Content marketing has been the number-one marketing strategy for the last 10 to 15 years. But content marketing isn’t new.
Since the invention of the printing press in 1436, businesses and thought leaders have been publishing pamphlets, books, and magazines that inform, engage, and persuade.
Perhaps the most notable example is Benjamin Franklin, who many consider the Father of Content Marketing.
Franklin launched Poor Richard’s Almanack in the 1730s, not just to entertain and keep people up to date. It was a strategic move to drive interest in his printing business.
Today, it’s the internet that makes content marketing such a powerful strategy. You don’t have to be a publishing pro. All you need to do is publish relevant, useful content that attracts your ideal customers, and you can turn them into paying customers.
Digital content doesn’t cost much to get in front of your audience. You don’t need to budget for paper, printing, or postage. It’s easy to produce, easy to distribute.
That’s why brands are going all-in on videos, podcasts, events, and even television-quality shows.
But they’re also producing print newsletters and magazine. Because bottom line, content marketing works.
In this guide, we’ll explore content marketing, what it is, why it works, and the strategies that work today.
Let’s get started.
What Is Content Marketing
Content marketing is a marketing strategy for attracting and engaging your ideal customers by creating and distributing relevant, valuable information.
The idea is to create a loyal following, build relationship with them, and ultimately, convert them by giving them the information they need to be better consumers.
We usually think of content marketing as a top-of-funnel strategy. In reality, content marketing drives the entire customer journey.
It works at the top of the funnel to attract and engage customers. In the middle of the funnel, it helps them understand the challenges they face and the options available to them. At the bottom of the funnel, it helps them compare options and choose the product that’s right for them.
Content marketing benefits the customer by helping them make better decisions. But content marketing also benefits the brand by building an audience of fans and loyal buyers.
Who Uses Content Marketing?
Every type and size of business uses content marketing.
B2B content marketing is done through blog posts, videos, podcasts, books, and infographics. B2B companies also leverage live content to promote their products, generate demand, and drive sales.
B2C content marketing is similar. Through blog posts, videos, and podcasts, brands can engage their customers and build cult-like loyalty.
Nonprofits are also using content marketing. Think about the tear-jerker stories that leave you wiping away a tear before anyone sees you. For them, content creates an emotional connection that raises awareness and donations.
Enterprise businesses believe so much in the value of content marketing that they hire entire teams to create, publish, and distribute their content.
But content marketing can be done successfully even by small businesses. The tools and apps available today makes it possible for individuals to rival the biggest brands.
Benefits of Content Marketing
Content marketing has proven its value time and time again. Here are seven ways content marketing can benefit your brand.
Benefit #1. Authority
When you consistently publish relevant, informative content, it’s clear you’re an expert in your space. People begin to see you as an authority in your space. They listen to what you have to say. They take action when you make a recommendation. They come to you when they have a question or are ready to buy.
Benefit #2. Traffic
High-quality content that ranks well in the search engines can drive significant traffic to your website. The secret is search engine optimization (SEO).
Done right, it gives you quality traffic for free. It also helps you get found by people who might not otherwise have known you exist.
In a nutshell, here’s how it works:
Step 1: You write a definitive post that answers a question your audience frequently asks. Then, you optimize the page, so it ranks on page 1 of Google.
Step 2: Anyone searching for that information sees your page. When they click through, they land on your website, read your post, and hopefully find the information they’re looking for.
Step 3: While they’re on your site, they look around. They may click on internal links that take them to related content. If your pages are optimized for conversion, you might even make a sale.
Benefit #3. Awareness and loyalty
Marketing is about putting your message in front of your best customers. With content marketing, you can do that in a way that’s not pushy or intrusive — so it earns people’s attention without irritating them.
Because people are already looking for the information you’re sharing, they come to you. They’re eager to read your content. And if you provide the information they want and need, they see you as their hero, not someone who’s pushing your wares.
Within your content, if you mention your products, people can learn what they do and how they work. This builds awareness and interest. And when people are ready to buy, you’re at the top of their selection pool.
Benefit #4. Lead generation
The best and easiest way to generate leads is to offer valuable content for free. Well, free of charge.
To access your content, a user must trade their contact information and allow you to reach out to them through email or direct messages.
If you offer valuable information that truly helps people, they’ll happily give you their email address to access your content.
Benefit #5. Customer support
Content doesn’t just drive sales. It also helps you onboard new customers and drive adoption of your products. This is especially true when you have a complicated product with a difficult learning curve.
By creating content that helps customers quickly adopt and get results from your product, you can dramatically reduce your customer service calls (and refunds).
Benefit #6. Shorten sales pipeline and accelerate the customer journey
People buy from people they know, like, and trust. Generally, if they’re trying to decide between two companies, the company that’s most generous with its content wins.
Call it reciprocation. The act of creating content that answers questions and helps people succeed demonstrates that you care about your customers. Your visitors and prospects will repay you by buying from you.
Benefit #7. Reactivate customers
If a customer has stopped using your product or has stopped engaging with your brand, you can re-engage them with a useful piece of content. Think lead magnet for your subscribers.
A good re-engagement campaign will remind your subscribers of why they choose to follow you in the first place. It can get them clicking and responding again.
Types of Content Marketing
Content marketing exists on a sliding scale, with product marketing on one extreme, media company on the other. The first is focused solely on creating content that promotes your wares. The other is focused solely on content that engages and entertains your audience.
But extremes are rare. Most content marketing programs exist somewhere in the middle of that scale. In just a minute, we’ll look at examples of these types of content marketing. For now, let’s get a little more granular.
You see, content marketing is used in every area of business, both internally and externally. To understand how you can use content marketing, we need to talk about its different use cases. Then we need to explore the different formats of content.
Content marketing use cases
Branding. Your content needs to be so distinctive and so unified in its look and feel, your audience immediately recognizes it as yours. That’s what branding is about.
Think of the top brands in any industry. Apple has its hipster vibe, simple lines, and white accessories. Google has its matter-of-fact 4-color design. Coca-Cola has its iconic bottle shape.
You don’t need to see the logo to recognize their content. That’s the goal: to create such a distinctive look and feel, your fans know it anywhere.
But it doesn’t happen by accident. When you produce your content, pay attention to the details. Create a unique look and feel, voice, and color palette that represents your brand. Then stick to it.
Product marketing. There’s no better way to introduce your product, features, uses, and overall value, than through content. In articles and videos, for instance, you can talk about the unique pain points your customers are struggling with, then introduce your product as the solution.
Of course, you can also produce content for your existing customers. Help them become power users, and they’ll become brand ambassadors.
Awareness campaigns. When you’re doing something no one else has done before — whether a new product or a new way to solve an old problem — content is your key to spreading the word.
Here’s an example: Billie’s #ProjectBodyHair campaign.
Most women’s razors don’t address the reality of women’s body hair, nor their own feelings about that hair. That makes this campaign stand out from the usual pink-and-flowers approach.
Sales enablement. Salespeople need content that engages, sways, and persuades prospects while building trust and interest. Don’t have a sales team? This same content can be used in your funnels and nurture campaigns.
Articles build interest in the solutions you provide through your products. Lead magnets give them a quick win. Content can help them compare their options and persuade them to choose your product over the competition.
Corporate content. Content doesn’t always need to be customer facing. It’s just as valuable for engaging your employees, keeping them updated, trained, and motivated.
Your leadership team can use videos to make weekly updates. HR can publish an internal newsletter with job openings and announcements. Training and development can create live training and videos to onboard new employees and uplevel employee skills.
Now, in each of these use cases, content comes in a lot of different formats. The format that’s best for you depends on your resources, your audience’s preferences, and how the content will be used.
Today’s top content formats
Here are the formats of content you’re most likely to use to grow your business.
Written. Written content is what most people think about when you mention content marketing. It’s the primary format for blog posts, reports, ebooks, and physical content like books and newsletters. It’s easy to distribute, making it fantastic for driving organic traffic to your website. Use it for your top-of-funnel content and to cover the broad topics your prospects are searching for.
Social Media Content. Nothing beats social media for attracting and engaging your prospects. Choose the social media channels where your audience spends their time. Use value posts to build authority. Use personality posts to humanize your brand.
Video. Video is the top content format today for every stage of the customer journey. According to Biteable:
- 61% of marketers see video as a “very important or extremely important” part of their marketing strategy.
- 30% of marketers see video as a more important part of their strategy than their website.
- 74% of marketers say video has a better return on investment than static imagery.
I like video because it engages all the senses. Your audience gets to see and hear you. That brings your brand and your message to life.
And with today’s technology (your smart phone is probably all you need!), it’s not that hard to create videos, publish them, and share them everywhere your audience is. Video is your key to getting noticed, building a loyal audience, and selling more.
Podcast. Podcasting is my new passion. It’s as good as a blog for getting found. And podcast listeners are some of the most avid content consumers on the planet. They tune in on the road, in the gym, and anytime they’re doing mundane tasks.
Plus — this from a career content creator — it’s the fastest, easiest way I know to create high-value content. If you want engagement… If you want to build an audience… If you want to share your message with the world, podcasting is your channel of choice.
Infographics. Some information is easier to consume visually than through words. If you’re sharing percentages or making comparisons, infographics are your friend. They’re perfect for bringing dry, boring bits of information to life.
Email. Email content can nurture relationships with your subscribers, keep you top of mind, and run promotions to your list. Email gets a lot of flak from nonbelievers, but it’s a powerful content channel.
Events. Information alone is good. But when information is presented live, whether in person or digitally, it’s a whole ‘nother level of useful. Think live videos on YouTube, Facebook, and other social channels, as well as webinars, workshops, and conferences.
What’s the Lifetime Value of Your Content?
Another way to think about types of content marketing is its shelf life.
For each format and channel, you can create content that will remain useful for an extended period of time or that’s immediately newsworthy.
Evergreen. Evergreen content remains useful for months and even years. Of course, it will grow stale over time. That’s why books, courses, and blog posts are periodically updated.
If you offer evergreen content, your topics don’t change quickly, which means you can publish weekly, biweekly, or even monthly.
News. News is delivered every day for a reason. If you’re trying to share breaking news or even respond to the news, the value you bring to the table is your speed of coverage.
That said, accuracy matters. With this type of content, you need to think like a reporter:
- Stay on top of the trends, new developments, and key players.
- Find the story.
- Validate your facts.
- Make sure your audience stays up to date.
Content Marketing Goals
Content marketing has two aims:
- Serve your audience with information and news
- Serve your business by attracting qualified prospects and building desire for your products
It’s easy to get off track by focusing too much on one or the other. Great content marketing is balanced. It serves the audience and the business.
And it should do this at every phase of content creation: in your strategy, in your selection of topics, in your content creation and publication.
You need to know who your audience is. What do they care about? What are their goals? What questions are they asking?
You also need to know what your business goals are. Are you trying to drive traffic, lead generation, sign-ups, or another growth objective?
Be aware, content marketing isn’t for selling. It’s fantastic for attracting prospects, engaging them, and building their interest in your product.
Content marketing will lead to higher sales — but indirectly. Use it to attract your audience. Use other marketing strategies to convert them.
Now, let’s look at how content marketing works.
How Content Marketing Works
Here’s a high-level view of the content marketing process.
- Set your marketing or business goal
- Decide on the message and/or topic
- Decide on the format
- Create the content
- Publish it
- Distribute it
- Optimize and/or update
Every piece of content should serve a purpose — for the business or audience or both. There’s no value in creating content for content’s sake.
Too often, brands decide to do content marketing because they see other companies benefiting from it. But they don’t have a plan. They just start writing blog posts and hitting “Publish.”
Don’t get me wrong. There’s no harm in that. Most businesses start blogging without a clear strategy.
But there’s no value, either. Because content marketing works best when you create a strategy, map out the content topics and messages that will grow your business, and then execute with precision.
Don’t copy what other brands are doing. Don’t borrow a paragraph here and a section there, building Frankenstein articles from your competitors’ content.
Instead, find your own voice. Share your own expertise. Say something meaningful that no one else is saying.
Your content will be original. People will enjoy it. And you’ll get a higher return on the time and effort you put into content marketing.
How to Decide What to Write About
There are several ways to choose the topics you cover in your content. Your choice will depend on why you’re creating content and what your resources are.
Here are a few ways to approach it.
The calendar. Every industry has its own seasons. In the fall, insurance companies run their renewal campaigns. Retailers have back-to-school sales at the end of every summer. Sales and promotions are tied to holidays, seasons, and special events.
Choose content topics that support these promotions. At the beginning of the year, review your marketing calendar. When are you running sales, promotions, or major campaigns? What content ideas would support them? Coordinate your initiatives as much as possible.
Target keywords. Search engine optimization is another way to choose your topics. Review the keywords and phrases people search for when looking for your product or service. Are you ranking for those terms?
If not, plan content that will help you show up in search engines when your prospects search for them.
Frequently asked questions. Another approach is to proactively answer the questions your prospects ask before buying your product. Sit down with your sales team, or interview your best customers. Write down every question buyers ask as they consider purchasing from you.
Then write one article for each question. Be as clear as possible. Provide illustrations, statistics, examples, and stories, so your prospects have the information they need to make a smarter buying decision.
New product launch. Are you running a special promotion or launching a new product? Create interest and awareness in advance with a content campaign designed specifically for the promotion.
The Key to Content Marketing Success: Distribution
You can create the most valuable content in the world. But if you don’t promote it, no one will see it. That’s why content creation is only a small piece of your content marketing plan. Distribution is a big part of your success.
Fortunately, distributing your content is easier than it sounds. In the channels where you have an audience, talk about it. Share links. Give people a reason to click through and consume it.
Here are some of the top channels for distributing content:
- Social media
- 1:1 outreach
How to Tell If Your Content Is Performing Well
There’s no magic number you need to hit to be successful in content marketing. Set a goal. Decide how you can measure your efforts to reach that goal. Tweak and optimize your efforts until you hit the goal.
It’s that simple.
But you’ve got to accept the facts of life for content marketers:
You must track everything. Otherwise you won’t know whether your content is performing.
Some outcomes can’t be easily measured. For example, it can be hard to attribute sales to a piece of content. And social media is notoriously hard to measure.
Content is marketing. You must be constantly creating content, getting it in front of your audience, measuring, evaluating, and improving. It’s a never-ending cycle.
To keep it manageable, you need to watch your numbers. Find the activities that give you the biggest outcomes, and focus on those activities.
Don’t try to do everything. Do what works, and optimize from there.
Content Marketing Examples
Most companies approach content marketing as a mix of product marketing and media company.
The media approach is more like a magazine or production company. It can give you a lot of creative license.
Companies that lean this direction are building a publishing arm and treating content as a branded asset. For this approach, Red Bull is a prime example.
In 2007, Red Bull created Red Bull Media House, tasking it with creating world-class content and becoming a self-supporting, profitable enterprise.
Most businesses can’t go all-in to this degree. But founder Dietrich Mateschitz has all but admitted their content-first strategy works:
“Red Bull is a media company that happens to sell energy drinks.”
Indeed, Red Bull Media Company has its own identity, mission, and strategy. Here’s how they describe themselves:
Red Bull Media House is an award-winning, globally distributed multi-platform media company on a mission to inspire with ‘beyond the ordinary’ stories – both direct-to-consumer and through partnerships.
Notice they don’t say anything about selling energy drinks. They exist to create content that inspires their audience. People buy their drinks because they love the brand.
SaaS company Outreach adopted this same approach when they purchased Sales Hacker in 2018.
Sales Hacker is the media company within Outreach’s marketing team. It offers a community, blog, podcasts, training and training for B2B salespeople — Outreach’s target audience — with absolutely no sales agenda.
By generously serving the community in this way, Outreach earns a lot of good will. That translates indirectly to higher sales. But that’s not the goal. The goal, as with Red Bull, is simply to elevate the industry.
What stands out in these content marketing examples is their generosity.
Content marketing is about giving away value for free. Great content marketing programs, whether they take a media approach or a product marketing approach, are just that: generous.
The Backlinko blog is another good example.
It provides in-depth coverage of SEO tactics, tools, and strategies. Founder Brian Dean opted to publish just once a month at a time when most other blogs were still publishing daily posts.
His reason? Higher value content takes more time to create.
Brian set a new standard: quality over quantity. Many content marketers (and fans) agree: it’s a better way to do content marketing.
And let’s be honest. Backlinko’s articles are worth the wait. Their team does in-depth research, shares examples, and provides step-by-step instructions for doing SEO right. Like a media company, there’s no big push to buy anything. Just come and learn.
See what I mean? Generous.
And it works. Backlinko has the traffic it needs to achieve its biggest goals. When Brian launches a product, it becomes an instant hit.
Now, let’s look at some content marketing examples that use a product marketing approach.
This is the way most businesses use content marketing: to build awareness around their products, educate their audience on the problems they’re experiencing and the solutions available.
Digital Marketer sets the standard for this approach to content marketing. They train marketers to get better results from digital marketing.
The foundation of their content marketing strategy is one book-length piece of content: the Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing. Read this guide, and you understand everything they do.
Every other piece of content coordinates with the guide. It may highlight one specific tactic. It may share a new trick or tip.
The blog is primarily used to get eyeballs on whatever training or event Digital Marketer is selling at the moment. Within posts, you’ll see banners and popups that promote the current featured product.
With this approach, content marketing is a key player in marketing and sales. It doesn’t exist in a silo. Content directly supports sales efforts.
But remember, content isn’t restricted to blog posts. Let’s look at a content marketing example that leverages events.
Airmeet is a virtual meeting platform that’s building awareness, growing an audience, and supporting customers through live events hosted on their platform.
You can’t go wrong with this approach to content. Content can and should educate your audience. And if you can leverage your product to help you do that, you’ve hit the mark.
Is Content Marketing Right for Your Business?
I know I’m prejudiced here. But there’s no doubt in my mind that content marketing is right for your business.
Content marketing can be adapted to work with any type of business and to achieve any business goal. It’s not a question of whether it works. It’s a matter of what your strategy will be.
That said, you can’t commit halfway and expect to get results. It takes time to create an effective strategy, create quality content, publish it, and distribute it.
If you put in that time, you’ll quickly grow your authority, your audience, and your business.
But content marketing isn’t a short-term strategy. You won’t publish a blog post today and double your traffic tomorrow.
You probably won’t see an immediate correlation between content and sales, either. But I can almost guarantee your sales will increase.
Because content marketing can significantly boost your traffic. Manage that traffic… optimize for conversions… and you’ve got the formula for success.
Is content marketing right for your business? A thousand times yes.
But you need to start today. Because it takes time to get the machine operating efficiently.
The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll see the benefits in your business.