I’m sitting in a restaurant, enjoying the post-lockdown freedom of a meal indoors with my old friends Tim and Anna. My wife Katie laughs in the raucous way I love, as Tim regales us with a story about the time he and Griff Rhys-Jones found themselves in a heavy-metal club in Aberdeen thanks to some poor directions from a local who mis-heard the word ‘funk’ and thought he’d said ‘punk’. Tim is fantastic dinner-party company; a master of the anecdote, with a beaming smile and an infectious need for bonhomie. In my fantasy dinner party league, he’s in seat one, nestled between David Attenborough and Peter Ustinov.
An ex-actor, Tim now writes for film, TV and radio and, as you can imagine, he’s had a lot of practice in telling stories. Actually, he’s the best storyteller I’ve ever met. But as he speaks, I’m struck less by the story he tells and more by the way he tells it. He weaves you in, makes you a part of it. He tells a story that is appropriate to you, referencing people you know and always bringing you back to the memorable points; the ones he knows you will be most entertained or interested by. He’s authentic, generous of spirit and a total natural.
And if you came here wanting to find out what content marketing is, I’ve already told you everything you need to know.
What even is content marketing?
On a practical level, content marketing could be described as the process and means by which we find potential customers, build a relationship with them and communicate why a product or service will help them – that could be answering a consumer need or, in the case of B2B marketing, assisting and facilitating business growth.
It’s about using relevant and authentic communications to bring a brand to life by providing material that a potential customer finds genuinely useful and engaging.
It’s about making a connection that is designed to drive a user though a funnel to fulfilment, creating brand trust on the way and maximising customer lifetime value. Ultimately, it should be about long-term and repeat revenue generation.
Andrew Davis, author and marketing expert said, “Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.” For me, that is the most telling insight to why content marketing exists. Its goal is to drive revenue (and quite often we in agency-land forget that) but its origin is in building relationships through stories.
Does content marketing work?
Content marketing differs from traditional advertising. It carries what can often be perceived as a greater risk – it’s a longer-burn model, performance is often harder to quantify, you have to place trust in the method if you want customers to trust in your brand. But the good news is that it’s a well proven technique – typically, content marketing delivers three times as many leads as traditional marketing for 62% less spend, and content marketing as a means of increasing brand trust is effective – 82% of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content. At The Maverick Group, the content marketing platform we designed and built for DHL Express, Discover DHL, is the most successful lead generation campaign in the history of the company.
So content marketing works. The next question you’ll be asking yourself is ‘does my company even have a story to tell?’ The answer, no matter what your brand, product or sector, is always, absolutely, definitely and without fail, ‘yes’.
The challenge is in telling that story effectively, to the right people.
What makes a content marketing campaign?
We can tell those stories in many ways, using many different tools. The content marketing unit at Maverick is involved in strategy, advertising, site design and development, UX, SEO, social media, design & copy, film production, media, sales, internal training and analytics – it can cover pretty much the whole breadth of marketing as a function. All those activities should be in your consideration when you’re deciding whether or not to embark on a content marketing campaign.
Many actually say that content marketing should be seen not as a campaign, but as an approach, and I would agree with this. At Maverick, we try to treat it along the lines of a publisher model – one that adapts over time as the conversation and your audience develops. Your brand has to be willing to invest in long-term engagement across many platforms and channels – though you don’t have to use all of them, just the ones that work for you.
The medium is not the message, though. The message is the important part of the equation, and should be all about reflecting the brand values you want to portray; aligning with your customer’s shared values, not just in terms of the obvious things like fairness, sustainability and equality, but more importantly about meeting demands effectively, providing service quality and delivering value for money.
So think about the story your brand can tell – it could be related to a product (like Dollar Shave Club or Hello Fresh), it could be about your market (like Shopify or American Express), it could be about the values you want to uphold (like Always or the Body Shop), or it could be about the brand’s history and the people who run it – if you’re old enough, you may just remember Victor Kiam, owner of the Remington shaver company, who claimed, “I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company.” That’s content marketing in one sentence, right there.
So what are the essential elements that go into defining and delivering your content marketing strategy?
1. Understand your market
Solid research is the key to creating a successful content marketing strategy. Understanding who you audience are – what they are concerned with, what sort of role they play in an organisation and, crucially for content marketing, where they congregate. It’s no good creating a huge content campaign if you’re talking to the wrong people in the wrong place. Spend time researching and really understanding your potential customer before you start talking to them. Marketers love to define personas, and with good reason; if you don’t know who you’re talking to, you’re not talking to anybody.
When you know who your most valuable audiences are, you can carry out research to get under the skin of what worries them. What are the problems they have that your brand can solve? What resonates with them and what do you have authority to speak about? Don’t try and cast your net too wide, especially in B2B environments. Your customer might have issues with many areas of their business – design, production, distribution, sales, technology, customer service – the list can be endless. Confirm what problems your brand can solve and always steer towards that. It might sound obvious, but being all things to all people inevitably leads to failure. Do one thing well and talk about only that. You can expand the conversation out later on, but only when you see clear signs that it will pay off.
A strong understanding of your customer will also help inform your tone of voice. Should you be formal and academic in your language, or colloquial and relaxed? Serious and business-like or irreverent and funny? It all depends on your customer and how they want you to speak to them; it should be measured by the way they respond to your messaging variants.
The value of the initial research phase can’t be underestimated, and it’s often the area most brands don’t want to spend time and money on. That’s understandable; they want to get into the action and out to market as quickly as possible. But time spent understanding the genuine needs of the people who will be responsible for buying from you will pay dividends further down the line. As a rule of thumb, if you’re spending a little more than you’re comfortable with in the research phase, you’re doing just the right amount!
2. Give a little to get a little
Here’s the elephant in the room: A successful content marketing strategy is not about creating content for your brand – it’s about creating content for your customer.
It’s always a sticking point. You want to shout about your product or service, tell the world how great it is and what it can do to change the life of your customer. That’s OK. That’s what advertising is for, and you should do that as well.
To really score big with content marketing, though, you need to put the needs of the customer above the needs of the brand. When you manage to do that, you create within your own organisation a sense of empathy; an understanding for what makes your customer tick and a sympathetic approach to their needs. When you create content with that as your guiding principal, a natural and authentic conversation begins.
Your goal is to create a series of value exchanges – we give you something (an e-book or a how-to guide) and you give us something in return (your email address and permission to add you to our mailing list). You’re creating a natural marketing funnel. After that, sales messages can be introduced – and your customers will listen to those messages precisely because you listened to their needs. It’s a reciprocal agreement based on the trust you have established by not trying to sell to them at the first meeting.
3. Have a channel strategy
So you know who your audience are, and you know what interests them – you’re on the road to unlocking true customer lifetime value. Your next question is how to deliver your message. It’s tempting to throw everything into the mix at this stage, but our advice would be to tread carefully – test what content types work and only develop those that meet with success.
Understanding where your target audience are most likely to be and how they behave on different channels will be key to communicating effectively. Tailor your messaging and tone of voice for different platforms – people are in very different mood states when they’re on Instagram to when they’re on a specialist website looking for information about their industry. Create a matrix of messaging variants, delivered in different tones and adopt them for each environment.
Social media is often the first channel to be considered for content marketing , which is no surprise. In a digital world, social is the shop window for your brand, so it’s vital to have an effective social presence. But Social can be a tricky ride. LinkedIn is certainly more business focussed, but channels like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and others are primarily places where people go to relax and escape work – fertile ground for sales in consumer sectors such as fashion, cosmetics and travel, but much trickier for B2B brands. Think about how you will establish an ongoing story that creates interest and further investigation. Do you create posts that you would subscribe to and view in your downtime, alongside family pictures and updates from friends? If not, change your approach.
You can use Social as your sole channel (especially if you’re in B2C sales) but, of course, most brands want to take the conversation further and that’s where your site comes in. Carrying strong editorial content allows you to draw your prospect in more deeply and really cement the emotional connection that will lead to sales. It could be simple, such as a blog area on your product site, or it could be a standalone content platform, designed to discuss subjects that matter to your customer base in greater detail – and it’s a great way to create a centralised community and leverage the full power of your content tools such as newsletters, film, e-books and forums. If you don’t want to create a dedicated space for content then you should definitely also consider posting content to sites such as medium.com or offering thought leadership content to relevant websites.
You should work closely with your media and creative agencies to define your channel strategy. If you are a global brand, be certain to choose partners with international experience. Best performing channels will vary by country, so be sure you have local knowledge to support and adapt your overall strategy.
One more golden rule of content marketing for you here: Reach is less important that engagement. Quality is your goal – you don’t have to speak to everybody; you only need to speak to the people who will be interested in what you have to tell them.
4. SEO is your friend
93% of online experiences start with a search engine, so pay careful attention to both your editorial and technical SEO optimisation. In a 2019 study by Semrush, social media was the most important marketing channel, with 94% of marketers using it. In 2020, that had been replaced by organic search, cited by 89% of marketers as their top channel.
5. Test and learn doesn’t end. Ever.
Effective and continued analysis of your content’s performance is vital. You should be analysing everything along your pipeline, from content strategy to media. If you don’t yet know how to use Google Analytics, then it’s one of the best tools you can upskill yourself on – but there are a host of other tools you can use as well to get a deeper understanding of how your strategy is performing, and where you can identify areas for improvement.
When you bring all these elements together efficiently, you’ve got a content marketing platform that should serve you well for years to come. But remember, above all things: The content you provide, in whatever form and via whatever channel, has to be authentic, it has to be of genuine interest and it has to highlight your authority as a leader in your field. If you get those three vital elements working together, then engagement, trust and (eventually) conversion will follow. And if you want to chat to someone about content marketing, we’d love to hear from you.