The case for content marketing makes a seductive argument: publishing the right kind of content not only improves your search rankings, it also enhances the credibility of your business – enabling you to win new customers through your experience, knowledge and expertise. Less cold calling, less hard sell and more potential customers finding you through your content.
The concept is easy enough to grasp; but the reality, and getting a genuine return on the time invested, can prove elusive. Here are 7 Ps that will help you focus your efforts more effectively and achieve a real content marketing ROI .
Or put another way: who are you creating all this content for? There is no possibility whatsoever of forcing people to view or read content against their will. However much it might matter to you, if what you’re writing about does not touch some essential need in your audience, then people will not engage.
And, of course, you don’t just want any old readership, you want to be noticed by people who are likely to become paying customers. You need to work out who is likely to need what you sell and you need to be clear about their issues, concerns and aspirations. You have to understand the questions they will want answered and you have to work out how what you offer helps them achieve what they want.
Scattering content which is about yourself, or with only a vague link to the needs of your audience won’t deliver a return.
So vital in every aspect of business, yet how often do people approach marketing, and content marketing in particular, without a plan? A rolling content plan is essential. Identifying topics in advance means that you avoid the panic to publish something (anything!) because you haven’t updated the blog for a while.
A plan also makes sure that you are covering all of your target customers with the subjects you identified as the ones that would engage them. With a plan you can ensure that you address all of your key marketing themes regularly and take every opportunity to reinforce your brand values. Planning helps you get the best value from your content creation by identifying how it can be re-purposed and publicised – critical factors in maximising your content marketing ROI.
People will judge you by the quality of what you publish. They won’t make a whole load of allowances because publishing isn’t your core business. Whatever you do, you need to do it well. A poorly lit, hand-held video isn’t going to create the image you want and badly structured blog articles with sloppy grammar will not have potential customers beating down your door. Be realistic about what you are able to do well and be prepared to hire the professional help you need.
This could also be persistence, as the two are linked. Process is the way that you keep publishing content and keep attracting new customers once the initial flush of enthusiasm is over. It doesn’t have to be complicated: it’s a question of identifying who needs to contribute what expertise and effort, and planning when they are going to do it.
Clear responsibilities and clear scheduling of when things need to happen each week and each month will help your content production withstand peaks in workload and unexpected events that can blow you off course. Content marketing doesn’t bring instant results and you won’t get a return unless you’re in it for the long haul.
Process also includes evaluation. Which types of content are generating the most interest? Are people responding in the ways you anticipated? How is it all feeding into more sales? Evaluation has to become part of your routine.
You can look on the previous 4 Ps as foundations. Anything you build without having them in place is likely to be a bit shaky. But once you have them you can get into the final 3, which is where the big returns start to happen.
Your content has to stand out. It has to be unique, so that people will look at it and feel that no other organisation could have created the same thing. Personality means that every piece of content reinforces your brand values and interprets events and issues in a way that resonates with your audience and offers highly relevant insights that they can’t find elsewhere. This is how you build real loyalty to your content and, through that, to your brand.
Content marketing is not about overt or hard-selling – ever! But the art of gentle persuasion is critical. Each piece of content should have a purpose and you should have some action in mind that you want people to take. Actions might be subscribing to your blog, following a link to more content, following you on social media or downloading an ebook, for example.
You also need to understand the process that people go through, from becoming aware of your business to becoming a customer. You need content to help them through each stage; anticipating the questions they will ask and the information they need to take the next step.
And finally, how many people are going to find your content if you just post it and hope? Probably not that many. And will they be the people who you really want to reach?
Achieving content marketing ROI involves a clear process for identifying all of the networks and groups where your audience can be found. You need to engage with those networks so that they respect your expertise, are receptive to your content and are happy to share and reference it.
Time spent researching relevant and active groups on LinkedIn and Google+ will never be wasted.
It’s often best to get a feel for each group first by observing what people post and the topics that generate most discussion. You might also want to establish a presence by commenting on other people’s discussions before you start posting your own content.
You also need to understand who your audience is. It is much wider than just potential customers. You need to look at influencers: people with a respected on-line presence and large and relevant networks that you can tap into. Cultivating relationships with people who have a large existing network can be quicker than building your own from scratch.
Think too about your existing customers and your team – they can all become enthusiastic promoters of your brand and your content.
Once you have all 7 Ps fully embedded in the way you do content marketing, you WILL see a return on your investment. And it’s likely to be a significantly better return than you could get with traditional methods of marketing.
Richard Hussey, RSH Copywriting
Content writer and strategist. Trainer at Content Masterclass, Exeter
Read more of my thoughts on copywriting and content marketing on my blog
If you want a return from content marketing come to our next Masterclass, Exeter, July 1 2014