The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defines content marketing as
… a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
Simply put, content marketing is attracting customers with content written with them in mind, with the goal of solving specific problems.
Content marketing isn’t advertising; it’s customer service. You serve your customer by providing content that makes their lives easier.
Anyone who spends time in the kitchen or is responsible for family meals appreciates good recipes. Whole Foods knows this, and features a recipe blog. Rather than just saying, come buy groceries here, they provide a recipe that makes the customer want to shop with them.
If it seems overwhelming, remember it doesn’t all have to be original content. You can serve your customers with content curation as well. Most marketers use a combination of curated and original content. Find articles or posts by others that benefit your readers and share them on social media, or write a short paragraphs explaining why you think the post is worth reading on your own site, then link to the source for the rest.
How Do I Get Started?
Like any marketing strategy, the first step is to set goals. What do you hope to accomplish with your content program? Put your strategy in writing and think through your business goals.
Content Marketing Institute recommends that you base your strategy on three important decisions:
- Why – marketing and business purpose
- Who – audience needs
- How – unique brand story
Let’s start with why. Define your marketing and business purpose for your content program. What do you want the result to be? Do you want to create more awareness, stimulate interest, or educate your customers? This will help define the type of content you’ll offer.
Next we tackle who. Who is your audience and what are their needs? In the Whole Foods example, the audience is people who have an interest in natural and healthy foods. They generally have some disposable income, and don’t mind spending a bit more for better-quality foods.
When you know who your audience is, you better understand how to write for them.
How will you tell your unique story in a way that attracts your ideal customer? First, determine your unique value proposition (USP). What do you have to offer that sets you apart from the competition? For Whole Foods, it’s the perceived quality of their groceries and the availability of items you won’t find at your neighborhood grocery store.
First, Understand Your Customer
John Deere is widely known as the first content marketer. In the late 1800s, the company, better known for farm equipment, launched a magazine called The Furrow. The magazine featured article about farming that were not promotional, but purely for the benefit of farmers.
The Furrow’s content was successful because it addressed farmers’ pain points. This takes research and customer focus. The best way to do this is to create buyer personas.
A buyer persona, sometimes called an avatar is an imaginary person based on the characteristics of your idea buyer. It’s an essential exercise as you determine the kinds of content you’ll publish. Here are some factors to consider as you define your personas.
- Demographic information
- Educational level
- Socioeconomic factors
- Political leanings, if applicable
- Family makeup
- Others that relate to your products
Sometimes it’s helpful to even use images for your personas. Create a separate persona for each type of customer. For example, if you’re a cleaning service and you have both residential and commercial customers, you’ll need separate personas for each.
John Deere’s success with content marketing can be attributed to their superior understand of their customers. Commit your personas to memory and have them top of mind when you create any marketing materials or content.
Content Marketing Strategy
Your Editorial Calendar
Once you understand your audience, plan your editorial calendar. Start with any seasonal topics that might apply. If you’re a retail store, you’ll want to think about holidays and other special days. Plug those into your calendar first. Allow plenty of lead time to plan and create content.
How far out should you schedule content? There are numerous editorial calendar templates available that can help you set out an entire year at a time. Personally, I found the entire year overwhelming, and it’s difficult to predict the kinds of things you’ll want to write about nine months out.
What works best for me is to plan my content about one to two months in advance. That way I know what’s coming up, yet the planning isn’t overwhelming. I do a little each week rather than one long session at the beginning of the year. I create one blog post each week, and topics are schedule through at least the next month.
I keep my content ideas and calendar in my to-do list app, Todoist. I can easily add a new topic or idea that comes to me whether I’m on my phone or computer. Find the system that works best for you, but be sure you have some way to jot down ideas that may pop into your head at random times.
Use Your Personas
Brainstorm topics based on what you know about your customers and their pain points. Here are a couple of examples.
Persona: A middle-class parent with three children. Two working parents in the home and not a lot of disposable income.
Pain point: We need healthy, economical, quick-to-prepare, kid-friendly dinner ideas.
Content: Recipes that use inexpensive and easy-to-find ingredients, and can be prepared in less than 30 minutes.
Persona: An older retired woman who loves growing vegetables.
Pain Point: Something is eating my vegetables and ruining my garden. So much work with so little to show for it.
Content: How to identify and get rid of garden pests.
How often will you post content? Consistency is key — you want your readers to depend on the fact that you’ll be there regularly with something new and helpful for them to read.
Consistent posts will help you with search engines and help establish you as an expert and thought leader in your space. Well-researched and well-written posts will make you valuable in their eyes.
Create content that stirs your reader’s emotion. Put your product in a context that shows it being used to accomplish a higher purpose. If you’re a gardening store, plant a garden in a struggling neighborhood and help residents learn to grow healthy food. Use video or a blog post to show your efforts.
Use User-Generated Content
User-generated content (UGC) is some of the best marketing you can’t buy. It’s always more valuable and relatable when someone else talks about you. Get permission where it’s needed and create a branded hashtag that your customers can use to share their experiences on social media.
Content marketing, when done well, is not promotional. You’re not pushing products or selling; you’re showing and telling in a way that is completely focused on the customer’s needs and not about you.