What you need to know to get started in content marketing

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

You’ve probably heard about the power of content marketing and how it can help you or your business. But what exactly is it?

This is the first in a series of posts where I’ll be breaking down the basics of content marketing, and how to make content work for your company. For now, let’s look at how content marketing works and what you need to know to get started.

Chances are, you’re creating content to attract customers, and your customers can be defined within a fairly narrow niche. They share characteristics – demographics, industry, or aspirations – which make them want to be your customers in the first place.

It helps to think of your content output – including your blog, email newsletter, and social media accounts – as a niche media company, serving the interests of a well defined audience.

Because that’s exactly what it is.

At its core, content marketing is about creating content – blog posts, email newsletters, videos, webinars, podcasts, infographics, white papers, ebooks, even social media posts – that will attract, educate, convert and delight people as they move through your marketing funnel.

1. Attract

If you’re not creating content, how do your customers find you? If any aspect of your business relies on being easily found online, then content is a crucial part of your marketing strategy.

A steady stream of quality, shareable content will make your company more visible to search engines, through SEO, and, more importantly, to the people who search for information on your niche.

Basically, you’re creating content to build awareness – making sure that the people who need your product or service, or may need it in the future, know about your company and where to find you.

Because you’re creating content specifically to attract new customers, it’s important to clearly define who you’re writing for – this information is a key part of your content strategy and I’ll be discussing it further in an upcoming post.

Regular sharing of your content through social channels, as part of a wider social strategy, is another important part of your content marketing mix.

While it’s a good idea to build awareness by creating and distributing content on social channels as well as websites relevant to your industry, obviously your own website should form the hub of your content marketing strategy.

2. Educate

Many companies invest in content but fail to see any return on this investment, largely because they’re producing content for themselves rather than for their customers.

‘Show, don’t tell’ is the maxim behind every good content marketing campaign. You’ve probably heard this many times before, and with good reason.

So what does ‘show, don’t tell’ actually mean?

Basically, you need to show your audience that you are an authority in your niche by providing them with valuable content that solves their problem and makes them want to come back for more. If you simply tell them you’re an authority, they have no reason to believe you.

Content marketing is not about promotion, and if you go down the road of producing blog post after blog post about how great you are at what you do, don’t expect to have people flocking to your site to read it.

However, you can use content to educate your site visitors about your product or service. You can offer them how-to guides, case studies, and whitepapers, as well as blog posts, videos, and other content to showcase what you offer. This is particularly useful for people who have already signed up for your email list, or have shown that they are the consideration stage in your marketing funnel.

3. Convert

Arguably the most important part of your content marketing strategy is to be able to convert your site visitors into leads and customers.

Remember that in order to convert, you have to attract people to your site and provide them with enough useful information to keep coming back, so while this is an obviously crucial stage, conversion cannot happen unless you have already invested in attracting visitors and building a relationship with them through quality content.

Visitors become leads by signing up for more information – an email newsletter, ebook or whitepaper – and leads become customers when they decide to do business with you.

A lot of people associate content marketing with top-of-the-funnel activity – the awareness stage – but content is crucial to conversion, and strategic content can also help you close the sale.

Case studies, well crafted landing pages, webinars and demonstration videos all play a part in convincing people to buy from you. And they all need to be top notch to secure a sale.

One of my favourite examples of content marketing done well is Buffer, a social media scheduling tool which offers free and paid subscription models. Buffer knows its customers – it primarily caters for individuals and small businesses, and provides tons of useful content on social media marketing and company culture.

I was a freemium user for about a year, and subscribed to and enjoyed the regular articles posted on the Buffer blog and in its email newsletter. Eventually I was offered a free trial of the premium tool. The welcome emails, how-tos, and a webinar on how to use Buffer effectively convinced me to sign up for the premium version, and I’ve remained a paying customer ever since.

4. Delight

Buffer offers a free tool – Pablo – which allows its users to create images for sharing on social media, or anywhere else. It offers thousands of free images, or you can add your own.

The company also sends regular guides, webinar invitations, and even sent an entire email course once, to help me and other customers get the most out of our social media accounts.

Thank you image from Buffer.

Part of my monthly receipt/thank you email from Buffer.

What’s more, instead of a standard receipt for payment every month, Buffer sends me a friendly email thanking me for my custom.

These kind of unexpected bonuses serve to delight customers – it gives added value just for the sake of helping customers work more effectively, or just feel good about supporting your company.

Finding ways to delight your customers will help to build loyalty, and will encourage people not only to do business with you, but to share your content on their social channels, and to recommend you to their friends and colleagues. Influencer marketing may be the trend du jour, but nothing is more powerful than an honest and enthusiastic referral from a happy customer.

What added value are you giving your customers to delight them?

You could build a free tool, or an ebook or course that creates added value around your core product or service. It’s important also to listen to customers, and ensure you have content that answers any questions they have.

One very simple way of providing added value is to curate content relevant to your customers’ interests and pain points, and send them a few helpful articles from other sources as part of your regular email newsletter.

And don’t forget to say ‘thank you’ to the people who make your business possible – these two words can make all the difference.