I really wanted to write this post for a while… And it’s not that I’m just saying this because it’s a nice phrase to start an article with. I really mean it. The reason is simple; there’s much going on in the content marketing advice department on the web right now, yet not that much at all in the “down to earth” advice department.
For instance, the fact that no one wants to admit in public is that content marketing can be hard, really hard, so-hard-it-will-actually-discourage-you hard. And getting started is the toughest challenge of them all.
But don’t worry, I’m not saying all this to make you scared of trying it out. Once you get moving forward and have your initial campaign behind you, things start to get a lot more straightforward and much clearer.
First of all, what is all the fuss about and what is content marketing exactly?
If you go to Wikipedia – where all definitions can be found – you will discover that content marketing is any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers.
But to give you a simpler explanation, let’s just say that content marketing is about using content – the stuff you have published on your website – as a marketing tool.
Content = marketing tool. That is all the definition you need.
This means that content becomes the main hook to drive new visitors, prospects, and hopefully, clients. As opposed to, say, traditional ads or any other form of promotion that a PR agency would offer you.
Step #1: finding the starting point
First and foremost, rarely anyone gets a head-start into content marketing. No matter what your background is, your approach needs to be thought through carefully. Unless you have an unlimited budget for this…which you surely don’t.
Funny enough though, the starting point is not creating content itself (we’ll get to that). There’s actually something else that you need to take care of even before the whole creation process.
That thing is planning and setting goals.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you hate it when people attempt to give you advice starting with “You need to set your goals, man!” This sounds ultra-vague and isn’t really actionable, so let’s get more in-depth here.
He who fails to plan, plans to fail. -Winston Churchill (probably)
(This is true for any business project you’re doing, by the way, not just content marketing.)
Good planning starts with one thing: planning the outcome of your campaign.
Start by answering this: What is it that I want to achieve with this specific project?
Some helpers: Is it more exposure for your business site in general? More direct traffic to a specific landing page? More subscribers to your newsletter? More direct leads? More awareness among industry leaders to then have an easier approach when proposing partnerships?
As you can see, it really can be anything, but I’d actually advise you to settle for just one, single goal.
Pursuing more than one goal at a time can dilute your efforts and as a result, produce no outcomes at all. Believe me, I’ve been there and it’s nothing cool to experience.
Step #2: doing the groundwork
The key to a well-constructed content marketing campaign is focusing on building content that is congruent with your goal. In other words, ask yourself if the content you’re planning to create will get you closer to your goal.
This really is all that matters. You don’t need to fall for every new content marketing trend that’s out there just because of its temporary popularity, or to believe people saying that they will teach you the next big thing. Do your own thing. Plan according to goals, not according to fads.
Now, while doing your research, compile a brainstorm record. The term may be fancy, but what I mean is a simple list containing the headline ideas and the content type ideas you’ve come up with.
If you’re having difficulties doing this on your own, start by looking at what your competition is doing and what type of content they are rolling out. If your competition is kind of stale in that area then look a little broader and try to notice some interesting angles being pulled off by your mentors or by consultants/businesses that you identify with.
Don’t be shy when creating this list. Feel free to steal headlines, steal your competitors’ ideas, steal whatever concept is working in the industry. The whole deal with content marketing is that there should be as little guessing game involved as possible.
You really want to get as much insight as you can before rolling out your campaign, and there’s no better way to do something well than to either try replicating other successful campaigns or building upon them adding your own spin (the latter is more desirable).
When it comes to the technical stuff, you can focus on text content, multimedia content, infographics, large in-depth resources, videos, or anything in between.
Just don’t go overboard; start with something that you have a basic understanding of. And most importantly, the content has to be interesting to the reader and in some way helpful and/or entertaining – this is why people will want to share it and take a look at what your company is about.
Once you have a list of interesting pieces of content that seem like something you could use for inspiration, you can proceed to the next step.
Step #3: getting content created
Please notice that I didn’t say “create content.” That’s because you can successfully outsource the writing process if you’re not the content creator type yourself. If that’s the case then try going to a site like oDesk and looking for some freelancers there. I’m sure you’ll find many people who are not only willing to work with you, but also have the experience with content marketing and its traits.
Now, no matter if you end up creating content yourself or outsourcing it, there’s one thing you should do throughout the whole process. It revolves around asking one simple question that I already mentioned before: How does this get me closer to my goal?
Starting with your goal is how you will be able to pick the best suited idea from your brainstorm record and how you will construct the basic framework for your new content. Then, once you’re going forward, you need to continue asking this question constantly, just to make sure that your work doesn’t drift away from the main goal and move onto some new seemingly more interesting grounds. Goals always come first!
Although planning is essential, planning on its own – without action – won’t take you anywhere. The big elephant in the room is that you somehow need to get this damn content created eventually.
I won’t attempt to describe the “right” method of creating content here, mainly because there’s simply no such thing and everyone’s situation and project is unique. However, after this much planning, goal setting and brainstorming I believe that you are more than qualified to pull this off properly. Just remember about the question you should be constantly asking.
Also, if you’re hiring a contractor then they will have some ideas of their own as well, especially if they’re experienced. So bringing them in on the brainstorming process might be a good idea as well.
(One more thing. Once the content is done, remember about proofreading it thoroughly. Having some silly typos can have a really bad impact on the whole project.)
Step #4: publication and promotion
The first part is simple, just publish the thing on your site and make sure that you’ve included the following things:
- Social media buttons to keep your content alive.
- Calls to action based on your goal. For example, if the goal is to get leads then you should include an additional email subscription form right on your content page, and not only in the sidebar, for example.
- Some clear branding elements. So the content can be visually identified with your brand.
Next, promotion. First rule of promotion: sending out a quick tweet to your followers is not promotion.
Better try your luck with outreach.
In plain English, outreach is when you send some messages (email) to your network and invite them to check out your content. In result, some of them will link to you or send you traffic in some other ways (like social media).
A good place to start is to focus on: your business partners, your personal-professional network (people who you work with and who you like, but who are not in the same vertical), your clients if you have a way of reaching them directly, websites that publish content that has something in common with the thing you’ve just published.
To learn how to construct the right message, I am sending you over to these posts: building your networking skills, how to connect with other bloggers. There are virtually as many techniques for outreach as there are people teaching them, so you really get a lot of weapons to choose from. However, the main principle is not to ask for too much right off the bat, and to focus on being blunt and to the point.
(By the way, if you’re doing outreach for any sort of direct work, like proposing a consulting deal, you should probably check out Bidsketch – it will make your life a lot easier in that area by providing some cool proposal-handling functionality).
Tracking and finishing up
Every campaign should be tracked in one way or the other. Depending on the goal, there are different things you will need to do in order to set up tracking, but no matter what it is, you absolutely need to do something. Otherwise, you won’t have any data regarding the efficiency of your campaign and therefore, you won’t be able to improve in the future.
… Track sales, track leads, track visitors, track followers, whatever makes sense TO YOU.
You can start by signing up for the free program at Clicky (I prefer it to the obvious Google Analytics, it just looks more readable).
Woah, this has become quite a long guide, but I hope you’ll find it useful when designing your first content marketing campaign. There’s really nothing to be afraid of.
Did I miss any important piece of the puzzle? Don’t hesitate to ask.
Image Credit: Flickr