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How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy from Scratch

18 Min Read

There are millions of people in the world who would be thrilled to buy what your company sells.

That statement might sound like an exaggeration, but given the global population, it’s a near statistical certainty. Even if you’re in the B2B industry, with over 30 million companies operating in the United States alone, that bold claim still holds true.

The problem consists entirely in getting your name out there.

In other words, marketing will determine the success or failure of your company. So the question is, what are you doing to make sure that your business gets in front of the right audience?

That’s what content marketing is all about.

What is content marketing, exactly?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The term “content marketing” gets thrown around quite a bit  these days. The truth is that internet marketing is still relatively new and you shouldn’t feel ashamed if you don’t know all the jargon already.

In simple terms, content refers to almost anything that informs, entertains, or inspires.

Examples of content marketing include:

  • An interesting, well-written blog post.
  • A helpful infographic.
  • A funny YouTube animation.
  • A how-to guide.
  • A podcast.
  • An explainer video.
  • A Tweet or an Instagram photo.

Content marketing, therefore, simply means producing content that can connect with your audience.

If your company sells baseball equipment, for example, that interesting, well-written blog post could be about where to find a left-handed catcher’s glove, or about offseason training, or even about Babe Ruth’s life story.

If your company builds WordPress websites on the other hand, recording a video of yourself solving some common html or css problems that can harm mobile responsiveness is a great idea.

Whatever the case may be, it’s important to understand that content marketing is not advertising and it should never be overly promotional. The idea is to provide real value to your audience and trust that they’ll remember your brand and see you as an objective and genuinely helpful authority in your industry.

How do you define success in content marketing?

Content marketing doesn’t typically result in tons of immediate sales.

In some cases, content marketing can boost the bottom line fairly quickly. For instance, if you publish a guest blog in a major publication, or if your YouTube channel goes viral overnight. But those examples are generally exceptions and not the norm. Usually, content marketing is more of a long game.

Content marketing is often centered on building authority. When you create high-quality blogs, videos, visuals, and more on a consistent basis, people interested in your industry will begin to recognize your name.

Those people will also inevitably visit your website, which will give you the chance to stay in touch with them in other ways, like through Google retargeting campaigns or email marketing.

Additionally, if your content truly provides value (regardless of whether that value is through information, entertainment, or inspiration), then it’ll get shared on social media. This allows you to get in front of your audience’s audience. And that can lead to exponentially increasing opportunities.

With all that in mind, here are a few metrics used to measure success:

  • Page views
  • Time spent on each page
  • Social media mentions
  • Social media shares
  • Comments and audience sentiment
  • Conversions

Conversions refers to your audience taking an action that you strategically planned for them to take, like making a purchase.

But in many cases, the first conversion is simply taking a step to move further down the sales funnel — for example, downloading your ebook, signing up for your email list, or scheduling a call.

The bottom line?

The definition of success in content marketing is your choice. You decide your goals – whether that’s convincing your audience to make a purchase, or enticing them to download an ebook, or simply getting them to visit your website so you can run a retargeting campaign.

Regardless of your goals, there are two steps every company should take to ensure their content marketing strategy is effective.

1. Understand your audience.

So, how do you find that ideal audience? The first step is to ask yourself some questions about your customers.

  • How old are your customers?
  • What do they care about?
  • Where do they get their information?
  • How much money do they make?
  • What goals can you help them accomplish?
  • What ideas do you have that will really speak to your customers?

These are just a few examples: if you can think of a few questions of your own, then you should certainly do so. (After all, you know who your current customers are, and that experience alone will likely help inform some very insightful questions.)

2. Find the right channels to share your content.

Of course, creating the content is only half the battle.

The last part is actually sharing that content with the online world! And to do this effectively, you should take some time to consider where you online audience “lives.”

There are a few generalized rules that will help guide you: for example, you can probably assume that professional audiences will pay more attention to channels like LinkedIn and Medium, or that millennials are more likely to patronize SnapChat or Instagram.

However, it’s also very important to pay attention to the real world around you!

Try asking the customers you have a personal relationship with about their own online habits and interests. What type of content would they like to see?

Try checking out your successful competitors. Where do they share their content?

Last but not least, make sure to pay attention to your own successes and failures. You obviously don’t want to give up on any platform too quickly — but if you notice that your Twitter page gets a lot more traffic than your Instagram profile, you may want to start sharing more content on Twitter.

Designing Your Content Strategy

Now, let’s go through the three building blocks of an online content marketing strategy.

1. Be simple and consistent!

If you’re new to the content marketing game, a good place to start is by speaking to your current customers.

This is true for two reasons:

1. Building that initial audience is tough and no one is more likely to pay attention to what you have to say than the people who already believed in you enough to give you their money.

2. Even though we tend to think of marketing as “getting new customers,” it’s equally (if not more) important to retain the customers you already have.

So, you should launch your content marketing strategy by answering questions that your current customers already have.

  • Give them advice about how to use your product/service.
  • Share some things that you have learned in the course of running your company.
  • Highlight the success of your current customers by using case studies!

This first step should be easy and fun. It can also be low-cost or even free.

Try writing a blog answering the most common question you receive. Or interview someone in your company giving some behind-the-scenes insight into how your company works. This can be shot affordably by a video production company, or you can even shoot this footage yourself on a smartphone or point-and-shoot camera.

Client: Indiegogo

Smart, sincere content has appeal, no matter how cheaply it’s produced.

One last piece of advice for people who are just starting out with content marketing: be consistent.

Try creating at least one piece of content each week and sharing it on all your personal and professional social media accounts on the same day each week. If you just do that, you’ll be light years ahead of most of your small business competitors.

2. Get outside your comfort zone!

Once you’re consistently creating content your existing audience enjoys, it’s time to up the ante and start creating content that’ll appeal to a broader range of people.

You should still be focused on a target audience, but rather than focusing on your existing customers and trusting you’ll attract a few outside visitors, this step is all about increasing your reach and bringing new leads to your site.

Here are three specific, actionable ways you can do that:

a. Do guest blog outreach.
This allows you to leverage relevant outside audiences who might be interested in your product.

b. Try new content formats.
If your content marketing strategy has been comprised mostly of tweets and Instagram pics, try writing a blog post or filming your product in a simple, bare-bones setting.

Client: Leapfrog

c. Create a content calendar, and stick to it!
This is the only way to achieve true consistency, especially once you’re using multiple platforms and formats.

3. Master the art of leadership.

Are you creating great content in a variety of formats across a variety of platforms?

If so, then you’re ready to become a true thought leader in your industry. At this stage, you’re producing content frequently — and everything you create should be outstanding.

This is no small task: it takes dedication both in time and money. However, companies that commit to being content leaders are companies everyone knows, like HubSpot, AdWeek, or Quick Sprout.

At this level, you are now creating stellar content on a daily basis. Everyone who is at all interested in what you do has come across your blog articles, your videos, or your infographics because they’re the best. You educate professionals and you define people’s experience of your entire industry.

Creating this much content so consistently takes a team. So achieving this level of leadership is about more than just being a great content creator yourself. It means having the talent to recognize other great content creators, and helping them bring your ideas to life.

What does this look like in practice?

Content Cucumber has two mottos we emphasize and ask our content creators to keep in mind at all times.

The first is to “bring ideas to life” for our clients, which means putting ourselves in their shoes and writing with their audience in mind.

The second is to “make the internet a better place,” or, in other words, ensure the things we’re writing are accurate, honest, and worth reading.

By making our philosophy part of our training, we’re able to ensure our writers are aligning with our vision without the need to micromanage.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that, while we strive to avoid micromanagement, we do offer regular in-depth feedback and analysis of our writers’ work so that they can continuously improve. And this brings us to our third and final tip for anyone building a content creation team:

Invest time in providing actionable feedback.

The following italicized section is paraphrased from White Hat Crew, an excellent blog on ethical internet marketing. Their travel analogy makes a fantastic point about how small differences in direction make a huge difference in the destination. When you take the time to point your team in the right direction, you will see results.

Imagine you are going somewhere, but you are off course by one degree.

  • After 100 yards, you’ll be off by 5.2 feet.
  • After a mile, you’ll be off by 92.2 feet.
  • From San Francisco to L.A., you’ll be off by 6 miles.
  • From San Francisco to Washington, D.C., you’d end up on the other side of Baltimore, 42.6 miles away.
  • Circling the earth from Washington, DC, you’d end up in Boston, 435 miles away.
  • In a rocket going to the moon, you’d miss by over 4,000 miles.
  • Going to the sun, you’d miss by over 1.6 million miles.
  • Traveling to the nearest star, you’d be off course by over 441 billion miles. (That’s 120 times the distance from the earth to Pluto!)

The same concept applies to helping your creative team thrive.

Ready to take your content marketing strategy to the next level?

Regardless of where you’re at right now, there are simple yet powerful steps you can take to improve your content marketing strategy.

Again, that could be as simple as just snapping a picture and posting it to Instagram.

Or it could mean sitting down and planning a content calendar.

It could even mean getting in touch with a content creation agency.

(Full transparency: I’d be thrilled if you got in touch with my team at Content Cucumber or with our good friends here at Lemonlight, but we’re obviously not the only options on the market!)

My call to action for you is to do something new.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, then you’ve invested more than enough time to create some stellar content, or to assign content creation to someone on your team, or to have a call with a content creator.

I know firsthand there are a lot of things that might be holding you back from doing just that.

Perfectionism is my weakness — it’s intimidating to create content that might not be perfect, after all. Unwillingness to invest time/money and not knowing where to start are also common reasons why companies fail to leverage content marketing to its fullest potential.

But even brands like HubSpot started somewhere. New leads, better brand recognition, and a more educated audience are all within your grasp.

All you need to do to reach them is get creative.

Good luck, and have fun with whatever content creation projects you choose to pursue!

 

By Isaac Morey of Content Cucumber

 

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