(originally published in Costco Connection Magazine, September 2014)
Know Your Customer
There is no single content marketing approach that will work for all businesses. For example, a software company that sells exclusively to online customers might create a blog to boost inbound search engine leads. Conversely, a local moving company might offer a free moving tips e-book to boost the effectiveness of its radio and newspaper advertisements.
Although every business must determine its own strategy, content marketing should always flow from a clear understanding of how customers investigate your products and ser- they validate buying options).
Next, develop buyer personas—general snapshots of people who make purchasing decisions for your products and services. Buyer personas can be based on demographics, job responsibilities or how prospects prefer to receive and consume content. You can research buyer personas by studying your website analytics, analyzing search trends or polling your existing clients and customers.
“Brainstorm with your staff and salespeople about common questions your prospects ask before they ever arrive at your site,” says Scott Benson of Benson SEO, a Washington, D.C.–based inbound marketing consultancy. “Then, build your content marketing strategy around answering these questions. This ensures your content is useful and relevant, and can help smaller companies compete for competitive search terms.”
For example, Toronto-based Costco member inFlow Inventory, an inventory management software company, developed its content strategy around keyword research that showed prospects searched for an “inventory template” before purchasing inventory software. Taking advantage of this insight, the company created a blog post listing downloadable inventory templates. This strategy boosted inFlow’s search rankings and attracted thousands of website visitors who later became customers.
Promote Your Content
To ensure that your content spreads beyond your own website, develop relation- ships with industry websites and influencers, trade associations and journalists who cover your industry. Use your content to earn third- party credibility, grow your brand and expand your network by earning endorsements from sources your prospects trust.
Voices.com in Ontario, Canada, a company that connects businesses with professional voice talent, created an extensive online resource center with free educational webinars, video tutorials, articles and e-books. David Ciccarelli, the company’s co-founder and CEO, credits third-party credibility with landing major clients, such as PBS, Microsoft and the Discovery Channel. “Content marketing is our single most effective source of new business, especially when it’s been mentioned or published on high-profile media sites, including Wall Street Journal and Forbes,” he says.
“Social media can advance your content marketing efforts by connecting content with more people in your target market,” says LinkedIn group product marketing manager Lana Khavinson, who cites how AmeriFirst Home Mortgage uses social media to pro- mote its blog articles, e-books, infographics and videos that help people navigate the home-buying process.
“LinkedIn connects us with real estate agents and builders who refer their clients to us for financing,” says AmeriFirst inbound marketing specialist Dan Moyle. “Combining con- tent marketing with social media helped our website go from 3,000 views per month, with virtually no lead conversions, to over 5,000 views per month, with 2.5 percent converting to new customers.”
As consumers increasingly go online to research products and services, it’s imperative that businesses maintain websites with fresh, useful information. However, content marketing should not be viewed as a panacea. It is most effective when integrated into an appropriate marketing mix for your business, which can include search engine optimization, social media, advertising, lead nurturing, strategic partnerships and offline marketing.
“Content marketing is not a silver bullet that will drive your entire marketing program,” says expert Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketing. “But when approached realistically and strategically, content marketing can boost your website traffic, generate more leads, establish your expertise and lower new-customer acquisition costs. Patience and consistency is key. Content marketing is like brushing your teeth: It should be done on a regular basis and never end.”
Experts agree that content marketing should be approached as a marathon, not a sprint. “Content marketing establishes trust that can lead to sales,” says Sheridan. “But you have to commit for the long haul and not expect instant results. But when you commit to being the most helpful teacher in your industry you can earn attention, loyalty and ultimately more business.”