How to turn your company's content into an asset?
Note: this article has been created based on my presentation at Startup Safary 2018 in Budapest
“Content marketing is the only marketing left. Teaching your customer and giving them resources to believe you is the new marketing.” - Seth Godin
'Content marketing' is becoming a popular term for Online Marketers. In fact, 40% of marketers claim to have a documented content marketing strategy.
Today, almost every brand is present online and post on their blog or maintain active social media presence. But does this resource investment make sense without understanding how content marketing could become an asset for your company?
In this post, I summarize the basic principles that could help you to get started with the creation of content that becomes an intangible asset for your brand.
The Evolution of Content Marketing Channels
We always had content in marketing but the approach is used in different forms over the course of history. My favorite example is the Michelin Guide, first published in 1900 by the owners of the French tire manufacturer, the Michelin brothers. The first handbook provided useful information for drivers on the road such as maps, tire repair places and hotels to stay in.
The duo distributed 35 000 free pieces of the handbook at the Universal Exposition of Paris, in a year when less than 3000 cars were used and the road transportation infrastructure was poor in France. They had no clear intention of selling their product but they created something valuable to their audience, which determined the future reputation of their brand. Today, the Michelin Guide is known as the "Bible" of fine dining.
Building assets, in this case, means that you are helping and educating consumers so that they know, trust and like you enough to buy from you. What changed over the past decades is the channels, and approach to communication brands use to reach these audiences.
Big brands and the mass media, such as newspapers and the television, dominated everything in the 60's and 70's. Everyone saw the same commercials and they were the go-to places to find out about new product and service offerings. Marketing used to be about convincing the customer of the product’s value proposition by interrupting their day, showing them an ad on TV or calling them in the middle of the day to do sales.
Before companies paid publishers to display their advertisement in media outlets but after the introduction of the internet, the power shifted to the consumers. Nowadays, anyone can become a publisher with hundreds of channels at hand. The diminishing technological barriers brought change and today, companies can build an infinite number of their own channels and pass on their marketing messages for nearly no costs.
The case for the importance of marketing with content is supported by a recent phenomenon called "ad blindness" or "banner blindness". The cause is that, even though we have a short attention span, we are overloaded with information. Constant exposure to display ads has turned them into background noise and they became disturbing instead of being a source of information.
Banner ad click-through rates have gone below 1% (Nielsen, 1997)
As a result, we consciously or subconsciously avoid advertisement, especially online. According to statistics, an internet user sees 5000 ads a day on average, while 86% of consumers admit that they completely avoid ads. Also, a quarter of the internet population is using AdBlocker.
In an attempt to make their ads seen, Virgin placed a huge, red banner in the middle of a website, but as we can see on the above heat map on the right, the website's visitors did not look at the ad at all. A 2007 research by Nielsen studies consumers' online behavior by heatmapping their eye movements supported the ad blindness theory. The 3 pictures above on the right show quick scanning, partial and intensive reading. The results suggest that in all the cases the test subjects read the text, while they avoided the parts of the website that look like an ad.
Inbound and Outbound Marketing
The technological changes and consumers' insensitivity to advertisement pushed marketers towards a new direction. Audiences now have all-day access to the internet and they can completely ignore brands, which created a need for communication that reaches potential customers through their pain points.
What is Outbound Marketing?
Outbound Marketing is the “old approach”, which is present in traditional offline media and older online strategies, such as banner ads. The approach is built on one-way communication, showing value propositions of products to a mass of potential customers through a standard message. According to the law of big numbers, the more people see the ad, the more conversions it generates.
Since so many people are exposed to the same message, a big share of the audience is not interested and some of the investment goes to waste. Also, outbound marketing is quite interruptive or even disturbing at times as they are shown as TV ads while watching a show or sales phone calls breaking the daily routine.
What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound Marketing is the “new approach”. The goal is attracting niche audiences that are out there looking for information. The method is pulling your target audience in through providing marketing assets that they find valuable. Inbound allows the audience to engage with the content they see and even react to it.
Even though building an inbound strategy might seem like way more investment and effort at first, it is meant to build a long-lasting relationship with the leads. Since a niche audience is targeted, only those see the message who are looking for relevant information on the topic, resulting in a higher ROI of every marketing dollar spent. If the content provided is valuable to the audience, they will pass the information on through sharing online or word-of-mouth, which has further benefits for the brand.
What is Content Marketing?
Content Marketing is an inbound approach. It is focused on consistently creating and sharing valuable, relevant content to attract a niche audience and ultimately trigger purchasing decisions.
The way people interact with brands changed and you need to prove yourself to your audience before getting their attention. With this method, you are not paying for reaching your customer because you let them find you as you create relationships around something that they value. Simply put, it’s telling a story before the sales message.
Yet, content is used for several purposes. You might want to "sell" other things than your product, such as a job at your company and create content around your employer branding. You can also strengthen your brand's authority in the market and thought leadership or publish stories aimed at crisis management.
When people are attracted to the content you provide they are ready to engage with your brand, devote their attention to it and give you permission to send further information and promotional materials through subscribing to your blog.
The PESO Model and the 'Content First' approach
First of all, let’s have a look at the so-called PESO model. For a perfect content marketing mix, you need to combine all the below channels, however, the order and timing is crucial.
P Stands for Paid and not surprisingly, it's the media you pay for. It’s used to create awareness of the brand and generate traffic.
E stands for Earned media, which is what’s generated by the community around you, your publicity or PR, including mentions in other media, websites and blogs, word of mouth, and your content going viral.
S stands for Shared media and mainly refers to social media and the content you share on those platforms, let that be your owned content or generated by others.
O stands for Owned media, a.k.a. your proprietary content, including your website, blog, studies, white papers, e-books and anything that you create for your business. The goal is building brand authority and engaging with your potential customers through an inbound strategy.
It’s important to point out that social media is a tactic and not your owned media in itself. Without content to fuel your social profiles, they would be useless. It provides channels for the distribution of your content and functions as a platform for communication with your audience.
According to the 'Content First' approach, you need to put your audience first and start off with building a small readership through your Owned media channels, such as your website and blog.
Fill your proprietary channels with quality, optimized content that’s valuable for your niche. The goals are to find your content tilt, and build content that reflects your knowledge and what you do, while it offers something unique against the competition.
Once your base forms, you create your first audience and subscribers, you can diversify the type of content you are posting and move on to a second channel, such as social media. As your reach expands, you can continue with a monetization strategy.
Throughout the process, you should keep in mind that you will only gain thorough visibility in Google if all the 4 groups of media assets are well-built up, as they are dependent upon one another. You have to create optimized content that engages your audience and triggers them to share it with others. When planning your content, make sure to obtain a thorough understanding of the 4 areas and their common fields and examine your competitors to build a strong foundation for your content marketing efforts.
The Success of Moz
The growth of Moz is an excellent example of the 'Content First' approach.
The Moz Blog was created by Rand Fishkin and kicked off in 2004. In the first period, he monetized his audience by offering consultancy services. 3 years later, the brand launched its software tools, which help professionals with tasks for improving search engine optimization, driving traffic and getting customers.
By 2009, only 5 years after the launch, the blog counted 100,000 subscribers and allowed Rand to close his consulting entirely, focusing only on the Moz products. Today, Moz is one of the leading brands in the field of inbound marketing and SEO and their educational posts are widely known in the industry.
The Content Marketing Process
At Intellyo, we have defined a 3+1 step process for creating content: plan, create, share and optimize along the way.
We work with an Editor in Chief, several copywriters and designers to consistently share articles on the Intellyo Blog. We always plan ahead using a content calendar to facilitate cooperation among the colleagues and make sure to keep the posts continuous. As many companies fail to plan for the time and resources needed to build impactful content, we recommend creating a documented content marketing strategy before getting started with the writing process.
In the creation phase, we focus on creating quality and optimized content. The Intellyo Creator Engine's built-in SEO and content analyzer, as well as, our Grammarly integration and plagiarism checker radically reduce the workload on our team's shoulder.
We defined primary and secondary distribution channels in the Creator Engine. As the primary channel, we share the posts on our blog, while secondary channels are our Medium publication, social media platforms, and the Intellyo newsletter, among other strategies.
And all along the process, we optimize. This means that we build content around questions coming from our Sales team and users. The Intellyo Team also uses several tools to brainstorm ideas for new articles based on keywords and popular topics in the industry.
The Content Marketing Funnel
Ideally, people would go to your website, get familiar with your product, purchase it and pass on the information to their friends. You would gain a big audience, and let's say 5% of them would convert into paying customers.
In reality, your audience goes through a longer and more complex process, which is called the 'Content Marketing Funnel', very similar to a sales funnel.
First, consumers gain awareness of an issue they experience and they realize that they need a solution. Then they research and discover alternatives, start comparing them and evaluate which one fits their needs the best. They make a purchasing decision and choose the brand which offers the best price-quality ratio and which they can identify with the best. Eventually, if they like the product, they will stay loyal to the brand and become advocates, passing on the information to other consumers in their reach.
For each one of these stages, you can create content that moves your prospects through the sales funnel and turns them into loyal customers.
Why is SEO important in content marketing?
Consumers in the awareness stage in the past received information about a brand's products in the TV, newspaper or from the Yellow pages. Today, if they are looking for answers to their pressing issues, they simply Google it.
(Note: I refer to Google in this article as it's the most widely used search engine in Europe - used by more than 90% of the online population - but for a global strategy other engines such as Yahoo and Bing must be taken into consideration as well.)
Marketers often make the joke: "you can hide a dead body on the 3rd page of Google and no one will find it." Studies revealed that over 96% of the people click on the top 3 results in Google, while most of them don't go past the first page (which shows the top 10 results). Thus, once someone googles a topic or keyword relevant to your brand, your goal is to show up with your content the top results. To reach your aim, you need to understand the fundamentals of SEO and optimize your content.
SEO stands for search engine optimization and it is the practice of increasing the quality and quantity of traffic on your website.
So how does Google work? It uses a smart algorithm. When you enter a search query, it crawls the websites, indexes them based on several pieces of information and then the algorithm ranks the results based on over 200 factors. As the search engine mission is to provide relevant and quality information to the audience, they study factors in your content, for example:
- How relevant are the website's title, headings, and the entire text to the keywords the search query was looking for?
- Is the page easy to use, is it mobile friendly?
- Is the page technically well set up, does it load fast?
- Do people spend a lot of time reading the content? Or do they leave the page instantly?
SEO grew into an entire profession over the past couple of years as Google keeps updating its algorithm that's becoming smarter and smarter, providing more quality experience for the browsers. If you want to stay visible with your content you must create optimized content as it equals quality content.
How to figure out what the audience wants?
To get started with your content's optimization, the first step is to stop talking about yourself.
Start digging deep into what your target audience wants and create content to serve their information needs. You want to answer the following questions:
- What is your audience concerned about?
- What issues do they have?
- How are they solving that problem now?
- What information do they need and how can we help them?
There are a few tools out there, offering a free version, that you can use to figure out the answers to the above.
Google Trends is a free tool by Google that provides information about the search engine results for each given topic, showing related keywords that are frequently searched. You can also compare 2 topics and see which one performs better.
SimilarWeb can be used to do a quick comparison of two websites, identify where their traffic comes from, what keywords are they ranking for and identify some websites which are similar.
SEMrush offers several tools that can help you to conduct competitive research. You can enter your own domains or the ones of your competitors and see which keywords are they ranking for and what ad copies do they use, which can be both a source of inspiration and ground for keyword research when positioning your content in the first place.
Frequently Asked Questions
Customers are looking for information online so they turn to social media and the brand's website when they have questions.
Monitor your customers frequently raised issues and research the questions they are asking from your competitors to brainstorm ideas for your content.
A great example is Lufthansa's online customer support and the content they create to help their passengers with their flights. In this example, someone wanted to know how to travel with his dog from Costa Rica to Germany and the airline's website provided a detailed answer to help him.
People are buying from brands they like and trust, so matching your content with their values can go a long way.
Once you brainstormed your content ideas and backed them up with data, you should consider the tone you are going to choose. For this, keep in mind 3 basic principles: transparency, honesty, and engagement as studies have shown that these are essentials to form a bond with your audience.
Let's see some great examples!
A leading brand in the field of transparency is Buffer. They published the Buffer + Transparency page where they list all the efforts they made to turn into a radically transparent company. Clearly, the bold move gave Buffer a good edge to differentiate in a very saturated marketplace.
The software development company published a comprehensive list of each employee's salary by name and a salary calculator, where anyone can calculate the wage they would earn based on a formula that considers the position, experience, and cost of living.
McDonald's is frequently criticized for the quality of their food. As a response, they launched the 'Our Food. Your Questions.' campaign and content series where they answer tough questions people ask related to the sourcing, quality measures and processes they use.
In a world where communication between the brand and the consumers is mutual, people are expecting engagement from companies, even if the comments they receive are negative. Make sure to always give an opportunity to your target audience to leave a comment and share their opinion on your brand and content, then make sure to answer. This practice goes hand in hand with customer service and being part of a creative experience is always delightful for the audience.
Revolut, a digital bank, has introduced Rita, Revolut's Intelligent Troubleshooting Assistant. Rita allows the brand to give instant customer support to their users, while it offers a lot of space for creativity when it comes to communication with the audience. However, when even Rita can't answer some questions, the Revolut team is always available on Facebook or via Twitter to help.
Case Study: the Finance Industry
An excellent example of showcasing the impact of great content marketing is the financial industry. Financial marketers are operating in a highly regulated market so they are lacking opportunities to shape the products, yet they need to earn the trust of the audience.
As a result, financial brands are investing large amounts of marketing budget to stay on top in a consumer-centered market. However, they frequently encounter the problem that understanding financial products requires knowledge, and as a result, deeper education of customers. The 2008 financial crisis also shook the trust in the market, which makes the mission even more difficult to complete today.
A survey by Contently has outlined that Millenials in particular, are reluctant to engage with the financial industry and 30% of them didn’t trust companies providing financial services, while another 43% were unsure. ⅔ of them are also using AdBlocking software, while almost half stated that they would be more likely to trust these companies if they provided useful content.
The solution? Top financial brand are turning to the creation of high-quality, educational content.
Kabbage has posted ‘Kabbage Stories’ to share how they helped some small businesses to succeed by providing them loans. At the bottom of the funnel, it’s a great tactic to use content assets, such as testimonials and case studies, that reflect the opinion of others. Why? Research shows that people do trust recommendations, while most of them trust tips by their peers (92%), they even rely on the opinion of people they don’t even know (70%). The brand’s content is easy to consume while it builds trust in the reader.
Bank of America took a step even further and they teamed up with an educational platform, Khan Academy. Together, they built ‘Better Money Habits’, an online course for those who want to become better informed when it comes to using their money. The page is filled with videos, stats, infographics, calculators and even mini quizzes to test your knowledge. As of today, the website is close to reaching 1 million page views.
A McKinsey study showed that a 10% increase in customer satisfaction can impact revenues by 2-3%.
When you plan and create content for your company make sure to provide actionable information that matches your audience's values. In no time, you will see the rise in customer happiness and your marketing machine will turn into a revenue-generating one, making your content your most precious intangible asset.
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Book - Joe Pulizzi: Content Inc
Movie - thestoryofcontent.com