The idea of content marketing is certainly not a new one. Marketers continually embrace content and discover its power in connecting their brands with consumers. But as the tactic has risen in popularity, companies with no traditional connection to content find themselves questioning how they can get started. Varying kinds of content have become more prevalent in marketing circles, which begs the question: what exactly is content, and is it why is important to your business strategy?
In an October 2011 blog post on Entrepreneur.com, Mikal Belicove describes content marketing as “the creation and publication of original content – including blog posts, case studies, white papers, videos and photos – for the purpose of generating leads, enhancing a brand’s visibility, and putting the company’s subject matter expertise on display.”
But it’s not enough to simply create great content. Brands need to make sure they are creating the “right” content – the kind that puts relevant information in the hands of potential customers, in a format that they can easily digest and use. They need to make sure their content is getting into the right hands at the right time and in the right form – only then will it provide value back to the bottom line of the business.
With that in mind, here are some common forms content can take, and some inside tips on the best way to use them to enhance your brand:
Blogs are quick to write, inexpensive to produce and can generate industry buzz quickly. But more importantly, blog posts can get people talking about your ideas. As Heather Huhman writes on Mashable.com, one of the benefits of a blog post is that you can get discussions going among industry leaders right in the comments of your post.
While regular updates to your blog matter, it is more important to come up with interesting, useful and provocative topics. Ideal blog topics are those that can be addressed in under 500 words, encourage your reader to join the discussion, and provide either professional or personal value to your audience.
Because you can control the content and the frequency of blog posts, many companies use blogs as a cornerstone of their content marketing strategy, and encourage readers to follow them daily or weekly. Other ways to increase your blog exposure include guest blogging on sites with a similar audience to offer insider information, such as special topics and tips.
Articles are a time-tested form of content exposure, and they still play an important role in content marketing. While the article format is very versatile and can convey a variety of types of information, articles generally work best as sources for informational topics and how-to content.
People often wonder how a blog and an article are different. Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute answers that question in the Content Marketing Playbook: “Blogs have a clear point of view… a personality. Articles have no point of voice, but are an informational treasure trove.”
Companies often think of industry journals as the only delivery methods for articles – but this can be limiting. It makes sense for marketers to consider writing columns in newsletters, or even writing for newspapers and magazines on their companies’ area of expertise. Brands should have an article library on their corporate website, stocked with both original content and reprints of articles printed elsewhere.
While white papers may not be as sexy as some of other forms of content, they can be an important component in your strategy. The Content Marketing Playbook defines white papers as 8-12 pages of information that demonstrate “thought leadership on issues vital to your buyers.” You may have also heard white papers called conference papers, research reports or technical briefs. When brainstorming white paper topics, think about technical ideas or concepts where your company’s specific expertise can provide customers with valuable information to help their business or career.
White papers offer tremendous flexibility in the ways they can be delivered. In addition to the traditional print format, you can also distribute them electronically using the .PDF format, through email or even as a download from your website.
Slideshows and Galleries
The adage about pictures being worth a thousand words still holds water, and its a great reason why slideshows and galleries should be part of your content strategy. Slideshows are online presentations that combine visual images and captions to present an idea. Galleries are self-standing images that provide value to your brand, such as photographs of products or pictures of people using your products in unique ways.
But it isn’t enough to just slap something together and call it a day. In “10 Ways to Become a Slideshare Marketing Master”, Kipp Bodnar recommends that marketers “take an extra hour or hire a designer to make sure that important presentations are visually powerful.” He also recommends re-purposing content from other presentations, using links and having a call to action for each slideshow. There are several tools available that will help you quickly create an effective slideshow, such as Slideshare or tools within your content management system.
Similarly, when selecting images for a gallery make sure that you use only high-quality images and that each entry has a professional feel to it. Ask yourself how each image furthers the brand and your overall content strategy. With a gallery, the goal is definitely quality over quantity.
Both slideshows and galleries should be on your website, and slideshows should be available as a download. But keep your eyes open for other ways to use the content, such as linking to images or slides from either a guest blog post or your own blog, or even sharing relevant gallery images through Facebook and Twitter.
Many people focus their content marketing strategy on text-based content, but videos can play an important role in any strategy. One of the more common uses of video content are instructional how-to’s that walk users through a specific task. But companies have also had success using images to deliver messages to their audience. One of the most successful examples of a content marketing video is “Evolution” for Dove Beauty. It has resulted in nearly 15 million YouTube views, not to mention exposure on national television shows.
Even if you create the world’s most amazing video, it isn’t enough to simply post it on YouTube. You need to create distribution channels for your video to increase exposure and get people talking. You can also embed it on your corporate website, link to it from your e-newsletter and encourage industry experts to talk about it through social media.
One of the newer forms of content is earned media. Dan Greenberg of Ad Age defines earned media as “the sharing of branded content via social connections, (it) seems like a free gift to marketers; you simply create some great content and watch it spread like wildfire.” But you must effectively control the spread and delivery of the content to have the biggest impact on your business.
Earned media can take many different forms, such bloggers writing about your company or customers writing positive reviews online. Even conversations in the media or blog comments about your products qualify as earned media. Think about different ways you can get people talking about your brand. One of the most important parts of effectively using this form of content is realizing all of the different avenues that are available to you for earned media and developing the relationships to take advantage of this form of content.
So now that you’re tuned in to the most common types of content, how do you decide what type of content is best to promote your business? Know your audience. Find out who they are and what types of content will resonate best with them. Your industry and vertical can also be a crucial factor to consider. If you’re not sure where to start or need inspiration, take a look at competitors in your space.
Different people respond best to different types of content, so it is important to have a wide assortment of content formats in your marketing strategy. Remember to think carefully about which format to use for each of your goals and information. And most importantly, a successful content marketing strategy continues to evolve, so be sure to continually evaluate what is working so you can ensure your strategy remains effective.