Content marketing is more than strategic communication to a targeted audience; it should be measurable, trackable and helpful to the customer in every stage of the buying process.

Jean Ban, Jean Ban

November 3, 2014

5 Min Read
Drive customer engagement with a content marketing strategy

Content marketing is alive and well, and it remains an important topic in the world of marketing communications. A Google search brings up 367 million results for “content marketing," and countless articles, blog posts and business services advocate it as a best practice strategy.

However, for many in-the-trenches marketers, content marketing has a déjà vu feel to it. Isn’t content marketing what we’ve been doing all along—strategic communications deployed across channels and with measurable goals tied to sales objectives? Well, yes … and no.

Content marketing, as it is practiced today, is the new generation of marketing communications (marcom), which is made even more interactive, engaging, trackable and measurable. Bringing social media into the mix—whether a blog or social media platform such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others—completely changed the marcom game. It made the conversation more about customers, and less about the company. Add the inter-connectedness and link-ability of websites, digital PR content, e-marketing applications, and suddenly, marketing communications becomes a 2.0 model. Content marketing has arrived.

Content marketing: A definition

As a starting point to understanding this discipline, the following definition comes from Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Market Institute and an early evangelist:

“Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

“A content marketing strategy can leverage all story channels (print, online, in-person, mobile, social, etc.), be employed at any and all stages of the buying process, from attention-oriented strategies to retention and loyalty strategies, and include multiple buying groups.

“Content marketing is comparable to what media companies do as their core business, except that in place of paid content or sponsorship as a measure of success, brands define success by ultimately selling more products or services."

In a nutshell, this model 1) transitions from an “about me" hard sell to an “about you" soft sell by informing and educating, 2) engages prospects and customers with useful content wherever they are in their buying process, and 3) connects content to other content to drive folks back to a website or other owned online platforms in ways that are trackable and measurable.

Begin with a content audit

As a first step to developing a content marketing strategy and plan, brands should do an audit of the assets they already have They might be surprised at what’s already in the bank. Consider assets such as:

  • Websites (including the content that resides on them)

  • Social media platforms

  • Company blogs

  • Whitepapers

  • Digital images, videos and infographics

  • Collateral and sales materials

  • Editorial content, such as bylined articles

  • News releases and announcements

  • Presentations as power points or PDFs

  • Speeches

  • Trade shows and events

  • Surveys and research

  • Paid advertising

In addition to identifying assets, determine who in the organization “owns" them, and how the company will create a central repository or content calendar that it can leverage to support sales and marketing goals. Once it has determined what it has, it can then decide on what it needs—new sources of content and methods to create them.

Map the sales process by connecting each phase to content

Now, match the sales process to information needs at each step of a prospect’s path through an engagement funnel. This will help the company think about content holistically, so it can be leveraged on behalf of a sales objective.

At the top of the sales funnel, a prospect is collecting information and looking for education in order to make an informed decision at some point in the future. Content must match the need—the company as a friendly expert with advice, and knowledge to share by way of a blog post, a whitepaper, a webinar or an event. Participating with insights in a relevant LinkedIn group also fits this phase. Third-party content is helpful here too, with the company positioning itself as a provider of useful information from multiple trusted sources.

As a prospect moves further down the funnel into consideration mode, content should establish trust and credibility. That’s not to say informational and educational materials become irrelevant—they’re still a part of the decision process. Case studies and third-party testimonials are of interest because they demonstrate that others have used this particular solution, and this could be a solution for the prospect as well. Advertising can link to web content that is similar in intent—case studies, testimonials and whitepapers specific to the product or service.

More refined content is needed for prospects that are close to a decision point. These include features and benefits, sell sheets, appropriate research(from a company or third-party)and bylined articles.

At any phase, mix up the content types for the best results—video, infographics, images and graphics can positively impact stickiness.

Tactics and tools

A company needs to have content available all the time, in various forms, and on many different platforms in order to intersect with a customer at varying points in the buying cycle. Clearly, multiple parts are moving.

To keep it strategic, all content must be trackable and measurable. That typically means tactics linking content back to your website, having trackable downloads, and creating social media posts that incent engagement. Analytics and reporting are key.

SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) play a big role in ensuring that search is always working in a brand’s favor. In addition, many tools are available for content management, social media listening, engagement and tracking, and even third-party content aggregation. Rather than cite a few and leave out many, an online search for those generic descriptions will identify the cloud-based systems that can help you manage this increasingly important part of the marketing and sales function. Content marketing is here to stay. Making sure it supports business goals will keep it relevant.

Market data, including demographics, best-selling delivery forms and hot natural ingredients, helps marketers make key decisions on advertising campaigns. Learn more by visiting INSIDER’s Marketing Content Library.

Jean Ban is executive vice president at CBD Marketing in Chicago, a creative communications firm that helps companies define and market what is most meaningful about their brand, products and services. CBD works with national and global food and food ingredient companies, as well as a wide range of clients in other industry sectors.

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