Working on a successful content marketing strategy requires lots of discipline, time, and resources.
No wonder why many entrepreneurs ask themselves if the strategy is actually worth all the efforts.
The inbound marketing process is complex and involves many different steps and skills.
A great social media ad or a well-thought PPC search engine strategy designed to promote your product or service will immediately drive lots of traffic to your site and it’s relatively easy to assess the results by looking at the amount of traffic that is suddenly redirected to your landing page.
With your content marketing strategy, things seem to work a little bit more slowly.
You need to create great content that attracts traffic to your blog and then, you need to develop a strong call to action that, in turn, brings leads and prospects to premium content, which you also need to design and create.
At that point, you’ll have the opportunity to communicate with your potential customers through direct emails or your newsletter.
You need to attract their attention and gain their trust maybe by offering additional content and/or free services.
Finally, after establishing a strong relationship with your audience, you can try and introduce a light version of your product or service, offer a sample or a free trial.
Potential clients will be able to evaluate all the benefits and weigh up all the risks connected to your offer and once they experience actual results, they’ll most likely come back and ask for more.
The entire inbound marketing process seems to be a waste of time and resources.
It’s normal to think that this kind of strategy only leads you to postpone sales and delaying potential revenue streams.
On top of this delay, you’ll see that the number of leads moving on through the funnel will drastically decrease at each step.
If the entire process seems frustrating and you sometimes have doubts on how effective this strategy is…well, you’re definitely not alone.
But before taking any decisions, let me show you why the majority of marketers out there still believe that content marketing is the best way to acquire great customers.
Content marketing is a marathon worth running
If you only aim at generating lots of temporary traffic in order to inform people of a new specific offer, you can be sure that paid advertising will help you create a big amount of immediate buzz. This works extremely well when introducing a new product line or a seasonal promotion.
Successful businesses, though, think about sustainability!
Creative guerilla campaigns or classic promotion may have a huge temporary effect, but people are constantly exposed to great promotional messages.
The novelty effect is destined to fade out.
The speed at which the noise generated by a good campaign vanishes is constantly increasing due to the staggering amount of inputs and messages your target group has to deal with.
In the past, a creative campaign might have worked incredibly well for both generating awareness and linking your brand to a specific product or service.
People would then remember you and your product for quite a long time.
Your brand would then be memorable and become a part of the recollection set of companies in the sector in which you operate.
Nowadays, there are a lot more players in the market and a lot more remarkable campaigns. It is extremely difficult to generate interest and attention, and it’s even more difficult to be memorable.
The effects of your outbound strategy can be incredibly promising, but you have to face the fact that the whole mechanism is recursive. Once the buzz is over, you need to top your efforts with an even better campaign.
Your content marketing strategy is not meant to generate a temporary fad.
If you want to measure the effects of your inbound marketing, you need to think in the long run.
Working on great content is like preparing for a marathon.
It takes time, but the effect is long-lasting.
Your ad campaigns will mostly be forgotten after a while.
Your content is there to stay.
And that generates a constant flow of traffic to your site that is not going to stop once you run out of funds for your outbound campaign.
Targeted traffic at the right time
Classic advertising can be extremely expensive, but it allows you to address a huge amount of people.
If the promotional message is extremely focused and you can choose the right channels, you can be fairly sure that your target group will be exposed to your campaign.
But most of the outlets for classic advertising aren’t that focused.
You’ll interrupt people with a message that may or may not be interesting for them.
As a typical example, you can take classic commercials.
You’re watching your favourite show (either online or on TV) and suddenly, a promotional message interrupts the fun.
Advertisers need to make an educated guess about the audience using old school data based on segmentation, demographics, and statistical analysis.
But, since this data is not particularly granular, the audience they’re addressing is way more heterogenic than they would wish for and only a small portion of people who are exposed to the message can actually be considered potential leads.
The fact that your favourite show has been interrupted at the most thrilling moment can be frustrating, but the effect is even greater if the message that is broadcasted is not even for you.
This doesn’t really have a positive effect on the brand.
Imagine you’re single and you love convertible cars.
You’re watching a crime story (online or on TV) and right when the best part is coming, a car company interrupts the show to present their new 7-seater.
Not only did they break the suspense created by the director, but you have to sit there and listen to a message which was created for somebody else.
And the whole thing can even be worse.
A couple of years later you get married and you have twins (congratulations btw!)
Now you realize that your convertible is totally useless when you need to travel with your family.
You need now to purchase a mini-van or an SUV.
Will the fact that a specific company bothered you with their unsolicited messages affect your decision-making process?
It might actually happen that repetitive and not-targeted messages create negative brand associations.
Addressing the wrong target group at the wrong time can have a bad effect on brand perception.
That doesn’t absolutely mean that classic outbound marketing is useless or even detrimental in general.
Classic advertising can reach a huge audience and quickly generate awareness for mainstream products.
What I want to emphasize here, is the fact that content marketing allows your target group to come to you directly.
Through searches and social media, people who are actually interested in the information you share are more than happy to spontaneously come to your site at the most convenient time.
The traffic is a lot more targeted because good content is designed to be interesting for an extremely focused audience.
Additionally, people will access the information you share whenever they want.
You don’t need to push any message that interrupts other activities. Real leads (whose pains and needs are addressed by your content) will pick the right time and the right information.
Your content marketing strategy can create a personal dialogue with your specific reader persona.
You’re not presenting a product or a solution….you’re just providing free information accessible at any time!
At this point, not only will the audience be a lot more selected, but it is clear that with your content, you’re providing a free and useful service.
People tend to reciprocate.
And reciprocity is the fact that we are more willing to listen to and work with people who did something nice for us.
That’s one of the reasons why, statistically, inbound marketing generates customers who are more loyal and more prone to repeat purchases.
Your brand perception will profit from all these effects and through your content marketing strategy, you’ll offer real value for the perfect target group.
In turn, your audience will be thankful and willing to create a long-term relationship with you.
A higher conversion rate
It’s true…at each stage you’ll lose a portion of your audience.
But the people who stay are the people who really care.
And these people are your actual leads.
Outbound strategies will reach a lot of people in a short time.
A tiny portion of these people will resemble your ideal target group.
And a percentage of this portion will feel the need to look up more information about your product and again, a very small fraction of those will actually be interested in committing at that specific moment.
With content marketing, you’re pretty sure that the people who are interested in your content are also the people who would profit from your product or service.
You can skip the first dramatic trim that occurs with classic outbound marketing.
Now you can address your target group directly and a considerable portion of these leads will end up becoming trustworthy partners.
The conversion rate is therefore much higher in the long run.
Reach customers at an earlier stage
You can reach a lead at different stages of their decision-making process.
Your lead can be totally unaware of a need or (on the other side of the spectrum) they already committed to their decision and they’re looking for information to confirm their choice.
In between these two extremes, there are plenty of other steps.
Potential clients might be aware of a need but don’t know about existing solutions.
They might be already collecting information or comparing solutions….
Going back to our car example.
The problem is that, even if I really like your 7-seater, maybe it is not the right time for me to buy a car.
This means that, mostly, people will be responsive to your ad campaigns only if they already have a specific need and are in the process of looking for information.
Sure, there are great campaigns designed to interact with potential customers at earlier stages of the purchase cycle.
But the main idea is that prospects have to actively take action and interact with your brand because of your product.
That costs time.
Hence, if there’s no real, contingent benefit, the prospect will not be willing to invest resources for a potential future purchase.
With content marketing, you can address leads at a much earlier stage.
People are attracted by information which is valuable and useful.
Therefore, even if there is no immediate beneficial effect connected to your product or service, they’ll be more than happy to continue a dialogue with your brand in order to receive help and support.
When it comes to content marketing, the cost of taking action is much lower than the immediate benefits.
You can start a relationship with your prospects at a very initial stage, even if they’re absolutely not ready to commit and even beat your competitors by being faster.
Over time, things will change.
And when your clients face a particular challenge connected to your area of expertise, they’ll already be familiar with your brand and will be a lot more likely to look for you searching for actual solutions.
Huge scope of action: Inbound doesn’t necessarily involve content
Information is not the only way you can offer value to customers.
Great customer service and after sales operations are great examples of classic marketing.
But the same strategy can be used to attract potential customers to your product or services with apt inbound tactics.
Let me give you two real-life examples of local inbound marketing strategies which I particularly like.
There’s a bike store in Portsmouth that sells premium quality city bikes.
The location is perfect.
Lots of people who live and also work in this area are kind of wealthy and most of them understand that cycling is the fastest way to move around the city centre.
They attract customers with classic advertising (local billboards, radio commercials and so on.)
But they didn’t stop there.
In order to start a relationship with the locals, they placed a “first aid” station for bicycles outside of their store.
If you need to inflate your tires or tighten some bolts, nuts or screws, grease your chain, adjust your handlebar while on your way to work, you can stop there and use their pump and tools for free.
The people who stop there are leads (people who like to bike and live in the right area) but they’re probably not ready to buy a new bike at that moment.
However, sooner or later, their current bike will become boring (especially by looking at all the great modern bikes in the display window of the store) and when that time comes, they’ll be a lot more likely to go back to that very store and purchase a brand new, premium electric two-wheeler!
Another example of service used to establish a relationship with potential future customers that I like is the strategy of a particular US bank whose focus is deposit accounts.
Their target group is obviously made of wealthy people who are willing to invest money.
What this bank did, was offering a free checking account to selected university students.
We all know that banks have lots of admin costs connected to checking accounts and that they can generate profit only through cross-selling and up-selling.
By offering a free checking account to students (who usually don’t have much money) the bank invested in the future.
The students they chose were selected based on the university they attended and on their major.
Statistically, a large portion of this segment will become entrepreneurs and executives.
And when these students turn into wealthy managers, they’ll already be familiar with that bank and will trust them, when being offered new investment products.
In a way, inbound marketing is a general way to describe the free value that you can offer to your potential customers at an early stage of the decision-making process.
Content marketing works with information (articles, books, charts, presentations, videos, webinars…) but your inbound marketing strategy can include a lot more free valuable services.
You can offer free plugins, templates, apps, data, spreadsheets, resources, bandwidth, accounts, consulting…if you offer value, you’ll be remembered!
Networking through blogging
Your blog is not an isolated island in an ocean of information.
By blogging and sharing content, you participate in a global ongoing dialogue with tons of other companies and individuals whose posts partially overlap with yours.
By linking your content to external sources, you create bridges which can lead to actual interaction with other participants in the cycle.
You can add your ideas, virtually continue an article which appears somewhere else, add comments, quote, and interact with all the other players in the market.
Your content becomes a useful way to reach out and get in touch with potential partners, ambassadors and collaborators.
In turn, by presenting your take on a topic, you may be praised and cited by people who are on the same wavelength.
This will allow your content to reach a whole new audience and will reinforce your role in the industry.
By sharing your knowledge, you’ll be able to show your competence and prove your authority in a particular niche.
With a sales pitch, you can try to convince me of the advantages of your product. But I don’t know anything about you.
When we commit, we need to know that we can trust the other party.
We need some proxies to decide whether or not we can trust somebody.
We recognize an expert when they speak at every conference, are always requested to give interviews on a topic, have hundreds of testimonials on their site, they have a huge amount of followers on social media, their name is always connected to a specific topic or when other influencers mention them as a reference for that niche.
But when you start your career, launch a new product or operate in a smaller market, you’re likely to be lacking such signals.
You need to prove your integrity and competence by presenting your know-how through impeccable content.
Your blog, your free ebooks, and white papers will attract the attention of the first potential customers.
Later on, you’ll be able to build upon such trust and include more signals.
We sometimes tend to be scared of sharing information for free.
All in all, our expertise is the only thing that differentiates us from our competitors.
However, in the long run, the strategy will be a lot more rewarding than risky!
Your personal dialogue with customers
Your articles, your publications and all the content you offer can be aggregated and presented through your blog.
You can create great landing pages where you present your services and collect customers.
But the best part of your site, the part that will actually work for you is your blog.
You have the opportunity to present your ideas, your thoughts and the personality of your brand.
You can establish a dialogue with your audience, ask questions and interact with their comments, collect feedback and adjust your product accordingly or create better content based on the response of your audience.
In the digital era, you might think that people are used to interacting with corporate robots.
But the current environment actually shows the opposite trend. In this day and age, we need to be sure that we’re interacting with real people who can actually understand our needs.
Our decision-making process is still based on emotions.
Your customers need to know that they’re not interacting only with a robot, a site or an algorithm.
Your blog will help you show your human side and connect with leads and prospect personally.
In the past, we used to have a face to face relationship with all the people who used to provide a service to us.
Now we only interact with digital interfaces to buy products, pay bills, solve problems, book tickets and much more.
We don’t need to physically go to a person or a local store: we can access products or services which are offered by companies located thousands of miles away from us.
The lack of face to face communication creates uncertainty and mistrust.
By sharing what you know and who you are, you can show the human side of your digital corporation!
SEO and ranking
If you want to create value and trust, the main audience for your content needs to be people.
Nonetheless, if you design your content properly, you can also show search engines that you’re a trustworthy source of information on a specific topic.
Creating sterile content with the sole purpose of improving your rankings will defuse all the positive effects we’ve mentioned so far.
But you can always find a way to present natural content whose structure is also understandable for search engines.
So, while attracting clients who are interested in the information you share, search engines will understand what your area of expertise is and will reward you by leading even more people to your site.
SEO is a byproduct of your content marketing strategy which will amplify your content and work as a free advertising channel.
Costs and ROI
Reaching a very large amount of people through classic advertising can have a huge impact on your brand awareness and on your bottom line.
However, if you operate a startup or a small business, you know how expensive it is to reach such a large crowd.
Excellent ad campaigns will certainly help you gain credibility and signal a stable situation, but initially, it is almost impossible to collect funds to sponsor renowned events or launch a prime-time TV commercial.
Content marketing is not free.
First of all, you need to generate content.
Then you need to invest time to present it through proper channels.
Additionally, you’ll have to constantly plan, monitor and adjust the whole strategy.
But considering all the benefits, the initial costs are way lower in comparison with classic advertising and the effects are long-lasting.
Your inbound marketing strategy can be a great source of traffic and the greatest opportunity to attract loyal customers and the ROI is extremely high compared to all the alternative solutions.
Opportunity to work with great partners
The only problem is that your content marketing strategy involves several areas of competence and skills.
-Analysis and planning
-Conversion rate optimization (through proper call to actions and landing pages)
-Communication skills (newsletters, email marketing…)
If you run a startup or small business, you probably won’t have all the capabilities required to be able to design and carry out a complete inbound marketing strategy.
Therefore, it is essential that you break down the whole cycle into portions and that you subcontract some of the tasks to specialists. Call us!