What is Content Marketing?

PAN Communications

content marketing_quick takeawaysContent marketing is a strategic marketing and business process 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.

Good content resonates with the viewer because it fits with their goals or general interest. Great content maps to their desire, emotions and journey, delivering an outcome that will build advocacy and drive engagement mapped to revenue. In other words, content can be the “path to purpose” for the customer.

Navigating that path requires the use of analytics to get a clear understanding of the impact your content is having. Here’s where the intersection of PR and content becomes the pinnacle of great storytelling.

The best content connects with your potential customers and speaks to them as individuals, identified through the use of personas, personalization and great storytelling. Challenge yourself and your team to make each user a believer that the product or service they are purchasing will create a better world for them NOW. Ideas can make this a reality – whether emotional or physical – and move markets.

While the definition of what content marketing entails is not difficult to understand, how to implement a strong content marketing program is still elusive. It’s a marketing channel that embraces offline, online and hybrid marketing tactics, a cross section of tactics that may seem difficult to pull together. But with an integrated marketing approach, any business can drive conversions and improve advocacy, when you put the right assets in play.

Content initiatives are growing, with social media, influencer marketing and demand generation as top priorities.

The most valuable asset? The voice of the customer. HubSpot defines Voice of the Customer (VoC) as the process of capturing all of what a customer is saying about your business, product or service. It helps you visualize the gap between your customer’s expectations and their brand experience. By capturing your customer’s voice, you can connect and engage at each touchpoint in the customer journey. It’s the “voice of many voices” that in aggregate help drive leads into the sales funnel.

A VoC program should capture the tone and preferences of your brand’s most loyal advocates. It should show them that their feedback and opinions truly matter. And, most importantly, it should translate into a platform that sales, marketing and other key stakeholders can point to for validation in referrals. This will help drive new business and revenue for your organization.

An integrated PR agency can be the best way to get your content strategy and strong VoC program off the ground quickly. Why? There’s so much more to do with customers than in the past. The skill set that agencies offer – social and storytelling – is part and parcel with their integrated services.

what is content marketing

Source: pexels.com used under CC license.

Read along or jump to the section that interests you most:

1. How to Develop a Content Marketing Strategy

2. How to Accomplish Content Mapping for Optimum Results

3. How Voice of the Customer Works

4. Boosting Brand Awareness with Content Amplification Tools

1. How to Develop a Content Marketing Strategy

If you’ve set a goal to make content marketing a priority for your B2B tech or healthcare organization, it’s time to set up your team for success. “Must haves” for your strategy include the use of content calendars, tracking with pillars, and catering content to each buyer persona.

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How to research buyer personas

Personas are the cornerstone of great marketing. At the most basic level, personas allow you to personalize or target your marketing for different audience segments. They also help relate each persona to the buyer’s journey, from acquisition to retention. When you narrow down your target, it’ll be easier to brainstorm ideas and create content that maps to one specific pain point.

Buyer personas help you develop a better understanding of your customers. Utilizing buyer personas make your website 2 to 5 times more effective, simply by knowing who you’re targeting. You can even see higher click-through and conversion rates, as well as 18 times more revenue! As a result, using buyer personas strategically can lead to higher conversion rates, better margins, and lower costs that improve your bottom line. 

The strongest buyer personas are based on market research as well as on insights you gather from your actual customer base (through surveys, interviews, etc.). Depending on your business, you could have as few as one or two personas, or as many as 10 or 20.

Learn more by downloading this eBook: How to Master Buyer Personas.

Buyer personas lie at the intersection of where PR and content marketing meet. It helps drive toward solving your customer pain points with targeted content funneled toward the right inbound and media channels. 

Alignment to funnel goals are essential when it comes to getting results from your personalized content. You may have the perfect alignment of content to each of your buyer personas, but are you considering the various stages of the buyer journey within this content? Top, middle and bottom of the funnel content are all equally important, and timing these touchpoints accordingly is essential. Companies that properly nurture their leads see more qualified prospects than those that do not cater to or – better yet – anticipate the needs of their buyers.

Creating a roadmap for your buyer’s journey allows you to concentrate on attracting, converting, closing and delighting your audience and prospects. If you plan accordingly and are consistent in that approach, then you’re giving your brand the best chance at achieving ROI from your content efforts. Start by mapping content to each stage of the buyer’s journey: awareness, consideration and decision.

What are your marketing KPIs?

Your content strategy planning should include a definition of how you will measure success from the get go. This includes the ability to map back to your overall business goals. Layer this approach with an integrated measurement strategy to determine which channels, strategies and campaigns are giving you the highest ROI. This will enable you to move resources between content marketing and PR or vice versa depending on your results. 

Most marketers are familiar with some of the more common metrics. Today’s digital mavens are all about open rates, click-through traffic, tweets, retweets, followers, fans and engagement momentum. But as many finance and accounting types say, “you can’t put clicks in the bank.” In today’s world of “big data,” it’s impossible not to do a better job measuring the true value of your marketing. It just takes a change of mindset.

Learn more by downloading this eBook: Build a Winning Measurement Strategy from the Ground Up

Forty-six percent of today’s marketers say proving the ROI of their marketing activities is one of the biggest challenges they face.

The following key data points should be analyzed together to assess your brand’s customer journey: Share of Voice/ social media analytics and demand gen PR efforts; PPC and email campaign results; and MQLs, to name a few.

What you are measuring is equally important as to when you measure.

Once goals are set and a campaign kicks off, the best way to ensure success is to measure early, and measure often. Measuring at the end of a campaign provides no room for improvement or room to pivot if the campaign wasn’t successful. Even measuring halfway through a campaign can be too late, if your goals were aligned to a specific timeframe, but results at the halfway mark aren’t lining up. Instead of setting goals to be reached by the end of the campaign, consider setting up milestone goals, determining what goals should be achieved by when, throughout the campaign.  

How do you choose your content marketing pillars?

Your content marketing pillars are the cornerstone of an integrated marketing effort and include public relations, influencer marketing, social media, measurement and analytics, content marketing and creative. Which ones you use for any particular campaign should be based on your customer personas mapped back to your service or product offerings. Align these efforts with your PR strategy – and for maximum effect, time them with tradeshows, media events, customer partnership announcements and any other timely and relevant opportunities available to you.

A particularly effective tactic to take advantage of those opportunities is with a press tour. When done correctly, a press tour can be a unique opportunity to leverage situations, locations and personal interactions to gain both short- and long-term gains in the form of extensive coverage and established relationships. The success of the press tour is reliant on not only the media outreach/briefings secured but the championing of logistics. Every step must be well thought out and planned as well as strategic, emphasizing efficiency and upholding professionalism.

2. How to accomplish Content Mapping for Optimum Results

According to Hubspot, a content map is a plan to deliver the right content, to the right people, at the right time. Content mapping takes into account the characteristics of the person who will be consuming the content and their lifecycle stage.

Creating and Optimizing Content for the Awareness Stage

You can use blogging, SEO and social media to create brand awareness. Start by setting up a content marketing editorial calendar to improve content strategy and help your company stay in line with its goals. Once you have set your goals, determine which themes and content will help you to achieve them.

According to Forrester, people engage with 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchase.

Use social media to engage with your audience. Run contests. Ask questions. Post visuals. Publish polls and surveys. Encourage user-generated content. These are just some examples of simple ways to start a conversation with your audience and encourage conversation among them. Customers will reward you if they feel like you care about them. Like anything worth doing, increasing engagement takes time. You will never see instant results. The goal of every brand on social media should be to deliver valuable, consistent, relevant content to your audience. This kind of hard work gives you customers for life. Remember, conversation gets you engagement. Engagement sparks conversation.

Nurturing Leads within the Consideration Stage

You’ve caught a prospect’s attention. You’ve engaged with your target audience. You’ve generated clicks and likes. This all drives awareness, but it’s time to move further down the funnel and interact in an even more meaningful way.

Newsletters, premium content like eBooks and videos drive leads. Visual content is a necessity at this stage. Utilize your creative team or outsource as necessary for video, eBooks, social shareables and landing page images. 

Video is highly effective and can take many different forms. It can be highly polished professionally produced content. Or take advantage of interactive video using live streaming on Facebook. Q&A formats are engaging and can dive into an issue versus a straight up product pitch. Or use a man-on-the-street interview for greater authenticity.

Video is just one type of highly effective visual content. Creative assets overall are integral to strong content marketing. The average human attention span has dropped to 8.25 seconds — less than that of a goldfish. Creative services can help surmount this challenge by producing effective visuals that grab an audience’s attention and holds onto it, enabling targeted messages to be absorbed. Eye-tracking studies have shown that internet readers pay close attention to information-carrying images, so the use of infographics and other informative visuals can boost engagement.

Creative services also enable brands to respond nimbly to the evolving audiences. For example, buyers are doing their own research on mobile devices, but more than 60 percent of customers will leave a branded website if it is not mobile-friendly. Creative services can repurpose content specifically for mobile users, creating visuals that can be instantly tweeted or shared.

Your brand should provide customers with a consistent visual experience across all platforms. The journey starts with your logo, and your story unfolds with the consistent use of fonts, colors and imagery across your website, advertisements, print materials, stores and packaging. A customer should recognize your brand at first glance, and visual consistency tells them that you have a high-quality product, and that they should give you a try.

No matter what social media channel you utilize, strong visuals will support your messaging at the critical consideration stage of content mapping.

Content Alignment for the Decision Stage

The closer you get to closing the sale, the more critical a role personalized content will play.

This includes content that demonstrates personalization and value-add such as, ABM, third-party validation including media, analysts and influencers, and advocacy strategies.

ABM is the catch phrase of 2018, and savvy marketers are part of the movement toward this highly personalized channel. Account-based marketing (ABM) is a business-to-business strategy that focuses sales and marketing resources on target accounts within a specific market. Instead of broad-reaching marketing campaigns that touch the largest possible number of prospective customers, an ABM strategy focuses resources for a defined set of named accounts. Then marketing focuses all of their resources, budget and campaigns against the very specific list of target accounts to directly support sales.

Content marketers and inbound marketers shouldn’t feel threatened by ABM. When you go with an ABM strategy, you have to have content for so many different roles that there's actually more of a need for content than there is the purely top-of-funnel, demand gen world.

A multi-faceted PR approach is key. Take time for media briefings, even though they are time consuming, they pay dividends. Focus on real thought leadership. A big part of any great media relations campaign is to spend time building your reputation for giving valuable and valid information, solidifying your media relationships and establishing your credibility as a thought leader. And remember there is value in a healthy mix of earned and paid opportunities. Engaging in paid media with reputable groups like national broadcast shows, newspapers and business press can further solidify your relationships with these outlets and lead to earned opportunities as well.

Another trending marketing channel, influencer marketing, also helps drive decision making.

With the flexibility and all-encompassing nature of an influencer program, most companies can benefit from one. A recent report found more than 37 percent of marketers are dedicating budget to the practice, with that number expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.

A lot of times, we hear influencer marketing talked about for B2C companies; however, it can have a major impact for B2B organizations as well. A relevant and highly regarded influencer in your industry gets you in front of the right customers who will buy (or talk about) your product or service.

If you want influential individuals to speak about you or your brand in a positive, fair and accurate manner, you must develop an authentic relationship with that individual borne out of mutual interests and mutual respect.  - Matt Stallknecht - PAN Communications

Companies can use endorsements from well-known bloggers, researchers, social media personalities and other influencers in their industry to elevate their brand and increase their market recognition. Building a connection with an influencer isn’t a one-time touchpoint. It takes constant engagement to develop the relationship, with the goal being that these influencers will eventually share your content on their channels for purely organic or earned media. But even paid influencer campaigns require this relationship building for effective results.

Analyst relations are particularly important for B2B companies as well as the reports coming from top analyst firms. These reports often help different businesses across a myriad of industries ultimately decide what companies they want to work with and buy from. An often overlooked area, analyst relations can give your business access to a completely different kind of market exposure than PR and media relations. Plus, taking part in these reports can help you truly identify where your business excels in the marketplace and which areas need improvement.

3. How Voice of the Customer Works

Content not only supports lead-gen activities, but the value of content also helps to improve the entire customer journey past the point of sales and into the retention and referral stages.

Showcase your voice of customer by establishing a program that highlights their voice, and their experience with your brand, with case studies, Q&As, blog posts, newsletters and social engagement. 

Customer advocacy programs have grown 570 percent year over year among B2B vendors. - IDC

Why have a Customer Experience Strategy?

Establish your customer’s value from your brand before centralizing content around their needs. Conduct surveys, focus groups, interviews and/or create feedback forms to establish this information.

If designed properly and clear in its purpose, survey research is a very valuable tool for gathering information about customers, attitudes, and market drivers and challenges. Goals and questions must be clear to avoid being led down the wrong path. Whether one receives expected responses and trends or not, conducting a survey can be very informative and useful for business and marketing strategies.

Once your content is developed and aligned to your customers’ pain points and needs, your next step should be to think about the entire customer journey. Think beyond content when it comes to your customers and consider their entire experience. Is your content easily accessible? Are you gating your content too much? Is your content available on the channels that your customers are using daily? Determine what will compel your customers to engage with your brand and build your strategy from there. 

content marketing_V2The Importance of Customer Retention & Referrals  

By appealing emotionally to your customer’s content experience, your brand will see the results in retention and referrals. Utilize customer case studies and quotes as much as possible during this final stage and continuously measure the impact that your Voice of Customer program is having on your overall ROI. 

Revenue is a very tangible thing, so the move to customer experience is an important one. The conversation is often around the thought of net new customers. But the customer has a full life cycle. This thought changes the dynamics of how we think about it. The process doesn't start when someone signs an order and we're done. We have a chance to service them, delight them, and continue to upsell and cross-sell.

Customer retention and referral takes advantage of the full customer lifecycle and maximizes revenue opportunities. Be obsessed with the customer experience and the ROI will take care of itself.

4. Boosting Brand Awareness with Content Amplification Tools

Bring forward your company’s thought leadership initiatives with content marketing, but take it that one step further by amplifying that content with some paid spend to get at the forefront of your audience and ahead of your competitors.

Content marketing is the best approach for building trust, and it will need to have a well-oiled plan. It’s more than just saying “trust us.” It’s about building powerful content that goes way beyond the quality of SEO-optimized blog posts.

The Growth of Marketing and Advertising Technology

Marketing and advertising is growing at a rapid pace. The martech industry is becoming vastly competitive. The landscape grew this year by about 40 percent, to a total of 5,381 solutions.

With so many moving pieces in the marketing world, it makes sense that marketers turn to these various technology platforms to simplify, improve and automate parts of their strategy. The value-add is the overall effect on ROI, but before you get to the finish line, you get an abundance of data at your fingertips, as well as better technology to help improve your overall strategy and brand experience.

Understanding the Role of Paid Social Media

Trying to amplify your content by reaching out to people who don’t know your brand? You can target prospects using paid social ads. Whether you’re on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram, your thumb swipes vigorously as you search for something that speaks to you. With the never ending, overpopulated content stream that is the social newsfeed, a paid boost can help you get noticed. 

At this point in time, there isn’t a single business that should not be marketing itself on social media. The opportunity to interact directly with your target audience should not, and cannot, be passed up. However, many businesses throw together a profile haphazardly, and then don’t put the time and strategy into prioritizing its importance and success. You must put careful thought and consideration behind your social presence and then take it even further with paid campaigns to start generating leads for your business.

Getting Started with Content Syndication  

Syndication is a powerful tool for engaging new audiences and expanding the reach of creative content. Not only does it amplify your content, it also is perceived as being less intrusive – more of a discovery process leading to a better customer journey. 

When evaluating the media landscape, marketing teams oftentimes define “top-tier” according to what they think their audiences are reading, highest impressions or what will resonate most with leadership. However, they need to think about it a bit more broadly by considering publications that are also influential in terms of generating potential syndication. In that way, it is crucial to identify and pursue the validating outlets in your industry that can help extend your story and increase visibility to your content.  

The most effective outlet for potential syndication may not be the most obvious one. The next time you think about “top-tier,” consider publications that have the greatest potential influence through syndication, as well as how to time the launch of your data to drive broader conversations.

Conclusion

To be competitive in today’s marketplace, organizations need an integrated marketing strategy that includes online, offline and hybrid. Content marketing should be the cornerstone of a strong inbound strategy. It can drive conversions and improve advocacy.

Your PR agency is best suited to take on the challenge of content marketing. With storytelling, social and marketing analytics in their wheelhouse, they already understand your buyer personas and their pain points.

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