The phrase "content is king" isn't new. But what is new — and groundbreaking — is how it applies on today's digital landscape. Indeed, it's not an exaggeration to say that these days, content isn't just king: it's the entire royal family!
This guide — which is offered to you completely free, and with no need to subscribe or download — explores why content marketing is so important, and why businesses across all sectors (B2C, B2B, B2B2C and B2G) can no longer afford to ask "should we be using content marketing?", but rather "how quickly can we get up-to-speed on content marketing?"
Conventional Marketing: Excuse Me…Pardon Me…Forgive the Interruption…
To clearly and easily understand the essence of content marketing, it's helpful to start with a look at something that we're all familiar with: traditional marketing, such as commercials, ads, billboards, signs, and so on. While these conventional methods differ in terms of design, reach and of course, cost, they all share a common theme: they only work when they're noticed in-the-moment by target audiences.
For example, a bus advertisement that encourages people to get a diploma and boost their career options only succeeds if the right people — who are also in the right frame of mind and mood — see it at the right time (i.e. when the bus is passing them by or vice versa). Otherwise, the ad might as well not exist. For this reason, conventional marketing is often referred to as "interrupt marketing."
Of course, advertisers must still pay whether their ad succeeds in interrupting enough people, and motivating them to make a call, visit a website, order a product, make a purchase, or carry out any other desirable activity. And since ads don't provide any value and only capture attention for a brief period — often a handful of seconds or less — it's not surprising that most advertisers fail to achieve meaningful ROI. In fact, most of them don't even come close to breaking even.
Content Marketing: Engagement Instead of Interruption
Content marketing isn't just an alternative to conventional marketing: it works in an entirely different — and far more effective way. This is because content marketing provides relevant, timely and interesting information that target audiences actually want to receive. In other words, instead of interrupting people, content marketing is all about engaging them — and that makes ALL the difference!
Generally, the content marketing ecosystem is largely populated by the following familiar items:
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of all types of content marketing, as new items are constantly emerging as consumer and business trends change, and as technologies evolve (e.g. IoT, wearables, geo-targeting, etc.).
Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing
The term inbound marketing was coined a few years ago by a firm called HubSpot, which creates automation software to help businesses publish and monitor their content marketing programs.
Essentially, there is no fundamental difference between content marketing and inbound marketing — which explains why the terms are often used interchangeably (even by digital marketing experts). If there is a distinction to be made between the two, it could be said that inbound marketing heavily relies on automation, while content marketing doesn't necessarily need to.
In this sense, businesses that create great content and push it out to target audiences through various channels and touchpoints are doing content marketing. And those same businesses that also invest in technology, systems and personnel to largely automate their workflow processes, are doing inbound marketing (a.k.a. "automated content marketing").
The key takeaway here is that while some businesses would benefit from doing inbound marketing, all businesses would benefit from doing content marketing.
To Gate or Not to Gate?
Before looking at the benefits of content marketing — and they are very compelling — it's helpful to quickly look at the topic of "gating."
Simply put, gating is when a business trades their content in exchange for an individual's contact information (personal if it is a B2C engagement, or business if it is a B2B engagement). This trade happens through an automated online form, and usually only takes a few seconds.
Sometimes, it makes sense to gate content, and this is usually the case with ebooks, white papers, reports, webinars and templates (or any other kind of valuable tool). This is basically because target audiences have demonstrated a willingness — or at least, a tolerance — for trading their contact information for these kinds of items. Remember: we aren't talking about exchanging money here, since that's not how content marketing works. The "currency" for this transaction is contact data; not cash.
However, there are other scenarios where gating content creates a barrier that, in the big picture, would repel instead of engage target audiences. For example, most people won't share their email address — or even their geographic location — in exchange for things like blog posts, articles, videos and infographics. As such, these items are almost always offered freely on-demand.
As a bonus, this free and open access also encourages sharing. People who really like a blog post or infographic can send the link to anyone in their personal or business network, without concern that the recipient will have to do anything other than click and enjoy.
Why Content Marketing Works
We've already highlighted the defining — and delightful — characteristic of content marketing: it's all about engaging target audiences vs. interrupting them. But why is it so incredibly effective, to the extent that many businesses that previously allocated 100% of their budget to conventional methods have shifted most or all of that spend to content marketing? There are 7 key reasons:
Content Marketing Results: By the Numbers
The previous section on why content marketing works is inspiring. However, businesses that have previously fallen into a conventional marketing "money pit" — or who may have experienced a less-than-positive (read: costly and stressful) foray into the world of online marketing — may be skeptical about the bottom-line results. This skepticism is not only understandable, but it's wise.
Fortunately — but not surprisingly — content marketing answers the bell when it comes to quantitative outcomes. Here are some eye-opening statistics:
Add it all up, and it's clear that the reason content marketing is so popular and profitable isn't because of hype. It's due to results. As the old saying goes: numbers don't lie!
Building a Content Marketing Plan
The first thing to note and remember when it comes to building a content marketing program, is that there is no cookie-cutter "one-size-fits-all" template. Each business is unique, and has a distinct marketplace and competitive profile. What's more, each business has a specific budget, which obviously impacts priorities and possibilities.
Yet with this in mind, there are some core pieces of a robust, results-based content marketing program. These include the following:
Step 1: Developing a Content Strategy
Developing a content strategy covers the following activities:
Step 2: Map the Buyer's Journey
Mapping the buyer's journey covers the following activities:
Step 3: Create and Publish Content
Creating and publishing content covers the following activities:
Step 4: Analyze, Report, and Optimize
Analyzing and reporting covers the following activities:
The Bottom Line
Content marketing isn't a trend or a fad that is in the spotlight today, but is bound to fade away in the near future. It's here to stay, for the two simplest and most compelling reasons possible: it's extremely affordable, and it's remarkably effective. As such, the question that businesses need to ask isn't "why" invest in content marketing, but rather "how much" and "how fast."
We hope that this guide helps your business get on-track for sustained content marketing success. We invite you to contact us to share your feedback and experiences.
We would also be pleased to help if you need advice and guidance for your in-house team, or you want to partner with an experienced digital marketing agency that cares as much about your success and happiness as you do! We develop content that helps your customers engage with your site.
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