By Laurie B. Beasley, President, Beasley Direct and Online Marketing

 Content marketing sales funnel graphic

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a newish term for an oldish concept. That is, surround your customers with information and education they need to feel motivated to do business with you. Today, we have more ways than ever to do this: blogs, websites, social media, video, email, e-newsletters, and so forth. These tools allow marketers to become publishers in their own right. They tend to be far more cost-effective and far-reaching than the more traditional communications channels of direct mail, advertising and public relations.

Furthermore, content marketing does have its drawbacks. It cannot be relied upon to create a direct cause-and-effect. That is, running a blog piece will usually not result in a direct sale. It is also very difficult to measure the results; content marketing is somewhat like public relations in this respect. However, it is not a “warm fuzzy,” either. Any marketing program should be using a variety of channels. The intent is to reach customers so that its messages come from multiple different sources. Content marketing is one of the many tools with which a company can deliver messages. Also, messages can be delivered to its customers and prospects to “condition” them to purchase.

As in any marketing effort, be clear about who your customers are and what they need to know. In the final analysis, have clear messaging and clear objectives for everything you do.

Avoid the Sales Pitch

Content marketing is not exclusively about selling. If all you do is talk about how great your product/service is, customers will quickly turn off your message. You should be offering insights and information that customers need. Are you in the retail window treatments business? Create videos that teach customers how to successfully install curtain rods and mini-blinds. Are you a manufacturer of athletic equipment? Create a series of white papers about how to avoid sports injuries of various types. Or, how to select shoes that will help people to stay healthy.

If you consistently offer solid information that solves customers’ problems—or better yet, helps them to avoid problems—you build a reservoir of trust and goodwill that cannot be achieved any other way.

Creating Content

Creating original content can be time-consuming and expensive. You may already have a treasure trove of content waiting to be exploited. Comb through your library of white papers, articles, presentations, and videos. Reach outside of your particular area to see if other areas of the organization have content that can be mined for the purpose. Chances are, you can repurpose existing content for use across several channels before you ever have to create new content.

In developing (or repurposing) content, keep in mind the problems customers need to solve, information they need to make a selection, and what issues might be preventing them from purchasing. For instance, if you are in the retail home improvement business, you may have many customers who enjoy DIY projects and understand how to approach them. You might have more customers still if you provide detailed information on how to build a brick barbeque, install drywall, or repair a broken window. In conclusion, the more customers rely on you for good information and answers to their questions, the more inclined they will be to do business with your company.

How To Deliver Content to Your Customers

Start with your website. This is where most customers will begin their quest for information. Make sure that your website content is thorough and useful. Monitor customers’ questions and assure that they can find and access the answers easily on your site. Some types of businesses may profit from an interactive “column” where they can pose questions and get prompt answers—all of which are published on the site. Customer questions—and even customer complaints—are an excellent way to gain insight into the type of content with which customers will resonate.

Once your website is rich in useful content, start a blog. The blog should be hosted on your website for search engine optimization (SEO). If your blog is hosted on a blogging service, every hit and “like” will attribute to the blog service, not to your company. If the blog is on your site, you get the SEO benefit. Your blog should be refreshed with new content every seven to 10 days to keep people coming back. Don’t forget to announce every new blog post to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social media sites that work well with your business. Most blogging software allows you to set this up automatically.

White Papers

White papers are longer pieces that go into greater detail than blog posts. They can be distributed in many ways:

  • Announce availability on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc., with links to the material on your site.
  • Create a blog with some of your top points, with a link to the whitepaper.
  • Provide your white papers to other, related sites and blogs (making sure there are links back to the material and to your site).
  • Some whitepapers can be submitted to print or online publications as articles.
  • Lastly, create a YouTube video (three minutes or so) that covers the main points and provides links to your material. This doesn’t have to be expensive, but you do have to have a punchy script and someone who is well spoken to narrate it. There is a lot of inexpensive software (and even apps) to help create videos on a slim budget.

In addition to acting as teasers for white papers, videos are an excellent way to push content to your marketplace. Depending on the nature of your business, you can educate customers about your product or service category. Show them how to use products, or just express a point of view. These can be posted on your site, on YouTube, Flickr or any number of other venues. Remember to keep videos as short and sweet as possible.

Social Media

Social media is one of the best ways to distribute content, and can be used in a variety of ways:

  • Take short bits from your content and publish on Facebook, Twitter, etc. with links to the full content.
  • If you have interesting product photos, publish them.
  • You don’t necessarily have to create 100% original content yourself. Curate interesting content that corroborates or compliments your messaging with links to the original content. (Obviously, you want to avoid doing this with the competition’s content!)

If you have built a useful emailing list (and you should be doing this anyway), ask people to sign up for an e-newsletter. (Don’t just send out a newsletter without opt-in, as this could be viewed as a violation of the anti-spam laws.) The contents of the newsletter can be pilfered from existing content and/or curated content. Make it easy to skim, light on graphics and optimized for mobile viewing.  In conclusion, remember—give your customers information they can use to solve problems or use in their lives or work.

Don’t Forget To Optimize Your Content for SEO

In the rush to get content out there, don’t forget that you need to optimize it for SEO so that people can find it. Consequently, titles are critical because that’s nearly all that people see in a search engine listing, so they need to be gripping.

As blogger Chris Irby puts it, “The title of your blog post is basically pulling double duty. It needs to be relevant for the benefit of the search engines, yet compelling enough to grab the attention of your human readers. Make your title too clever or obtuse, and it’ll become one of Google’s best kept secrets. Make it too utilitarian, and your readers will be too busy yawning to click over to your blog and read.”

So your title has to be both intriguing to the reader and contain keywords that people will use in searching for your topic (enabling search engines to find your content in the appropriate context).

Titles are often an afterthought, but they deserve as much care and attention as you put into the body of the content. Take your time and don’t rush it. Think through which keywords need to be in the title and then come up with something attention-grabbing as well. It won’t do any good if the search engine reliably delivers your content, but the reader thinks it’s going to be a boring read. The title should always pay off on the nature of the content. If you have a funny piece, create a funny title. If your piece deals with a serious subject such as cancer, the title should be somber but still compelling.

Also, assure that the critical keywords are spread throughout the content. Some writers start by listing the desired keywords—not a bad practice.

Remember the Basics

Finally, stick to the basics of grammar, punctuation and other rules of good writing. We don’t have room to go over it here, but it is essential that your content is literate and carefully constructed and edited. Of course, bad writing, typos and poor grammar will turn your readers off. One of the best references on good writing is “The Elements of Style” (4th Edition) by William Strunk, E. B. White and Roger Angell. It’s short, easy to use, and you’ll never mistake a dangling participle for a dangling preposition again.

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About the Author

Laurie Beasley_This blog was authored by Laurie B. Beasley, co-founder and president of Beasley Direct Marketing, Inc. Beasley Direct is a Silicon Valley direct marketing agency that has managed search, email, online, and demand generation campaigns for nearly 100 companies. Ms. Beasley serves as President of the Direct Marketing Association of Northern California. She manages the eMarketing Roundtable for the BMA Northern California. She is also an instructor of online marketing at UC Berkeley Extension and teaches for the Online Marketing Institute. Ms. Beasley frequently speaks on online marketing and demand generation topics for marketing organizations, including the DMA, BMA, AMA, Tech Council, and the Online Marketing Summit.