According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), ‘Content marketing is a strategic marketing
approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content
to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and ultimately,
drive profitable customer action.’
This is a great definition because it helps frame the goals of content marketing, which can include building awareness, lead generation, customer acquisition and customer retention. It also highlights the strategic importance of content marketing as a way to drive sales.
After all, we’re all in business to sell something, aren’t we?
I also love that it focuses on the need to clearly define your audience. Getting to really know your customers is hugely important.
By content, we simply mean words and images: words that may be written or spoken; images that may be still or moving. It’s the newsletter you read, the conference you attend, the video tutorial you watch. With content marketing, we’re packaging up those words and images into a format that’s useful to our audience/s.
The buying-decision process
Whether it’s a B2C or B2B product or service, consumers all go through a buying decision process.
- The process begins with problem recognition. This may not always be triggered by the customer; it might be stimulated by some content you share about your product or service, helping the potential customer realise that they have a need that should be solved.
- Once a problem is recognised, the information search process begins. Potential customers are looking for trusted advisors. They will ask friends and family for referrals. They will ask colleagues and peers for recommendations. They will use search engines and social media to find information.
- The research process continues and customers begin to evaluate alternatives.
- Then it’s time for the purchase decision.
Prospective customers are typically 60-75% of their way through their decision-making before they contact you or your business. It’s why content is so important; it will be read, watched or listened to without you being around. We search for everything and anything on the web, so if you’re publishing content that answers the questions of your potential customers, you’re building a relationship that will hopefully lead to doing business together at some stage.
Content marketing encompasses various forms of content, all of which add value to a customer and help to promote a business and it’s products/services.
We can categorise content into four different types:
- written form: for example, blogs, white papers, guides, checklists, reports, presentations, e-books and books
- visual: for example, product imagery, team photography and infographics
- audio and video: for example, event coverage, demonstrations and interviews, webinars and podcasts
- interactive: for example, quizzes, calculators, polls, games and competitions.
These are either:
- user-focused: for example, customer testimonials, endorsements, reviews and ratings; or
- product-focused: for example, ‘how to’ guides, fact sheets, checklists, Q&As/FAQs
and can be:
- long-form: content that’s longer than a few sentences and offers deep value such as blog posts, ebooks, white papers and podcasts; or
- short-form: a few words/sentences that provide useful information such as LinkedIn and Facebook status updates, or Tweets.
In the early stages of the buying decision process an infographic or video might be more appropriate to the information-gathering needs of your target audience. Longer form, written content, such as white papers and e-books, are most likely to be read further down the buying decision process, when a greater depth of information is required. Check out this blog for tips on writing long-from articles.
Social media posts could include any of these format types, depending on the platform. They can also be used in combination. For example, Instagram updates will be visual, supported by a short descriptor and keywords (hashtags). A LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Google+ short-form written update might be supported by an image, a link to a long-form blog, or a video.
Content marketing involves understanding what consumers want and need, and then creating, publishing and sharing content that is relevant and useful. By creating content that helps consumers, your brand become a trusted source of knowledge and expertise.
Content marketing is not about interrupting consumers in their day-to-day lives to grab attention, but to be in the right place for when there is a search for information, to be engaging and ready to start a conversation.