There was a time when marketing your business meant plastering an ad on a billboard, buying ad space in a magazine or newspaper, or running ads on radio and television.
See the common factor? Ads.
Then along came the internet and everything changed. Sort of. The internet gave us another place to run ads, and boy have we taken advantage of it! Google first made its fortune selling ad space on their search results and on other people’s sites. A report by the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that “U.S. digital advertising revenues reached a landmark high of $28.4 billion in the first quarter of 2019.”
But there’s a problem with internet ads: People don’t like them. Over time, users develop ad blindness. They stop paying attention to ads, stop clicking on them, and even use ad blockers to cut them out entirely.
Fortunately, there is another option: Content Marketing. What is the “content” in content marketing and how can you use it to promote your business?
To answer, let’s work with a fictional company, Acme Gear, that manufactures and sells – you guessed it – gears. Acme wants to promote its business with content marketing, and we’re going to help.
Planning Our Content
Before we rush off and start creating content, we need a plan.
Who is Acme trying to reach? Who is their typical customer? Does Acme Gear sell directly to consumers (B2C) at brick and mortar stores or online, or is it primarily a business-to-business (B2B) operation, selling products and services to other manufacturers or resellers?
What do Acme’s customers want? What do they already know, and what do they want to know? What sort of websites and publications do they read? If Acme can provide us with customer surveys or access to their sales staff, it will give us a clearer idea of who we’re trying to reach and the best way to do so. We can also use a keyword research tool to find out what phrases people use when searching for gears.
What do we want Acme’s customers to do? Of course, the ultimate goal is sales. But, particularly in the B2B arena, there may be intermediate steps – often referred to as the Sales Funnel – the customer will take before they’re ready to place an order. This could include requesting more information or signing up for Acme’s newsletter.
Types of Content
Once we know who we’re trying to reach and why, we can begin thinking about how.
What platforms does Acme have available for its content? The logical first option is Acme’s own website, specifically Acme’s blog. It could also include Acme’s monthly newsletter, their company’s LinkedIn page or the page of one of their directors, their YouTube or Vimeo channel, or their podcast.
We should also consider external platforms, like trade magazines, trade shows, and 3rd party blogs.
Our blog posts, short articles typically 300 to 500 words, could cover such topics as the pros and cons of different gear designs, gear manufacturing processes, and standards compliance. Obviously these topics would be of little interest to the general reader, but according to our planning research, they fit Acme’s target market exactly
We can write longer, in-depth articles for publication on LinkedIn or in specialized trade magazines for the gear industry.
We can produce infographics, particularly useful when we want to convey a number of clear, brief facts that lend themselves to visual representation.
We can produce videos, ranging from simple, short, talking-head productions to animated or whiteboard explainer videos, to longer live-action documentaries shot on location with lighting, makeup, and professional actors.
Case studies relate the stories of Acme’s customers, detailing the challenges they faced and explaining how Acme solved those challenges.
Since Acme’s target market is other industrial manufacturers who incorporate Acme’s gears into their own products, a white paper would be a good option. Usually light on graphics (unlike brochures or sell sheets), they identify a specific problem or challenge, provide a critical overview of a number of possible options, and then suggest a specific solution. They conclude by offering Acme as the preferred provider of that solution.
Producing Our Content
Now that we know who we’re trying to reach, what we want to tell them, and how we’re going to do so, it’s time to actually produce our content.
Every form of content begins with writing. Even videos and podcasts need a script. Writing well requires paying attention to grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It also requires paying attention to tone, style, and flow. Our blog posts about gears won’t have the same tone as blog posts about mental health.
Unless we already know our topic inside and out, before we put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – we need to do some research. No, that does not mean a visit to Wikipedia. As convenient as that source is, Wikipedia itself acknowledges that it “should not be used as a primary source for research, either academic or informational.”
Instead, depending on our topic, we may need to interview subject-matter experts, both inside and outside the company; read authoritative websites; peruse trade publications; and examine scientific journals.
Once we’ve gathered our facts, we need to put them in logical order. Drawing a mind map will help us see the bigger picture and relationships between points. From that we can produce a coherent, linear outline.
Ernest Hemingway said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” So we shouldn’t expect to write just one draft of our blog post, article, infographic, or video script and have it ready for publication. We will almost certainly need to go through multiple revisions – more if someone else will also review and approve the piece – before it’s finally ready to publish.
What Our Content Should NOT Include
Our content must not be just thinly disguised ads that essentially say little more than “Buy our gears!” It needs to provide information that will be of value to our audience.
We must not stuff our content with keywords. Earlier, we conducted keyword research to identify common terms people use when searching for gears. While we want to include these keywords in our content, we must not sacrifice readability to meet arbitrary keyword targets.
We must not steal content from other sources. Facts should be properly referenced. Quotes should be properly attributed and never taken out of context. Graphics should either be original or, if we use stock images, properly licensed. We will not just link to someone else’s content, and we will never just copy-and-paste their content into our site.
We must stick to subjects relevant to our business. Acme manufactures and sells gears; it has nothing to do with funny pet videos, politics, religion, or social causes. If we feel strongly about any of those subjects, we can set up a personal blog and write about them there. We should keep those subjects off our company site.
Using Our Content
Simply producing content is not enough. Even the best content is useless if no one sees it. So an essential part of our content marketing strategy needs to be promoting our content. We do this through associated social media marketing.
Once we publish a new blog post, white paper, case study, or video, we should let people know with a series of posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram that include notable facts and graphics, and that link back to our content.
We can also cross-link our content. Our blog post should include a link to our matching Vimeo video, which will likewise link back to our blog post. And both should link to the request form for our associated white paper.
Are these pieces of content part of a series? Each piece should include links to the other items in the series.
If possible, we should also put in place some method of measuring the effectiveness of our content. Are people reading it? Who? Are they acting on it? How? There’s a wide range of analytics systems – both free and paid – that can generate this information, but we’ll have to put that system in place and learn how to use it.
Why Content Marketing Works
Our audience – our customers – don’t want to be marketed to. That’s why ad blockers are becoming more popular. So how does content marketing market – or promote – our business?
Content marketing avoids the hard sell and instead raises awareness, educates, and even entertains our audience, while subtly persuading them. It’s a soft sell. After reading our blog post about the pros and cons of using various alloys in a particular industrial gear, the engineering procurement manager at ABC Elevators will think, “Hey, Acme really knows its gears! I’m going to give them a call.”
To accomplish this, our content doesn’t need to be flowery or bombastic. Just the opposite is true; our content will be more effective if it’s plain and simple. Provide facts. Answer questions. Focus on practical value.
Then include a call to action.
While we avoid promoting our business in the body of the content, it’s perfectly acceptable to include a sentence or two at the end that lets readers or viewers know they can contact us to learn more – and to buy our product.
You wouldn’t attend an important business meeting looking like you just crawled out of a tent after camping in the wilderness for a week. So make sure your content reflects well on your business. It’s OK if writing isn’t part of your primary skill set; no one is good at everything. Hire a professional content producer and focus on what you do best.