It’s one of the catchiest buzzwords in the online world right now: content marketing.
A good content marketing strategy can make your business a lot of money if it’s planned and executed well.
At the same time, a poorly planned and executed content marketing strategy will cost you.
There are lots of components and moving parts involved, and we’ll get into some of that in this post.
Let’s start with this:
What Is Content Marketing?
Here are the content marketing basics: content marketing is a big-picture marketing strategy designed to attract highly qualified prospects to your brand. By designing, creating, and distributing content that your prospects are already looking for, you increase your brand exposure, build trust, and expand your fanbase.
That’s a broad definition, so to really understand content marketing, we first need to define content.
Essentially, the term “content” refers to every piece of media your business produces and shares, both online and off.
That’s a lot of stuff, isn’t it?
It’s also kind of a vague definition, so think of it this way:
The face that you create for your business through online and offline communications, from social media updates to product descriptions, sales letters to banner ads, is content.
It’s everything you do that sends a message from your company to consumers.
Therefore, content marketing is the practice of using all of that stuff to build a brand, communicate a specific message, and gain customers.
If you’re still a little confused, that’s okay. This is a big, nebulous topic, and there are quite a lot of misunderstandings about it.
Blogging Is NOT The Same Thing As Content Marketing
Updating your blog regularly with new posts is part of content marketing.
Just because you have a blog doesn’t mean you have a content marketing strategy.
They are not the same thing.
Think about this:
Social media marketing is a common business strategy, and it’s effective for companies of all shapes and sizes…
But isn’t there a big difference between the things GoPro posts on their Facebook page and the stuff your friends from high school share?
Simply posting a Facebook update isn’t social media marketing.
Likewise, writing a blog post isn’t necessarily content marketing.
Good blogs are usually at the core of successful content marketing strategies because they attract traffic to your website and expose more people to your brand and your marketing message.
As a longtime professional blogger, it’s a little hard for me to admit this, but…
It’s not about the blog.
It’s about the brand.
Why Content Marketing Works So Darned Well
When you think of advertising, how do you feel?
If you’re like most people, you probably feel annoyed, harassed, or overwhelmed by the amount of advertising you see on a daily basis.
Most of us actually go out of our way to avoid ads – we use DVRs to skip commercials, ad blockers to get rid of popups and banner ads online, and spam filters on our email accounts.
As business owners, we spend a lot of time and money trying to break through that noise and overcome the negative feelings associated with marketing.
The real strength of content marketing is this:
Highly qualified potential customers – people who actually want products and services like yours – voluntarily put forth effort to find you and read your marketing materials.
Rather than just shoving a sales pitch at as many people as possible, you create a brand that attracts the right people to your website.
Now, you can build a relationship with those people.
One of the most important (and most overlooked) factors to all of this is value.
Qualified prospects come to your site because they’re getting something valuable from it, not because they’re hoping to give you some money.
While they’re reading your funny blog post or watching your video tutorial, they’re also building trust, developing a relationship, and learning about your brand, because:
Nothing Exists in a Bubble
Your blog is connected to your sales pages, which are connected to your Facebook page, which is connected to your About page, which is…
You get the point.
Content marketing is all about leveraging everything your brand produces, from your business cards to your website design and everything in between.
If you’ve done a good job developing your brand and planning your content marketing strategy, every piece of content you produce broadcasts and reinforces your voice and message.
Imagine this scenario:
Your business specialty is installing patios in residential homes, and you’ve got a very clear brand centered around being friendly, easy to work with, and quick.
As part of your content marketing strategy, you write a blog post that gives homeowners clear instructions on how to build their own patio.
The voice in your blog post is friendly and helpful, just like your brand, and your information is extensive and helpful.
When a homeowner who’s thinking about building their own patio comes to your website to read your tutorial, they feel that you’re friendly and easy to work with, and they can clearly see that you’re helpful and very knowledgeable.
Knowing that digging a patio is hard work, they decide to enlist your services, instead.
That’s content marketing in action!
Let’s look a little deeper into this example:
The hypothetical blog post was…
- Attractive to the kind of person who might want to buy your services.
- Valuable for the reader.
- Well-branded so that your core message was still present, even indirectly.
- Easy enough for readers to find.
That’s the difference between a blog post and a content marketing strategy.
Branding Through Content
You might be noticing a theme in this post – branding.
Think of your brand as your company’s personality.
In the same way that we get a feel for human personalities through things like facial expressions, tone of voice, actions, and words, we pick up on brand personalities with cues from color, design, word choice, and affiliations.
In other words:
Branded content has a consistent voice and style, which means that things like word choice, humor, and attitude are constant throughout everything your business produces.
Achieving a cohesive and homogenous voice in everything from product descriptions to tweets is easier said than done, of course.
On top of that, it’s important that your brand has integrity – it’s genuine, and you’re the same online and offline.
Be true to yourself and your company, and also pay attention to what resonates with your potential customers.
The sweet spot for branding is where your personality overlaps with the most common characteristics of your audience, and that can be tricky to find.
Successful branding is much more than a logo in the same way that who you are is much more than your facial features.
If you’re new to branding, don’t expect things to come together immediately.
Young brands grow and evolve.
Embrace that process, get educated, and stick with it long enough that you find your voice.
Things come together faster when you enlist help from a professional, but if it’s not within your budget to hire a content marketer, or if you’re just the DIY type, it’s entirely possible to learn as you go and still build a successful brand with good content.
What You Say and What You Don’t
In content marketing, what you say is important.
What you don’t say is more important.
One of the most common mistakes that businesses make when building a brand through content is saying too much.
Your brand’s personality will probably reflect your own, but it’s vital to keep the two distinct.
People are complex and multidimensional; it takes years to really get to know somebody, and even your best friends have quirks and character nuances that you know nothing about.
Brands should be simple enough that a stranger on the internet only needs a couple of website visits to get a feel for that brand identity.
When you allow too many of your personal opinions, qualities, and motivations to bleed into your brand, you’re only adding unnecessary complexity and confusing your audience.
Keep your personality personal.
Your brand is for your audience more than it’s for you.
How Does SEO Fit Into All of This?
Content marketing and search engine optimization are not mutually exclusive!
Content marketing means that you’re using your company’s content to further your brand and attract more customers.
SEO means that you’re tweaking that content to make sure those customers can find you when they’re looking for you.
You need both.
The best content in the world is useless if nobody ever reads it, and sending lots of online traffic to read subpar content presents a slew of other problems for your business.
Well-optimized content that’s part of a thoughtfully planned content marketing strategy is your recipe for success.
If it seems like there’s a lot to learn…well, that’s because there is a lot to learn.
Nobody said this was going to be easy.
If you take the time and make a real commitment to content marketing, though, you’ll be unstoppable.