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- Expand their user base
- Diversify their user base
- Establish or Increase online sales
- Increase brand awareness or credibility
- Create an online community of users
Unlike other forms of online marketing, content marketing relies on intercepting an existing customer need, as opposed to creating demand for a new need. As James O'Brian of Contently wrote on Mashable, "The idea central to content marketing is that a brand must give something valuable to get something valuable in return. Instead of the commercial, be the show. Instead of the banner ad, be the feature story."
When businesses pursue content marketing, the main focus should be the needs of the customer. Once a business has identified the customer's need, information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, email newsletters, case studies, podcasts, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, blogs etc.
- In 1895, John Deere launched the magazine The Furrow, providing information to farmers on how to become more profitable. The magazine, considered the first custom publication, is still in circulation, reaching 1.5 million readers in 40 countries in 12 different languages.
- In 1900, Michelin developed the Michelin Guide, offering drivers information on auto maintenance, accommodations, and other travel tips. 35,000 copies were distributed for free in this first edition.
- In 1904, Jell-O salesmen went door-to-door, distributing their cookbook for free. Touting the dessert as a versatile food, the company saw its sales rise to over $1 million by 1906.
The phrase "content marketing" was used as early as 1996, when John F. Oppedahl led a roundtable for journalists at the American Society for Newspaper Editors. In 1998, Jerrell Jimerson held the title of "director of online and content marketing" at Netscape. In 1999, author Jeff Cannon wrote,“In content marketing, content is created to provide consumers with the information they seek.”
By 2014, Forbes Magazine's website had written about the seven most popular ways companies use content marketing. In it, the columnist points out that by 2013, use of content marketing had jumped across corporations from 60% a year or so before, to 93% as part of their overall marketing strategy. Despite the fact that 70% of organizations are creating more content, only 21% of marketers think they are successful at tracking ROI.
- Red Bull, which sells a high-energy beverage, has published YouTube videos, hosted experiences, and sponsored events around extreme sports and activities like mountain biking, BMX, motocross, snowboarding, skateboarding, cliff-diving, freestyle motocross, and Formula 1 racing. Red Bull Media House is a unit of Red Bull that "produces full-length feature films for cinema and downstream channels (DVD, VOD, TV)." The Red Bulletin is an international monthly magazine Red Bull publishes with a focus on men's sports, culture, and lifestyle.
- The personal finance site Mint.com used content marketing, specifically their personal finance blog MintLife, to build an audience for a product they planned to sell. According to entrepreneur Sachin Rekhi, Mint.com concentrated on building the audience for MintLife "independent of the eventual Mint.com product." Content on the blog included how to guides on paying for college, saving for a house, and getting out of debt. Other popular content included in-depth interview and a series on financial disasters called "Trainwreck Tuesdays." Popularity of the site surged as did demand for the product. "Mint grew quickly enough to sell to Intuit for $170 million after three years in business. By 2013, the tool reached 10 million users, many of whom trusted Mint to handle their sensitive banking information because of the blog’s smart, helpful content."
The rise of content marketing has also accelerated the growth of online platforms, such as YouTube, Yelp, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest, and more.
- YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, is an online video platform driving (and benefiting from) the surge to content marketing. As of 2016, YouTube had over 1 billion users, representing 1/3 of all internet users and reaching more 18-34 yr olds than any cable provider in the U.S.
- Yelp, an online business directory, has seen 30% year over growth in the number of reviews, ending the second quarter of 2016 with 108 million reviews for over 3 million businesses.
Businesses who actively curate their content on these platforms have been able to expand their reach to new audiences.
When creating content, businesses will typically go through 3 preliminary steps:
1. Define a target audience and their needs
The first step in creating a successful content marketing campaign is to define your target audience, commonly known as user segmentation. Successful content marketers deeply understand their customers' needs and desires, beyond just their sole interest in their products or service. For example, if you are marketing a food truck, you may define your target customer as young millennials who work within a 5-minute walk of downtown San Francisco and who enjoy trying fresh, healthy foods. The more narrowly you can define your customer, the better you will be able to define content to your target audience.
2. Determine the types of content
- White-papers and ebooks
- How-to guides
- Editorials/ Op-eds
The appropriate type of content for any business will depend on the business' goals and target customer. For example, an architect provider targeting real estate developers of large residential complexes may benefit from creating a list outlining all the considerations that a real estate developer should consider before entering a deal. Conversely, a local catering service targeting busy families may benefit from a video showcasing the warmth and convenience of a home-made, freshly-cooked meal.
3. Establish a content management system
To get started, businesses will need to find a content management system (CMS). Though there are many CMS and they each offer a slightly different value proposition, most include functions to help with content creation, publication, and analytics to track the success of posts.
There are 3 distribution strategies for successful content marketing, each with tradeoffs in customization, reach, and time commitment. Content distribution is often among the most overlooked aspects of a successful content marketing campaign, as it requires a consistent time commitment.
Building your own site
Businesses who build their own website maximize for complete control and customization. This is especially helpful for creative fields like art or interior design, where the primary value proposition communicated to users centers on qualitative factors or emotions. One challenge to building your own site is that there is not a natural base of visitors to leverage (as might be the case if you hosted a YouTube video). To increase reach, content marketing managers will want to invest in SEO, SEM or other audience-building campaigns.
Guest posts are blog posts that you submit on other people's sites, often with links or references back to your own business (or online business profile/ website). Businesses who create guest posts maximize for low time commitment and high reach. The challenge is that there is a limited level of customization, as your guest post will sit in another website. Content marketing managers pursuing this distribution channel will want to emphasize
Re-engagement marketing include: email newsletters, white papers, and podcasts. It entails anything that might allow you to re-connect with a visitor to your site or social media page - often by collecting the customer's email. This optimizes for customization and depth of relationship.
Metrics to determine the success of a content marketing are often tied to the original goals of the campaign.
For example, for each of these goals, a content marketer may measure different engagement and conversion metrics:
Brand awareness and visibility
Businesses focused on expanding their reach to more customers will want to pay attention to the increase in volume of visitors, as well as the quality of those interactions. Traditional measures of volume include number of visitors to a page and number of emails collected, while time spent on page and click-through to other pages/ photos are good indicators for engagement.
- Number of visitors to a page
- Time spent on the page
- Click-through across pages/ photos
- Number of emails collected
Diversified user base
For businesses hoping to reach not only more - but also new - types of customers online, they should pay attention to the demographics of new visitors, as evidenced by cookies that can be installed, different sources of traffic, different online behaviors, and/or different buying habits of online visitors.
- Demographics of visitors
- Sources of traffic (i.e., SEO, social media, referral, direct)
- Differences in buying patterns and user-behavior of visitors
Businesses focused on increasing sales through content marketing should look at traditional e-commerce metrics including click-through-rate from a product-page to check-out and completion rates at the check-out. Altogether, these form a conversion funnel. Moreover, to better understand customers' buying habits, they should look at other engagement metrics like time spent per page, number of product-page visits per user, and re-engagement.
- Conversion through the sales process (the process from sign-up to check-out), including click-through-rates at each stage of the conversion funnel
- Time spent on the page
- Re-engagement (i.e., % of return visitors)
- Click-through across product pages
- Earned media
- Custom media
- Brand language
- Inbound marketing
- Interactive Marketing
- Permission marketing
- Content strategy
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