Not all that long ago, the phrase “content marketing” didn’t exist. However, according to the Content Marketing Institute, the concept actually dates back to 19th-century tractor pioneer John Deere. Deere launched a magazine whose aim was to educate farmers, not sell them farming equipment. That, the institute says, marked the birth of content marketing.
Fast forward to the 21st century. The age of the Internet has helped propel “content marketing” into the lexicon of businesses ranging from bootstrapped startups to Fortune 500 titans.
A survey earlier this year by the Custom Content Council pegged the amount of money spent by businesses on production and distribution of custom content at nearly $44 billion. This includes print, web, email, video and other types of content.
Nearly half of American companies have adopted strategies for content marketing, according to SocialMediaToday.com, and more than three-fourths of chief marketing officers think custom content represents the future of marketing.
Never sacrifice quality for quantity.
— Carly Fauth, director of marketing and outreach, MoneyCrashers.com
Why are so many businesses jumping on the content marketing bandwagon? The answer lies in the basic foundation of the concept. “The idea of content marketing,” the Content Marketing Institute says, “is to attract and retain customers by creating and curating relevant and valuable content.”
As SocialMediaToday.com explains, content creation is king, and content distribution is queen. At SpareFoot, our marketing team certainly gives content the royal treatment. Through blog posts, videos, consumer advice pieces, infographics and other content, we strive to educate and entertain by delivering information about our company, our industry, our beloved home of Austin and so much more.
By no means have we perfected the art and science of content marketing, as the field is constantly evolving. Still, we take pride in the high-quality content we generate every weekday. (We hope you’ll agree and subscribe to our blog.)
Now that we’ve broadly covered the content marketing landscape, you may be wondering how your company—whether it’s a fledgling startup or an industry fixture—can shine in the creation and distribution of content. We reached out to content marketing experts for their advice. Here are 12 of their insights.
1. Know Your Audience.
Rachel Parker, founder and CEO of Resonance Content Marketing in Houston, said it’s foolish to delve into content marketing without gauging the interests of your audience, understanding their “pain points” and discovering what types of content they prefer.
This is Parker’s cardinal rule for content marketing: “It’s not about you—it’s about the people you’re trying to reach!”
Shaun Mehr, executive vice president of content marketing agency Sprocket Media Inc. in Pasadena, CA, said it’s crucial to figure out how your customers and prospects gather information before they consider buying your product or service.
“Are they on forums? Are they attending conferences? Are they active on social media?” Mehr said. “Getting a clear picture of the process your customers and prospects go through to make decisions and which content platforms support that process is an essential first step in defining your content marketing strategy.”
2. Commit to Blogging.
Blog posts are a critical component of any strategy for content marketing, experts say. And for a blog to truly succeed, you must publish posts on a regular basis, not just whenever the mood strikes.
“Blogging will continue to be important because it drives search engine results, but companies will need to use all their channels to promote this content,” said Stacey King Gordon, president of Suite Seven Inc., a content strategy and brand communications firm in Oakland, CA. “I see the blog becoming more integrated with the rest of a company’s content, not just living on its own in a separate section of the website.”
3. Ditch the Sales Pitch.
Gordon said your content shouldn’t harp on the benefits of your products or services. Rather, she said, your content should offer “selfless” education or information “in a way that adds value, thereby making people more loyal to your company or brand.”
4. Measure, Evaluate and Revise.
To track online traffic for your content, use a tool like Google Analytics. For managing and monitoring of social media activity, turn to software from companies such as Spredfast (a startup here in Austin) and Sprout Social.
Consistently evaluate results from your content tactics, Parker said, “and focus on the ones that are driving traffic, leads, conversions and other vital factors.” If something isn’t working, look at revising your tactics.
5. Avoid Over-Optimization.
Don’t cram your content full of SEO keywords just to please the Google gods. Google and other search engines frown on this practice. Readers don’t care for it, either. First and foremost, create content with your audience in mind. Then worry about the search engines.
6. Follow the Leaders.
Takeshi Young, SEO team leader at California-based EntirelyPets.com, an online seller of pet supplies and medicine, recommended checking out websites like Buzzfeed, Upworthy and Cheezburger to see what they’re doing well, and then borrow headline tricks and other content tactics. Another tip from Young: Network with other content producers in your industry.
7. Watch the Words.
“Never sacrifice quality for quantity,” said Carly Fauth, director of marketing and outreach for personal finance website MoneyCrashers.com. “A content marketing strategy of a few high-quality posts trumps daily blog posts of subpar quality.
“Go beyond simply spell-checking your content, and review it carefully for proper grammar and syntax. Use an editor unless you’re well-versed in that area.”
8. Get More Mileage From Your Content.
Gordon said her team will produce a piece of content for a client, then look for ways to create complementary pieces of content like videos, infographics or SlideShare presentations. That way, a topic can be examined from various angles, she said, and the content can be shared through various avenues.
9. Dive in for the Long Haul.
Gordon said you shouldn’t expect immediate results from a newly minted content marketing strategy.
“Engagement with your content comes only after you consistently publish great content for a while,” she said. “People will pay attention, but sometimes it takes some time. Companies need to keep going and expect it to be a long-term investment.”
10. Don’t Forget the Photos.
Images, including photos and infographics, quickly draw the attention of print and online readers. On top of that, images break up chunks of black-and-white text. A few eye-pleasing images—purchased from services like iStock or even shot by your own staff—can liven up what otherwise might be a bland blog post.
“A picture is worth 1,000 words,” said Ed McMasters, director of marketing and communications at Flottman Co. Inc., a graphic communications company in Crestview Hills, KY.
11. Invest in Video.
Karma Martell, president and CEO of KarmaCom Inc., a marketing firm in Brooklyn, NY, insisted that video should be the top priority in any content marketing strategy. Why? Citing statistics published by EContent magazine, Martell said videos compel prospects to buy products or services, and they heighten the likelihood of your company showing up in Google search results.
However, not just any video will do the job.
Eric Goins, managing partner at Atlanta video production company Yes And Films LLC, said a video should be limited to less than 2 minutes and 30 seconds to ensure that it’s “clear, concise and entertaining.” Furthermore, he said, a video should be well-crafted.
“I see many videos that are poorly produced,” Goins said, “and they will never have the effect that well-produced, professionally delivered video content will have.”
12. Be Responsive.
Your online content should be built with “responsive design” in mind, Martell said. If your content is “responsive,” it will look good on PCs, Macs, tablets and smartphones.
“With over 50 percent of all email being opened on a phone, this is a must,” Martell said.