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Content marketing is not for everyone: How to approach it systematically

10 minutes of reading time
Andrej Salner
Senior konzultant
Are you considering using content marketing? If so, you will have to deal with a few challenges that others who use content marketing usually face. I'll show you how to prioritize between different forms of content and get results as soon as possible.

This article presents an expanded version of the presentation that I gave at the Content Marketing Night on April 23, 2019 (you can buy the video here). Thank you to Connect Coworking for the invitation and to the audience for the great questions that helped me come up with the topic.

Content marketing is being used by more and more companies in Slovakia – they produce content themselves (inhouse), with external assistance (the client is regularly visited by a PR or content specialist) or they have it prepared “turnkey”.

You can easily find low-cost freelancers who produce dozens of “articles” a year for you on any topic for a few euros a page – for example on the micro-portal or on marketing groups on Facebook. It’s just as easy to find opportunities to publish them on relatively  high-quality websites (and many webmasters are happy to prepare content for you).

It looks like the fulfillment of the dystopian vision of “content shock” formulated by Mark Schaeffer. The author of the book “The Content Code” from 2015 warned that with the ease of publishing on the Internet (as opposed to the complexity and cost of publishing in print), the amount of content published outperforms people’s capacity to consume it.

This means that the market places much higher demands on effective content marketing. Your content needs to be better than others in your area. At the same time, you need to invest your limited human and financial resources in the content marketing activities that drive business results the most.

If you expect a return on investment in content marketing and you want to be able to prove it in front of colleagues, you need to set your content marketing priorities correctly.

Is content marketing a tactic suitable for you?

The leading authority on the subject, the Content Marketing Institute, defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach aimed at creating and disseminating valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience and ultimately lead to profitable customer behavior.”

The first point on your checklist should be the question of whether to invest in content marketing at all. This is a tactic that is not a mandatory part of an effective marketing strategy for all companies. For some,  marketing by spreading content to potential customers does not suit in terms of capacity, capabilities or positioning.

You have to engage in content marketing if you can finance the creation of a broader content package (by investing time, internal capacity or the capacity of subcontractors).

Quality content can almost never be delivered on a turnkey basis by someone outside without your ongoing support. Content requires some insight from you – insight into customer needs or problems. Obtaining it through customer research is expensive and even among the largest companies in Slovakia, it is rare to continuously carry out broader customer research (a combination of qualitative and quantitative, which is a duo necessary for long-term detection and understanding of customers).

The basics of your content strategy

So if you find that you want and can make content on topics of interest to your customers, you need to clarify your content marketing priorities. Content marketing offers extensive possibilities: it can be applied in every step of the customer journey and we have to choose from dozens of formats.

1. It pays to create content along the customer’s path

For most companies, content used in content marketing is just one of the marketing activities that reaches their potential customers. The content should therefore be aligned with other activities along the so-called customer path.

In the practice of a larger company, this means that when planning content marketing, not only the people responsible for marketing communication or marketing should be involved, but also the people responsible for the product and business.

For a smaller company or project, this requires at least a well-thought-out customer journey. Just choose one of the similarly thought-out models of the customer journey or marketing funnel, for example:

  • SEE – THINK – DO – CARE from the Google environment, which we often use in the digital marketing industry
  • Classic A-I-D-A from marketing textbooks
  • Levels of Awareness according to Eugene Schwartz, author of the book Breakthrough Advertising from the 50s, who named five phases (in Czech it is well-edited by UXák Ondřej Ilincev)
  • Another ad hoc path tailored to your customers (for example, the customer path model in digital marketing in healthcare from the Basta digital workshop).

Consider in which part of the customer journey you have the largest current reserves, and deal with those first.

Do you feel that your problem is that too few potential customers are considering your solution? Schedule new content in the SEE / Attention / Awareness / Unaware phase.

Or are many customers interested in you, but the interest declines after the initial contact? In this case, plan the content in the THINK / Interest / Consideration / Problem-Solution-Product Aware phase.

If they are considering and researching, but drop out at the last step before purchasing, you need to address the DO / Most-aware phase.

If you can’t determine at which stage of the customer journey you have the greatest reserves, or you don’t even have a basic customer journey mapped, it pays to invest in understanding it first, and then plan your content marketing around this. Otherwise, you risk creating a lot of content, perhaps even with positive feedback, but with no visible impact on your economic results.

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2. The content should have appropriate and very specific objectives

The easier it is to produce content on the Internet, the more difficult it is to set specific goals for it, linked to business goals, and then measure their fulfillment.

Ideally, each piece of content should target a specific location on the customer’s path. In addition, it should seek to move the reader / consumer further along the customer path.

You should be able to determine very specifically where to move people’s content. For example, a vacuum cleaner retailer may target customers in the SEE phase – those who might need a vacuum cleaner but are not addressing the topic at this time. The content should aim to move the consumer to the THINK phase, i.e. to increase his interest in the purchase intent – for example, to read whether he does not need to buy a new vacuum cleaner after reading the article.

If you clearly name the goal of  moving the user from state A to state B, you can do so explicitly, but also “subliminally” in the text (or video, podcast or infographics).

You need to stimulate the customer’s emotions and / or offer the information needed to achieve the desired shift in thinking.

Depending on which part of the customer journey you are targeting, you must also select measurable indicators.

 In practice, companies implementing content marketing projects are sometimes satisfied with “vain data” (my translation from the English “vanity metrics”), which is well defined by the creators of Tableau, an advanced tool for displaying data). These are indicators that “you look good in front of others, but do not help you understand your performance in a way that provides information that can be used for future strategies.”

So which metrics are relevant at each stage of the customer’s journey?

In the broadest part of the marketing funnel, you monitor the extent to which users consume, share, return to, and respond to your content. So you would measure the number of visits, the rate of reading (scrolling) or watching the video, the number of shares, returning visitors or comments and likes.

In the middle of the funnel or customer path, you watch whether you get contacts with permission to communicate with them – it can be emails, followers and fans on social networks, or users who have given consent to send push notifications in the browser.

At the bottom of the funnel – when shopping – your metric is a direct effect on the business – the customers whose content led you to the transaction.

Always push properly

Depending on the phase of the customer path for which you create content, you can also decide how you will distribute it:

  • For brand awareness content, you usually choose broad, less targeted channels – such as social networks (both organically and with paid support), online media, and influencers.
  • In the later stages, you can focus on organic and paid search results, targeting existing audiences on social networks (including using remarketing), and marketing to your contacts (such as email or push notifications).
  • In the phase close to the purchase decision, remarketing to the appropriate part of users can work again, but also content directly in the sales process (automatically on the web or directly by your sellers).

3. Topics instead of “articles”

Thinking about “articles” is a widespread bad habit – an article is just one of dozens of formats that users are used to today. More important than the format is to have content built on insight.

If the content (not necessarily textual) reflects an understanding of what is bothering potential customers for some time, and provides solace (solution, encouragement, reassurance, or amusement), it has a chance of success.

But gaining such insight is expensive. You need to look for Insight directly with customers.

In a large company, this is done through a system of qualitative and quantitative research:

  • focus groups,
  • ongoing surveys,
  • sentiment monitoring and analysis and more

If you do not have the space for such surveys (professional capacity, resources), you need to replace it with “partisan” data collection if possible. Instead of group discussions, you can:

  • collect customer feedback (voice of customer) by following the discussion on social networks
  • systematically request feedback via email, telephone or personal contact with customers.

If you already get insight, it is logical and economical to get the most out of it.

In order for content to fulfill its potential, it cannot be isolated. Hubspot’s Alex Birkett interestingly explains the economics of content – how some types of content are easier to produce and others much more tedious. In order to be able to produce the undemanding ones and profit from them, you must first have a certain credibility with potential consumers. You get this just by creating the most difficult types of content to imitate (e.g. the results of original research, original information or data, your own analysis of existing data). Then you can afford to produce even the easier ones (eg summaries, various lists, news, hejtík).

The hero goes first

The creators of the Curata content marketing tool display this content hierarchy as a pyramid. At its top is content that is difficult to generate and therefore less frequent, such as primary (completely new findings and results) and secondary research (working with existing findings from other sources). This is followed by longer articles and comprehensive presentations, followed by infographics and presentation sharing, then shorter text forms and finally content on social networks.

So if you don’t have your “expensive” piece of content, it should be your priority.

In the logic of the popular framework for structuring the content Hero – Hub – Hygiene (originally created for YouTube) you will first create the so-called Hero content. It is something elaborate, valuable and intensively spread with the ambition to reach a large audience.

When you create such content, it is a shame to use it in only one format. If the content is interesting, it will work in different forms. Detailed article, so-called long-form, you can shorten to a shorter, more simple version. You can create videos, spreadsheets and visualizations (e.g. processed into infographics), storyboards, quizzes, shorter and longer videos, webinar, online discussion…

4. Marathon instead of sprint

Content marketing investment leads to results not only in the short term – if you have created quality content, you can use it in the long term, thanks to the fact that it naturally achieves good search positions (provides the reader with good answers to his questions), and that they usually gradually enter the customer path. new and new potential clients.

Content marketing should not be a project, but a long-term strategy, otherwise you risk giving up before the created content can bring a measurable effect. Instead of a “big bang” approach, it’s a good idea to gradually debug, update, and build on the acquired content.

The Content Marketing Institute emphasizes that for a sustainable strategy, you must choose a suitable business model for your content. This is how you organize content marketing in terms of the use of internal people and external suppliers. This reasoning is rather useful for readers from larger companies.

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Business models for content marketing according to CMI

CMI is considering a business model on two scales. The first scale – the degree of integration – covers from content focused externally on audience building to content aimed at supporting the strategic needs of other departments. The second scale – purpose – is how content is incorporated into your business. It ranges from marketing support and marketing communication to content marketing as a separate business strategy (i.e. that the content itself becomes what you sell). This framework leads to four quadrants. In these, content marketing acts as:

  1. Player – content is focused on internal needs and marketing support, it is created to support other marketing activities
  2. Performer – content is aimed at external audiences as part of a marketing strategy, to build audiences with which marketing can work further
  3. Processor – content is focused on internal needs, but built as a separate business strategy, meets the goals of other departments (not only marketing), but is implemented by a separate department
  4. Platform – the content is focused on building an external audience and works as a separate department.

How to start?

If you are starting with content marketing from scratch, focus on one crucial element – better quality output (from the top of the mentioned pyramid). Count on the beginning that he will not be the only one.

Follow the results according to its purpose and follow it up with other content.

In the world of content shock, it’s not easy. However, if you manage to create content that reaches the right people, it will pay off in the form of business results for a long time to come!

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