When it comes to marketing, there is a lot to learn and this is because there are so many different techniques, tactics and strategies to be used in a wide variety of different kinds of marketing. If you want to become good at marketing yourself, your company, or the products and services that you sell for a company, then you must understand as much about marketing as you possibly can. What we want to talk about today is a style of marketing called content marketing that has been growing by leaps and bounds. You’re going to learn how it works, where it came from, what its benefits are, some of the ways it is done today, how you can get started doing it yourself or for your company, and much, much more. By the end, you will have a working knowledge of this critical type of marketing and be ready to begin doing it yourself if you so choose.
The Definition of Content Marketing & Its History
The term content marketing covers a lot of different concepts, but the core of it is that it is about providing ‘content’ (information of some type) to customers in order to offer them something of value and form a marketing relationship with them. Consumers today are tired of being blasted with ad after ad, and while that is a reality in our current culture, content marketing goes further than merely advertising (although this is obviously part of its function) and gives the consumer something they want. It might be educational in nature, entertaining or some mix of these two. The purpose is to introduce your brand in with something the consumer already wants.
In order for content marketing to be effective, you must know your audience well enough to know not only who they are, but what it is that they want. Since content marketing could be written articles, videos or other types of media which convey the content itself, you need to know which form your customer is most likely to consume so that you can position the content you are using in front of them and make sure they engage with it. For web-based businesses, this is a very powerful kind of marketing because digital content costs very little to distribute. There is no paper or CD or DVD that needs to be paid for, data is relatively cheap to send via the web and that has helped this become a top choice for anyone doing Internet marketing today.
That said, it is important to understand that content marketing, as hot as it is today, is not at all new. Perhaps the very first company to use it, at least in our modern era, was the John Deere Tractor Company. Way back in 1895 they decided to produce a magazine that farmers would want to read which would offer useful and entertaining information to that very specialized audience. The magazine was called The Furrow and instead of merely being a catalog of all John Deere had to offer, it attempted to give farmers information they would appreciate. It worked and today, the magazine is still in circulation over a century later. It now reaches an audience of 1.5 million people around the world and is published in a dozen different languages. Clearly, this early success demonstrated to other companies that they could benefit from this kind of marketing.
Each year, billions of dollars are poured into content marketing of all types, from magazines to web content to TV shows and more. The fact is, consumer culture craves content and when marketers can deliver it, they have a much better chance of having their brand not just recognized, but actually appreciated for contributing something of value to the life of the consumer. This is incredibly powerful and it is a marketing form that is much more adaptable to any size business than you might think.
How Content Marketing is Done Online Today
If you can think of a type of media, there is very likely someone producing content in that media format that is designed to market something. Today, those online use any and all types of media to spread the message about their brands, products and services. As mentioned, costs are low for many types of media production and the nearly instantaneous transmission we enjoy online today only makes it faster and simpler to get that content to consumers.
Most people will be familiar with written content, also called articles, that appear on websites. Many companies have sites that are rich in content and if that content really is good, and they do what they can to optimize it for the search engines, they are engaging in a form of content marketing. Other individuals and companies make content which is to be given to other sites and shown to their audiences. An example of this might be a company that sells tomato seeds creating a well written, photo illustrated guide to growing tomatoes in a greenhouse which they then share with a popular gardening blog. The gardening blog’s audience benefits because they can use this information and the fact that the seed company produced this useful guide and offers the very seeds mentioned within the guide is then good marketing for that company. Everyone wins with this formula so you can easily see why it is so popular today.
Online videos are similar in that they can be produced to be either informative or entertaining and placed on a site or distributed to other sites, including those which specialize in videos such as YouTube or Vimeo. Consumers love video and if it is well made, they could end up sharing it with those they know, furthering the reach of that video. Videos can and do go viral, which is every marketer’s dream. While videos with high production values might cost so much that only large corporations can afford to make them, there are plenty of popular videos made with a webcam from a department store, a mobile phone’s video camera or even some which are slide shows with a voice over. Videos offer many unique opportunities and can be the ideal form of content marketing for many different situations.
Audio recordings, such as podcasts, offer many of the benefits that videos and written content do. They can be a great way to give away an interview with an expert on a topic that matters to your audience. They are not quite as hot as videos, but they are just as powerful if used properly and are indeed a good way to distribute content among audiences that would prefer to listen rather than watch a video or read. Audio recordings take less to make and can therefore be done more cheaply than video, as well, or can be used in conjunction with video, where one creates a video and strip the audio from it for distribution.
PDF magazines and even infographics, which are pictures that tell a story, can be great pieces of content. People are generally visually oriented and a great image can do a great deal for a brand that knows how to use images. Services like Instagram and Tumblr can help great images get seen by the right audience for free and this is certainly something to consider as an aspect of any content marketing strategy. Photos on websites of companies, or of those who are practicing personal marketing to further their career or enterprise, can be another intelligent use of images.
Webinars and webcasts are yet another type of content that can help deliver marketing messages while providing consumers with real value they are going to appreciate. With a webinar, the concept is simple: a seminar on the web. Sometimes, the speaker or speakers are shown via video, but other times slide shows are utilized and the hosts of the webinar talk as they show things on the screen. This is a great way to teach people about any number of topics and thanks to many services available today, webinars are cheap to host. You can even have people call in and ask questions or let them do so via chat. Webinars can be sold or shared after they have been made which is definitely good. Live webinars are sometimes called webcasts, but webcasts can also be broadcasts which do not involve audience participation, similar to a TV broadcast.
These examples of content used in content marketing online today give you a good idea of what is possible. Further creative thinking will most likely reveal more options to you, but these are certainly a very solid start.
Can Solo Entrepreneurs Benefit From Content Marketing?
Absolutely and many already do. Those who are positioning themselves as experts within a specific niche will find that giving away content as a way to show their expertise is a very effective way to grow their audience. Their personal brand will get incredible exposure while, at the same time, they will be able to get such content distributed at a very low-cost – typically.
Entrepreneurs that are starting up a small or barely known company would do well to consider content marketing because it can expose that brand to the public. This is perhaps the most cost-effective form of content known to us today and if done correctly, the content created can be evergreen which means that it will stay in circulation on the web for years to come. That is very good news for those that are trying to build a customer base and it means that the effect of their marketing can be cumulative. Plus, it allows smaller companies to outmaneuver larger corporations that most likely have to have their content creation teams jump through more hoops before their content goes live on the web. Use this to your advantage.
Where Does Quality Content Come From?
The simple answer is that driven people make it, but the more complex answer is that some individuals produce their own content while others will need help. Not everyone is a writer, not everyone feels comfortable appearing or speaking on camera and so forth. For everyone who does great at making content, there are many more people who simply can’t master it. These folks will likely turn to professionals.
Having said that, we want to be clear that great content has to come from experiences. Consumers today, when they are working with businesses online especially, want to feel a connection. You might release a video of your team having fun at work, for instance, as a way to show the spirit of your company and give consumers an idea of your company culture. You might write an essay following one of your delivery drivers around for a week to experience what his days are like as a way to get people interested in your courier company. The possibilities are endless, but the more authentic your content seems to the audience, the more likely they are to respond to it and to spread it, as well.
Companies or individuals that struggle to come up with great experiences to share may want to think about staging some. Throw an event and cover it yourselves, for example. Or hold a contest and then write an article about the winner and what they’ll be doing with the prize. Content comes from the strangest places, sometimes, but those marketers that doggedly pursue things to generate content about are certainly going to make an impact with their audiences.
Many Businesses Today Outsource Their Content Creation
Not all entrepreneurs have time to create quality content and arrange for its proper distribution. Not all companies have in-house teams experienced in and dedicated to creating content for the web. Many will end up needing to outsource in order to create great content and get it put in front of all the right people. This is called outsourcing and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, it can save both time and money while increasing the effectiveness of content marketing campaigns which is certainly a very good thing.
If your company does not have skilled writers, then turning to a firm that does is a viable way to get quality written content for your website, blog or to distribute as part of content marketing outreach. If you’re a solo entrepreneur and you simply do not want to deal with the video making process, you can usually find an affordable solution online from a freelancer or even a student. Content creation, whether you do it yourself or not, is all about thinking creatively and leveraging whatever assets are at your disposal.
The Importance of Social Media in Content Marketing
Social media is only getting more important to marketers by the year and there is nothing to indicate that this will change anytime soon. Consumers love utilizing social media services and they will very likely continue to, so your company needs to be involved in this – even if you need to hire someone to handle it. The thing is, social media without real engagement is just another form of advertising and not at all what consumers are interested in. Those companies that succeed at social media marketing are doing so because they use social media platforms to distribute good content. They might share a quality blog post or an exciting video or something else entirely, but they are giving to their audience and the audience responds to that.
Keep in mind that social media is quite inexpensive to get involved in and this is why it needs to be built into your overall content marketing plans. You will find that audiences respond to quality content on these services in a big way and since they can so easily indicate or share what they like, you can go viral very quickly. That’s why really investing time into developing a good social media presence is going to be a key to your success with content marketing. It doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive, it just has to be effective at conveying what your brand is about.
Why Small and Local Businesses Need to Do Content Marketing
Often, very small businesses and those targeting local audiences think that doing content marketing on the web is not really going to do much for them. This is false because more and more people are now on mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers, using the web while they are on the go. These people are often looking for a business near them while they are out and about. If your business is mentioned in some great content, they just might pay you a visit. If you’ve got a page that your content will be referencing and linking to, be sure your address and phone number are featured prominently in order to rope in this particular segment of your overall demographic.
Local businesses also have local loyalties when it comes to their audience and those audience members may be more prone to sharing your content since they relate to it. People have pride in where they are from or where they live and you can use that to your advantage. Often, these audiences are easy to connect with and they can do a great deal to give you an excellent value with their participation. You might even consider featuring them in your content marketing to show your appreciation for their loyalty.
Consider how content marketing can help you form alliances with other local businesses, too. If you offer complimentary products or services, you can share the costs of content marketing and make things easier for everyone involved.
In the end, local business success is going to be much easier for those that are paying attention to just how much search engines are focusing on delivering local results their searchers and also how smartphones are altering the web, along with social media. You do not want to miss out on a chance to establish your business online early with content marketing no matter how small your particular town happens to be.
Developing a Content Marketing Strategy Before Starting is a Must
While strategy is important for all forms of marketing, when it comes to content marketing, it is even more important than usual. This is because in order for content marketing to be effective, you are going to have to be disciplined in producing and distributing content. It needs to be served up fresh on a regular basis so that consumers will grow accustomed to coming to look for it. This is the tricky part and it means scheduling intelligently, especially if you plan to produce part or all of your own content.
Another thing that is going to need to be part of your strategy is deciding what ‘voice’ you want to take when you produce content. Is your company fun? Are you serious experts who don’t play around? Are you about fast action or taking a slow, relaxed path. Your content should reflect the tone of your brand and let consumers instantly know that what they are engaging with comes from your brand. Those brands that do this very well, like the John Deere Tractor Company we mentioned earlier, are going to find that the benefits of content marketing increase dramatically for them.
Smaller businesses will need a different strategy, like solo entrepreneurs, in order to reach larger audiences. Often, this involves giving content away to those who already have a large audience that do not compete with you in your area of business. Guest posts for blogs that are popular is a great way to go to get content in front of a larger, established audience and this is an easy, low-cost way to get your content marketing to be remarkably effective.
Remember, if outsourcing needs to be a part of your strategy, choose a respected source of content and let them know what you need in as specific a way as you can. This is going to wind up giving you very strong benefits and make your content marketing easier for you to manage. The key is to succeed and if you need outside help or even consultation, don’t be afraid to seek it out. In the end, the return on investment should be high and you will have a larger and more targeted audience if you have done your content marketing in such a way that it is genuinely effective.