Even though the idea of content marketing has been around for more than 100 years, content marketing is perhaps one of the most misused terms in present day marketing vernacular. If you’re an online newspaper publishing reams of content every day, are you a content marketer? If you’re blogging on your website three times a week, are you doing content marketing? If you’ve religiously published one new whitepaper, eBook or webinar a month for the past year, are you a content marketer? Because you use Google Analytics, Hubspot or one of the other marketing software platforms, does that make you a content marketer? I don’t think so; at least we can’t know without a little more investigation. In spite of the casual and indiscriminant way marketers talk about content marketing, there are very well defined actions and results that will tell you whether or not you’re really doing content marketing. So what is content marketing?
It's a Process... That's Important
Content marketing is the process of creating and presenting information in a specific way designed to attract visitors, engage prospects and qualify leads. First and most importantly, content marketing is a process. It’s a set of actions, executed in a specific sequence, designed to create a singular, repeatable result. Because content marketing is a process, it can be tracked and measured. ...And what can be measured can be improved. So simply banging out blogs a few times a week on whatever topic happens to catch your fancy – even if those topics happen to be relevant to your business, school or non-profit, isn’t content marketing. When a company like HubSpot publishes a statistic that demonstrates a positive correlation between blogging frequency and the number of leads generated on a website, there’s an important piece of information missing. The blogging that generates more leads has to be created and published in a specific way to achieve that positive correlation. Simply producing more content, which might be the conclusion you draw from published statistics, does not make you a content marketer and does not help you generate more qualified leads.
Another important part of the definition of content marketing is the different roles that content plays. Some content is designed to attract visitors, some to engage prospects and some to qualify leads. The more focused a piece of content is on one of these jobs, the more useful the information that you gather about how people interact with it will be. One-size-fits-all content is a no, no.
If you’re constantly creating content that only performs one of these functions, you’re not doing content marketing. For example, if you only write content about general topics in your industry or cause and never create content about your specific branded solution you may be attracting visitors but you’re probably not doing much to generate leads… and you’re not doing content marketing. A classic case of this kind of content myopia is the content creator whose content only speaks to their branded solution. You can spot these content marketing posers easily. Their content always talks about how great their solution is, how it beats the competition hands down etc. This type of content reads like an advertisement… the problem is that no one reads advertisements… and this type of content, as a result, is largely ineffective.
Another common way that marketers falsely convince themselves that they are doing content marketing is by simply creating different types of content because someone told them they should or that video was better than blogging etc. Just because you have blogs, a few webinars, an eBook and a video on your website does not mean you’re doing content marketing. If you’re doing content marketing right, you’re creating the appropriate types of content to attract visitors, engage prospects and qualify leads and offering it to the people learning about your company, school or non-profit at the appropriate time. Whether you use a video, white paper, blog or webinar is mostly dictated by the audience you're trying to reach.
Don't Jump The Gun
At the appropriate time… anyone who’s done content marketing knows that’s a loaded statement. When practicing content marketing, the appropriate time is defined both by the process and by the person consuming your content. Their needs and interests, not yours. In content marketing we use the concept of a funnel to visualize how people move from a more casual, less engaged relationship with our value proposition to a fully qualified, engaged relationship, ready for sales follow-up. While the concept of a sales funnel has been around for generations in content marketing there are some new twists that help the marketer identify the level of engagement and know what types of content to offer. I like to split the funnel into two halves. The top and the bottom. Simple.
Let Your Funnel Be Your Guide
In the top half of the funnel, visitors are consuming content on general topics related to the industry you’re in. Prospects in the top half of the funnel are learning about alternative answers to the questions they have. For example if you are marketing running shoes for Acme company, in the top of your content marketing funnel, you’re attracting visitors with content that speaks to the general topics that people in the running community are concerned about. For example, how different shoe soles impact pronation… something of interest to runners. You’re not talking about your brand of solution for people with pronation issues… not yet. The people in the top half of your funnel are simply gathering information and if you're providing it, you are becoming their go-to source. That's important... you're building your reputation.
Content At The Middle Of The Funnel
Continuing our example... At the middle of the funnel, you make a content offer that is specifically about your brand of pronation solution. How you make the offer might be in a webinar, video, white paper… some sort of premium content that requires a person to identify themselves... on a form. When a person consumes this middle of the funnel offer, you immediately know that they have converted from being casually interested in issues related to running to being specifically interested in your brand of pronation solution. Very important! (you learned this using very specific content!) I call this content marketing stratification of the funnel a Brand Segmented Sales Funnel™ and the specific middle of the funnel offer that discriminates on brand, a Brand Filter Offer™.
Once someone has consumed the Brand Filter Offer, they’ve migrated into the bottom of the funnel. Here we’re no longer producing content targeting general industry topics. The reader has told us they are specifically interested in my brand of pronation solution for runners. Now it’s time to qualify that interest with content designed to address potential objections to my solution… objections like, you’re too expensive or you take too long to deliver or your packaging doesn’t offer this particular combination of features. How a prospect consumes this qualifying bottom half of the funnel content ultimately tells your sales person what she or he should focus on in a sales call, which is typically the offer at the very bottom of your funnel where you have a fully engaged, qualified lead. And that’s what content marketing is all about, right?
So you’re probably starting to get the picture that there are many, many ways to do content marketing wrong (and be convinced that you’re doing content marketing) and only one way to do content marketing right. I’m not saying there is only one combination of blogs, webinars, social media etc. that is right for every company, school or non-profit, but what I have learned is that when we are talking about doing content marketing, there is only one process that defines what content marketing is when it's done right. It’s very specific and if done correctly, it’s very, very effective.
The Content Marketer's Blueprint
At my agency, Innovative Marketing Resources, we create The Content Marketer’s Blueprint™, a customer specific, 90 day content marketing plan that describes the precise steps someone wishing to do content marketing on a marketing platform like HubSpot should take in order to attract, engage, qualify and convert the greatest number of leads. Whether you’re an inbound marketing agency, a frustrated marketer who needs structure around the content creation effort or someone aspiring to do content marketing, The Content Marketer’s Blueprint will help you achieve your goals and Innovative Marketing Resources can create one just for you. (I never said this was top of the funnel content, so I’m not breaking my own rule by mentioning my brand ;-)