Content marketing is the provision of ongoing, high calibre and objective information that adds value to your target market by providing meaningful ideas, insight, and quality solutions for their needs. Companies engaging in content marketing do so to grow their businesses as a consequence of the positive relationships that are engendered between themselves and their audience.
One of the most important aspects for exceptional content marketing is the ability to listen to and understand the needs of the target audience before posting content. Irrespective of your market sector, most people now insist on increasing amounts of quality content that offers the best advice and solutions. Properly undertaken, content marketing is a valuable commodity. It should not be perceived as a sales pitch, but rather as information with the potential to enhance the reader’s experience with your brand, thereby adding significantly to brand equity. This in turn can add markedly to the financial value of the brand over time.
Historically, marketers have relied predominantly on hard sell marketing and sales tactics, but in the past decade there has been a major trend towards content marketing as an integral part of the marketing mix, particularly online.
This is meaningful for smaller enterprises that do not have large budgets to spend on traditional advertising, as content marketing can be delivered successfully online – through websites, social media, blogs, email, and online magazines and in other digital formats such as white papers and webinars – at a more affordable cost. These channels are significant as buyers generally do the bulk of their product and brand research online.
Realistically though, there are a plethora of companies that now realise the importance of content marketing (research estimates are in the order of 80 to 90 per cent) but only those that excel derive the best outcomes. These outcomes include the willingness of the target market to spend time with your brand and take additional action such as subscribing to ongoing emails or content feeds. If your competition is providing superior content and meets their needs in a better manner, people prefer to interact with them. In addition to the more traditional forms of content marketing, like blogs, one of the fastest growing formats is online video, which can be posted on websites or on YouTube.
When potential buyers begin their search for content, they usually commence by examining the entire landscape through search engines such as Google and Yahoo. Many then progress to what they perceive to be objective product review sites such as Which, or peer group reviews, and finally to the websites of product or service providers on their short-list. At this juncture, providers must ensure that their websites and other content marketing efforts are optimised.
Optimal content marketing should:
- Incorporate researching, listening to and understanding your audience.
- Clearly set out its objectives prior to commencement.
- Target and segment the audience in the most meaningful manner.
- Identify the most pressing consumer needs and issues and suggest the most viable solutions relative to objectives and offer guidance in moving forward.
- Be seen as adding value as a consequence of relevance and quality. By doing so, it positions your brand as a credible expert source.
- Take the stage of the buying cycle into account, as appropriate.
- Be easy to access, understand and apply. Formulate a channel plan whereby you use as many relevant channels as possible to spread the word, including social media.
- Encourage social connections via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and others, as appropriate.
- Be implemented in the best possible manner. Often potentially excellent content fails to produce the desired effect because it is not well presented. This includes headings, copy, illustration, sequence and layout. Delegating ownership (such as to a content manager) is an important consideration.
- Include a plan and timeline for content.
- Identify specific triggers or events that impact on the type of content marketing that is appropriate for the industry concerned, such as travel content before the school holidays and Easter Specials prior to the holiday
- Encourage conversation and interaction.
- Remain consistent with your brand values.
- Be updated regularly and where appropriate be cutting edge.
- Become an integral and integrated part of a holistic branding and brand marketing strategy.
- Form an emotional bond with the audience where appropriate. Some brands achieve this by including brand story telling as a tactic.
- Establish and measure KPIs. Examples include sign-ups to a newsletter, the number of times a blog is forwarded through social networks, engagement with the target market, sales leads, etc.
There is no doubt that properly conducted content marketing should be an integral part of the marketing efforts of SMEs in their quest for growth.
Alan Kaplan, PhD, is an Executive Director of Optivance 360, a multi-disciplinary consultancy that helps SMEs flourish. Alan’s international experience spans more than 25 years across academic, media, agency, client and consulting areas.
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