A practical guide for small business owners and marketers
Content marketing is incredibly popular with 91% of business-to-business marketers and 86% of business-to-consumer marketers using it to achieve their business goals. It’s also extremely effective as it’s been shown to generate 3X the leads created by traditional marketing strategies yet it costs 62% less than those same traditional practices. But many businesses aren’t sure how to actually go about implementing content marketing to achieve their goals. If you’re looking for practical advice on how to use content marketing in your business, this content marketing guide will get you off to a flying start.
How to implement content marketing in your business — an overview
As you no doubt know, content marketing is effective because it enables businesses to attract prospects, guide them along the buyer journey, and then keep them loyal and encourage them to advocate for the brand. It’s popular because it works and it’s cheaper than traditional marketing alternatives.
But the concept of boosting sales by not being ‘salesy’ is a bit counterintuitive, so if you’re new to content marketing, or if you’re not yet having much success with it, this overview will help you understand how to apply content marketing principles to your business. If you’re not yet sure how content marketing manages to improve sales and help businesses with other goals without being ‘salesy’, first read my post on how content marketing works and then come back and read the rest of this post.
When done well, content marketing follows this basic framework:
- Engaging content is distributed and promoted (often through social media) and:
- Attracts the attention of the target market
- Helps the reader realise they have a problem
- The initial content then skilfully directs the reader to a series of content (which is also distributed and promoted through channels like social media and email) that:
- Explains, in detail, the problem and how it affects the reader
- Demonstrates that the business is an expert in that problem
- Describes the class of products and/or services that provide the best solution to the problem
- The last piece of content in that series then directs the reader to copy that explains why the specific product or service the business sells is the best solution for the problem
- This copy will either be on the product/service purchase page or it will direct the reader to that purchase page
- Upon purchase, the customer can then be provided with content that helps them get the most out of their purchase, which will help ensure they’re satisfied with their purchase and absolutely love it
- The customer can then be exposed to content, copy and incentives that encourage the customer to make more purchases (either of the same product/service or a related product/service — a cross-sell or an up-sell)
- The customer can also be shown content, copy and incentives that encourage the customer to advocate for the things they’ve purchased and/or the brand
As you can see, content marketing is not a solitary marketing strategy. Sure, you might end up having some loyal readers looking at your product/service sales pages without you having to direct them there, but if you want a good level of consistent sales, you have to actively mix your content marketing with high-quality copy (see this article if you’re not sure about the difference between content and copy). You might choose to link content directly to sales pages, or you might direct readers through a landing page first.
Similarly, you can make money without loyal customers if you generate sufficient sales from first-time customers. But you’ll make a lot more money if you put some effort into turning first-time customers into loyal customers that keep coming back to you for more.
Selling great products and/or providing great services will enable you to produce loyal customers. But if you actively nurture your customers with valuable content coupled with specifically crafted copy and targeted incentives, then you’ll increase your ratio of loyal to first-time customers.
It’s also worth noting that you’ll be able to boost the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts if you do some paid promotion at step 1 to increase the proportion of your target market that you attract. This is by no means crucial, but it can be helpful, especially if you don’t want to wait 6+ months for all your content to rank well.
Similarly, you can couple remarketing campaigns with great content and incentives to encourage repeat purchases and also speed prospects along the buyer journey.
This framework usually needs to be applied multiple times:
- You might have multiple target markets. If so, you’ll need to apply this framework, or at least part of it, at least once for each target market. As an example, even if you only have one ‘parent’ target market, you might split that audience into sub-groups based on the types of content they prefer to consume and then create multiple content streams on the same topics (e.g. a video stream, audio stream, and written content stream).
- If you sell more than one product or service, you’ll need to apply this framework at least once to each product and/or service in your catalogue.
- If any of your products or services solve more than one problem, you’ll need to apply this framework to each problem.
Don’t be tempted to try and use the same content series to serve multiple purposes. Doing so will just dilute the effectiveness of your efforts. Each series of content you deploy should target a single problem that’s experienced by a narrow and well-defined group of people and which is solved by one of your products or services.
If you have multiple products/services that solve the same problem, you should still have multiple content marketing streams. For example, if those products/services solve the same problem for different people, you’d have a content marketing series for each target market.
If your products solve the same problem for the same target market, you’ll probably want to focus on cross-selling and up-selling customers once they’ve purchased one of the products/services.
Applying the content marketing framework to your business
As with any great model, this framework can be applied in a number of ways to boost sales and stimulate business growth. So, how do you know how to apply it to your business with all your unique circumstances? That’s where your creativity and ingenuity come in. And a bit of strategic testing. (Always test out your ideas and evaluate how effective they are, so you have an objective way to determine what works and find ways to improve successful implementations. Here are two articles that will help you with this: 6 steps to content marketing success will guide you through all 6 steps required for successful content marketing, including the analysis and optimisation steps; and how to measure content marketing success describes how to actually measure your success objectively.)
Regardless of your unique circumstances though, you’ll likely need to go through these steps:
- Choose which product or service you want to market.
- Choose which narrow, well-defined target market you want to focus your marketing on.
- Choose which problem to focus on solving.
- Come up with a topic for your first piece of content based on what you know about the needs and desires of your target audience. (If you don’t have a good understanding of your audience, you’ll benefit from doing some research before you start this step.) Often this topic will encompass the problem you’re going to solve, but sometimes you might attract prospects with content about a more distantly related topic. This topic will ideally be the first thing your customer needs when they start out on their journey
- Plan how you’ll link that first topic to your product through a series of posts. The number of pieces of content in the series will depend on the complexity of the problem and the preferences of your target audience.
- Decide what types of content (e.g. blog post, YouTube video, podcast, infographic) you’re going to use for each piece. If you have sub-audiences for different content types, you might also duplicate your content series and plan out similar series using the types of content that are appropriate for each sub-audience.
- Research exactly which SEO keywords to use for each piece of content. Do this even if the content is not going to be primarily word-based (all content posted on the internet can have a title and meta description at a minimum so all content can be optimised for search engines). The exceptions to this step are things like email (emails don’t appear in search engines) and print content (yes you can do content marketing with print content).
- Plan how you’re going to distribute and promote your content.
- Create your content (or consider hiring a professional to create it for you). You might also consider accepting guest blog posts (or guest interviews on podcasts etc.) to ease your content creation burden. If you’re accepting guest posts, I strongly suggest you use an online copyright checker to ensure the content you receive is unique and not plagiarised.
- Create the distribution and promotion assets you need.
- If the copy that your content links to doesn’t yet exist, create that too (or, once again, consider hiring a professional to create it for you).
Ideally, you would go through this process while also consulting your integrated content strategy. Later on, you’ll also benefit from updating and optimising your content.
If this is a little overwhelming, consider talking to a professional content strategist. A strategist will be able to provide strategic advice to get you on the right track. If you don’t have an integrated content strategy, a strategist will be able to create a bespoke strategy and exactly fits your business.
Alternatively, you could save yourself a whole lot of bother by hiring a professional to do the whole lot for you. Some professionals provide content marketing packages that include everything from an integrated content strategy to a style and tone of voice guide to the content itself. My packages include a year’s worth of blog posts, emails if you want them and even your social media distribution and promotion. I can also design a bespoke package that perfectly suits your needs.
Where to from here
I’ve just outlined a basic process for using content marketing in your business. Once you’ve familiarised yourself with that process, get in there and have a go. Start planning, researching keywords and writing content. Distribute and promote your new and existing content assets. And assess how successful your efforts are.
Once you’ve had a go, you’ll be able to figure out whether you’ve got the time, skills and resources needed to make content marketing really work. If something’s missing you’ll soon know, and then you can invest in the resources you need or outsource the parts of the process that you’re not able to complete with your existing in-house resources.