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Content Marketing Fundamentals

Marketing has gotten pretty complicated. There are so many strategies, infinite numbers of tools available, and myriad metrics to track. It can be overwhelming.

Marketers are getting so focused on the new and the changing that they’re losing sight of the fundamental. But the reality is that the fundamentals are still fundamental and they haven’t changed. And if you stay focused on them—even if you aren’t up on the latest innovation or on the newest platform—you can beat your competitors (who are likely in the majority of people who’ve gotten distracted).

1. Know your audience.

There is no substitute for market research. But you don’t have to use pricey focus groups and survey mailings. There are excellent ways to gather the intel you’ll need without the help of a large market research firm. Here are a few ideas:

  • Look at your prospects’ trade association websites and the media kits of their industry publications for insight on demographics.
  • Check out your prospects’ social media pages and LinkedIn groups, and watch for how they describe their frustrations as well as things they get excited about.
  • Look at the case studies of your competitors or other companies targeting the same audience for information on common pain points.
  • Interview your ideal clients and/or prospects, asking these questions:
    • When did you realize you needed help with [the problem your product or service solves]?
    • Tell me more about that problem — how it manifests itself in your work week/life.
    • What do you look for in a product or service provider?
    • What’s your typical method of researching potential products or service providers?
    • What websites do you use on a regular basis?
    • What social media platforms are you active on?
    • What publications do you read?
    • How do you prefer to learn information? Webinars, podcasts, eBooks, blogs, videos, one-sheet PDFs, infographics?
  • Survey your email list with the same types of questions as those listed above.

2. Map your content to the buyer’s journey.

What your prospect is interested in varies according to where he or she is in the buying journey. I like Rocket Watcher’s framework for content mapping.

  • When your prospect is in the no need / awareness stage, he or she is beginning to experience symptoms of an underlying problem and is unsure what to do or even how significant the problem is. You’ll need to provide content that diagnoses the problem and digs into the risks of not doing anything about solving the problem. Blog posts, articles, videos, webinars, infographics, and one-page downloadables are all good content formats for this stage.
  • When your prospect is in the research stage, he or she is researching potential solutions to the problem or need, looking for information that will provide a better understanding of the problem and all the ways that problem could be solved. This stage calls for content like blog posts, articles, videos, webinars, podcasts, infographics, white papers, and eBooks that focus on this information.
  • When your prospect is in the shortlist / evaluation stage, he or she is researching providers that can solve the problem or need. During this stage, the prospect will develop a shortlist (or consideration set) of providers and will set up conversations with salespeople and/or do product demos and trials. At this point, case studies, testimonials, product guides, comparison charts, webinars, and white papers that focus on your company’s solution and the value it delivers are desirable.

You’ll want to make sure that you have content that addresses each stage of the journey and that you provide this content at the appropriate times.

3. Use persuasion psychology in your copy.

There are many psychological theories that you can use in your copy to make it more persuasive, but a good place to start is Dr. Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion. Here are a few ideas on how you can incorporate each of these into your content.

  • Reciprocity — We tend to feel obligated to reciprocate when we receive from others. When you offer something to someone at no cost, he or she will be more likely to comply with future requests (as long as these requests take place shortly after the offer). Offer something of value – prospects will be more likely to say “yes” to your request for a call.
  • Commitment & Consistency — We tend to stick with whatever we’ve already chosen. We want to believe we’ve made a good choice, and we’re wired to continue along whatever path we’ve decided is the correct one. Start small with your prospects — get them commit to something small. They will then feel an automatic compulsion to stick with it. You can take this principle further by encouraging them to make a commitment publicly.
  • Social Proof — We tend to trust what those we admire have endorsed. Prospects have confidence in the opinions of experts and their peers. Include reviews, ratings, case studies, and testimonials in your content to take advantage of this principle.
  • Liking — We are more likely to comply with requests made by people we like. Build your likability factor by presenting yourself as a human being who is similar to your prospects, rather than a corporate entity. Relate on a human level.
  • Authority — We want to follow people who are experts. Refer to expert opinion and research in your blog posts, articles, and white papers.
  • Scarcity — We are drawn to things we believe are in limited supply. We assume that if something is rare then it’s of higher quality. You can use this principle by limiting the number of seats in your webinar, limiting the time your offers are available, and offering one-of-a-kind specials for niche groups within your target audience.

4. Track the 7 key metrics that will tell you what’s working and what’s not.

As the old saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” And although there are infinite metrics you can track, I recommend sticking to a few that are manageable yet high-impact:

  • Visits — The number of visits will tell you if you’re promoting your content adequately. Not enough visits means you need to focus on generating traffic to your content, via email, social media, ads, etc.
  • Bounce Rate — This metric will tell you if people find your content valuable enough to continue reading after they get past the first few sentences. A high bounce rate may also indicate that your web pages are taking too long to load.
  • Social Shares — If your number of visits is high but not many people are sharing your content, that could mean people don’t find it very valuable. I say “could” because small niche audiences wouldn’t necessarily share niche content widely since it wouldn’t apply to the majority of their colleagues.
  • CTA Click-through Rate — Are prospects clicking on your CTAs? This metric will tell you whether your messaging and premium content titles are resonating.
  • Form Fills — A low number of form fills usually means you need to work on your landing pages because you’re not communicating the value of your offers.
  • Lead Quality — If your lead quality is low, you need to better target your audience. Make sure you’ve done the research described in Step #1.
  • Lead Close Rate — How many leads are turning into customers? If you have a low close rate, that could mean you’re providing too much do-it-yourself content or not leading prospects to the conclusion that they need to hire you versus a competitor. While you do want to provide helpful content, each piece of content should also make it clear why you are uniquely qualified to provide the full solution to their need.

While there’s a lot you can do to optimize your success after you have these fundamentals operating consistently, these basics form the foundation for content marketing that results in increased revenue. And because so many marketers have their eyes elsewhere, these fundamentals could be all you need to win.