Where do you start with content marketing? The first step is develop a plan that looks at your goals, conversion actions, key audiences and ways to reach those groups.
There’s no magic to creating a usable content marketing strategy.
It’s kind of like building a habit.
Actually, you are building a habit – a content marketing habit. Like all habits, this one is easier to keep if it’s simple, effective and easy.
Your basic content marketing strategy should have just a few elements:
- Identify objectives that impact your business’ bottom line.
- Determine what actions can help you achieve those objectives.
- Pinpoint the customer groups who are most likely to take action.
- Create content marketing materials that will motivate each group.
- Promote that content to those customer groups.
- Evaluate how you did.
Before we dive into the actual strategy, it’s important to first talk about a few time considerations.
- Content marketing takes time.Content marketing is not for the impatient. The reality is that you’ll need at least three to six months of effort before you see any traction with social media outreach. Blogs can take longer.
- Make it easy. Automate, curate and outsource your content.You can make content marketing easier by making sure it doesn’t become time-consuming. Always be looking for what you can automate or outsource (even to a Fiverr gig). Most marketers are under a lot of time pressure, and small business owners are under even more time pressure. Programs like Hootsuite and Buffer can ease some of that time pressure by allowing you to easily automate and schedule your original and reshared content.
Sharing other people’s content is one of the best ways to save time with content marketing. Keep in… [+]
The first question: What’s your objective?
The first content strategy question to ask is: What do you want out of this?
Don’t just say “more business.” Be specific and measurable.
To give you an idea of some common objectives, here’s what Ascend2’s 2015 “Content-Marketing Trends Summary Report” found:
Customer engagement, lead generation and brand awareness are the most important objectives for many… [+]
Here’s an example of how this could work. You have to pick an objective that will impact your bottom line. For example, do you want:
- 30 new leads a month?
- 5,000 email subscribers?
- To double your website traffic?
- 1,000 Facebook likes?
- More first-time orders?
Which of those objectives would have the greatest impact?
The number of leads.
While the others can help build your audience numbers, they don’t do much to contribute to your business’ financial bottom line. HOWEVER, you can use them to support your quest for new leads. Here’s how:
- The website traffic and Facebook likes generate the email subscribers.
- The email subscribers, whom you can communicate with directly and regularly, generate the leads.
- The leads or orders convert into actual business revenue.
Determine what actions you need: What are your conversions?
Perhaps your objective has nothing to do with leads. Maybe your financial bottom line is impacted by repeat customers or webinar attendees. As long as they impact your cash flow, you’re good. However, if you’re not sure WHAT is going to most directly convert into quantifiable business, you need find out.
Don’t leap into creating content without this information. You need to know your conversions – the triggers that make people respond to your messages. Without knowing this, you’re basically throwing stuff at a wall and hoping something sticks.
There’s another reason you want to find the key conversions for your content marketing – return on investment (ROI). Once you know what you want to build your content marketing strategy for, you’ve got a direct way to anchor your ROI.
Determine a value for these conversions. For example, each lead gained from content marketing may be worth $35 to you. Maybe each subscriber is worth $10. Count it however you like.
You now have the architecture to track the ROI for your content marketing. That just about doubles your chances for success.
Pinpoint customer groups: Who do you want to reach?
The next thing to tie down is what audience you want to create this content marketing for. Consider:
- Who is the ideal audience for your content? (These are the people most likely to buy or become clients.)
- What does this ideal audience want to know?
- Which social media platforms do they use?
- What influencers can help you reach this audience?
- What kind of tone would work best for marketing to this audience? Serious? Playful?
- What other outlets- such as blogs or major publications -can you promote your content on?
Without an audience that wants it, the content doesn’t really matter. Know your audience’s priorities as you plan. Focus on what THEY want to know, not what you want to tell them.
Defining your audience is so important that many marketers break their audience down into groups called personas. Each persona has unique demographics, beliefs and needs pertaining to your business. For example, a real estate broker might have personas for home buyers that include single females, single males, married couples and married couples with children.
A real estate professional would have several marketing personas, including married couples with… [+]
You’re going to create content for each one of these personas, and for each step they take along their “buyer journey.” There are usually at least three phases of a buyer’s journey, so if you’ve got three persona types, that means you’ll need at least one piece of top-grade content for each phase of all three personas. That’s nine pieces of content, minimum.
Caption: Different phases of the buyer’s journey often use different kinds of content. (Image:… [+]
Here’s how we could map that journey with our married couple with children persona from the real estate example:
|Persona||Phase 1: Awareness||Phase 2: Consideration||Phase 3: Decision|
|Married couple with children||Share a news article about the area’s highest rated schools.||Share a few sample listings of homes available in that area.||Share some testimonials from other families who bought homes with your help.|
There’s one last essential thing to know about your personas: Where do they tend to consume their content? You need to know that for the next step.
- Are they video watchers?
- LinkedIn pros?
- Email readers?
Create content for your customer groups: What will you say?
Now that you know what actions you want prospects to take, who they are, and where they tend to find or consume your content, you can finally create some content.
Focus on being useful first. Think up 50 different content ideas that would be very helpful. When you’ve got the 50-item list, slash it down to at least half. Cut out the hardest to create, the least useful, the lamest ideas. Commit to creating the content that survived the cut.
Here’s a secret for making content creation easier: Never create a piece of content and only use it once. Every single piece of content you make needs to be reused and recycled.
As an example, every blog post could:
- Become content for an email.
- Be rewritten into a section of an ebook.
- Be broken into 10-15 different tweets and social media posts.
- Be made into an infographic (even a really simple one) for those same social networks.
- Be reposted on an appropriate industry site (like Medium or LinkedIn).
After that’s done, it’s time to promote.
Promote your content for those customer groups: How will you reach them?
This is as important as the content planning and creation. Spend at least as much time promoting each piece of content as you did creating it. Promotion includes:
- Sharing your work on social media.
- Reaching out to influencers.
- Optimizing your content for search engine traffic.
Promotion matters a lot in content marketing. Unfortunately, it’s probably the most overlooked part of a strategy. It’s also the most common reason content marketing fails.
Emails, social media posts, tweets and SEO are good organic ways to promote your content, but you should also consider adding paid options such as sponsored posts and advertising to the mix. Paid promotion is a great way to get your content in front of time-sensitive or very specific audience groups.
Evaluate your strategy: How did you do?
You baked evaluation in at the beginning when you decided your objectives and conversions; these analytics close the loop of your content marketing strategy.
Refer to your analytics and your metrics, then circle all the way back around to the beginning of your strategy. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Did you achieve your objectives?
- Were your conversion actions effective or do you have to tweak them a bit?
- Did your content have the right messages for your audience?
- Did your audience act on your content?
Once you have your answers, go back to your strategy and make the needed changes. Your strategy is a living document that will be revised over and over again.
P.S. – Have a written strategy
According to a 2015 study conducted by the Content Marketing Institute, 35 percent of business-to-business marketers said they had a documented content marketing strategy, while 48 percent said they had a strategy, but didn’t write it down.
Sixty percent of businesses with a written strategy rated their content marketing as highly effective; only 32 percent of those who didn’t write it out said the same.
A content marketing plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Don’t be intimidated by the trove of books so-called content marketing experts have been written; much of what you need to learn about content marketing can only be learned by doing.
This is the second article in my three-part series on Content Marketing Basics. Read the first article, “Need A Good Crash Course in Content Marketing? Start Here.“
The final article, “The Most Overlooked Factor of Content Marketing: Scannability,” looks at how to get people to actually READ your material and comes out Friday, Dec. 18.Brian Sutter
I’m the Director of Marketing for Wasp Barcode Technologies, a software company that provides solutions to small businesses that increase profit and efficiency. I have… Read More
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5 Unexpected Places To Find Your Next Great Business Idea
Recently, Apple became the first U.S. company to be valued at $2 trillion. This is all the more striking considering just two years ago Apple became the first U.S. company to be valued at $1 trillion.
All of this got me thinking: what makes for a trillion-dollar business idea? What will the next one be? What’s the secret sauce shared by today’s rocket-ship companies?
And, on a much more basic level, what goes into a winning business idea, to begin with?
To find out, I put out an open call to friends and colleagues on social media — a cross section of millions of amazing entrepreneurs, innovators and just plain brilliant people from tech, media retail and more — and asked what inspires their business ideas.
This list is by no means comprehensive. But I hope their insights (edited below) can provide a little inspiration to help accelerate your next big thing, whether that’s a trillion-dollar valuation or just your next side hustle:
I’m constantly researching and studying people in person and online. I’m always asking them questions about what their biggest challenge and pain is and asking them why it’s so painful for them. I look for the simple answer in the pain.” — Lewis Howes, New York Times Bestselling Author | Top 100 Podcast in the World with The School of Greatness | Former Pro Athlete
I love Lewis’ emphasis on pain here. Not “pain points,” but pain. He’s talking about real physical frustration and angst. The stuff that bothers you deep down, that keeps you up at night, that makes your life harder and that’s begging for relief. It’s that kind of urgency and immediacy that’s behind some of the best business ideas.
I look for business model disruptions caused by technology. How does technology shift power from one group to another, and what are the scenarios for the incumbent to restore balance? I’ve done this a few times in my career, first in the e-commerce phase, then with the social media era, then with the sharing/collaborative economy, then with the autonomous world. — Jeremiah Owyang, Entrepreneur, speaker, analyst
Instability and change always create opportunities. Net new markets and needs emerge. Existing business models can’t fill the gap. People are desperate for solutions that help them restore balance. In my experience, entrepreneurs with the energy, vision and risk-tolerance to plunge in early can be rewarded with big upsides.
Find frustration. Add tech
For me, it’s the intersection of frustration and technology. Idea-wise, it starts with a problem. Something I am trying to do is difficult. The process is poor or the service is bad. The inspiration comes from everywhere. Great tech is all around us but people often view it in a narrow fashion. — Terry Hogan, Managing Director at Flow Car Finance
What I love about this is the recognition that great business ideas aren’t about reinventing the wheel. Frustrations exist. Tools exist. Some of the best entrepreneurs out there just find creative approaches to bring those two elements together in ways that were overlooked before. Plus, apart from solving problems, tech also enables scaling solutions and reaching markets in ways unthinkable before.
Ask yourself, “What’s not here?”
Alec makes this sound easy, but it’s not. Some of the best entrepreneurs out there have a knack for sensing what’s absent, and filling that gap. Being a boundary-crosser helps; jumping between different geographies, disciplines or demographics makes it easier to spot what’s missing. (Alec fits the bill nicely, a Canadian hockey play turned Mexican coffee roaster!)
Listen to hearts, not lips
When I truly listen to what people are saying and hear what they’re truly needing — not what they “think” they need — that’s where the magic happens. — Jill Sinclair, International Keynote & TEDx Speaker | Executive Coach | Author
This reminds me of what Steve Jobs said about customers in the context of the iPhone: “Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.” Great entrepreneurs sense the problems (and solutions) people don’t even know they have. Their businesses are less about giving customers what they explicitly ask for than intuiting and serving deeper, underlying needs.
Thanks so much to everyone who shared their brilliant ideas. Startup success is hardly an exact science — and execution obviously plays a central role. But great ideas, so often dismissed as “napkin sketches,” really do matter. My own company started with a simple question: Wouldn’t it be great if you could manage all your social networks from one place? Twelve years later, we wouldn’t be here without that lightbulb moment.
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