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Content Marketing: Seven Questions You Need Answered Before it's Too Late!

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This white paper considers seven basic but vital questions you need to consider if you hope to effectively market your business in 2012 and beyond. …

This white paper considers seven basic but vital questions you need to consider if you hope to effectively market your business in 2012 and beyond.
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  • 1. SPECIAL REPORT: Content Marketing: Seven Questions You Need Answered - Before it's TOO LATE! By Justin P Lambert Author of the Words That Begin With You blog.
  • 2. Content Marketing: Seven Questions You Need Answered - Before it's TOO LATE! ByJustinPLambert Your guide to helping prospects and customers know, like and trust you through the power of spectacular content! The face of the marketing industry has completely changed over the last twenty years. Sure, some aspects of the way things used to be remain with us, and at the same time, some aspects of the way things are now have actually been around for a while. But as a whole, the entire industry is now leaning in an entirely new direction. How so? Consider this: In years gone by, all it really took to successfully launch a product was to buy sufficient ad space: TV commercials, radio commercials, a newspaper display ad... whatever, wherever, whenever, as long as you could saturate the market with your brand name, your slogan or your jingle, you stood an excellent chance of selling enough product to make some money and stick around. But today, that's just not enough. Why not? There's just way too much out there, for one. In a global economy, everyone is competing with everyone else. Not just in similar products, but competing for attention in an environment where absolutely everyone is barraged with advertising from every angle every day, and we all ignore nearly all of it all the time. Secondly, even if a company is able to grab sufficient attention in the marketplace, they then have to stand up to the critical, internet-powered research every consumer is now capable of: every aspect of a product or service can be torn apart, reviewed, rated, praised or complained about, all before it's even officially released, due to the power of inter-connected, super-savvy consumers. So what can a business do to avoid being lost in the obscurity of this advertising black hole? How can a business embrace the savvy consumer's thirst for information to use in making educated buying decisions? The answer, is Content Marketing.
  • 3. First of all, what exactly IS content marketing? Content marketing means different things to different people, because out of necessity, it has to be customized to each individual, organization or industry that uses it. But, for the sake of our discussion, I'm going to go with the following general definition: Content marketing is the consistent, strategic production of valuable information, through media your current or potential customers enjoy consuming, in order to help them know, like and trust you, viewing you as a valued source of help at the right time. A few points that I underlined in the above definition bear some quick elaboration: • Valuable – Content marketing is not about throwing together a few paragraphs of meaningless junk, stuffed full of keywords for the Google robots and telling people something they already know. That's called wasting time. The kind of content we're talking about here is information you could easily sell, but choose instead to share freely. Information your customer values. • Enjoyable – To have true value, your customer needs to enjoy taking in your content. This means a few things: first, you need to understand your customer and figure out what type of message she'll get the most out of. But also, since everyone learns and engages with information differently, this dictates the variety of different types of content you're going to need to consider creating if you want to reach your target audience effectively. • Timely – One of the most difficult, but rewarding, aspects of good content marketing is its consistency. Producing high-quality content on a consistent basis isn't easy. Distributing it effectively and working to engage your audience wherever your content goes isn't easy either. But it's a blast! And it's how you're going to manage to strike the right chord with the right person at the right time, bringing the reward back to you.
  • 4. Why is it so important? As I mentioned in the introduction, marketing has changed dramatically in the last few decades. At this point, businesses are beginning to sink or swim based on their ability to successfully implement a good content marketing strategy. Small or independent businesses, traditionally the backbone of most free market economies, are in the very best position to take advantage of the power of content marketing to further level the playing field in their industries. Here are a few huge benefits your small business can see if you're doing content marketing right: • Search Engine Ranking – By consistently adding quality content to your web presence, whether it be in the form of blog posts, landing pages, social media conversation, or article marketing, you are creating two things Google absolutely loves: relevant information their audience will appreciate, and links that connect your content to other sources of relevant information their audience will appreciate. But, it has to be written correctly and distributed properly to accomplish this vital purpose. • Expert Status – Loads of free, valuable content, distributed widely and ranking high in the search engines, creates a certain aura about you. Your name becomes synonymous with quality information about your subjects of choice, so you become the go-to-person or company in peoples' minds. Soon, your audience will be seeking you out when they have questions or concerns about your subject, and that's where the tires meet the road. • Inbound Marketing – Well-planned and strategic content marketing is a huge part of an inbound marketing plan. Unlike old-style interruptive marketing (such as telemarketing calls at dinner time, pop-up windows on websites or TV ad) inbound marketing relies on broadcasting information that your target audience (your hottest prospects) want to consume and share with other like-minded people. This way, when you're ready to offer something for sale to your prospects, they don't need to get over the initial “who is this and why are they trying to sell me” phase that always accompanies a telemarketing call or advertisement.
  • 5. How can you market with content? At its most basic, producing content is as simple as writing down the answer to a question your target audience is asking and get it out in front of them. While that was a fairly difficult and expensive process as recently as 15 years ago, it's free and instantaneous today. For most people, the most effective starting point for a content marketing program is a blog, combined with the distribution and syndication power of social media. If you're a business person hoping to help people understand what you do and what it means to them, a blog is indispensable. Here's why: Cheap You can get into blogging literally for free. The established leader in blogging technology is Wordpress, and it's available for free from wordpress.org. There are thousands of free themes you can pick up in seconds once you have the software loaded, so your blog looks neat and professional. Generally, Wordpress will integrate seamlessly into any current website you already have established, or will work just fine as a standalone if you currently have no web presence. And if you're not even interested in spending the $3 it will cost you to register a domain name, wordpress.com has you covered. For no cost whatsoever, you can use a scaled-down version of the Wordpress platform on their servers and get started in ten minutes flat. Of course, your blog can be made even more spectacular if you want to spend a little money for premium or custom themes. Many web designers make their livings just creating and supporting premium themes and Wordpress customizations, so you can spend to your heart's content. But it's not required. Fast As I mentioned above, setting up a blog can be as fast as minutes. (Which is not to say you can't spend untold hours working on it. You can.) But even beyond that, updating a blog is fairly quick work as well. I'm not personally familiar with a lot of other blogging platforms, but if you're a fast typist and already know what you want to say, you can pull up your Wordpress interface, complete a solid 500-word post, check it over for dumb errors and publish it in ten minutes flat. I don't mean to minimize the work involved, because the more time you spend making your blog articles perfect, the more benefit you'll get out of it. But if you're in a rush and you've got something that needs to be published yesterday, you can pretty much accomplish that. Flexible Although a blog is most effective if it's kept fairly focused, the format still leaves you tons of room to explore.
  • 6. Do you prefer short, pithy, powerful nuggets of wisdom? It works for Seth Godin. Go for it! Are you a bit wordier? Steve Pavlina routinely publishes 5000-word mini-books on his personal development blog, and they're read by tens of thousands! Does your topic of choice lend itself more to pictures than words? Photo blogs are very common, and many free and premium themes are designed specifically to showcase images. And if you do a Google search for just about any topic you can imagine, chances are a significant percentage of the top sites you see in the results are blogs. People are literally blogging about anything and everything all over the world, and there's no indication the trend is going to slow down any time soon. Powerful Finally, and perhaps most importantly for our purposes, a blog provides a business person or expert the perfect media for getting found by the masses. You see, the average person relies on Google to let them know who can help them solve their problems and satisfy their desires. They have no means of differentiating one person or business from another when they're looking at the yellow pages or passing your office on the street. But when they're online, they can learn a tremendous amount about you, your level of knowledge, passion and ability, based on what they see on your site. A blog combines the power of online presentation with the search-engine friendly feature of regular updates. Plus, as an added bonus, blogs are routinely shared via social media because they're usually quick, focused bursts of interesting information that fans will share with their networks as a matter of course. By using social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.) to let people know about your blog posts and engage customers in conversation about your topic, you can start generating traffic to your blog and start building the reputation you're looking for. Beyond blogging, there are also dozens of other content types you can consider, based on what is going to be most effective for reaching your target audience. Here are a few other possibilities: Online • Social Media updates • Videos • Podcasts • Online Article Bank Submissions • Guest Blog Entries (in someone else's blog) • E-mail Autoresponders • E-newsletters Offline • Newspaper Articles • Newspaper Columns • Interviews (giving and receiving) • Case Studies • Newsletter Articles (in someone else's newsletter)
  • 7. • Complete Newsletter (of your own) • Trade Magazine Feature Articles • Trade Magazine Columns • Consumer Magazine Articles • Consumer Magazine Columns • Pamphlets • Booklets • Books • Speeches Again, the main goal is to find whatever media is going to most appeal to your target audience, and which media you're most interested in creating. Where those two lists intersect is where you're going to want to focus your efforts.
  • 8. How much? How soon? How often? The short answer is... it depends. Every strategy is different as it fills different needs and targets different people. But the bottom line fact is, it's not quick and it's not necessarily easy. To be truly effective, it's going to take a lot of content, distributed far and wide as often as possible. So you're best off starting as soon as you possibly can. The Content Marketing Hurricane Content marketing is not an overnight-success strategy. One of the reasons it works so incredibly well is that, instead of touching down with brief bursts of power, then disappearing, like a tornado, it builds slowly and steadily like a hurricane. This, unfortunately, is where most small business owners and independents lose traction. It's a lot of work, and at first it may even seem like it's not accomplishing much. But consider this: Even the most awe-inspiring hurricane started out as a couple of measly thunderstorms out in the middle of the vast ocean where no one could see them, and where no one would have paid attention if they could. But as the storms start gathering momentum, combining their forces, picking up moisture and heading toward land, then people start taking notice. As time goes on, more and more people start noticing the growing power as the storm becomes a tropical depression, then a tropical storm, then a hurricane. Now it's motivating people to action: they're boarding up windows, they're leaving town... When it finally hits land, there's an inevitability about it, isn't there? That's exactly how content marketing works. Slowly but surely, you add awesome content to your mix. At first, it's just a few measly blog posts out in the middle of the vast online ocean, and no one pays any attention. But as you keep adding to the mix, guess what happens? Via social media and good old word-of-mouth, your content starts coalescing, gaining power and gaining momentum. People start to take notice.
  • 9. Then, as you keep working your strategy, the storm starts heading toward land and people really start perking up. Your posts are shared, you're starting to engage with people who like what you have to say, you start building your list of prospects... By the time your content's ready to hit land, you have customers raising their hands, ready, willing and able to buy from you because your content storm has hit full hurricane force, and these people who know, like and trust you want to take action. And that's a powerful thing.
  • 10. How Do You Get Started With Content Marketing? So how do you go about getting started? The more research you do online about the subject of content marketing, the more conflicting information you'll find. I'm not going to sit here and tell you my methods are the only way to succeed, or even the right way for you. But, since it's worked well for me so far, I'll let you know how I would do it if I were starting from scratch tomorrow. Brainstorming Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself: • Who is my target audience? • What do they want and need to know about my area of expertise? • How far can I narrow down my subject while still having plenty to say? • What valuable information would people likely be willing to pay for? And how can I best offer it to them free? The answers to these questions should give you a starting point for brainstorming content ideas. I would recommend trying to sit down for an hour or two and generate a minimum of 100 ideas that would appeal to your target audience, and can be communicated in ways your target audience will appreciate. For each of the ideas you come up with, try to quickly outline two or three main points you'll want to cover under that topic. Don't spend too long doing this. The purpose of the exercise is to get and keep the flow of ideas as you move quickly through the list. Then, consider which content format might be most appropriate for each subject you've written down. Many will work well as textual blog posts. Others may do better as videos, or presentations. Some may include audio, such as interviews with other experts. Many will be able to be re-purposed in multiple formats, which works even better. *Note* - If you don't already have these items established, you're also going to need to get running with a website, Wordpress (or other blogging) software, and whichever social media profiles make sense for your personality and your goals. Editorial Calendar Next, you need to be brutally honest with yourself:
  • 11. • What schedule can I commit to for creating content regularly? • What can I commit to doing to distribute and promote my content? • How long can I realistically keep up the schedule I'm arranging? These are tough questions to answer truthfully, especially when you're just starting out, because you're probably going to be surprised at the amount of time you're going to spend on making this happen. Unless words flow fast and smooth from your mind to your fingertips, and you know social media like the back of your hand, you're probably going to find the entire blogging/syndicating/retweeting thing a bit overwhelming. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, many would-be success stories have never occurred because the hopeful content marketers got caught up in one thing or another and found they were unable or unwilling to stick to their content creation schedule. I'll stress again, it's not easy. But it's so worth it. Once you have a realistic idea in mind and in writing as to how much content you can produce and how often, it's best to set up an official editorial calendar. You can do this on any paper or on-screen calendar program you like, as long as it's something you plan to keep in front of you at all times. This becomes your Bible, where you look for guidance when times get hard. You can insert your 100 or more ideas for blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc. into the calendar on the days you want to publish them over the course of the next several months. Make sure you build in time for plenty of research and rewriting. Strategy Content marketing strategy is far too deep and rich a topic for me to give appropriate treatment in this report, but here are a few items to consider as you begin fulfilling your editorial calendar: • Although each individual piece of content is valuable in itself, “the hurricane” can't build up speed and intensity unless each piece builds on the last. That doesn't mean each piece needs to directly connect like an ongoing series (although that's an option to explore, depending on your situation,) but rather that each piece needs to work together with a cohesive theme and recognizable voice so people can start putting things together in their minds. • Different kinds of messages lend themselves to different kinds of media. So, although a particular topic may work very well in a 750-word blog post, if you're going to re-purpose that content to make a video, reading the blog post into the camera is NOT going to work. Experiment with the different methods and media until you find the right mix that works well for you and your audience, then focus on what works. • Always keep your goals in mind. If you are using content marketing to eventually sell a product or service to a group of people who have shown themselves to be hot prospects for that
  • 12. sale, make sure your content production is heading toward that goal. It would be foolish to try to sell them on every piece of content. As a matter of fact, that would be disastrous to your content marketing strategy. But at the same time, it's possible to get so caught up in the production of valuable content that you never get around to a call-to-action. Remember that you're not looking for readers, you're looking for customers. • Social Media (such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+) are a fantastic tool for getting your content out there in front of your audience, sharing what you're doing and starting conversations about it. But, it's also a huge time waster if you're not careful. You absolutely MUST take advantage of this technology to quickly and economically distribute your content and build relationships with your audience. But don't get so caught up in it your content creation or the other work your content is intended to market begins to suffer. • Finally, remember that your strategy is fluid and will need to change as circumstances change in feedback comes in. Don't stubbornly stick to a plan that's not working. Test, test, test. And change as needed to take advantage of the information you receive.
  • 13. Final Words We flew through this information because I knew this wasn't the time or place to try to teach you all there is to know about content marketing. But I hope you're coming away from this brief report with at least a surface understanding of what content marketing is and why it's so vitally important that you get involved in using this powerful marketing tool if you haven't already. While building and maintaining a content marketing strategy is simple, it's certainly not easy. But I don't want that to scare you off. Rest assured there are hundreds of excellent resources online that can help you learn various aspects of how to put the whole strategy together, how to produce killer content, and how to stay motivated to stick with it through the long haul. I've included a few of my favorites in a resource list at the end of the report for that purpose. I'd also like to humbly offer my own assistance as well. As a content marketing specialist, my main goal is to help small businesses and independents harness the power of content marketing for their own success, and for the betterment of the whole world. So, if I can be of any help at all, call me at 828- 404-7619, or e-mail me at justin@justinplambert.net. Resources Copyblogger (www.copyblogger.com/content-marketing) Content Marketing Today (www.contentmarketingtoday.com) Content Marketing Institute (www.contentmarketinginstitute.com) Words That Begin With You (www.justinplambert.net/content-marketing)