What Is Content Marketing?
It’s a term that’s thrown around quite a bit these days but what exactly makes content marketing different from just making content?
Let’s start by defining content itself. Content is any experience that communicates an idea or concept, especially when produced for consumption by an audience (i.e. not just 2 people having a conversation).
That’s a pretty broad description, so there can obviously be many different types of content, from informative, to educational, to entertaining and across as many mediums (written, visual, auditory) and channels (printed, online, experiential) as you might imagine.
Now that we’ve defined content, let’s go back to the original question; “What Is Content Marketing?”.
I like to think of marketing overall as the practice of selling, or at least warming a prospect up to a sale, at scale, and typically, from a distance.
If content is an experience that communicates a concept and marketing is selling at scale then content marketing is the practice of selling ideas to an audience.
Who Is The Audience?
Audiences, in this sense, don’t have to be groups of people gathered together in a location and don’t even have to be synchronized to a particular schedule, like traditional television audiences. Thanks to the Internet and the high tech era we’re living in, content can be experienced asynchronously by diverse audiences with nothing in common but a similar interest or need and a similar Google search.
In business, where content marketing practices are usually applied, the audience refers to people searching online for the answers and solutions you provide. This audience can be fickle and hard to impress but it’s also full of potential prospects that could be converted into customers by applying just the right type of influence at the right time.
What’s The Goal Of Content Marketing?
The goal of content marketing is to apply influence at just the right moments in a prospect’s decision-making process, gradually guiding them from awareness, to interest, to intent and finally to decision.
By providing helpful answers (in the form of online content) to the typical questions your prospects ask during sales processes you develop rapport, build credibility and create familiarity with your potential customers before they ever speak with sales.
These days most customers, especially milennials and Gen Z, are doing research online far in advance of engaging your sales team, so their minds are increasingly made up before traditional sales techniques will have an opportunity to influence their decisions.
88% of consumers research online before making a purchase either online or in-store.Source: Pymnts.com
How Does Content Marketing Drive Sales?
At a high level, driving leads with content is a simple concept, where you identify common questions your prospects will ask (typically by interviewing your sales team), then craft different types of content (blogs, articles, videos, podcasts, etc) to educate and inspire your prospects, finally convincing them to either convert online or connect with a salesperson to complete their purchase.
More specifically, you exert influence at several key points during their decision-making process by delivering helpful content to them via emails, ads, appearing in organic search, etc.
To understand the intricacies of how content marketing drives sales, let’s examine some of the most common visual models marketers use to describe the stages of a content marketing campaign:
The Buyer’s Journey
The Buyer’s Journey is the internal decision-making process of a prospect first becoming aware of an issue or opportunity, then researching and weighing their options, and finally becoming convinced to make a decision to purchase, or convert in some other sense.
Different models use different terms to describe these 3 essential phases of the decision-making process:
- Awareness / Consideration / Conversion
- Awareness / Consideration / Decision
- Attract / Convince / Convert
All of these models are expressing the same idea. First a prospect must become aware they have a reason to care about your offering, then they must realize you have a solution and that it is right for them and finally they have to become motivated to take action.
The Marketing / Sales Funnel
The concept of a funnel is that a lot can go in the top and the right amount will come out the bottom, governed by a predictable rate of exchange. A marketing funnel (sometimes called a sales funnel) is a metaphor for what happens when you have many prospects moving through their individual buyers’ journey at once.
Many visitors to your site will quickly find that they aren’t interested in your offerings and will depart immediately, leaving a much smaller percentage of visitors whose interest was piqued by high-level content. And so the process goes, as more and more visitors find themselves distracted elsewhere, decide your solutions aren’t right for them and otherwise disqualify themselves as potential customers.
This sounds bad, but isn’t. Ask any salesperson what they hate most in life and they’ll probably tell you it’s having to spend time talking to someone who isn’t going to buy. The process of qualifying the right prospects is often more about disqualifying the wrong ones and getting them out of the way.
The technique of creating a streamlined, automated process of filtering good prospects from bad ones is called inbound marketing, and content marketing is an important part of this transformative practice.
The Marketing Flywheel
HubSpot is the leading producer of inbound marketing automation software, bundled into 3 core offerings they call Marketing Hub, Sales Hub and Service Hub; which they’ve packaged individually but operate as a unified CRM, marketing, and customer service SaaS platform.
They built their integrated sales, marketing and service solutions around an updated version of the marketing funnel model they call “The Marketing Flywheel”. Everyone else still thinks of the marketing and sales process as a linear many-to-one relationship where the goal is to sift through volumes of prospects looking for opportunities.
HubSpot took this one step further by envisioning a self-sustaining system where prospects that become customers are delighted with such fantastic service that they become advocates, driving new prospects and opportunities into the system; generating more and more momentum as time goes on.
A flywheel is a device which, as the analogy goes, requires more energy to get moving, but over time develops enough momentum to continue to spin faster and yield greater output while requiring less energy to be invested.
To fully appreciate this analogy, consider your own behaviors with brands that you love, that provide great value and great service and how willing you are to promote them and drive them new business. Incorporating the practice of delighting your customers can add tremendous horsepower to your sales and marketing engine.
What Are The Different Types Of Content Marketing?
Now that we understand the goals of content marketing and know how content is used to move prospects “down-funnel” or “through the buyer’s journey” as we like to say, let’s wrap up with a brief overview of the many different types of content that can be used to tell a brand story, answer buyers’ questions and influence decision-making.
Articles, blog and other forms of copywriting
This is the content that you’d recognize as such, the typical, go-to, golden standard of online media, words written into a narrative for the purpose of conveying a single, salient message to an intended audience.
There is still, and will likely always be, a great value in the written word for communicating in a specific and deliberate fashion for the express purpose of being understood on a mental level.
While there is tremendous value in written content from a search perspective (where most internet traffic originates) as Google can’t yet index visual or auditory content with the same depth and precision that pages of written words provide. Increasing search visibility is another important aspect of content marketing in itself.
And yet, don’t focus too much on written content or you’ll miss opportunities to exert the most powerful form of influence...emotional influence.
Photos, infographics, and interactive content
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well I recommend, for many reasons, to include pictures with your words. Visual cues and pictorial examples mixed with intelligent copywriting makes a powerful combination that’s both engaging to humans and beloved by search engines.
And don’t stop at static images. To understand the impact of memes and animated gifs, look no further than BuzzFeed.com, which has built a media empire on list posts full of gifs and memes.
These days though, we can do even better. Instead of thinking in terms of images surrounded by text, let’s shift our paradigm to something more dynamic. Imagine fully interactive experiences that elicit viewers to click, browse, pan and otherwise tactilely engage with visual content that contains written, auditory and visual content in many forms.
Much is possible now that wasn’t only a few years ago, so I encourage you to create deeper, richer and immersive content experiences that engage your audience on both cognitive and emotional levels.
Video, animated and motion graphics content
" 96% of people say they’ve watched a video to learn more about a product or service. "Source: Wyzol.com
Show your story, don’t tell it, I always say.
The opportunity to convey feelings, instead of merely concepts, breathes life into your storytelling and allows you to make content that truly resonates. The law of attraction draws together things which are similar and which exhibit the same energies, and this is why communicating on an emotional level will always be more powerful than communicating in a merely intellectual sense.
Videos, animations and motion graphics give depth to content that allows you to communicate in both sight and sound at once as well as empowering you to communicate much more complex ideas visually and even subconsciously through archetypes and juxtaposition.
"72% prefer video over text when learning about a product or service."Source: SmartInsights.com
With the volume of internet traffic that video consumption represents growing at an increasing rate, it’s simply inevitable that your content will have to incorporate video sooner or later. Don’t waste time getting into video, it’s easier than you think and the rewards are pretty spectacular right now since not everyone has jumped on the bandwagon yet.
Content marketing is using words, sounds, visuals and experiences to communicate concepts through stories that help potential customers become actual customers.
It’s a fairly technical process, in addition to a creative, storytelling art, but when applied logically content marketing allows you to influence each stage of a prospect’s decision-making journey.
And since content comes in many forms, you have a powerful set of tools to influence people (and Google!) on several levels, building credibility and trust as you exchange your knowledge and expertise for the trust and familiarity that moves a buyer’s attention from interest to intent to decision.
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