in fact to limit the amount of guesswork involved in the creation phase.
We don’t need to try and foresee needs and interests of our leads and prospects: we have to utilize proper tools in order to systematically define the kind of content our audience wants to find on our site.
Initially, the priority is to create proper buyers personas.
The more you know your audience, the more likely we are to be able to address our prospects directly.
This way, we’ll be able to understand what kind of content we need to implement in our blog and in other publications.
There are a few things we can do to simplify the process of finding out what content would be viable to our prospects:
- Interview existing or prospect customers (maybe offering them some tailored service or content in exchange or rewarding them with discounts, special products or giveaways)
- Thoroughly check questions and comments brought forward by target group (on own site, emails, on social media, our blog, Q&A sites like Quora or Yahoo answers…)
- Participate in forums and online communities
- Social Media Listening: filter comments on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin Groups or G+ communities by selecting your specific niche and by limiting search to questions
- Target extremely active users on social media or online communities and ask to talk to them directly
- Launch surveys. Design them to be entertaining and informative at the same time. Connect them to a specific reward or sweepstake
- Access data and statistics collected by other websites. Look for infographics or slideshows which sum up needs and pains of your target group. Search for government data or marketing data which define your target group. If necessary, access premium information by acquiring data or by commissioning a proper market research
- Subscribe news sites connected to your field of business, blog newsletters, competitors’ websites
- Check the content of other companies involved in your product/service marketing cycle
- Google or Quora alerts will also help you identify questions in your sector and promptly help you come up with new content while also offering the opportunity to address new prospects
- Check what content already proved to be effective in the past by using a website like Buzzsumo (keep in mind that simply rephrasing existing content will not actually help you that much. You can use this data to define areas and topics which are particularly relevant, but then you need to come up with original content)
- Check blog posts which are particularly popular in your industry: use aggregators and social bookmark sites like dig, Tumblr, Mashable, Flipboard, Feedly, Alltop, Klout, Triberr, Scoop.it,Reddit, Pinterest…again: use these resources to identify issues you can address, but then try to publish unique content on the topic
Required skills and know-how: analytical skills, ability to work with statistics and big data
2. Plan Strategy
After analyzing the needs and pains of our target group and creating a proper profile we should be able to come up with a long list of topics which can help us:
-Define categories for our future content (all the potential subjects we need to cover and questions we need to address with our content)
-Create a keyword strategy for SEO (specific words and sentences which can be included in our content in order to have a higher chance to be reached by customers through organic search)
Finally, then, it’s time to create a proper content publishing strategy.
We’ve already established that having a blog on your site is pretty much mandatory.
That’s the hub you can use to connect all the sources of content.
But then we also need to decide:
a) How often we’re going to update the content we present
b) What other sources of content we want to include in our strategy
Now that we know what kind of content we want to distribute, it’s vital to create a proper publishing calendar.
Eventually, we also need to create a social media calendar in connection to our publishing calendar for promoting our content to the right audience.
And in order to do that we must make sure that we know:
- Where our prospects hang around
- What social media we can use to reach them
- What messages we need to create to lead people to our content
- What time are our prospects online
- How often we need to publish our invitation (on the day we create the content and on successive dates: following day, following week, following month)
- What continent can be considered “classic”: this content is not connected to a specific event or contingent situation and can, therefore, be “recycled” and promoted at different points in time (maybe with small tweaks and updates)
Required skills: know-how connected to inbound marketing, social media marketing, and SEO.
3. Content Creation
So far, we’ve established:
-Who our target audience is, what they value and what they’d like to know
-What kind of material we need to create to address our audience (topics and sources of content)
-How often and when we need to publish posts on our blog and create other sorts of content
-What kind of keywords and key phrases will be included in our publications
-What media we’re going to use to promote our content
-When, how often and how we intend to promote our content
Now it’s time to concentrate on the most important component: creating the content itself.
Defining and planning a proper strategy is the key to succeeding. But a great strategy is pretty much useless if the content we intend to publish and promote doesn’t reflect the level of quality that our prospects expect.
There are different ways to produce content:
- Hire a team of writers who constantly generate content for you
- Work with an external content marketing agency which takes care of the whole strategy for you
- Work with freelancers
- Appoint an internal unit to write content in their “free time”
- Purchase exclusive, ready to download and publish content
All these solutions have advantages and disadvantages in the form of overhead, transaction or agency costs, risks, effectiveness and lead time.
Even though content marketing is somewhat cheaper than other marketing tactics (considering the huge return on investment,) it is necessary to invest a proper amount of money in the strategy in order to succeed.
If you are self-employed, a solo-entrepreneur or a small business owner, you might be tempted to work on content creation yourself.
However, it is reasonable to think that at some point you’ll be facing one or both of these issues:
-You are not capable of creating content that actually attracts and converts (creating content requires a long series of skills which include writing, storytelling, copywriting, SEO, planning…)
-You don’t have time to create content regularly (being inconsistent is as bad as not creating content at all)
Even though this marketing tactic is extremely effective and more convenient in comparison with other marketing approaches, the generation of content still requires:
Capacity (time and dedication)
Budget (for creation and promotion)
Hiring a team of content writers or working with a content marketing agency is simply awesome.
That guarantees for specificity, quality, consistency, and abundance.
But this approach also offers specific problems mostly connected to allocating a considerable portion of your marketing budget for this purpose and the fact that you’re going to face some sort of commitment.
Appointing internal resources for generating content on a more or less regular basis is usually regarded as dangerous even if this tactic often offers some great advantages.
The key advantage is that nobody knows our industry and company better than our internal resources.
They know all the issues connected to the business field we operate in, they know the customers and know our company, its policy, and personality. They truly are the voice of our firm.
The issue here is twofold. On the one hand, occupying internal units with content generation leads to incredibly high opportunity costs and efficiency problems connected to reduced capacity, limited utilization for operational/administrative activities and diminished focus on day-to-day business activities and core activities.
On the other hand, it is clear that, in order to be effective, the content marketing flow has to be constant, consistent and regularly published.
In periods in which business activities require more attention and time, it is plausible to think that the generation of content would give pace to core duties, hence limiting the effectiveness of all previous and future efforts within the scope of our inbound marketing strategy.
Working with freelancers can be a viable substitute strategy because we can appoint the right person at the right time and negotiate terms and conditions.
Whereas large companies can afford teams of content writers and editors, small and medium-sized businesses might need to reduce fixed costs and level of commitment and therefore, might be better off by outsourcing content creation to excellent external writers.
It is important to define who these writers are and make sure that they have the right skills to create proper content for our sites.
And selecting the proper resources can be time-consuming.
Sometimes, cooperation which starts on a freelance basis can also develop into employment as it often happened with SMBs which continuously worked with excellent writers and then felt the need to employ them.
Of course, you have to invest some time to research and evaluate the content you want to publish and you also need to make sure that the content you purchase reflects your corporate identity, knowing that no piece of content will probably perfectly match your own voice…but the rewards in terms of time, quality and convenience are certainly higher than the potential drawbacks.
Required skills and knowledge to choose proper content: Being aware of our buyer personas, of our corporate identity (the content we publish must reflect the personality of the company,) keywords and sentences connected to our specific industry.
Once we created the content we need to attract potential leads, we need to publish it on our website.
It doesn’t matter if it’s just a blog post a white paper, a podcast, a webinar or a whole how-to book:
We have to create a proper spot on our site to make sure that both our existing or prospect customers and search engines find the information we’re willing to dispatch.
We need to create a proper blog which complies with specific requirements and expectations where we can publish new articles.
As mentioned, our blog can be the hub which we can use not only to communicate with our audience but also to integrate other forms of content.
We must create proper call to actions which redirect customers to other publications and information (our offer, our “about” page, other content…)
In addition, we might also need to create proper squeeze pages where we can offer our support and know-how by collecting important email addresses of potential customers and partners.
Required skills: knowledge connected to email marketing, copywriting, being able to create effective landing pages
Now that the content is online we need to invite people to view or download it.
During our planning phase, we already established what channels and media we’re going to use and what our timing will be.
It is now time to create proper messages and targeted shootouts through emails, social media, social bookmarking sites, communities and forums, aggregation sites, other blogs and all the other promotional channels we’ve defined as essential for reaching our target group.
Promoting content can be done with a mix of paid (PPC strategies on search engines and/or on social media) and free tactics and the main idea is to be as selective as possible with the audience we choose.
A content promotion strategy that seems to be very effective is influencer marketing.
You can use for example a tool like ninjaoutreach to find influencers and automate outreach.
Advertising costs money and time.
Addressing the wrong people is a complete waste of resources.
Our promotion needs to be as focused as possible, in order to be effective.
The main rule is: if they’re interested, they’ll listen.
If you talk to the wrong audience or if you deliver the wrong message to the right audience, chances are that all your efforts will be useless.
Required skills and know-how: advertising, copywriting, social media marketing, PPC tactics connected to keywords and selected target group
Now that we finally planned, designed, published and promoted the content we hope that the whole strategy helped us attract a considerable amount of quality traffic to our website.
Content marketing is particularly efficient because from step one we went on and on filtering our audience.
The data we work with is extremely granular and we refined our inbound strategy in terms of target audience, content, and channels.
By adopting a proper content marketing strategy, we should be able to address and attract quality clicks: Real leads.
But once we managed to attract leads, the next step involves creating proper tools to make sure that they move along the sales funnel.
We have to create interest and desire so that happy leads (who are satisfied with the free information they could access) decide to know more about us and maybe move one step closer to our product.
Content marketing offers a pleasant secondary effect: It allows us to show our competence and know-how in a specific sector. And this, in turn, increases the level of trust.
We need to foster this trust by creating proper calls to action (trying to engage customers for a little longer and allowing them to explore the rest of our website,) offering extensive amount of information about our company and products and increase the level of perceived reliability by presenting some social proof (amount of followers, fans, likes and so on) and testimonials (people tend to follow influencers and peers.)
By offering the right amount of information and proving our competence and social reliability we should be able to lead prospects to contact us or keep in touch with us by subscribing our newsletter or even sending us an inquiry.
Required skills: marketing, copywriting, social media marketing, sales
Once we get the ball rolling, our content marketing machine should work properly and follow the deadlines implemented in our calendar and the strategy designed in the planning phase.
There are several parameters involved in the whole process which include data regarding our target audience, participation, and engagement, number of clicks we acquire organically, through paid tactics or through social media, bounce rate (people who leave our landing page immediately because they were not interested in the content,) number of times our content is spontaneously shared by our users, referral rate, viral spread, click through rate, conversion rate…
And there are therefore many things that can go wrong with your inbound marketing strategy.
Since the whole topic is so vast, we’re going to dedicate a separate post to this matter and we’re also going to try and present some of the great tools which can be implemented in order to analyze the return on investment of our content marketing strategy.
As basically any other marketing strategy, our inbound marketing strategies are not static plans that can be simply designed and implemented and then simply forgotten.
They need constant analysis and rework.
By accessing the proper analytics and by working with direct feedback from our audience, we can immediately see what works and what doesn’t.
The key factors here are:
-Time (Rome wasn’t built in a day)
There are many portions of the whole marketing plan which can be designed in advance.
But there also are a myriad of assumptions which require some testing and trial and error processes.
Planning should give us the opportunity to create a proper framework for the whole strategy and analysis and monitoring activities will allow us to redefine and adapt our strategy to the continuously changing environment.
Your company changes over time, your audience grows and evolves, the environment in which you work faces changes as well as the tools and media you can utilize…
Information and adaptation are essential to make sure that proven strategies keep on working effectively and that inefficient tactics are replaced by a more suitable approach.
Plan, design, create, publish, promote, convert, monitor, adjust and leave room for experimentation!
Your content marketing strategy should always be a mix of safe tactics and more innovative tactics which can flop but which can also pay off exponentially!