Last time we looked at foundations. These are the blocks that have to be in place if content marketing is going to drive your growth – and not just be an interesting experiment.
For many mid-sized businesses, particularly in B2B, this means taking a much more systematic view. Being clear about what you want to sell and the people you are selling to. It also means taking a broader view of all the places on-line that a potential customer might find you.
You have little control over the routes people use to find your business or how they research the products and services they want to buy. But you have plenty of control over what they see when they find you. And no end of opportunities to make the discovery process easier and more satisfying.
Content marketing is not a quick, cheap or easy fix. You will need to invest time and money to make it work. And like any other business investment you need to target it. So if your marketing compass is already a little unsteady I suggest you read part 1, before moving on.
How content marketing DOESN’T work
As a content marketer, life would be simple if you could publish a few blog articles, throw in a bit of video, maybe the odd infographic, and then sit back and wait for the web traffic and sales to flood in.
Search engines also muddy the waters. In the early days, blogging was often sold as a way to impress Google with regularly refreshed content. Sometimes people hawked that content (irrespective of quality) around to whoever was happy to post a link. This was mainly to trick Google into counting the links pointing to a site and deciding it was wonderful. Marketing behaviour was sometimes driven by the pursuit of better search rankings. When it should have been about connecting, convincing and converting.
How did anyone ever believe this was a sane and sustainable way to promote a business? Google now makes it harder to game the system, so it really is easier just to do things properly.
Well planned, well executed, and well promoted content will improve search rankings. But this shouldn’t be the motive. If all you want is to be on page 1 then AdWords may be a cheaper way to get there.
Hopefully you’re looking beyond mere increased search visibility. You probably want people to do something once they’ve discovered your content. And if you want content to deliver the sort of results that your bank will accept there are a few questions that need watertight answers.
What does a buyer’s journey look like?
For content to work you have to take each of your buyer personas (as we discussed last time) and understand what content is going to help them at each stage of THEIR buying journey. If you want to read more about how content supports buyers at each stage try this.
If they are researching topics and issues without a clear goal, do you have easy to access content to help them? Micro blogs or explainer videos, for example, that answer some basic questions and make readers eager to discover more.
Do you have mechanisms and Calls To Action (CTAs) that encourage people to access deeper levels of content as part of their learning journey? Are there easy ways for them to sign up for updates?
Naturally, none of this matters unless you have content that meets their needs and delivers value. Which leads to the next question:
How will you create content that’s good enough to sell?
These days we’re all supposed to be giving away our knowledge for free; but in reality we’re not!
At the most basic level people will be paying for your content with their time. As David Amerland explains in this article, we live in an attention economy. People only have so much attention to spend and they expect good value in return.
If you’re planning to use downloadable, gated content to identify leads then you need to think about this even harder. I’m sure we’ve all been there: enter your email (plus who knows what else), download an ebook, and find you’ve ended up with a whole load of nothing in return for your data.
I couldn’t possibly devise a more effective way to smother a fledgling business relationship than by breaching trust in this way. Yep, you’ve got a new entry on your email lists, but how much is that email address really worth after this experience?
How much will you need to invest?
You are going to have to invest in some writing talent and probably some graphics talent as a minimum. You might have talent you can develop or you might need to buy it in – either way it needs investment. Another consequence of the attention economy is learning how to write for the web – which isn’t quite what you were taught at school.
You’ll also need to invest time in understanding how different social networks function. Again, we talked about building on-line networks last time, so dip into the previous article if you still think that social networks are just a way for you to broadcast your content.
How will you convert interest into leads and sales?
The most important question you can ever ask is: ‘What next?’ Somebody reads a blog article – what do you want them to do next? They watched a short video – what will they want to see next? They downloaded your ebook; is it then into all-out email marketing? Or do you have other content they can select that helps you nurture the lead, and build a picture of who they are and the solutions they are seeking?
The answers to these questions will be unique to your business and the customers you want to attract. But if you don’t have a clear picture of how you want potential customers to move from becoming aware of you to wanting to do business with you, there’s precious little chance that they’ll discover a route for themselves.
Can you write a good print advert?
What? I thought this was about on-line marketing! Don’t worry – all will become clear.
Another art you’ll need to master is landing page creation. Carefully targeted premium content is an effective way to identify people with a serious interest in what you sell. People seem more wary these days about handing over their email address – so if they have offered this up in return for a download there’s probably a genuine interest.
BUT. You still have to sell the download, even after they’ve followed an enticing link from social media, PPC, email or an on-site link. What will they get? How will it help them? And why should they download it NOW?
Landing page copy should work like a good print advert. It should make it clear how the action you want helps people achieve a positive benefit or avoid a loss. It should present such a compelling case that not clicking the download button would be stupid.
Your landing page design should follow the best principles of e-commerce: clear CTA, no distractions and all the important stuff above the fold.
If all of that sounds difficult, that’s just because it is.
And then there’s the next inevitable question:
How will you track it all?
There are plenty of tools you can use to track whether your content and social networking is making any impact. Here are a few that you can use for free:
- Google Analytics
- Buffer, Hootsuite, Bitly etc, which provide link shortening and analytics
- Circloscope (for Google+)
I won’t go into all of the details here, but a few Google searches will give you all the info you need. There’s no reason why any business should be wondering whether their content is getting noticed.
One drawback with free tools is that you can spend a lot of time looking at different programs and data sources trying to make sense of it all. So it will be worth investigating services such as Hubspot or Marketo. These have powerful tools for automating much of what you need to do. They also bring all the data you need together in one place.
Has that scared you?
Hopefully it hasn’t. But hopefully it’s helped you think through some of the implications of adopting content marketing. There will be new things to master and some investment required but the concepts in content marketing aren’t really all that complicated. And compare that to the cost and effort expended with traditional B2B sales and marketing that so often lead to nothing.
The other inescapable reality is that your potential customers are increasingly looking to Google to find information, answers and potential suppliers. So can you ignore content even if you wanted to?
Creating high-quality content that your target customers recognise as being useful will always have a value. Investing in social media networks will always have a value. Both of these will improve search rankings and visibility and should drive good quality traffic to your site. For a small business with half a dozen employees, this alone may be sufficient to deliver the new business you need.
But for a more substantial business with ambitious growth targets I would argue that structure, direction and discipline become increasingly important if you want to see a return on your investment.
Richard Hussey, RSH Copywriting