Content Marketing 101: What, Why and How

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Traditional marketing and advertising is broken. Traditional advertising methods like billboards, tv and radio advertising, paper mail advertising, and cold calling, are expensive, hard to measure, and are inefficiently targeted. In addition, people usually find them really annoying, which is not good for branding. People don’t get sold anymore, they buy. Enter content marketing, a more efficient and effective way to attract, engage, and acquire customers.

What is Content Marketing?

I’m going to give you a rather “dense” definition of content marketing and then I’ll break down each component of it. Content marketing is a strategy for attracting, engaging and acquiring customers. It entails creating and/or curating relevant and valuable content.

2 Forms of Value

Per the above definition, content must be valuable to the target audience. What does it mean to be valuable? Value, as it pertains to content marketing, comes in two primary forms:

a. Entertainment value 

The audience finds the content funny, interesting, or otherwise entertaining. The best example of content marketing that has entertainment value is Dollar Shave Club’s video that now has over 13 million views. People watched it, even multiple times, and shared it, because they enjoyed watching it. The fact that it’s an advertisement is an afterthought. In addition, it improves Dollar Shave Club’s brand by making them look “cool.”

b. Educational value

The audience finds the content helpful. It answers their questions or gives them information that they can use to solve their problems or in some way improve themselves. The best example of content marketing that I can think of that has educational value is Moz’s beginner’s guide to SEO. It’s become like the bible on beginning SEO. It is the go to source for anyone that wants to learn SEO. The fact that Moz did it to attract it’s target audience, marketers, is not even recognized at first glance. In addition, it improves Moz’s brand by displaying their expertise, and building a perception of being helpful.

9 Benefits of Content Marketing

Content marketing can help companies with several aspects of the customer acquisition funnel. I’ve grouped them into three buckets:

attract – customers see you, find you and/or become aware that you exist

engage – customers get to know you and start to like you

acquire – customers pay for your product or service

Here are 9 ways content marketing can help companies attract people, engage with them, and convert them into customers.

1. Establish authority

Producing content that displays expertise instantly improves people’s perception of the author’s authority on the topic. A book is probably the form of content that improves authority the most, but several other forms, including a blog, can help. Improving your image of authority should improve conversion rates.

2. Increase engagement, rapport, and trust

When a customer sees your billboard, they see it for a few seconds and then probably forget about it. When someone reads your blog, they’re on your website, listening to what you’re saying, potentially for extended periods of time. This enables them to get to know you. I’ve met people who had been following my blog and as a result know a lot about me and feel like they know me. People like to do business with people they know, like, and trust.

The most extreme example of content that builds rapport that I can think of is James Altucher’s blog. He shares his deepest emotions and personal stories. You don’t have to go that far to build rapport with your audience though. Simply sharing your opinions on industry topics or adding some character to your writing can help. Don’t be afraid to take a controversial stance if appropriate or use less than perfect grammar if it adds character.

3. Reach a wider audience 

People don’t always search for a specific product or service, they often look for information or solutions to problems. For example, “productivity consultant” gets just 70 average monthly research, while “how to be more productive” gets 1,300. Keyword research is a proxy for people’s actual interests and buying behaviors.

Content marketing can enable you to reach an audience that might not have had you been relying on cold calling or advertising. They could also find you if one of their Facebook friends shares a piece of your content. People post about specific products far less than they share content that’s entertaining or educational. After building rapport, establishing yourself as an expert, and adding value, a customer may be more interested in your product or service.

4. Improve search engine ranking 

A company’s search ranking is driven by two primary categories: onsite and offsite. Content marketing helps with both. Content marketing helps with onsite in two ways. First, Google prefers sites with recently updated content. If you are actively creating new content, Google will better index you. Content marketing helps with offsite SEO by improving your chances of being linked to. Google interprets someone else linking to you as a sign that your site is of value. People are far more likely to link to a valuable blog post you wrote than simply your sales page. Better search ranking means more traffic.

5. Boost sales

At the end of the day sales are what everyone really wants right? After all, it’s a business not a charity. Content marketing can directly help with that. As discussed above, someone is more likely to want to click on something of value to them, than a sales page. However, viewing the content that is of value to them increases their chances of viewing your “sales page.”

This could play itself on in many different ways, but let me give you two quick examples. First example: viewer searches for a topic you’ve been blogging about…finds your blog post…signs up for your email newsletter…reads your emails each week, gets value from them, and thinks you’re awesome…two months later when you send out an email about your new product launch they buy because they’ve “known” you for two months and know that you’re “legit.” Second example: someone searches itunes for a podcast related to their interest…finds you and listens to one…you mention one of your products and tell listeners where they can find it…listener finds it and becomes a customer.

6. Social shares

When people share your content, you get more exposure. Exposure leads to traffic. This is the “attract” bucket per above. It also improves your brand in that if people see their friends talking about you they may think more highly of you. This is the “engage” bucket per above. How do you get most of your restaurant, movie, product, etc. recommendations? A lot of people rely on their friends.

People are more likely to share content they find valuable than your sales page.

7. It’s free or cheap 

Blogging, for example, costs basically nothing. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection, which you probably already have. It does however take time. If you get into more advanced content production, such as research reports, or even podcasts, you may need some special equipment that costs money.

However, many forms of content marketing have almost no up-front costs, which make it great for startups, self-published authors, or anyone on a budget.

8. More targeted 

With content marketing, you can be more sure you’re reaching your target audience then, for example, billboards or tv ads. Yes, you can get demographic data who drives on the road, who watches the show, etc. But with content you can be even more precise. For example, you can use Google’s keyword planner to get data on the number of times a given search term is being made and who is actually making the searches. You can write blog posts to to match those terms. Or you can write a post like “marketing for startups” to be sure your audience knows it’s for them.

9. Build an audience

People are very attentive to their inboxes. As a marketer, you want to be where their attention is. You don’t need to pay for a list if you’re doing content marketing. Offer something of value in exchange for signing up for your email newsletter, to increase your email signups. It could be as simple as receiving your blog posts by email. Offering an ebook or white paper is even better.

10 Types of Content to Produce

Content can come in many shapes and sizes. Most people think of blogs when they think of content marketing. Blogging is a good one, however there are many, many formats in which you can produce content marketing. Below are several formats/platforms to produce content on. Each of these platforms has slightly different users bases, enabling you to reach wider audiences.

  • Video courses on Udemy
  • Answers on Quora
  • Blog posts
  • Curated content as an email newsletter
  • Podcasts
  • Presentations on SlideShare 
  • Videos on YouTube
  • Self-published books on Amazon
  • Microcontent on social networks – tweets, status updated, instagram photos, etc.
  • Public speaking, webinars, workshops, etc.

Our Growth Hacking with Content Marketing course details how to use each of these networks effectively, which are best for different kinds of businesses, pros and cons of each, and more.

My #1 Piece of Content Marketing Advice 

Create content that’s valuable to your audience! If you do that, people will find you, share you, engage with you, return to you, etc.

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