Create Better Content With These Content Marketing Rules to Live By

Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Learn how to get content marketing right by positioning your business; teaching, not selling; following a strategy and using social media.

Content marketing gets great results if you position your business; write to teach, not sell; follow a strategy; and promote with social media. Learn how to do it.

Content marketing has gone from fad to fact. It’s beaten advertising in the battle for next year’s budgeting allocations. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 88 percent of B2B marketers use it now, and 76 percent of those same marketers plan to do more content marketing next year.

What does this mean for you?

If you’ve been holding back, it’s probably time to try some content marketing or get more deliberate about squeezing some results from it.

But before I show you how to do that, let’s do a little expectation management about content marketing. The practice isn’t perfect, and there are a few facts you need to know:

Related Article: 10 Surprising Facts About Millennials and Content Marketing

Content Marketing Takes Time to See Results.

Plan on waiting about six months to a year before you see any results, and it’s not unusual for it to take up to three years to see return on investment (ROI).  If you need a fast fix, look to advertising to fill the gap until your content marketing starts going. Content marketing will ultimately be a better approach than advertising, but the time lag is unavoidable. It simply takes time to build up an audience.

ROI of content marketing chart
From the ROI of Content Marketing

Content Marketing Requires Resources.

Some parts of content marketing are free or pretty inexpensive – setting up a blog, interacting on social media and launching email marketing. However, content marketing has a few costs that few people consider.

The days of $3 keyword loaded articles are gone, and that’s a good thing. Today’s content marketing requires the creation of high-quality, on-brand and on-strategy content that’s promoted properly. That can equate to a lot of resources – time, work and money.

If you’re like many of the companies we surveyed for the 2015 State of Small Business Report, that could be a problem. We found 56 percent of companies spend less than 3 percent of their revenue on marketing. It’s not that you can’t do content marketing on a budget that lean, you can, but it’s going to be a challenge.

So Why Do Content Marketing at All?

Despite the cautions about expectation management,  content marketing still holds a lot of promise. My team at Wasp Barcode is fully invested in it.

Content marketing works if you’re realistic, have a plan and don’t cut corners. Case in point: Fisher Tank Company, an industrial storage tank manufacturer, took a stodgy old site and had the Weidert Group redesign it. They added a slew of content marketing best practices. Although these results are not typical, here’s what happened 12 weeks after launching a new blog:

Results after adding blogging

Wow, huh? For comparison, here’s the old site:

The site before blog and redesign
The original site, before the blog and redesign

And here’s the new one:

The revised site and blog
The revised site and blog made a big difference.

That’s why we’re all doing this content marketing thing. A 3,900 percent increase in lead conversions isn’t bad.

Related Article: How To Make Content Marketing Work in a Boring Industry

How to Do Content Marketing Right

So here’s what you need to do to get it right:

Identify Your Audience.

Who’s your ideal customer? Got more than one group of ideal customers? Those are called “personas” in content marketing lingo, and they’re basically profiles of different groups.  You want to focus on roughly two to five personas and be very clear about who they are.  As business consultant Perry Marshall said in 80/20 Sales and Marketing, you need to be able to write a page out of their diary.

Example of customer groups
Trusted Choice guides their different customers to the right content as soon as they land on the homepage.

Figure Out What Ideal Customers Want to Know.

Intelligentsia Coffee offers extensive coffee prep training, including PDF guides, coffee roasting tours, and classes. Anyone who would attend any of their training events is clearly an ideal coffee buying customer.

Example of what your customer wants to know
Intelligentsia Coffee offers classes to show people how to use their espresso machines.

There’s another example of this at many lawn and garden stores. Gardeners can’t buy much in January, but they are often hungry for planning and improvement ideas. So some garden centers run training series in the winter. This keeps them top of mind with anyone who shows up for classes, and also  generates more sales.  

Figure Out How to Position Your Content So It Stands Out and Gets Remembered.

Positioning gets you seen - and thought about, accepted and remembered.  The marketing  tactic focuses on creating a perception about your brand, product or service in your potential customers’ minds, and it’s done by leveraging how they view the market and your competitors.

Potential customers don’t develop a good perception about your business if you keep creating the same kind of content over and over again. You’ve got to give your material a new and unique angle that no one else uses, and that angle has to mesh with everything your business does.  

Organic Valley does this at the genius level. Their “Save the Bros” campaign was designed to position their organic protein shakes, and they did it by launching the satirical “Brononymous Hotline” that gave concerned Twitter users the opportunity to “save” their friends who used protein shakes with synthetic ingredients. They don’t compete head-to-head against other protein shake brands; they’ve had more success changing how customers view and engage the market. Check out their novel approach on YouTube

Don't Write to Sell Stuff.

A sales pitch reduces people’s trust and engagement more than it makes leads people to buy.  Content marketing must be helpful, educational, and interesting. The second it falls short of that, your audience is gone.

As Autodesk’s head of content marketing, Dusty DiMercurio said:

 Traditional marketing is oftentimes interruptive. It’s not always mindful of where the buyer might be within their journey. It’s pushy, trying-to ask-for-marriage-on-the-first-date kind of thing, too much.

 To me, content marketing is really the last hope for marketing. Instead of being interruptive in the ways that traditional advertising has been, it tries to flip that model on its head and be so interesting and relevant that it’s hard to ignore.

Leverage the Expert Knowledge of Your Employees.

Your existing employees are the best content marketing resource you have. You may need to hire an editor to rework their copy, but the knowledge they have is invaluable. This is especially true for customer-facing employees.

AutoDesk does this on a massive scale. The software company has 120 unique and separate blogs. Most are written by AutoDesk employees, just riffing on their exhaustive industry knowledge.

An AutoDesk employee blog
Lynn Allen’s AutoCAD blog is just one of the 120 blogs under the Autodesk content marketing program.

Create an Editorial Mission Statement and a Deliberate Content Marketing Strategy. Put Them in Writing.

Why do this? Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, points out that an editorial mission statement gets you focused on who your readership is supposed to be and helps you determine what NOT to create content around. Research from his group also demonstrated companies that have a written-out content marketing strategy are almost twice as likely to rate their content marketing as successful. A strategy also gives you measurable objectives and keeps you on track.

Put as Much Work Into Promoting Your Content as You Do Into Creating It.

Even great content needs great promotion. Don’t cut corners with this, especially in the early days of building your audience.  

Start out by writing your material with good SEO so search engines can easily find it. Once it’s published, share it on the social media platforms your customers use - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others. Don’t forget to engage these audiences by quickly responding to questions and comments.

Bonus tip: Your employees are one of the best content promotion assets you’ve got. They should be tweeting, posting and sharing everything you publish.

Your Content Has to Be the Best.

Second rate content is forgotten. Everything you publish needs to be outstanding if you want it to be seen, remembered and acted upon. If that means publishing less often, so be it.

This doesn’t mean you have to write like an ace or spend $20,000 on each video. Production doesn’t have to be Hollywood quality because the information itself that builds an audience. Often, companies need to find and hire a “micro influencer” in their niche that’s already creating killer content. View these hires as long-term partners, not just “freelancers” if you really want results.

Related Article: In a Content Marketing Rut? Tailor Your Content to Your Customers’ Interests

Back to You

Content marketing is a practice, an art and a science, and successful content marketing shares all the attributes we just talked about. Just plan it smart, invest in it right, and track everything you do.

I bet you know a few examples of great content marketing. Share a few of your favorites in the comment.

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