5 Content Marketing Rules for Any Business
Tell of us if this sounds familiar: An executive reads an article and suddenly announces: “We need a podcast!” or “We need to get into video!” And suddenly, marketing springs into action developing new content without any rationale behind it. It’s an all-too-common scenario that happens at companies of all sizes. Sometimes that works out OK. But in other cases, it’s complete disaster. We at Marketing Nice Guys put together some basic rules that can help you avoid that scenario and guide the content marketing efforts at any sized business. The five are:
- Start with your audience challenges.
Too often we see content being developed by companies without them having researched their audiences first. This includes understanding basic areas such as where people currently go on the website, what they search for, what their ambitions or goals are, and what challenges and pain points they face. Knowing the latter is particularly important before you develop any content because ultimately, engagement is about relevance. In other words, in order for the content to resonate with potential or current customers, you have to show empathy for their situation. It’s a cliché to say “put yourself in the customers’ shoes,” but that’s exactly what you need to do in the case of content.
How do you approach this? We suggest you can take some initial, simple steps. First, take a look at Google Analytics. There’s a wealth of information available on that platform, such as popular pages, internal search queries, and even demographic and geographic data that can be super-useful. Second, talk to people. Call up your best customers and say you’d like to have a 30-minute conversation with them. Ask questions about what keeps them up at night, what challenges they face in your area or other areas. For their time, maybe you can give away a Starbucks gift card. The information you gather can help you form a better picture of not only that individual but other potential customers like them. Lastly, think about other methods – focus groups, surveys, and other ways to gather information. Make sure to hit on areas such as ambitions, goals, or other psychographics areas that are relevant to your content development. After all, the more you know about the people your content addresses, the better it will resonate.
- Develop a content plan
When companies think about content marketing, they often take the Nike approach – they “just do it.” But having a plan is critical to successful content marketing efforts. According a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute, 69% of the most successful organizations have a documented plan of some kind. It makes sense. The more you give some thought upfront to your goals in content and where it fits in the overall scheme of your digital marketing, the more you’ll be able to focus on driving those key performance indicators that you set to see how you’re doing. What are the elements of plan? We suggest starting with these 4 areas:
- What’s the goal of content marketing? Where does it fit in the larger context of all the marketing I do?
- What resources will I allocate to it – both staffing and dollars for creation/distribution? Outlining the frequency of production is a key piece here too.
- Who am I targeting and where – what part of the funnel? What does the audience research tell me about the type of content I can produce? Who am I creating the content for?
- After defining the goals, how am I going to measure progress toward the overall goals? What KPIs should I set?
Many organizations only look at content development from the standpoint of awareness – and it’s certainly one critical aspect of an organization’s efforts to brand its products and services. If that’s your content plan, that’s perfectly fine. But don’t forget that content can be used at all parts of the marketing funnel, including engagement and acquisition as well as for conversion purposes. If you’re a B2B company, you’re well aware of the power of e-books and whitepapers to get customers on your email lists. But such downloads also provide data on audiences’ interests, which can be further used to segment offerings to them. Webinars are great for acquisition too – and a journey toward conversion. Finally, don’t forget about testimonials and case studies from current customers to help convince others to take the plunge and purchase. On the B2C side, many of the efforts on the awareness side can certainly translate into sales, depending on the depth of the buyer journey, but testimonials and other lower-funnel content work well here too.
- Set a tone / approach and test it.
After you develop a plan, you have to set an approach with content – both a style and a tone for how you want to engage with customers, as well as select your content types. First, let’s talk about a content style. For us at Marketing Nice Guys, we suggest using one of 6 approaches that come from the book, Contagious by Wharton professor Jonah Berger. These six areas form his now-famous STEPPS framework (originally focused on why certain marketing efforts went viral, but they also apply to the characteristics of what makes a piece of content good). The six are:
- Social Currency: That which makes your customers smarter, more interesting, or funnier when/if they pass it along to others. Social currency is a big aspect of thought leadership, which is critical for a brand in marketing.
- Triggers: Content that triggers a reaction because it is linked to something (If you say: “Peanut butter and…” most people will think of jelly, for example.) Triggers are super clever. Think of the famous Geico “hump day” camel commercial. Even though Geico doesn’t have the original still running on YouTube, people still share that ad on… you guessed it, Wednesday.
- Emotion: Content that elicits an emotion reaction is powerful and can help create a customer’s positive association with a particular brand. The emotion can come in form of humor, happiness, even fear and sadness in the right moments. How you create emotion goes back to the original point about doing your audience research, and understanding your audience.
- Public: “4 out of 5 dentists recommend Trident.” Customers want social proof that others use your products or services or that others recommend it. So, getting your customers to talk about your products in reviews (a form of lower-funnel content), showing them using it, or getting others to recommend it all provides that proof for others to see. This is where companies can take advantage of user-generated content and other areas to engage customers even more.
- Practical: Perhaps the most common form of content, practical content helps people figure out how to do something. It’s the reason Home Depot shows customers how to tile a bathroom floor, or why Whole Foods provides recipe suggestions. But practical help can also come in the form of job aids, tools, and other content that helps people get along through the day or do their job better.
- Storytelling: The last aspect of STEPPS, storytelling is powerful simply because customers tend to remember stories most of all. Linked to emotional content, storytelling is one of the most popular ways to enable content for your brand. It might be a story of how your product helped transform someone’s life, or a backstory about a pitch person that is well-known (think about Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World). Whatever the case, storytelling is a great vehicle for top-of-mind awareness.
Once you’ve chosen an approach, you then have to pick a tone that fits that approach. Make sure that whatever tone you choose fits your overall brand image. Here are a few options as you think about tone.
- Helpful / Practical
- In Your Face
- Corporate/Straight Up
If you take a look at the above list, content can definitely provide both social currency and be friendly or playful in tone but make sure your tone matches the style you’ve picked. After you’ve put out a few pieces, take a look at the analysis. Did it meet your expectations? If not, go back and make changes to find the type of content and style that resonates most with your audience.
Finally, you have to choose the content types. Here’s a list of some of the different types of content you can choose these days:
- Podcasts and audio
- Case studies
- Social Media
- Whitepapers and articles
- Reviews & Testimonials (UGC)
- Mobile / AR/VR content
What type do you choose? What do you outsource and produce? What do you produce in-house? A lot will depend on your overall plan, including your budget. Some might be more costly – such as full-production video. Some might be more time-consuming, such as an e-book or whitepaper. One key here is to think about what strengths your content team has – and what you can produce in-house, leveraging that expertise. The other consideration is how to scale content topics that you take on across different content types for efficiency. After all, if people are interested in a blog on topic X, they will likely be interested in a video on the same topic. Scaling those effort will allow you and your team to save time and resources and cut the production needed to publish.
- Develop a SEO workflow.
There’s often an urgency on the part of marketers to “just put content out there.” But doing so can often mean sloppiness in terms of SEO best practices, which are really critical to putting your content in front of the most eyeballs. We at Marketing Nice Guys recommend setting up a workflow, where you can walk through a SEO checklist of items to make sure the pages you publish have those high-value keywords embedded in them.
In addition to such on-page efforts, it’s also key to make sure your content is pointed to from both within your website and from external sites. Those efforts can all be part of the workflow to ensure you are giving your content as much opportunity to be discovered by potential and current customers.
If it’s video, there’s also a set of protocols to follow for SEO best practices here as well, especially in a place such as YouTube. A few tips:
- Write Longer Video Descriptions: This seems contrary to common wisdom, but the more YouTube knows about the video, the more confidently it can rank your target keyword(s).
- Optimize Around ‘Video Keywords’: Ranking in YouTube is great, but ranking your video in YouTube and Google is better. Google gives YouTube videos an edge in some results – figure out what those keywords are.
- Share Video Library Liberally in Online Communities: This will hook your video up with the type of quality, high-retention views that YouTube likes to see.
- Encourage Subscribing: If people enjoy watching your video, expect it to top YouTube search results. And like Twitter, ask for others to subscribe in the video itself. http://youtu.be/JvP8wBGEaT4 (at 4:55)
- Create Keyword-Rich Playlists: A keyword-rich playlist gives YouTube deeper information about your video’s topic. And like we saw with your description, more text-based content=more views.
- Employ Semantic Markup (Schema.org): Just like other content that is practical or helpful, it’s good to use semantic markup to highlight data that a search engine such as Google can pull and display. Making it easy for Google to do that with structured data is important for rankings. For video, it will help distribute your YouTube videos within Google’s search engine and on YouTube. If you need help, your developer should be able to tackle this relatively easily. Check out Schema.org’s requirements for video: http://schema.org/VideoObject
- Provide transcriptions / closed captioning for your videos: This is key so that search bots can crawl the text.
- Distribute it, track it, and measure it.
If you think about all that goes into producing a piece of content, why develop something if you don’t have a plan to distribute it? You might be surprised at the number of companies that produce content that no one sees because they don’t distribute it to the right channels – or promote it often enough. If you spend the energy to produce the content, you should promote it – on your website, in email, in social, and even with paid media. That’s right, paid media. Many companies promote content in paid search or paid social because it gets people to their website. That’s a key hurdle in any digital marketing endeavor. Once they come to your site, it’s up to you to then make it engaging so they continue to see more content or click around to your products and services. But when you don’t do step one, sales become that much more of a hurdle, even if you do have the best products.
Second, it’s critical to track and measure your content efforts. Adding tracking links to allow you to know the effectiveness of your promotions is a critical next step. In this case, we’d certainly advocate for using a marketing automation or attribution tracking platform that will help you understand customer behavior. However, if you don’t have an existing platform, you can add these tracking parameters onto URLs so at least that you know which promotions drove clicks to your site. An easy way to do this is to take an existing URL and go to a site such as Google’s Campaign URL builder: https://ga-dev-tools.appspot.com/campaign-url-builder/
So, a link for a piece of content such as this: https://marketingniceguys.com/cmos-dont-last-long-why-a-learning-culture-matters/ would become something like this: https://marketingniceguys.com/cmos-dont-last-long-why-a-learning-culture-matters/?utm_source=social&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=12-01-20 from a post on Facebook for the day of Dec. 1st, 2020. In Google Analytics, such a post would show up uniquely from the main content URL.
Finally, with content, you should measure your effectiveness. If you remember in the goals at the beginning, it’s important to set key performance indicators (KPIs) along the way toward your content goals. These KPIs measure your progress toward a particular goal and will likely include the actual goal itself. So, for example, you might set an overall goal for a campaign to be $100k in revenue. The KPIs would include that $100k goal but also indicators along the way such as: 500,000 pageviews on your content, 10 percent increase on your pages per visit or any other metrics that you look at to make sure you’re making progress toward the overall goal.
And it doesn’t always have to be about revenue. Some content goals are merely awareness-focused, so you might have measure unique visitors, click-throughs from email or social, or the number of people who come to your website from different sources.
With resources often tight, many companies don’t have the luxury of producing and distributing every single type of content. So, it’s important to focus on those you can produce and within the budget and resources you have available. The other piece worth remembering is that part of what you’re doing with content is testing the resonance of a particular topic or area, or approach. If something’s not right, you should make sure to optimize and continue to evolve to the needs the market as you go.
Follow these tips above and we think you’ll be on your way to better content success! We wish you luck in all your marketing endeavors!
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