Getting Started with Content Marketing

b3rmsmqi4qk-kate-serbinWhile content marketing may be the current buzz phrase, make no mistake, it’s far from new. If you have any doubt, check out this great video from the Content Marketing Institute. One of my favorite examples is the history of the Michelin Guide.

If you are a foodie like me, you’re quite familiar with the Michelin star that is awarded to the best restaurants in the world. This system was invented by a tire company. Let that sink in for a moment. Their ultimate goal was to get people on the road travelling to new places – and as such – increasing their need for new tires.

Unlike traditional direct marketing, the revenue stream isn’t as simple as “send an offer, measure results.” Content marketing is a long-term strategy that takes dedication and commitment from the upper levels of your organization. There’s little doubt the Michelin Guide has been a home run for a tire company. It took some serious gumption to create this strategy and stick with it for the long term.

Those of you in smaller companies or leaner marketing departments may be getting pressure to start developing content or posting to social media without having spent a substantial amount of time preparing to launch. I caution you to resist that urge.

In today’s digital world, content has the same goals as Michelin had when it got started. However, it’s also become a complex beast. There’s a lot of bad content out there and much like in the direct mail days, it’s necessary to find a way to cut through the clutter. Finding that path takes research and planning. Search engine optimization and distribution strategies are absolutely key.

So, how do you get started the right way? Particularly if you have a small staff and/or budget?

Keyword Analysis

1.      Do an in-depth analysis of your current traffic through Google Analytics. What keywords are people using to find you today?

2.      How much overall volume does Google estimate those keywords bring in monthly for all searches? Use Google Adwords Keywords Planner to find out.

3.      How much competition is there for those keywords?

4.      What is your competition doing? Use a tool like SpyFu to find out.

5.      Are there any long-tail keywords you can own?

6.      Is your business based on a certain location? Use a tool like GoBabl to find out what people are talking about near that location. Identify influencers for future use.

Brand Documentation

1.      Gather up any branding guidelines you have today. If you don’t have them, get started now. You should have your logo available in different formats (for instance: vertical, horizontal, full color, black and white) and identify any rules surrounding that logo. Is it acceptable to do a “knock out” of your logo to a color not in your logo?

2.      Identify your color palette (down to at least 6 colors) and document them in PMS colors, hex and RGB formats.

3.      Document what your “brand voice” is going to be. This is the way in which you will talk to your customers and prospects. Keep in mind that this needs to be viewed from the standpoint of your audience. While you might want to have a young, casual tone – is that how your customers want to be spoken to?

Many people find it helpful to create a persona for their brand. Create a picture and profile for your voice like it was an actual person. It’s easier for marketing departments and freelancers to quickly step into this voice if it’s relatable. What would your brand watch on tv? What kind of music does it like? Really have fun with this and spend a lot of time developing your persona. Even give it a name. It’s easier to ask the question, “what would Sarah say” when you’re creating content than it is to consult a dull, bulleted list.

Customer Analysis

1.      The ultimate goal of this step is to come out with an equally in-depth persona (or personas) for your customers and prospects. In many instances, you will end up with several. Most businesses sell to multiple vertical markets or have a couple of levels of approvals to get through to seal a deal (for instance: the marketing manager might be your first contact, but you need to get the CMO on board to get the sale approved).

2.      Survey your current customers. Ideally, you will segment these customers into groups – such as A, B and C customers. I firmly believe that when it comes to marketing, you are what you eat. You may have been catering to a certain segment, so that’s what you’ll find when you look at your customers. In your analysis, you may find that what you thought were your “C” customers actually have more potential. Be sure to ask what they search for to find you. You’ll want to tie this back to keyword volumes. Your “A” customers may be wonderful, but if you already own 80% of that market share, there isn’t much growth potential.

I recommend doing the surveying on two levels. Use a tool like Survey Monkey to develop a survey that you can send electronically to your customers and prospects. However, it’s vital to pick a few customers in each of your segments to actually call on the phone. Unless you are an experienced surveyor who is skilled in both linguistics and statistics, odds are, you’re going to skew your digital survey. By picking up the phone, you will get stories (and stories lead to future case studies) and learn what their pain points really are. You may find out information that helps you stem some attrition. Getting new customers is the main goal of your content strategy, but goal 1B should be to create loyal brand fans who love your product and company.

3.      Round out your customer and prospect personas based on the information you gathered. This is another place that GoBabl is helpful. Plug in some keywords you heard or read during surveying. Search on their companies too. Search some hashtags they might follow. You can get very in-depth during this research. The more you can step into your audience’s shoes, the better.

4.      Identify customer and prospect pain points and how you solve each of them.

Budget Allocation

1.      Get a number upfront. There is a misnomer that content marketing and social media are free because the platforms don’t generally cost money to join. You will find along the way that you need access to the premium version of certain online tools as you get more sophisticated. You will, more than likely, need to explore marketing automation options as well. Content sent directly onto a blog platform with no distribution mechanism is unlikely to produce the results you want. No matter who small your budget is, it’s best to know it right up front.

As you can see, preparing to start content marketing and social media marketing takes a lot of upfront research and planning. It’s tempting to sit down in front of a blank page and just start typing what comes to you. However, once that train leaves the station, you’ll find yourself unable to go back and lay the foundation properly. Set yourself up for success and do that groundwork now.

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