February 25, 2020 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Here’s something you probably already know: starting a business is easy but marketing one is hard. You believe in your brand and everything it can do for its target audience. But convincing the audience your brand is worth their time takes a lot of work and strategy. Using content marketing is one of the best ways you can connect with your audience and convince them partnering with your brand is the right choice for whatever needs they have. Today, we’re exploring what content marketing is and how to get started incorporating it into your marketing plan:
Content marketing is a subcategory of marketing that involves sharing written, audio, or visual information with a target audience. It’s a long-term strategy that focuses on building your relationship with that target audience by addressing their wants and needs. Unlike traditional advertising, the goal of content marketing isn’t to make a hard sell for your products and services. Instead, it provides valuable information about your industry and niche or helps your audience solve specific problems.
Other types of content marketing aim to build brand awareness. These types often entertain your audience or make them feel like part of a community. Content marketing slots into other forms of marketing, too. Whether you’re engaging in public relations, SEO, or paid advertising, quality content helps enhance your reach and potential in these other areas.
Content marketing helps people learn your brand exists and what it offers. The more people see your brand name on content around the internet or in their communities, the more interested they become in learning what you do. Or, more importantly, they want to learn what you can do for them. No matter the size of your business, here are a few other reasons content marketing is worth your time:
While content marketing isn’t a “quick fix” strategy in any sense, it helps your company earn more money over time. Content helps you build and sustain an audience, something traditional advertising doesn’t always do. Instead of trying to make a quick buck by advertising your flash sale, you’re giving the audience resources and knowledge they can use in the future. The more content you produce, the more they return. And the more they return and interact with your brand, the better chance you have of making more money as long as they hang around.
A lot of content is evergreen, meaning you create it once, and it lasts a long time. You only need to give it regular optimizations to fix outdated information or update broken links. A piece of content’s longevity is part of what makes it cost-effective for your brand. With traditional advertising, you have to create new campaign assets multiple times a year. Whether you’re targeting holidays or sales, you need different copy, images, and information for each one. That takes a lot of time and effort, which depletes your marketing budget.
Content marketing lasts longer, and it’s also prime for repurposing on other channels. For example, maybe you created a blog post two years ago about a pillar topic in your industry. Now your company starts a YouTube channel and makes videos to promote the brand. You can repurpose that blog post into a script for your first video instead
Content is a way to connect with your audience through their wants and needs. Traditional advertising makes your brand the center of attention, whereas content puts the audience at the core. Instead of telling your audience why your products and service are so great and why they need to buy them, you’re meeting their needs instead. You don’t have to convince your audience to buy your products because you’re teaching them how to solve their own problems.
Through content, you can position your products and services as a suitable solution to these problems and your audience can come to that conclusion on their own. When you hand over the power of self-decision, it increases the audience’s trust in your brand.
When you develop content, you’re also developing thought leadership and brand authority in your industry. While your brand may not be an expert on every industry topic, there are things your company does well and that your team knows a lot about. The more content you create on these topics, and the more accurate and trustworthy it is, the more people see your brand as a superior source in that niche.
Related: FAQ: What Is Authority Content?
Any company, brand, or content creator can use content marketing to connect with its audience. The best way each entity goes about implementing a content marketing strategy may change. But the actual practice is for everyone. Small businesses often use content marketing to increase their brand awareness and grow their audience. It’s an easy and cost-effective way to gain exposure without sinking your entire budget into tactics that may or may not work.
Mid-market and enterprise companies often use content marketing to shape and strengthen their brand images. They get deeper into the strategy side of the discipline to focus on targeting specific audience segments that help them gain new clients and keep current ones. Individuals and influencers also use content marketing to establish and grow their personal brands.
For example, a freelance writer may start their own blog to make a name for themselves online and appeal to potential clients. An aspiring influencer may create product review videos for items they already use, hoping to land a paying contract with one of their favorite brands.
You can use content marketing any time and all the time within your larger brand marketing plan. But there are certain situations where content marketing is the most effective strategy to help you reach your goals. Here are some cases when content marketing should be the first option you try:
Content marketing helps your brand increase sales and revenue. It does this by consistently putting your brand in front of both new and old audiences so that they become familiar with your company. Although content marketing might not help you make any quick sales, the way advertising does, it helps increase what you make over the course of your business’s lifetime.
Content marketing helps you build relationships with new customers to bring them into your fold. The different content and platforms you can use to share it help you meet your audiences where they spend time. When they’re comfortable and feel like they’re in control of the relationship they have with your brand, they’ll be more likely to trust your company and explore it further.
Content marketing also helps you strengthen and nurture relationships with your current customers and clients. Keeping your current audience coming back for more actually costs less than trying to gain new customers. Content marketing lets you do both by targeting different audience segments with different messages and content types.
Content marketing is one of the best ways to build your brand in the eyes of your audience. If you’re a small business with little recognition, content helps you find and set your brand voice. It helps your target audience understand what your company is about and why it should matter to them. In contrast, if your brand no longer has the solid reputation you want it to have, you can use content marketing to help rebrand and reinvent your organization.
Content marketing can help audiences in new geographic locations become familiar with your brand before it arrives in their town. For example, if you’re opening a new franchise in a new city or state, you may start content marketing efforts there before the location opens. This helps build hype about the incoming business. Even if you’re opening a new location in the same town where you have a current home, you can target your marketing to people around the new neighborhoods where the storefront or office will go.
Content marketing is a way to help your audience become familiar with any brand expansions you plan to do. For example, if you’re a clothing company that plans to expand into makeup, hair care, or accessories, you can use content marketing to tie the new brand offerings to things your audience already knows and loves. This strategy helps them prepare for the expansion and introduces a need the audience might not know they had for the new products or services.
If you were to brainstorm all the potential forms of content marketing, you’d likely still miss a few in your list. There are four primary types of content: writing, audio, video, and images. But within these broad categories, there are many different types of content you can use to gain brand awareness and appeal to your target audience. Some of the most common include:
Articles are one of the most common types of written long-form content you’ll find in content marketing. They typically go in-depth on a particular topic and provide all the information the audience wants or needs to know about it. Most articles are evergreen and provide value to the audience long after their initial writing. This type of content does require regular optimizations and updates to ensure links work properly and all the information is still accurate.
Blog posts are the primary example of short-form written content. Most brands host a blog on their website to talk about industry news, company updates, and other related topics. Blogging in content marketing works best when you do it consistently. The nature of a blog is that there’s a lot of turnover because you’re sharing timely content in these spaces. If you have a blog on your site that you hardly ever update, it might be time to look into other content options that better suit your brand and workflow needs while still providing value to your audience.
Case studies are content pieces that give you an opportunity to showcase what your brand can do for its clients without making a hard sell for products and services. Agencies, B2B companies, and service organizations often get the most use out of case studies. They do long-term work with clients that they can cover in extensive content pieces like this. Most case studies detail a problem a client or customer had and how your brand worked with them to fix it.
Checklists help your audience take action in a specific area of their life. For example, a tech company may create a checklist called “Things To Do Before You Buy a New Cell Phone.” The company could list all the steps of checking your old phone for features and functionality. They you could talk about researching new options and working with your sales team for real-world consultations. Checklists may work as blog posts or lead magnets to entice your audience to share their contact information with you.
Customer reviews are a type of user-generated content that help attract new leads and increase sales. Even through content marketing, your brand telling someone what they should or shouldn’t do isn’t as persuasive as someone singing your praises for free. Customer reviews let people online know what your company is like to work with from an outsider’s perspective.
Customers often share reviews on your website, and through sites like Google and Yelp. Even if you can’t control the sites where people share their reviews, you can take their words and use them to create testimonials to use in other content that your team develops.
eBooks are a type of long-form written and visual content that provides even more in-depth information on a topic than articles. Brands often use eBooks as lead magnets to attract new audience members and get them to exchange their personal information—like email addresses—for content. eBooks work best as content when they’re exclusive. Why would someone share their email address to download an eBook when they could read the same information on your site in a free article? Make sure you’re providing enough value with the content so it’s worth the trade-off.
While you might not consider GIFs and memes content because they’re not informational, they still count. When building brand awareness, content can sometimes just entertain your audience. Especially on social media. Consider joining a pop culture trend by creating GIFs or memes your audience can relate to that also have something to do with your business, products, or services. This type of content is especially useful if you have a humorous brand voice.
How-to guides help your audience identify and work through tangible problems they have. Instruction manuals, startup guides, and related content give your audience an idea of how your products and services may work before purchasing them. How-to guides also empower your audience to do something for themselves rather than calling customer support. Sometimes, giving people the tools and knowledge to do something on their own creates greater bonds of trust between your brand and the audience.
Infographics combine visual and written content to share information with an audience in a unique way. They often work best for sharing large amounts of data in a way that’s easy to process and understand. The best infographics are concise and make use of charts, graphs, images, and captions to tell a story.
You can use interviews in your content marketing in a variety of forms. Interview a subject matter expert for your written content. Invite a guest to your podcast or webinar. Record a live interview for video content. All of these options let you develop original content from your interviewee in new and interesting ways.
Listicles are often either short- or long-form written content that appears as a list (hence the name). They work well on blogs, as a subject for an infographic, or as short- to medium-form videos. Listicles are easy pieces of content to develop because they’re short and actionable. The topics also provide value to the audience. These pieces are also easy to read and share, which helps with engagement and interest from your followers online.
Live streaming is a specific kind of audio or visual content that lets you connect with your audience in real time. It’s popular on social media to share live interactions from an event, such as a conference or during a product launch. The benefit of live streaming over pre-recorded content is the ability to engage with your audience immediately rather than on a delay.
Newsletters are a form of direct content marketing that allows you to reach your audience right in their inboxes. Most are primarily text with some visual components. You can also link to videos and content within newsletters too. This form of content allows you to connect with your audience on a personal level through segmentation and targeting specific publications to those segments’ needs.
Podcasts are a popular form of audio content. Most audience members enjoy podcasts because they can listen to them while doing other tasks. For example, you can listen to a podcast while driving to work or cleaning your house. Since you don’t have to read or watch anything to understand the message, this format is good for audiences on the go. Some brands share their podcast content in video format too. They add the audio to certain channels and publish a video of the hosts recording the podcast to their YouTube channels.
Surveys are a type of interactive content that helps you learn more about your audience’s needs and wants. When your audience provides feedback through surveys it helps your team determine what their needs are and how you can better address those needs in other content. Quizzes are also a form of interactive content that allows you to personalize the content experience for your audience. For example, if your company sells candles, you could create an online quiz to help your audience pick their next favorite scent.
Social media posts help your brand connect with its audience on channels where they already spend time. You can use a combination of visual, written, and audio content to share information, depending on the platform. Social media content is great for shareability. It also opens up direct lines of communication with your brand through engagement and comments. Social media posts also let you link out to content you share in other places around the internet to get more eyes on them in new spaces.
Videos are one of the most popular forms of audio-visual content thanks to social media. Your brand can create a short-form video, which includes seconds-long clips on platforms like TikTok or Instagram’s Reels. You can also create long-form videos such as demonstrations, how-tos, or interview content for platforms like YouTube. Videos, especially those with captions, are a great tool for reaching audience members of all learning and information styles in a way that’s easy for them to receive and understand information.
Webinars are a digital form of content that let you meet with people virtually in real-time from anywhere in the world. Unlike at in-person events, recording your webinar and reusing it for other content marketing purposes isn’t just common, but expected. You can share your webinars on social media, use them as gated content to attract visitors, or develop a video series with the recordings.
White papers are another type of long-form written content most popular with B2B companies and agencies. These in-depth reports often present a problem and then work through ways to reach a solution. Most white papers contain hefty amounts of data and typically contain data visualizations like charts and graphs for better reader comprehension.
Along with the many types of content marketing that exist, there are just as many channels where you can share and distribute what your team creates. Here are some of the places you can share your content when it’s ready for audience consumption:
Your website is one of the most logical places to share your content. When you share articles, videos, or audio content on your website, your team has full control over the entire process. they choose where to put the content on the site, how to upload it, and how it displays to your audience.
Using your website for content promotion and sharing also helps your search ranking potential. Though your content can rank high in search from any location, you’re going to get the most benefits if the top link leads to your website instead of a to a news aggregation site or another location. The more organic traffic you get to your site, the better chance you have of new and returning audience members browsing the other information you have to offer. This includes your product or service pages.
Your social media accounts are a helpful place to publish content because of the shareability features the platforms offer. While your brand may share a link to an article hosted on your website, people who follow you can simply tap a button and share that content with their friends. It’s not likely everyone they know also follows your brand page, so the shareability function of social media helps you get your content in front of new audiences.
With this type of exposure, you could potentially grow your client or customer base without doing any additional work to attract and nurture leads.
If you’re creating any kind of audio content for your marketing strategy, streaming services may be a good place to share your pieces to get a larger listenership. For example, if your company has a podcast, you could upload and host all the episodes on your website. But that requires people to know the podcast exists and some to your website to listen each week.
In addition to having the episodes on your website, you could also share the content on a streaming service like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. The advantage of using these channels is that the services can recommend your content based on user preferences. Your podcast could appear as a suggestion for someone who doesn’t know your brand exists but needs to hear what your brand has to offer.
Content partnerships are a great way to distribute a variety of content types to bigger audiences. Whether you’re sharing a guest blog with another website or you’re sponsoring a webinar for another organization, partnerships allow you to expose your brand and content to new audiences. Working with influencers works in a similar way. The influencers share social media posts, videos, or reviews about your brand with their audiences, generating more buzz for your brand in different channels.
For newsletters and eBlasts, your email accounts is another great marketing channel for sharing content. Through email, you can target specific audiences with different messages. You can segment groups to receive specific content based on where they are in the marketing funnel or other preferences they specified when they joined your email list. Because you have consent from your audience to share communications with them through email, you can get more personal, and sometimes communicate with your audience more frequently than you can through other channels.
To share content with your audience even more directly than email, collect cell phone numbers from interested parties. Though text content is often short, it has a lot of linking potential to lead audience members back to your website or other host locations to view the full piece. If you have an app, you can also take advantage of push notifications. These can alert your audience when you publish something new or grab their attention when you really want to drive home a content concept.
Though we think of content marketing as a digital practice today, that wasn’t always the case. The history of content marketing goes back as far as Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s, long before the internet or smart devices existed. Even today, content marketing has far-reaching implications beyond the screen. Print newsletters, informative brochures, and in-person events are all examples of non-digital content marketing your brand can use to promote its ideals rather than products and better serve its audience.
The reason you don’t hear as much about non-digital content marketing today is that digital options are often more convenient for marketing teams and more cost-effective. For example, a print newsletter requires your team to purchase paper and ink. It also takes a significant amount of time to print the right number of copies. Then you need envelopes, stamps, and address labels to send them to your audience. After they’re sent, you can’t track who opened them or who threw them away right out of the mailbox.
Instead, most companies would rather send a digital newsletter. They don’t need materials to print, just an email address to send the content, which they could get for free in some cases. Plus digital newsletters allow you to track who opens the emails, how long they spend reading, and what actions they take from within the content.
While content marketing is a great tool for connection with your audience and increasing brand awareness, you have to keep your strategies current to stay relevant. Especially in digital spaces, what your audience wants to see or hear, and how they want to receive that information, changes rapidly. For these reasons, you may wonder if your content marketing and the strategies you put in place are really working. Here are a few criteria to check to see if your content marketing is effective or if it’s time for an overhaul:
What’s the purpose of your content? Are you trying to make a hard sell or are you trying to enrich your audience’s lives in some other way? The most effective content provides value outside of sales. it answers the most important questions your audience has about your industry. It also provides solutions to their pain points.
Audience segments exist for a reason. No two customers are exactly the same. They have different goals, wants, and needs. And because of these differences, they’re also always at different stages of the marketing funnel. Some aren’t aware they have a problem yet. Others are comparing solutions, and some are ready to buy.
When you create content for every stage of the funnel, you’re ensuring that you’re meeting the audience where they need you. Whether they just need information on a topic or they need to know how to make a purchase directly from your online store, the content you create should help them throughout the entire customer journey.
Content marketing is also great for your branding because it’s a vehicle for sharing your company culture and values with the audience. The most effective content marketing pieces sound like they’re coming from one entity, even if you have a dozen or more content creators working on pieces behind the scenes.
Make sure that all your content has branded and consistent visuals. Use the brand colors in logos or images. Use company fonts where appropriate. You should also ensure that your brand voice stays the same across content types and platforms. If you’re funny on Instagram but painfully serious on your website, the audience notices. And it makes them question what relationship they actually have with your brand. Consistency is key.
While you don’t have to hop on every content trend that exists to stay relevant, your content should matter to your audience when you share it. Timely simply means, “does this content matter to my audience right now?” For most evergreen topics, the answer is always yes.
Beyond producing relevant content, you also want to make sure you’re creating things people want to read, watch, or listen to. Providing value is one way to make that happen, but so is information accessibility. Share your content where your audience spends time. Write and speak about a topic on their level. Make it enjoyable and not a waste of their time by providing unique information they can’t get anywhere else.
No matter your niche or industry, content marketing is a solid choice for any brand strategy. You can create content in-house, work with contractors, or find a partner solution for your brand that takes your ideas and their expertise to put a plan into action. The more you engage in content marketing, the easier it becomes, and the more you’ll be able to see your brand reach its marketing goals.
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