Content Marketing - Writing to Sell!

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer actions.” - CM Institute 

Pay close attention to the highlighted words in the above definition of content marketing from the Content Marketing Institute. These highlighted words are what we will focus on. They are broken up into four categories:

Bold - The What of Content Marketing
Underline - The How of Content Marketing
Italic - The Why of Content Marketing
Bold Italic - The Who of Content Marketing

The What of Content Marketing

Content Marketing What

Content marketing, as its name implies, is all about content. However, it's not just about writing content, it’s about writing a specific kind of content. It’s about writing content that is valuable, relevant and consistent. Let’s break this down a bit and as we do it’s important to know that all three of these aspects are intertwined and on cannot survive without the other.

Valuable Content

Valuable Content

What makes a piece of content “valuable”? Is it your compelling sales pitch or the unarguable quality of your product? Absolutely not. Valuable content is content with a greater purpose. It seeks to inform and educate those that read it. Valuable content is findable, readable, understandable, applicable and sharable.

First, valuable content must be findable. Remember consumers are looking for solutions and yours just might be it. If potential customers are unable to find your content when researching they could be missing out.

Valuable content must be readable. It’s easy to write a blog post and simply publish it. However, that blog post may be littered with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. This makes content hard to read and can turn off potential buyers. See 7 Blogging Mistakes You Should Avoid for more on this subject.

Your content must be understandable. We all want to sound intelligent but readers want to be able to understand what you're saying. They are searching for solutions to their problems because they are not experts in the field. If they were, they wouldn't need you. Don’t write above your reader's head. Use common language that can be understood by those without experience. When technical jargon cannot be avoided be sure to provide clear explanations for what those terms mean.

Really valuable content must be applicable. While your goal should never be to provide a full and complete resource that makes your product or service obsolete, you should be offering potential clients something that they can take home and apply right away. This gets them one step closer to their goal and they will always remember where they got the information from.

Finally, valuable content should be sharable. If all of the other requirements above have been met, your potential customers may be inclined to share what they have learned. You must insure that you provide them with the means to do so. Adding social share buttons to your blog makes sharing easy and encourages your readers to pass it along. This is not only free publicity for you, but friends will trust friends long before they will trust you so it’s an added bonus.

Relevant Content

Relevant Content

Remember that buyers are not looking for products, they are looking for solutions. Your content needs to reflect this. Constant sales pitches and off topic blog posts only prove that you do not truly understand your readers. By meeting them where they are, at their needs, you can create content that is relevant to the current situation.

Relevancy also refers to the specific topics covered in your blog posts. If you are a clothing store avoid topics that do not relate to fashion, fabrics and style. Writing an article about the top 10 dessert recipes of month will only serve to confuse readers and provide no solutions to the problem they are currently facing. While content marketing is not focused on constantly selling, your topics should coincide with your industry, services and products.

Consistent Content

Consistant Content

Consistency in your message is vitally important to buyers. They want to see that you are not just throwing out a bunch of ideas that you think that they want to hear. They want to see that you truly believe in what you are saying. Trust is a major factor in any purchase. If buyers feel that they do not trust a you they will never be comfortable giving you money.

Consistency is also directly related to our second point in relevancy. Stay on topic, avoid off-industry topics and provide your readers with a consistent set of articles. This will serve to build trust as each article builds upon the next showing that you have a much fuller understanding of your industry and can be trusted.

The How of Content Marketing

Content Marketing How

Successful content marketing is the result of three global tasks, strategic planning, content creation and content distribution. The removal of any of these three items will result in poor content marketing that sees little ROI.

Strategic

Strategic Content

Content marketing requires strategic planning. There are actually two plans that need to be focused on for a successful content marketing campaign. The first is your overall Content Marketing Strategy and the second is your Content Strategy. At first glance you may find yourself thinking that these two items are one in the same, but there are some very important differences that we need to take a look at.

You can think of your Content Marketing Strategy as your overall, long term, marketing plan. The focus here is to provide ways to engage your users and to drive them to take profitable actions.

Your Content Strategy on the other hand dives deep into each individual piece of content and focuses on the creation, publication and governance of useful, usable content.

These two items go hand in hand with one another to create a successful content marketing campaign. Your Content Marketing Strategy defines where and how you want users to interact with your content. Your Content Strategy provides the means by which those actions can be taken.

Created

Created Content

Content must be created. While this may seem like a given, this can be one of the most difficult aspects of content marketing. As business owners it can seem impossible to find time to generate ideas, research and write a blog post in the midst of all the other tasks your day demands. Since content marketing does not always have an instant ROI it can be pushed back for what is considered “more important.” However, if no content exists there is no content marketing. There are no solutions for potential customers to find and you could be losing quite a bit of money to your competitors.

Not to mention that the more content you have created and distributed, the more potential inroads you have to your website. You may be missing out on some traffic as well simply because you only have a select, small amount of inroads to your site. Great content marketing campaigns provide solutions and as many roads as possible to access those solutions, but it all starts at creation.

Distributed

Distributed Content

Content distribution is more than just posting your article on your website. What we’re talking about here is large-scale distribution. Are you posting links on your social media networks? How about in forums where users have asked questions that you know your post can answer?

This step requires a greater knowledge and understanding of your target customer. We need to know who they are and where they “hanging out” online so that we can provide them with the solutions they are looking for.

Finally, content distribution relies heavily on statistical analysis. You should be using some form of traffic analytics (Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, etc) to track what distribution avenues are working and which are not. Say you post links to your blog on Facebook and Twitter. Within days you see a major increase in your website's conversion rate. Without some form of analytics, how do you know which was the more successful avenue. Maybe it’s Twitter because you have more followers, so you run a full scale Twitter campaign only to find out that it was Facebook all along or vice-versa. Analytics are vital to the success of any content marketing strategy and to successful content distribution.

The Why of Content Marketing

Content Marketing Why

So why is all of this so important? Why would you spend so much time and effort writing blog posts and posting them all over the internet?

Attract

Attract Customers

The first major reason why we spend all this time creating content is to attract potential customers to our site. Blog posts such as “5 Simple Steps to Destroying Your Business” or “7 Proven Strategies to Increase Blog Traffic By 206%” entice potential readers to click through. How exactly does this work?

The first example uses a negative incentive to attract readers. It entices readers to click through to check and make sure they are not doing the things described in the article. It attracts readers because they don’t want to be doing those things.

The second uses a positive incentive. Who doesn’t want more traffic? More traffic = more potential leads = more potential sales. There is quite a bit wrong with this mindset, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this article. This headline attracts readers by promising a proven strategy to increase your traffic by 206%, that’s a lot.

Regardless of which route you take, back your attraction with facts. Do not promise a 206% traffic increase if it’s not something your article or blog will actually allow users to attain. Misleading and flat out lying headlines immediately break the trust of your potential clients. Be honest and trustworthy and you’ll see a bigger ROI on your content marketing.

Retain

Retain Loyalty

People subscribe to great blogs. If your content is great and benefits the read they will come back each time you post something new. With each new blog you will increase your credibility and the trust your readers have in you.

Retention is important because not everything you post will hit home with everyone. Gaining regular readership increases the likelihood that you will touch on a subject that is close to home with someone. When that happens, all the great articles before it have served to prime the pump on making the sale.

Finally, retention means you’ve won a soldier in your camp. Branding in our age is all about social identification. People want to identify as members of a “tribe.” Again, this discussion is beyond the scope of this article, however, retention means that in some way, an individual has identified themselves as being part of your “tribe.” This identification grows loyalty, loyal users share and support your business as well as encourage others to do the same.

Drive Profitable Customer Actions

Drive Profitable Actions

At the end of the day, this is really what it’s all about. Your goal is to drive profitable customer actions. Whether that’s filling out a form, picking up the phone or adding an item to the shopping cart all of your content marketing efforts are focused on users taking these specific actions. 

There are countless actions that you could be driving with your content. It is a very bad idea to attempt to get users to perform all of them within a single post. This goes back to our strategic planning and the actions you’ve defined there.

There are also countless reason why you would want users to perform an action. It may be to get a lead, it may be to schedule an appointment or it may be to perform a transaction right then and there. Again we must look back to our plan to figure out why we want users to take an action.

There is a fine line here that must never be crossed or else your entire content marketing strategy will fall flat on its face. That line is drawn at Trust, Honesty and Respect. If you disrespect your readers, they will know. Lie to them, they will know. Trick/Pressure them into performing action they don’t want to take, they will know. You will not be able to hide shady business practices from today’s online consumer base. They are practiced, experienced and on the lookout for business just like that. Once they are identified, they are written off and just as loyal customers share, like and subscribe, angry customers will share, discourage and avoid.

Be transparent and honest in all of your content marketing efforts. It will pay off in the long run.

The Who of Content Marketing

A clearly defined audience

We come to the final leg of our journey, who. Who are we writing all of this content for?

Clearly-Defined Audience

You can waste your time pumping me full of ads selling your sports memorabilia and I promise you you will see a 0% ROI on that investment. Why? Is it because I don’t trust your company? Is it because I’m not loyal to you? Or is it because I just don’t really care for sports and wouldn’t buy memorabilia from anyone?

Knowing your customer has always been vital to the successful growth of a business. Content marketing is no different. You have to know who it is that would be interested in buying what you’re selling. Once you’ve identified who they are you need to discover where they “hang out” online. Is it Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, are they participating in forums, what blogs do they read and comment on. Identifying all of these aspects and many more about your target market are essential to the success of your content marketing campaign.

While this is the last portion of this article, it is and should be the first step in the entire process. Before you plan, before you write and before you distribute, you must identify for whom you are doing all these things. This will make you more targeted, more focused and more successful in the long run.

One Final Thought

This entire article has focused on content marketing from a blogging standpoint. I've done so because it's a prime place to use strategic content marketing. You can provide a plethora of useful, attractive content which can be used to drive profitable user actions. That being said, content marketing should not exist solely within your blog.  Everything from your about page to your website's sidebars and even traditional print ads can be used to create a powerful content marketing campaign.

Do not limit your use of content marketing. Reach for new, undiscovered avenues and get your message out there. Provide readers with informative, useful, honest information that they can take home and apply to get one step closer to their goal. They will remember you for that and when it comes time to make the transition from reader to customer, they will be more inclined to do it with you!