How Does Content Marketing Work?

Updated 26 Jul, 2023 | Content marketing

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Content marketing can seem like a baffling strategy, especially if you’re familiar with traditional marketing approaches. But it’s an incredibly popular approach to marketing and audience building. In fact, 90% of North American business-to-business (B2B) content marketers prioritise their audience’s informational needs over their business’s sales and promotional messages. And 85% of Australian businesses are focussed on building their audience. Content marketing really is an effective way to market any business, especially if you’re a small business, so let’s take a look at how content marketing works.

An overview of how content marketing works

Content marketing uses text, visuals (such as graphics and video), audio, and any other type of content you can imagine to attract, inform, educate, and engage a target audience. While the ultimate goal of content marketing is still to sell products and services (for businesses anyway), content marketing does not involve directly advertising those products and services to prospective customers and clients.

Instead, content marketing aims to gently nurture readers through the sales cycle via the following steps:

Content marketing works by reaching, convincing, preparing and ensuring audience, buyers, consumers and customers.
  • Attract potential buyers by describing a problem. At this point, content marketing positions the business as an authority on that problem, so potential buyers trust the business.
  • Introduce prospects to, and educate them about, the class of products or services that can best solve that problem. This positions the business as an authority on that class of product/service and how it can solve the problem.
  • Prove how the business’s specific product or service is the best choice for prospects wanting to solve their problem. This also positions the business as an industry leader.
  • Educate customers about how they can make the most of the products or services they’ve bought from the business, so they get more value from them and are happier customers. This increases the chance customers will make repeat purchases and speak favourably of the business. It also reduces the number of requests for a refund.
  • Encourage satisfied and loyal customers to advocate for the business and its products or services. This essentially gives the business free advertising, but it’s more valuable than just plain old ads because when someone unaffiliated with a business encourages their friends and acquaintances to buy a product or service, the information and sales pitch is coming from someone the prospect trusts far more than a random stranger.

In future posts I’ll go into more detail about exactly how to use different types of content in your marketing efforts, but for now, here’s a summary of the kinds of content that can be used in each of the above stages.

How content marketing drives website traffic

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The first thing content marketing can do for your business is attract potential buyers. While content marketing can theoretically be done offline, it’s frequently an online marketing tool, so attracting prospects often means driving traffic to your website.

As a result, one key way in which content marketing works is that it provides an SEO boost. Over time, the high-quality SEO-friendly content used in your content marketing efforts will improve your position on search engine results pages (it’ll improve your ranking) so more search engine users will see your content. This means more traffic will head to your website allowing readers and potential buyers the opportunity to read even more of your valuable content.

Sending content via email and SMS are other great ways to share content and drive website traffic.

How content marketing builds brand authority and trust

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Another key thing that content marketing can do for your business is position you as an authority on the problems faced by your ideal customer as well as the solutions to those problems. By positioning your business in this way, you give your prospects and customers a reason to believe in and trust your brand.

When you become a trusted source of information, you build a bigger audience of potential buyers who are more likely to make a purchase and more likely to tell others about how awesome your business is. At any given time, 96% of website visitors aren’t ready to buy, so positioning your business as an authority in your field means prospects will be much more likely to go to you when they are ready to make a purchase.

How content marketing generates leads

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Some people can be hesitant to give content marketing a try because it’s a long-term marketing strategy and thus it doesn’t immediately produce mountains of paying customers. There are other ways to use content marketing to get some ‘quick wins’ though and demonstrate the value of this approach to marketing.

A high proportion of the visitors to your website aren’t going to be willing to make a purchase, especially if it’s their first time there. But more of those visitors are going to be willing to give you something less valuable than their money if you provide sufficient value to them in return.

You attract visitors with valuable content and they don’t have to give you a single thing in return. But if they like your content and want to consume more, many visitors will be willing to share their email address or phone number with you if it means they get access to some really awesome free content that isn’t available elsewhere. This gives you some immediate, tangible return on investment that you can exploit (in a good way) to further boost sales.

A great way to do this is to create a great piece of SEO-friendly content, such as a blog post or article, that’s likely to attract a large portion of your target audience. When visitors read that content on your website or social media channels etc. you can then offer them a more detailed piece of content, such as a whitepaper or eBook, if they give you their contact details. You then know what interests those leads and can send them additional, highly relevant content directly to their inbox or phone. This gives you an opportunity to individualise the content you provide them and improve your chances of making a sale at a later date. And with some great automation tools, you can even automate the process of sending that individualised content!

How content marketing converts leads

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Whether or not you have contact details for your leads, content marketing enables you to gradually convert leads into paying customers through valuable content. 

When you set up your online content properly, each piece of content will link to another piece of your content that takes a prospect just a bit closer to a sale. When you’re able to send content directly to a lead, you have greater control over the content you send them, so you have a better chance of sending exactly the right content at the right time.

At this stage of the sales funnel, content marketing helps you convince prospects that a particular class of product or service is the best solution to the problem they’re facing. It also allows you to convince them you’re an expert in that area and that they can trust the information you’re providing them.

When they’re really well informed, you can direct them to content that explains how and why your products and services are the best ones in the class and are the best ones for the lead’s specific circumstances. This is when you send leads to the purchase page or landing page, or when you get them on the phone and convince them to commit to purchasing your service.

But you’re not doing a hard sales pitch at this point. Content marketing, when done well, convinces leads in such a way that they’re ready to seek out your products and services on their own. It’s human nature to base most of a purchase decision on emotion. Content marketing can enable you to bring your prospects and leads to the point where they make an emotional decision to make a purchase, specifically a purchase from your business, before you ever send them to a sales page. You then just provide them with the means to make a purchase at the right time. 

Often your landing page or sales pitch will reinforce their emotional decision and provide the logic and facts the lead will use to justify that powerful emotional decision.

If you get everything just right, your leads won’t feel like they’re being sold to. Instead, they’ll feel like you’re providing yet more value by giving them exactly what they want when they want it.

How content marketing creates loyal customers with a higher lifetime value

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By educating your prospects, building their trust, and providing them with a lot of value, you increase their loyalty to your brand when they eventually make a purchase and become a customer. You can take this to the next level by continuing to provide great value after a purchase. In particular, if you can provide information that helps your customer make the most of your product or service, they’ll feel even happier about their decision to purchase.

Happy customers are much more likely to make repeat purchases, which increases their value to your business during the time they’re a customer. Happy customers are also much more likely to leave a positive review, send you a great testimonial, and/or tell their friends about their fantastic experience. All of these things make customers even more valuable to you as they help generate more leads and eventually more sales.

Plus, when your customers are happy with your products and services, they’re not going to ask you for a refund!

How content marketing promotes customer advocacy

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As I touched on in the previous point, content marketing can make customers happy, which means they’re more likely to advocate for your business and your products and services. You can also create content that is specifically designed to improve advocacy rates, however.

Something as simple as creating a funny meme that showcases your product or service can be a really effective tool for this. When you share something like this with your customers via email or social media, they’ll appreciate the joke and often share it with their friends and networks. This becomes really awesome free advertising for your brand and the specific product or service you offer.

You can also give free content to people who invite their friends to visit your website, recommend your brand on social media or advocate for your brand in any other way that benefits your business. This kind of incentive can be more effective than offering a discount or voucher for your products and services if the content you give away is only available to people who recommend your business.

TLDR; How does content marketing work?

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Traditional advertising is very focussed on making a sale and often relies on a hard-sell. Content marketing works by:

  • Helping you reach more potential buyers without having to pay for an expensive ad
  • Convincing your audience to trust you
  • Getting your audience emotionally ready to buy
  • Ensuring your customers are happy with their purchase