Developing An Integrated Content Marketing Strategy

freedigitalphotos_puzzlePhilippa Kennealy, a former family physician, launched The Entrepreneurial MD in 2005 to help aspiring physician-entrepreneurs build successful businesses. At the outset, she focused her entire start-up marketing strategy through her website, publishing content via a blog, podcast, teleseminars and free self-study materials, assuming that physician prospects would naturally go online to seek out her coaching business.

However, after six months of putting her content marketing program, prospects were still not flocking to her website. In search of answers, she talked with several physicians and asked them to evaluate her online marketing strategy.

Their responses surprised her. Though she received positive feedback on her quality content, many of her peers noted that medical trade publications still remained their primary source for learning about new products and services. “It was a wake-up call,” recalls Kennealy. “Online marketing was obviously important, but because doctors don’t sit at their computers all day I had to reach them on their own terms.”

Philippa began including offline marketing tactics, contributing articles to magazines such as Physician Executive and Doctor’s Digest and pursuing speaking opportunities at medical conferences. Within a year, Philippa’s prospect-focused efforts paid off as she established herself as a thought leader and positioned the Entrepreneurial MD as a leading online resource on physician entrepreneurship.

One Approach Does Not Fit All

A majority of businesses now create and distribute educational content to engage prospective clients or customers; articles, blogs, e-newsletters and social media are top tactics. According to the Marketing Profs and Content Marketing Institute study, content marketing is becoming widely adopted as a marketing practice.

Companies embrace content marketing to boost brand recognition, sales leads and position their companies as industry thought leaders. Because content marketing relies on providing relevant educational or how-to information, it is typically implemented online as consumers increasingly turn to the Internet to find and evaluate products and services.

Unfortunately, the “online only” mantra has a one-dimensional reality. Even as businesses continue to reach and convert prospects through a combination of online and offline marketing, many tilt indiscriminately toward online-only content programs and ignore the offline realities of their target market and industry.

Though establishing an effective web presence is a reality for all businesses, placing tactics (content) ahead of the essential first question (what’s appropriate for my niche/ideal prospect?) is a recipe for creating a wildly ineffective marketing strategy.

Start with Your Target Market

According to the MarketingProfs study, the greatest challenge for many content marketers is “producing the kind of content that engages prospects and customers” (41% of respondents).

To address this challenge, you must not simply follow advice from online marketing gurus who may not understand your particular marketplace. You must include members of your target market in developing your content marketing strategy and listen carefully to their feedback.

Engage your clients and customers. This simple strategy of testing your assumptions and incorporating market feedback can save you time and money while ensuring your content marketing hits the mark.

Don’t rely solely on social media inquiries for answers. Instead, talk to non-competitive businesses already serving your target market, or trade media editors in your target industry. Pick up the phone and talk to people, or attend live networking events and explain your content marketing ideas to people in real time, such as the best types/forms of content, and the best venues for publishing or distributing your content.

Choose Content Tactics Wisely. Smart content marketers choose only the most effective approaches, integrated effectively with other possible offline tactics, backed up with market research, always tying their content marketing efforts to strategic considerations as the litmus test, monitoring and adjusting accordingly. For example:

A restaurant may decide that it’s best to focus on quality and real-time customer service as top priorities, with content such as a blog playing a minor role. The greatest return on its efforts might be in encouraging positive online customer reviews on sites like Trip Advisor or Yelp.

An online retailer of pet relocation products might find that prospects do, indeed, look online for information and solutions, deciding to provide educational content around preparing for international pet moves such as free information on airline pet policies and instructional YouTube videos.

A management consulting firm trying to reach CEOs may find that establishing thought leadership through speaking and authoring a book is the highest priority, with LinkedIn Group participation and blogging playing a supporting role.

Become a Resource. However you choose to pursue content marketing, it will always center on providing honest, objective, actionable advice to your target marketplace. It starts with a willingness to share what you know and helping prospects find solutions to their problems, driven by a first-hand understanding of what your prospects want to see from your company.

Smiling Albino, a former client and a Southeast Asia travel company, created a content marketing program aimed at upscale travelers, focusing in part on producing online travel videos. How did they learn that travel prospects wanted video? First, by talking to past clients and validating this insight with online research, which yielded a Google study The Role of Video in the Travel Shopping Process. It validated and led to producing videos aimed at their target market.

Content marketing should always deliver on your prospects’ unique needs, whether it is practiced online, offline or via a combination. After all, content marketing is not really new. Public relations and marketing professionals have been using many forms of educational content marketing for decades.

You can learn from what’s worked before. Though social media and other Web 2.0-based marketing have brought new tools for change, the basic elements of what constitute an expert or thought leader remain the same. This means that your content marketing program should be driven by a blended approach that matches your particular marketplace.

“My integrated (content marketing) approach delivers complimentary benefits,” says Philippa. “Offline media coverage and speaking bring doctors to my blog; the blog, in turn, helps traditional journalists find me online, which results in interviews in offline medical trade journals;  journalists contact me at least every other month, if not more. This leads to speaking invitations where I reach members of my target audience and get new business.”

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