Epic Content Marketing in 5 Steps

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Editor’s Note: This post is based off of a presentation that Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi recently gave at Content Connections, Acrolinx’s online, virtual conference. Held in November 2015, the event attracted more than 2,000 content professionals from around the world. To check out Joe’s latest best selling books, click here.

Before I dive into the five essential steps to epic content marketing, let me take a step back and provide a little set up. I want you to go way back in your memory to the time when websites first came about. It was a great moment for marketers, wasn’t it?

We finally had a place where we could post information about our products and services in the hope of attracting customers. As social media got added to the mix, along with lots of other forms of content like blogs, podcasts, and videos, we suddenly had even more ways to communicate.

In the years since, however, we’ve learned an important lesson: Nobody cares! Unless they’re already deep within the buying process, our customers and prospects just aren’t interested in hearing from us about our products and services, or about features and benefits.

Why? Thanks to the explosion of channels available to consumers over the past few decades, people can get information in far more ways than ever before. If you think back you might recall that prior to 1990 there were only eight channels you could use to reach prospects and customers: events, direct fax, direct mail, telephone, TV, radio, print, and display. Consumers had a finite number of ways to get information and, as a result, marketers could use any of these channels pretty effectively.

Of course as we all know, that’s no longer the case.

So What’s Changed?

Fast-forward to today and there are literally hundreds of different channels that consumers can use to access information. I’m talking about everything from Wikis and microsites to RSS feeds and paid search, all of which have empowered consumers. Today they not only have access to most of the information they need, but can also control what they see, only paying attention to what they care about while ignoring anything they don’t.

This shift has had an important impact on how people make purchasing decisions.

If you look at the research from the folks at Altimeter, Forrester, and Gartner you’ll see that they all say the same thing: Today’s buyers go through at least 60 percent of the buying process before ever contacting the company they intend to buy from. That means that as marketer if we want to influence their decision-making process, we have to be much more effective and compelling communicators.

That’s where content marketing comes in. Instead of communicating with your customers through someone else’s channels, content marketing is about creating and distributing your own amazing information to help you build an audience. And while more and more companies are embracing it, the reality is that most haven’t yet cracked the code. That’s why I think the advice below is so important for getting started on the right path to a successful content marketing program.

5 Essentials to Epic Content Marketing for Business

Getting content marketing isn’t easy. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, that takes focus, dedication, and patience. It’s also critically important that you have a documented content strategy. Below are what I believe are the five essentials that you need to be thinking about before you create your strategy to help ensure that you get it right:

1. Understand your purpose

There are really only three reasons to do content marketing. You can do so to drive sales, cut costs, or to do what I like to refer to as creating sunshine by ensuring your customers remain happy and loyal. Each of these is a valid reason to pursue content marketing. The key is just being crystal clear about which one is driving your efforts. Why? Because the fact is that most companies don’t know why they do everything they’re doing, which leads to wasted effort and a lack of focus.

For that reason, I encourage you to try the following exercise. Create a grid for every particular audience you’re targeting. Down the left-hand side list all of the ways you communicate with that audience (through e-mails, blog posts, podcasts, etc.). Then, next to each jot down the business reason for why you’re using that particular channel to communicate.

In my experience, no one is ever able to fully explain everything they’re doing. Going through this exercise not only makes potential activities that you can cut from your program clear, but also helps reinforce why you’re doing certain things. That’s information that you then need to pass along to the people in the trenches, so that they understand how their efforts are contributing to the big picture.

2. Create a content marketing mission statement

Before you can create and document your content strategy, you absolutely need to develop a mission statement to help keep everyone involved on the same page. That in turn will save time by eliminating confusion.

Fundamentally, your mission statement needs to include three parts: your core target audience, what you’re delivering, and what the outcome for your audience will be. When you develop it, remember that you’ll need one for each individual persona that you’re targeting. If you try to go after multiple personas with a single statement, I promise you that it’ll be a recipe for failure.

3. Use a proven content formula

I’ve seen lots of different approaches to content marketing, but what I’ve found is that there’s only one that really works and it’s this:

1 Content Type + 1 Main Platform + Consistent Delivery + a Long Period of Time (12+ months) = The Key to Content Marketing Success

What this boils down to is that you can’t spread yourself too thin. Rather than try to be the master of all things — blogs, videos, eBooks, infographics, Facebook, Twitter, etc., — a better approach is to hone in on one thing and do it really well and consistently over the long haul. That means deciding to blog, for example, and then blogging at the same interval and publishing at the same time each week every week for a year or more to help build your audience.

Content marketing is a marathon and not a sprint, so it’s this consistent, focused execution that really makes all of the difference.

4. Don’t build your content ship on rented land

If you’re reliant on other people’s platforms for your content marketing — channels like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter — you’re at risk because they can change the rules at any time. After all, each of these platforms is constantly changing its algorithms whether you like it or not.

For that reason, although I definitely encourage you to use social media, I wouldn’t put my faith in it. So rather than focus on building massive followings on these and other channels, I recommend focusing on developing e-mail (or even print) subscribers as your main metric. Why? Because it’s the only way to be in control of what happens. Plus, if you can figure out what behavioral differences occur between people who subscribe to your e-mails and those who don’t, you’ll be able to demonstrate real ROI.

5. Open up your wallet

My last tip goes back to the classic issue of build versus buy. People often think that they have to build their own audience from scratch, when in fact buying that audience may be a faster, cheaper, and easier alternative. It’s a tactic that companies like HubSpot, among others, have used to great effect and that you could too.

Before you put all of your effort into building an audience, weigh your options. Make a list of all of the other blogs, websites, newsletters, and other channels out there that your customers are tuned into. Then evaluate if there might be an opportunity to partner with any of them, if not outright buy them. The upfront costs may be high, but over the long run it could just be a better approach.

Create Your Plan, Build Your Audience, and Treat Content as an Asset

All good content marketing starts with a documented content strategy. Without that plan in place, staying focused and delivering consistent results is virtually impossible. Once you have your plan, start growing a community of followers either organically or through acquisition.

My final piece of advice is to make sure that you always treat your content as an asset. In many organizations content is still just looked at as a cost, rather than as something with tremendous value. Only when you’re able to shift that mindset within your organization will you truly be able to succeed.

The road to successful content marketing is a long one, but if you follow the advice I’ve provided in this post, I promise you’ll get much better results. I’ve seen it work for dozens and dozens of companies, and I know it will work for yours too.