Since content marketing became a thing, many organisations have felt the pressure to do it. They set out to produce lots of content for the web and social media, but without a clear idea of how to achieve their goals. The result: poor engagement and very little return on investment. In this post, I’ll set out my three fundamental principles of content marketing. These principles underpin any successful attempt to build an audience and drive conversions with content. I’ll also provide a set of questions to consider at every stage of developing and executing your content marketing strategy.
A is for Audience
Who are you making content for?
Your audience is anyone that your organisation wants to have an influence on. That might mean selling them a product, signing them up to your newsletter, or making sure they’ve heard of you. For most organisations, lumping all these people together isn’t very helpful from a content marketing point of view. That’s why it’s a good idea to segment your audience.
Audiences can be arranged into segments based on a number of different characteristics. Consumer-facing brands often group audience members together that share demographic qualities, e.g. age, location, spending power. B2B brands tend to concentrate on business sector, job role, function or seniority.
What are their aspirations?
I prefer to segment audiences based on their aspirations. If you want people to engage with your content, and go on to form a relationship with your brand, then it makes sense to focus on what those people are trying to achieve, and how your content and brand can help them do it.
To begin building a set of audience segments, my advice is to concentrate on the highest value audiences first. Out of your existing customers, who are the highest value ones? Which of them represent the kind of customers you’d like to have more of? Can you pick out characteristics that these high-value customers share? If so, you have a first audience segment, for which you can set about creating a persona.
What do you want them to do?
A persona is simply a brief description of a fictional person who is representative of your audience segment. They’re useful for clarifying what your assumptions are about the audience segment – their needs/aspirations and behaviours. They should also state what goals your organisation has for them e.g. making a purchase, completing a form.
When I say brief, I mean brief. I’ve seen marketing personas that run on for pages. Full of interesting information, yes, but too much information can be hard to act on. If your audience’s location, age, or favoured brand of mobile has no impact on what you’re doing, leave it out.
Are your assumptions about your audience still valid?
One of the most important things to remember about an audience persona is that it’s a living document. It sets out what we think we know about the particular audience segment right now. But those assumptions can be invalidated by real-world experience. We may need to come up with a new set of assumptions, which will also need to be tested, once we’ve put some content out into the world.
B is for Benefits
What does your audience get from your content?
Your audience has to get something out of consuming your content. That something has to be closely related to your brand’s overarching story.
Otherwise, it’s an uphill struggle to link your brand’s offering, in the minds of the audience, to the value delivered by the content. For example, you may correctly assume that your audience is interested in being amused (who isn’t?), but is it going to help you achieve your content marketing goals to produce a video with the sole aim of making the audience laugh, when your brand has no connection with humour? Unlikely.
I find it helpful to think in this way: your content should address the very same needs in your target audience that your brand’s offering addresses, but at a higher conceptual level.
How does the content help communicate your brand story?
So, if a web design agency exists to help their clients deliver better digital experiences for their customers, then their content should also aim to help their clients deliver better digital experiences for their customers. A piece of content can’t build a website for you, but it can help you think more concretely about what you want from a website and offer practical advice on how to achieve it.
Content from a bridal wear shop can’t make a wedding dress for you, but it can help you choose the kind of dress you want, or provide design inspiration for planning your wedding.
There’s no reason your content can’t be funny, if we think the audience will respond better to funny, but funny should be the style in which the content is delivered, not the content itself.
C is for Channels
How are you going to get your content in front of your target audience?
No matter how perfectly judged your content is, how well it meets the needs of your target audience, how well produced or visually compelling it is, if you don’t get it in front of enough pairs of eyes then it isn’t going to help you meet your content marketing goals. Even the very best conversion rates fall far short of 100%, which makes content marketing a numbers game.
The choice of channels through which to publish and promote your content should be heavily informed by your audience research. Your personas should include the social media channels your audience uses, the websites they visit and other places they discover and consume media. Again, remember that these assumptions may not stack up in real life.
Which channels will help you target your audience most efficiently?
Ideally, you’re looking for channels where your target audience make up a significant portion of the whole audience. Or channels where you have the option of narrowing down the targeting to a select group which closely matches the characteristics of the relevant persona. This will help concentrate your efforts on meeting the needs of your target audience. You’ll also avoid wasting effort trying to meet the needs of irrelevant audiences.
For example, getting an article published in the Guardian Small Business Network would take a lot of work – the writing needs to be top quality, the topic would need to have broad appeal. It might be a big win for your business if your offering is relevant to everyone who reads that section. But if your target audience consists solely of accountancy firms, an article for an accountancy-specific publication might reach as many relevant people, and with a more targeted message.
The most effective content marketing strategies adhere to three simple principles. First, know who your audience is and what they’re trying to achieve. Second, provide content which helps the audience achieve their goals and which connects that value to your wider brand story. Third, publish and promote via channels where you can reach as much of your target audience as possible, without wasting valuable resources.