7 Critical Steps to Create Marketing Content That Works
Are YOU Missing One?
Now that you’re ready to create marketing content, what steps do you take to ensure your content grabs the perfect potential customers and leads them straight to the open arms of your sales team? If your content’s done its job, they’ll follow the bouncing ball straight to sales, primed and ready to buy. It may take a while, though.
Consumers today, in either B2B or B2C environments, don’t wait for sales reps to reach them before starting down the buying decision path. They research and use content to decide or narrow down the field on their own first. Thank the Internet for the opportunity to hold so much sway over potential customers.
If you’re here, chances are you’ve bought in to the whole content marketing thing as a way to be part of their decision. It makes sense. When potential buyers investigate as part of their pre-buying decision making, they look for content with info that helps them. They will find someone’s. It may as well be yours.
When they do consume your content, does it lead them down the right path? How do you make sure?
First, remember this:
Content marketing is about more than simply the content and how much good information it contains. It’s also about:
How well it fits the intended audience
What you do with it before and after you publish to maximize distribution and get (the correct) eyeballs/ears on it.
Producing it in a form that maximizes value for your intended audience.
You may have discovered this already, but content marketing isn’t free. Content costs, there’s no way around it. It may be cost effective marketing, but like any organizational activity, it uses resources. Good content can be expensive.
Of course, creating content that doesn’t work costs even more. It’s not an isolated issue. Nearly half the 91% of B2B marketers claiming to use content marketing feel they are ineffective at it. Wow. How much was wasted on creating that content?
Ensure you’re not just letting precious resources fly out the window like so much aroma on a hot day. Create content that works, get your quarterly bonus, and grab a well-deserved vacation. Relax, it’s not that difficult, just follow some key steps.
If you’re just starting, here are the steps we’ve found to create effective marketing content and how to use them in your organization.
Maybe you’ve been creating content, but not getting the results you’d hoped for. Heads rolling yet? Let’s sew them back on. There are some key reasons your content may not be working, but you can fix them. If you’ve missed any of the steps below, including them will help set things right.
Content Marketing Step 1 – Define Measureable Goals and Objectives
What’s the mission? Where does your organization need the content to take it? Before firing up the content gun and spewing stuff everywhere,
know where it’s taking you, and what happens when you plant your flag on the beach.
Here in the Dark
The measureable aspect can’t be glossed over. I’ve tried. Not measuring doesn’t mean that your content isn’t good or effective. It means you don’t really know. Worse, even if you hit a home run, you won’t know how far the ball flew, where it landed, or how to make it fly farther next time.
So, What’s Important?
New subscribers? New subscribers per visitor? What about visitors to a specific web page? Maybe it’s social interaction: Tweets, favorites, plus ones, likes, blog comments, etc. (Ultimately, there’s a metric that’s the final arbiter. We’ll get there in a second. )
It depends. Doesn’t it always?
You’ll be measuring as your audience travels through the sales funnel. The content metric stages:
Audience Acquisition – Did the content bring in visitors? You’re casting a net, did it catch anything? Who?
Social sharing – Did they tell others and help distribution? Again, who?
Lead Generation – Your content may have traveled far and wide, but did you get more leads directly attributable to the content? Indirectly?
Sales – Did the leads from the content translate into real revenue? At the end of the quarter, it’s the most important. Does your content convert on whatever your goals are? Yes, it is sales’ responsibility to get contacts to write checks, but it’s content that brings in leads ready to grab their pen.
We’ve discovered the key is correlating metrics with a desired result. How does a good result help you reach your planed goals? Some metrics are important but they’re really just “feel good” stats. Pump up your statistics all you want, but great stats are no guarantee of future results.
Stats and results are quite different and many far brighter than me have confused the two. What’s the difference? Check out this post on plusyourbusiness.com for more on how the difference between statistics and goals can help you grow.
In the end, it comes down two things leads generated and conversion rate. How many leads did the content generate and what percentage of those leads turned into paying customers? Eyeballs (and ears) don’t pay the bills.
The $64,000 Question?
Who’s writing the checks and are they doing that in all or part because of the content? Use the right metrics to find out. Eventually it all comes down to one thing: ROI. Can you calculate it? Without the right measuring stick, it’ll be tough.
Using content specific metrics is as important as stage specific ones. For example, an email marketing campaign, will need a different set of numbers than you’d use for blog posts or white papers on slideshare.
2 – Create Buyer Personas
Content marketing is about 2 things: attracting and influencing. Who are you looking to attract and influence with your content? Paint a picture
of them as individuals; we’re talking real people, not just their business roles.
That’s a buyer persona, and it defines your audience, so you know who the heck you’re creating for, and which of their needs it’s meeting.
Maybe you’re selling network security software to small and mid-sized organizations. Who the heck buys that stuff?? Who are the different decision makers and influencers that contribute to the buying decision?
In most cases it’s the IT manager, and possibly some others on the IT staff. The COO and facilities manager may have some input too, with the CFO likely wanting the numbers to pan out. Were do they influence the buying process? That’s important, yes, but here is the question that really sets the oil burning:
Who are those PEOPLE? Not just their positions in the organization, but what are their values and backgrounds? How do they think? What motivates them to buy?
Creating buyer personas to reflect that defines what you’ll need for content that brings in likely buyers.
Buyer Persona Questions
We use a few questions to help create buyer personas.
Ask the basics first:
Age, Sex, Education, Geographic Location, Family Situation (Married/Single/how many kids)
Next, what makes them tick?
Values, Fears, Political Affiliation, Goals, Dreams, Activities, Interests
Finally, why do they buy, and for whom?
Business Role (for B2B), Buying Process Stage, User Stage, Key Problem(s) Solving With Purchase
You could do a whole post on the ins and outs of creating buyer personas. Hey, there’s a ton of info here already. Thankfully, Erin Everhart did a killer post on creating buyer personas over on Search Engine Watch.
3 – Build Your Content Plan
Planning rears its ugly head again. Joe Pulizzi at Content Marketing Institute publishes a study every year. It’s almost required reading for effective content marketers. One of their key findings for 2014 is that marketers who have a documented strategic plan are 6 times more likely to taste success as those who don’t.
Don’t yet have a CM plan? Here’s how to create one:
First, what buyer stage is the content for? We’ve (and many others) discovered different content is most effective at various stages of the decision making process. Where your audience is in the process gives you clues about what content types and subject matter will be most effective.
For example, in the IT example above, decision makers will first determine if what they need, then move on to nail down their exact product requirements. From there, it’s a short hop to determining which products are in the market and of those, which meet their needs.
If you’ve made it that far, you’re on their short list. It’s whittle down time, when one solution rises to he top. At that stage, it’s time to get all decision makers on the same page. For example, the CFO, CEO, and COO may all have to sign off on a major capital investment at some point, in addition to gaining IT manager and/or CTO approval.
Content plays a major role in gaining the other decision makers’ approval. For yours to be effective here, it must answer the following:
What’s the content doing and why is it needed? If it’s for attracting the right audience to your funnel, what are they looking for at this stage of the buying process?
How is it influencing the influencers?
Buying Process Content Stages
Early Stage Content
Early stage content is used to bring in prospects, build trust, and position your organization and solutions. Audiences here are after content that supports availability, need assessment, solution efficacy determination, and technology validation. Basically – What’s new, what’s out there now, do/will we need any of it, does it work like it’s supposed to, is there something better coming soon?
In our IT security software example, what content to meets early buying stage needs?
Decision makers in the early stage will likely look at:
Technology Feature Articles
Industry Leader Interviews
Middle Stage Content
Next, audiences move to the what/who stage of the decision making process. The know they need a solution and what kind of solution they’re looking for. They’re still in the dark on exactly who will provide it and which product is the best fit. Your content helps them nail it down.
- Design drawings and diagrams
Company Executive, Product Manager, and Engineering Team Leader Interviews
Product Info Sheets and Brochures
Final Stage Content – It’s Go Time!
Thanks to middle stage content, the product is decided. The final stage requires buy in and sign off from all company decision makers. Imagine you’re on the IT team that’s looking to purchase the new security software. How can you support your decision with those within you organization?
What do you need to help make your case to them?
Example: You may have to sell the CFO on the ROI, so having content to support your case in the form of research and white papers that detail how your proposed solution will deliver a real return are vital.
If you’re a vendor who’s using content marketing, have this kind of content ready to go. If you’re selling within your organization, look to the vendor for help developing it, if need be.
See No Evil, But Watch Engagement Climb
It’s been proven ad infinitum that visual elements boost content engagement and effectiveness. Photos, graphics, and video work wonders. People love them, but it goes deeper. Visuals communicate some ideas faster and better than the printed word ever could. Moreover, some folks are visual learners. They absorb visual content more easily than other mediums. Help them learn yours.
It’s as easy as A,B,C….
A – Engagement is a goal for nearly all organizations.
B – Visuals kick about everything else to the curb for engaging visitors.
C – Include images and video to boost engagement.
See how easy that is? This infographic from training firm Boot Camp Digital (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/visual-social-marketing_b37628) has some compelling stats on visuals and social media that should convince you fence sitters.
An easy way to get the kind of snappy visuals people love to share and engage with is a new start up; Canva. I recently discovered it, thanks to social sharing (See, it works). Guy Kawasaki is a key player, so I’m a fan from the get go.
For those without a high end graphics department or can’t wait for them, it’s the ticket. We use it… a lot. You’ll quickly and easily create all kinds of graphics. They have optimized templates for myriad social graphics, the different social headers and backgrounds, blog images, and more. The price ranges from free to damn cheap.
4 – Develop an Editorial Calendar
When you determine what content you need at all buying process stages, it’s time to create an editorial calendar. We’ve found them
indispensable for making sure the proper content is available when needed. A calendar also acts as an overview to help spot holes in your schedule. You’ll be able to more effectively allocate resources, plan production, assign vendors, internal creators or production teams content responsibility. It saves those “Crap, I need this by Friday” emails to your team…. on Wednesday.
They’re easy to create. Simply map out the content titles you’ll need and when in your plan they fit. Put each on the editorial calendar for publication the day it fits best with your plan’s objectives.
Powerful, Free and Flexible…
A simple spreadsheet works well for editorial calendars, especially if you’re running solo. If your team is larger than you and that PBnJ you had for lunch, leveraging the cloud is a big plus. Google Docs is an Ed calendar creation favorite. A Google Docs spreadsheet ensures many team members can collaborate, and view it when necessary. It’s powerful, free and flexible; 3 words near and dear to my heart!
If you’re so inclined, there are specialized tools for editorial calendar use.
Kapost is one of the most popular. It’s a really good fit for larger orgs that pump out high content volumes. If you’re starting smaller, Kapost is still an excellent choice, but maybe jumping onto Hubspot’s bandwagon is more your speed, not to say the orange team can’t work great for larger business as well. They do have a popular, free EC template though. Be advised – it’s based on an Excel spreadsheet, so it’s not the best for collaboration with other team members.
Should you use one for social media content? Sure, it’s a great idea that ensures your social media activity is aligned with your larger content marketing goals. Social media is a little more fluid, due to it’s temporal nature. You’ll end up augmenting your calendar with timely events that interest your audience.
5 – Publish and Distribute
TIP: POC – Platform Optimize Content.
There are more mobile visitors than ever, so ensure it looks good, and works properly on any likely screens with eyeballs attached. That could be
anything from a 24” Mac to a Kindle or iPhone 3. These days, it may also be the new 84in flat screen in the conference room or the VP of Sales’ home theater. Thank smart TVs, Chromecast, and Apple TV for that last one. Analytics will help you refine this as your content gets visitors, and you see what they’re consuming with. You’ll likely have historical data from similar projects and posts to help here, too.
What channels to distribute your content? Where you publish and distribute is likely a function of :
The content’s role in your content marketing plan
The content modality
Your target audience
Typically, distribution extends to one or more of the following:
Your company blog
Key team members’ personal blogs, if applicable
Social media channels – GooglePlus, LinkedIn (especially the new publisher platform), Twitter, Facebook, etc
Document sharing sites – Slideshare, Scribd, DocStoc,etc…
Trade journals / magazines
Video sharing sites – YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Daily Motion, Instagram, etc…
Email – Not dead, maybe more powerful than ever!
Your staff – They can be some of your biggest evangelists; and should be.
Use Leverage to Move The Big Rock
Most organizations report that their biggest content marketing is creating enough good content, never mind the great stuff. Leverage is a powerful ally that can help. It’s a key success principle and can be a big key to content marketing success, too.
A powerful way to use leverage is re-purposing existing content. Here are some re-purposing routes we’ve found effective:
Turn a blog post into a pod cast or video script, or go the reverse.
Use a case study as the basis for a blog post.
Syndicate a blog post as an article to a popular trade journal or e-zine serving your audience.
Turn a blog post into the basis for an infographic.
However you do it, stretch your resources to the limit, but get more for your money.
6 – Promote
*Most Important Promotional Tip in This Post: Get Influencers On Board Early.
In some ways, this should be step 5. Why? To maximize effectiveness, a little upfront legwork is required. This is where relationship building is key. You can’t just reach out to someone out of the blue and ask them to participate. They may still agree, but your chances zoom to the stars if you’ve:
Helped them before
Posted content on their blog (or they on yours)
Consistently interacted with them on social networks
Worked with them in some way
If the content is a collaborative effort with you and an influencer, you’re already rounding second. They’ll likely be on board with helping the social media push, reaching out to their contacts, and linking to your content from their media platforms. After all, it’s theirs, too.
Promote on channels where it makes sense. Slideshare for white papers and presentations.
Promotion Trough Social Sharing – Super Effective, Duh!!
A great thing about social; it’s user generated promotion.
Share B2B focused content on LinkedIn, and post in relevant LI groups. Find key influencers in your market and where they hang out on LI. That’ where you want to be, too. Join the same groups. If nothing else, you can learn a lot. Contribute value and get noticed. That way, when you share to groups you can get more traction, and maybe even ask for help (and get it).
CAUTION: LinkedIn has been getting pissy lately with multiple group postings. Whether or not that’s from LI itself, or group mods doesn’t matter. It’s the little blue prohibition box that pops up on your profile, informing you you’ve been banned that’s important.
Problem – their social sharing button makes it super easy to share content to multiple groups simultaneously. If it’s highly targeted to those groups and adds value it makes sense to share that way…. except that someone, somewhere decided that’s spamming and they don’t like it.
According to those who’ve been caught in the trap, posting to multiple groups simultaneously increases the likelihood you’ll end up in “SWAM” never-never land and be unable to post anywhere. Be selective, and post in one group at a time, choosing the most targeted and engaged first.
If you’ve developed a good relationship with bloggers in your market, find a very recent, relevant post on their blog that your content adds value to and link to it in a comment.
Comment Strategy Caveats:
Have a good relationship with the blog owner or editor first
When commenting on social platforms or blogs, both your comment and linked content must add significant value to the post
Blogs must allow linking in their comments. Many no longer do. It’s not all bad though. You’re not commenting for SEO, but for traffic. Blogs have largely migrated to social logins, so you’ll gain interaction and exposure there.
Syndicate your content to highly relevant outlets.
7 – Follow Up
Okay, you’ve made it through the first 6 steps with the resilience of Ed Hillary heading to 29,000 feet. Do you just sit back and wait for your masterpiece(s) to do their work? Hardly! There’s still more to be done. You want to wring every last drop of productivity form your content?
Follow up; this step is neglected by many content marketers, but can separate you from the pack if you’re not one of them. Come to think of it, follow up is where many otherwise excellent business people miss the boat in other areas, too. Use that to your advantage.
Here are several ways to supercharge your content with follow up after it’s flown the coop. Your content’s timeliness affects how you follow up. Time sensitive content’s usefulness decreases with time after the publish date; so do your opportunities for maximizing distribution.
This is easy and powerful, two hallmarks of an excellent action. Use with care to avoid backlash, though. As with so many things in life, timing is everything. Twitter is your first target. Think about it. Sharing just once on Twitter just about guarantees you’ll miss most of your followers. Unless they’re searching for you or one of your Tweet subjects, nearly anyone follows far too many people on Twitter to see everything… or anything, for that matter. If you’re following even 5,000 people, your time line makes a stock ticker look like a slow boat to China. There’s no way you’ll see everything in there.
Use CircleCount.com to check for influencers on Google+ Find who (or whose audience) could benefit from your content. Check if they’ll use it as a guest post or share it to their social circles. Again, it’s part of a process. Don’t just ask them. Build a relationship first, then you’ll be ready.
Reply to commenters and social media sharers as soon as possible after they interact with your content. That builds the relationship, keeps them engaged, and stimulates conversation. Depending on your subject matter, it’s not all that may be stimulated. When it makes sense, encourage them to connect with your content on their platforms. Doing so requires a velvet touch, however.
Look for syndication opportunities on e-zines and blogs. For business oriented material, Business2Community can offer greater reach and social activity. I’ve had excellent results syndicating material there. As an added bonus, it’s from your RSS feed, so it’s automatic.
Email the appropriate list segments and let them know your content is waiting. As always, use a compelling subject line to ensure your email has a fair shot at getting opened. Many don’t. Relevance is key to success here. Of course, this applies only if you’ve actually built a targeted email list. All the more reason for jumping on that ASAP if you haven’t already.
The Same Old 7 (Content Marketing Steps to Success)
Despite all the recent hype, new buzzwords, and focus, content marketing is not new. Far from it. It’s been around for well over 100 years. That doesn’t mean it’s stayed the same, though. Few things have. That being said, many of these same 7 steps have been just as important the entire time. If your content marketing efforts never got off the ground, or stalled before they really took flight, a renewed focus on the 7 steps can turn things around.
Have you been using content marketing in your organization? Has it been effective? Has it worked as well as you’d like? If not, what do you think you’re missing?