October 06, 2020
Content marketing is effective for any business that wants to be seen as an industry thought leader, make their website a business-growth driver, improve sales nurturing, and gain visibility with prospective buyers. In fact, content done right can serve many important business functions like generating new leads, nurturing leads already in the funnel, and helping close deals.
Content marketing generates over three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62% less.
However, the content marketing process is a little more complex than meets the eye, especially if you want to see impact for your returns. Make sure to use both strategy and execution in your process, and find a multi-step approach that you can train team members on and eventually scale up. This approach we're sharing covers every step you'll need for a well-strategized and successful campaign.
Strategy is an often overlooked step for content marketers, surprisingly. While it seems important, sometimes people tend to rely on their gut instinct instead of their true business needs. So always begin by asking questions to guide strategy.
A good strategy is driven by good questions. For example, what is relevant to my buyers? What is relevant to my sales funnel, in order to fill some need that is lacking for me? Do my buyers understand my company's value proposition? What pains and challenges drive my buyers to take action? What aspirations do my buyers have with their businesses?
For example, if you need more top-of-funnel leads who are new to your business, you may consider awareness-building content offers like high-level eBooks or educational blog posts or Youtube videos that are designed for specific buying groups and their unique problems. Alternatively, if your sales process needs a boost, strategize around one-pagers that your sales team can share individually with hot prospects. Strategizing for content can and should involve your sales team.
A topic, theme, and title are more important than you might think. Choose topics that speak to your buyers' needs for key pieces of content. And if you aren't 100% sure, invest a little research at this stage. Look at keywords that your audience is probably searching and see how you can answer those inquiries with helpful content (and make sure your title is keyword optimized!) SEMRush is a good tool for conducting research on queries. We have also used BuzzSumo for investigating content that has strong response rates. Additionally, writers and marketers need to spend time with buyers and their sales team. Document key questions that buyers have early in the process to guide the content creation process.
Ask: Which topics are earning high search volume, or come up frequently in sales conversations? Often the best topic is not driven by your new product launch, but by understanding what buyers are looking for in the first place. It’s always best to work from a keyword strategy.
Once you conduct a bit of research, document themes and topics. We recommend using sticky notes and grouping the topics into larger categories (themes). This planning exercise can help prevent writer's block (at an organization level) to a certain extent. Iterate and improve the topics and theme groups. Make iteration and engagement analysis an ongoing process for content creation. Even try re-titling documents to see if response rates improve over time.
Format is often the fun part. You've identified a need, a topic, and a title -- now you can get creative. Often you can start with one more robust format (like a video webinar or a fully fledged PDF guide) and repurpose into shorter versions from there, a step we'll get to shortly in our content process. The Ironpaper blog is full of unique and impactful ideas for content marketing formats, like these tips for a data-driven blog post idea.
Too many organizations lock in a format without much experimentation. There needs to be room for experimentation with formats just like the iteration process with themes, topics, and titles. Try different lengths of content (short to long). Try reports versus interviews. Try eBooks versus more visual content.
As it sounds, create the offer you've ideated. To bring your idea to life, make sure to invest in a writer or content creator with experience in your industry. Through research or past experience, this person or team should be able to speak the language of your audience and clearly articulate a relevant value proposition and pain point. The creative team needs to be guided by a common messaging system that allows them to "stay true" to the buyer's needs and value statements.
In fact, oftentimes the leaders of your company (whether they are content experts or not) can lend the best ideas and angles that your marketing team might not have considered, so get their input early and make them excited about the content you are creating.
Quality is important but so is speed to launch. For that reason, you might want to reduce the number of "hoops" in your editorial process. For one, try to reduce the number of eyes that have to see each content offer and provide a stamp of approval. You will only see return on content that is out in market, and content buried in drafts and revisions will never drive an impact for your business.
Reducing the obstacles during your quality control process doesn't mean removing editorial oversight. In fact, you should make all attempts to improve the feedback loop by showing concepts early and building editorial involvement early in the process. You must train all participants in this process to not micro-manage and set clear standards for giving objective instead of subjective feedback. Focus on 'what is being said' rather than style.
Now you've created content you're proud of, so don't let it stay hidden away. Even publishing content on your website then calling it a "done day" is not enough. In order to choose publication & distribution channels, think about your mission you initially strategized around. If you need scale to a wide audience, launch a paid advertising campaign. To capture website leads, host your offer behind a landing page and add call-to-action buttons around visible places on your site. And if you want to nurture leads, formulate an a nurturing program that allows for content within sales enablement as well as using various types of email.
Understanding the purpose of the channel is critical to establishing goals for the content. Avoid the common pitfalls of using vanity metrics, like traffic or click-through rates, and focus on more business-aligned metrics, such as qualified leads acquired or video watch time by qualified leads. As more B2B companies adopt account-based marketing (ABM) practices, selecting the right channel and distribution mechanism is critical. Don't fall for "gurus" that offer the optimal approach. Instead, test with buyer segments, channels, themes, titles, and topics yourself. Always be testing.
Look at engagement data. Ask your buyers for feedback. Track how sales teams are using the content and find ways to help them use content within the approach to selling.
Run tests to drive lasting impact. Tests can be small or big -- you can test something as simple as a title, or run an entire alternative campaign targeted to a segment of leads, with language specific to them. The more tests you can run on your content offer, the better data you will gather and the more you can optimize your content marketing plan for the future.
Make sure you track KPIs that are meaningful to your sales team, such as quality leads generated and conversion rate on the content, because the value of "fluffier" metrics like views or clicks can get lost in the crack between marketing and sales.
When you begin to understand which messages, formats, and targeting strategies work for you, you can repurpose your content offer into different bite-sized formats like shorter eBooks, infographics, brief videos, website page copy, and social posts and graphics.
DemandMetric, Content Marketing Infographic
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