We had nearly 1,600 people sign up for our webinar last week on “How To Plan And Build An Effective Content Marketing Strategy.
Click the link above to our blog post summary of the most important stats, quotes, slides, audit templates and also to download the presentation and the reporting template.
We believe that content marketing is starting to have a dramatic impact inside marketing organizations for business both large and small. So we are doing everything we can to help marketers just like you to navigate the change.
We know that the most effective content marketers have a documented content marketing strategy that defines the mission statement, the target audience, and the value your effort will bring to both your audience and your business. It should define how you will achieve and measure your goals through quality content that meets the needs of your audience, at scale.
After the webinar, we received dozens of questions. We condensed them into these 17 questions on how to build an effective content marketing strategy and worked across our team to come up with our best answers based on our experience with over 200 brands from around the world.
1. What are some of the biggest mistakes that companies make around content marketing?
The biggest content marketing mistake is the “unique point of view trap.” You don’t have to be different in your messaging – the brand is the platform, not the content. If you take your brand out of the story and make the customer your hero, your point of view isn’t as important in those early stages (but it is later in the process/customer journey). Commit to differentiating yourself by how helpful your content is going to be, not what your voice is. A second common mistake is that many companies focus too much on volume. It’s not just about more content, you really want to make sure you set a quality threshold and publish quality stuff. Stuff that you would read or would be proud to tell your mom that you’re publishing! Set the quality bar first and then drive toward quantity goals at that level.
2. How much will effective content marketing contribute towards SEO?
Content marketing and SEO are totally connected. At SAP we realized we had a content problem by looking at the amount of people doing early stage searches like “big data,” a product we sold. When we compared that to a branded search, like “SAP big data,” we found that there were 3,000x more people every month searching for the generic big data question. And we had no content to answer it. So we started publishing big data content (what is it, how do you visualize it, etc) and started to rank on the questions that customers were asking. We didn’t seek to rank in search on these topics; we just wanted to answer the questions that our customers were asking. Understanding what your audience is searching in Google is critical, and simply answering those questions can help you leaps and bounds with SEO.
3. How can we improve on our content marketing ROI?
First, do an audit on all the content marketing that you’ve ever made, and check how much of that content is ever used by anyone. A stat from Sirius Decisions said that 50-60% of the content a company creates is never used. All of your costs associated with those pieces of content are complete waste. So what can you do? Even just shifting some of the cost around those unused portions can help show some ROI. Next, you can look at performance. One of the common ways to look at this is subscribers to a blog or newsletter. Many businesses have ways to measure the cost per subscriber, or cost per lead. It’s not overly difficult to put a monetary value on the people that are being affected. Once you do this, you can start to back into some content marketing ROI numbers on what each piece of content brings you. As mentioned during the webinar, the real key to ROI is being committed as a company to measuring it.
4. What are the things to consider when deciding whether we should create a branded vs. non-branded site?
It really comes down to your brand objectives and what you’d like to achieve. If you currently create too much promotional content, you may have a trust issue with your audience. In this case, I would argue that going off-domain could help to lessen the promotional disconnect that your audience is currently feeling. Or if you’re currently known for one thing and you want to be known for something totally different, an off-brand domain can really help. It’s not that you’re walking away from your brand, but more of creating an outpost and building new real estate from a brand image perspective. Once you identify your objectives and current or ideal state, the answers will start to reveal themselves through the concerns that you or your team might have about pushing out different types of content.
You have to weigh the pros and cons as well. Off domain, will allow you to establish that new mindshare but it comes with a cost. There is significant domain authority for your existing corporate domain. Starting with a new one means you have to build it from scratch. That can take years. Using a sub-domain of your corporate site can deliver search traffic from day one. So I strongly suggest brands think long and hard about what domain and where to build your content hub.
5. Can you give any advice for handling the whole content marketing process as a small team with little to no budget? Quality content takes so much time.
This was me in a nutshell ten years ago. I had no budget and no real starting point. What I initially found was that our website wasn’t helping our customers at all to answer their questions. So I made it my number one job to understand our customers and the journey they went on, and then create content that would answer their questions or concerns at each stage. By presenting this type of information for our customers, we were able to see “hockey stick” type growth in terms of content marketing ROI. And the questions were fairly easy to answer through expertise within our organization, it was just a matter of documenting that and putting it up on our site.
My advice for small companies is to make content marketing your number one job. It’s the only way to do effective marketing on a small budget with few resources. Interview your customers. Talk about the challenges they faced that led them to seek a solution (not your solution, ANY solution). Build a consistent content calendar of regular updates. Re-purpose executive and sales presentations into blog posts and slideshares and videos. Video interview customers whenever you can. Write the “Ultimate Guide” for your category. Provide the best answers you can on the questions your customers ask and you will win new customers. You can use some of the readily available content calendar templates to manage all your content marketing activities.
6. Do you have any tips or growth hacks on the types of content that we should look to create?
The quickest and easiest thing to do here is take content that your company is already creating and repurpose it. As an example, if you have an executive within your company that presents anything to anyone, anywhere, you can take that presentation and do a number of things with it. You can turn it into a Slideshare, or take the speaker notes and turn it into a blog post, or interview experts in the industry about their thoughts on the material – there are a lot of options here. Another tip I learned is to look at your email outbox. Every email that you send, or that someone in your organization sends, is an answer to a question. Sometimes it’s an internal question, sometimes it’s a customer question. But you can easily take those questions and turn them into simple forms of content, even if it’s just a basic FAQ.
7. How can we balance creativity while following strict brand guidelines in our content creation?
Brand guidelines are created to allow for consistency in the way your brand communicates, where and when it communicates. But brands are not people. The words you use and the way you communicate on your website is your brand speaking. What your internal experts and external influencers think about the most important topics on the minds of your customers is not your brand speaking. It is your “authors” speaking. So I suggest having a really open and honest conversation with your brand and legal team.
Content marketing is not advertising and it is not a press release. It is not the words on your corporate website with no named author that explains what your company sells. It has to come from real people, with real opinions and personal passions. Now, I am not saying you shouldn’t have guidelines. For example, I suggest content marketing guidelines restrict promotion (of your brand and your competitors). I also suggest that your content should be helpful, useful, and practical. Between those guidelines and your brand guidelines, should be a conversation about how important it is that your business has a voice in (if not leads) the conversation happening in the marketplace. That means opening up and being human.
8. Do you see organizations combining content marketing with sales enablement efforts?
Absolutely! I see social selling and content marketing (and personal branding and social business!) as completely related and complementary exercises. Social selling is the sales art of using content (vs. harassment) to attract new customers and to get prospects to know, like, and trust you – enough to want to do business with you. Content is the fuel that ignites those conversations. Become a source of insights for your prospects and you will enable your sales team to gain new business.
9. Is there really a clear differentiation in the types of content that we should match with each stage of the buyer’s journey?
I would say there is more of a tendency than a differentiation. It also depends on the complexity of the customer journey in your business, and the number of people involved in the decision. However, I do believe that customers generally move along a clear path from awareness of the problem, to understanding of the solution, to who sells it and why is one better for me. The answers to the questions that your customers ask along the way, tend to have a consistent type. In the early stage, research papers, surveys, and thought leadership documents all help the buyer understand the problem they have. On the other end of the spectrum, customer testimonials and pricing sheets will help convert late-stage buyers. So yes, in general there are common content types by stage.
10. How do you define effective content marketing?
Effective content marketing helps you achieve your business objectives. If you haven’t defined your business objectives, than there is no way to determine if it is effective. For many brands, reaching, engaging and converting new customers is a common business objective. For other brands, it may be more of an awareness activity such as to be considered an authority on a topic that is new for that business. Effectiveness can be measured for any of those objectives once they are defined.
11. How do you factor in traditional content to your strategy, like a printed magazine?
It starts with understanding your target audience, what information they are seeking, what sources they rely on, what channels they use, and what types of content they prefer. If print magazines are still a source of information for your audience, then they most certainly should be a part of your content strategy.
12. How much will effective content marketing contribute towards effective SEO?
Content marketing and SEO are completely related. My friend Lee Odden says that “content is the reason search began in the first place.” Both content marketing and SEO revolve around the questions we ask in the buyer journey, and our main source of information is obviously the search engine. I suggest brands start their content marketing journey by looking at keywords as a proxy for understanding what questions your customers are asking. If you answer those questions consistently, you will rank higher in the search engines. So effective content marketing will drive improved SEO.
13. In your experience, what channels or tactics work best for distributing content?
I would start with trying your best to build a steady and growing source of inbound, organic search traffic. Because every new reader comes at no incremental cost. Next, I would look at direct traffic (RSS and Newsletter subscribers) and social traffic. These sources are all basically free, but they require great content in order to grow.
Next, you should look for paid sources like Google AdSense, Outbrain, Taboolah, Nativo, and Sharethrough. Each has a different model but mostly you can buy this traffic on a Cost-Per-Click (CPC) basis. I suggest doing a small test with each and make sure you measure the engagement of the traffic you receive.
Finally, you should test paid social in the channels used by your audience. Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. One additional source to consider is digital display. To be clear, I do not recommend using banners as a significant source to drive traffic to any content marketing effort. Instead, talk to your advertising team and your events team, and see if you can become the destination for their existing paid advertising efforts.
14. How can we become more agile in terms of getting our content approved through management?
Managers should never approve content. Editors approve content. I suggest you spend as much time as you need defining your editorial guidelines with your management team so they are bought in to what you want to publish. Then hire an experienced editor to review, optimize, and approve the content based on your management-approved editorial guidelines.
15. Our product could be categorized as a “trade secret,” so how can we get our prospects involved without jeopardizing our competitive advantage?
Content marketing should have less to do with your product, if anything, and should be mainly about helping your customers. I’m not sure what category of solution you are in, but you can get your prospects involved by putting their information needs at the center. You can create competitive advantage by being the best answer to their questions with your content.
16. Do you have any examples of companies who are successfully using UGC?
GoPro does a great job of utilizing its fans’ videos to show off the features and quality of its camera. GoPro proves that great content — no matter what the source or purpose — will gain an audience. What better testimonial than to showcase the amazing videos your fans created with your product? And their fans create content at a rapid pace: AdAge reported that it would take almost three years to watch all of the video content that GoPro users uploaded in 2013. Moreover, Fast Company reports that GoPro more than doubled its net income from 2010 to 2011 to $24.6 million but only spent $50,000 more in marketing costs to do it. GoPro repeated the feat in 2013, increasing marketing costs by only $41,000, but making $28 million more in net income.
Warby Parker is another great example. Its “Home Try On” service encourages its buyers (and potential buyers) to post photos of themselves on social media with the hasthag #HomeTryOn. Warby Parker joins in on the conversation, rapidly responding to photos posted and any questions that arise. It’s not great for brand awareness, but real business results: company co-founder and co-CEO David Gilboa reports that “customers who post photos of themselves in frames are buying at twice the rate as those who don’t.”
Finally, Rent the Runway launched a microsite dedicated to its user-generated content. “Our Runway” includes a searchable index of photos Rent the Runway users have submitted of themselves in their rented gowns. Upon visiting the site, shoppers can browse by age, height, and size, scrolling through tons of photos of real women – not just professional models. It’s clearly been a successful strategy: after launching, purchases went up a whopping 200%. That’s the power of authenticity.
Here’s 11 more questions around content marketing strategy we’ve answered:
1. Why are you creating this content and/or content hub?
What is the sense of urgency? What was the defining moment? Why now?
2. What is the overall goal of the blog?
Another aspect all too often we see skipped by marketers. What problems are you trying to solve? What questions are you trying to answer?
3. Who is your target audience?
Who do you want to engage? Customers? Prospects?
4. How will you decide what to write about?
How will you stay looped into trends happening in your industry? How do you know what your audience cares about? What resources will you use? What resources do you have available to you?
5. What will your process be?
How many people will be involved in creating content? Will legal have to approve? Who will have final approval before something is published? Will freelancers be involved? If so, who will manage them? Settling on the approvals and workflows upfront will avoid headaches of miscommunications and publishing mistakes down the road.
6. How far out do you want to plan ahead?
A week? A month? How far out can you plan ahead and still stay relevant?
7. Who will produce your content?
Will internal employees be creating content? Will you have a dedicated team? Will you leverage external freelancers? Will you use licensed content to scale your efforts?
8. How often do you want to publish?
How often are you capable of publishing? Daily? Weekly? What will you do if your team does not have the bandwidth to publish as often as you’d like?
9. How often will your revisit and tweak your strategy accordingly?
How many times a year will you review the success of your strategy? How much are you willing to change? Where are you willing to take risks? The marketing industry is always changing and your strategy will always needs to reflect that.
10. What will you use to distribute your content?
Will you use paid distribution strategies? If so, how much budget can you afford? Will you just rely on organic? Are there influencers in your network you can leverage to share your content? The worst mistake content marketers can make is creating amazing content and not distributing it to their audiences.
11 . What will be your main KPIs?
Are you looking for page views? Do you care more about time on site? Are you looking to generate leads? Do you want to boost subscribers? Knowing what you’re going to be measuring is key in evaluating the success of your program.