It seems like everyone is talking about the content marketing explosion today. As you can see in this Google trends report, the term content marketing has seen an exponential rise in popularity over the past two years. Similarly, the Content Marketing Institute estimates that 92% of marketers now deploy some kind of content marketing strategy, and 58% of B2B companies plan to increase their content budgets this year.
Not wanting to miss out on the next big thing, more and more companies are hiring content strategists and developing content marketing campaigns. How many more? According to Tam media, 90% of B2B firms today are deploying some kind of content strategies.
All this begs the question: What, exactly is content marketing? Has my company missed the content boat? What makes up a good content strategy?
This article will walk through the evolution of content at marketing companies, and walk through what makes up a best-in-class content marketing strategy.
We are all talking about content these days strategy because our audience’s has changed. Purchase and buying behaviors today are very different than they were even five years ago – a fact that’s showcased by a recent CEB study which found that customers are nearly 60% through the sales process before they ever connect with a person in your company.
As a result, how we think about the sales and marketing funnel must also change. Years ago, there was a clear handoff between sales and marketing, where marketing was responsible for drumming up interest and awareness, and then handed leads off to the sales team
Today, as this image from Steve Patrizi shows, most of the sales process happens online, with marketing touching buyer’s consideration and evaluation phases as well as drumming up brand awareness, using assets such as the website, social media and email nurturing campaigns.
Rather than sales guiding a buyer through a step-by-step sale, the buyer is now driving off his own purchase processes.
These decision cycles are also enabled by technology which make people much better at tuning out messages they don’t want. New “Do not call lists” and email folders mean that marketers need to be much smarter about how they connect with their target markets. Today, it’s not enough to try and interrupt people in the middle of their day and hope for attention.
Competition for mind-share with this new customer is incredibly difficult. According to Consumer Reports and The New York Times, the average consumer is exposed to somewhere between 247 and 5,000 marketing messages every day. Unless you are developing relevant, engaging material, it’s unlikely that your firm will cut through that kind of noise.
The solution that content marketers have come up with – the one that works for now – is to bring our audience to us.
So, whether you call that inbound marketing, or lead generation, or content marketing, what is effective in marketing today is creating valuable material that educates your reader, or makes them think, or gets them excited.
Okay, if getting our audience to come to us is the why of content marketing, what exactly is “content”?
Content is the key to nurturing relationships online. In the form of thought leadership, great content is the tool that drives traffic to your site, and also what keeps them coming back by intriguing or entertaining your audience and showcasing your company’s expertise.
Because people consume information in a variety of ways, “content” is not a single tool, but should take a variety of formats, for example:
You want to have a mix of both freely available and gated content (housed behind a lead form) to make sure you are both drawing your audience in, but also using lead generation forms to fulfill your business development goals.
In creating a content strategy, back out the results you’re trying to achieve – and then fill in what types of content your will develop based on those goals. Engagement always begins with the reader. Develop content to match your buyer’s lifecycle, understanding that your readers will contact your material at the various stages of their buying lifecycle.
For example, if you are targeting an introductory stage where buyers are just exploring their needs, you may consider lighter, graphic content that talks about general industry problems. In contrast, if you are trying to tip over a decision point, consider testimonials or case studies.