What is Content Marketing? - Instapage Guide

What is Content Marketing?

Chapter 1

What is Content Marketing?

At the most basic level, content marketing is a strategic way of creating and distributing content that engages your target audience and persuades them to take an action.

The content itself can vary and includes (but is not limited to) blog posts, ebooks, white papers, webinars, videos, podcasts, and landing pages. These types of assets can help you build your brand value and create a sense of loyalty among your audience, so when you finally ask them to perform an action they are more willing to do so.

A Brief History of Content Marketing

Content marketing is not a new concept. It was first introduced back as early as 1895 when John Deere used its customer magazine ‘The Furrow’ to solve farmer’s problems and encourage them to use the latest farming technologies through the power of content.

Content marketing in 1895 was performing the same function it is today, i.e. engaging users with useful and relevant information and persuading them to take an action, leading to an increase in business growth.

The major component that has changed is content consumption. The way we consume content has transformed with the invention of the internet, so the barriers to entry have disappeared. Now, marketers don’t need platforms such as The Wall Street Journal to reach audiences. Marketers can create personalized content for target audiences and distribute it to them on channels their audience prefers much easier than ever before.

Today, technological advancements make it easier for marketers to make sense of data and communicate with the end user on a more personal level, too. For example, you can make use of artificial intelligence to simplify data and create better customer experiences. Furthermore, you can even use chatbots to engage potential customers in meaningful conversations.

Why is Content Important?

In digital marketing, content is used as a powerful tool to communicate with prospects. Content separates a brand and defines its distinct value among its readers. High-quality, engaging content can generate search and social media traffic and compel readers to share it on different social media outlets and other channels.

Brands use content to enhance the current and future value of their product or service, so they need content for consistent communication. With valuable content, they attract more potential customers and increase their brand credibility. However, the goal of producing high-quality content is not merely limited to acquiring new customers but also increasing the lifetime value of current customers and retaining them.

People prefer to associate themselves with high-value brands. And even if they don’t buy instantly, they like to see what that particular brand is developing for the future. For example, many people cannot afford to purchase a new Mercedes-Benz, yet, their Facebook page has more than 20 million followers. All of those 20 million people are not Mercedes customers, but they keep up with the brand because they find their updates engaging.

Users love to associate themselves with a brand that provides them with reliable and high-value stories. And in the digital marketing world, users often provide their email address to read and engage with these stories. In turn, this helps increase a brand’s subscription base and allow them to spread their message even further.

Content Marketing Mediums

Content marketing is a strategic way of telling your story; how the story gets told is up to you and the audience you want to engage. You can use different mediums or content assets in your content marketing campaigns, such as blog posts, videos, webinars, podcasts and landing pages.

Different content assets work differently for different brands. Your audience will tell you what they prefer and what works for them by their engagement level with each asset. The key is, do some research and dig into your analytics to find the answers for the questions you’re asking.

Some main content assets and mediums you can use for your content marketing campaigns include:

Email Marketing

When email lists are highly segmented and messages are distributed properly, email marketing has proven to have a high return on investment. In fact, Smart Insights indicates that, 93% of B2B marketers reported using email to distribute content.

The primary purpose of every email marketing campaign should be to educate, nurture, convert, and ultimately retain satisfied customers. It is is an essential ingredient of any digital marketing strategy as marketers and agencies can use it at every step of their content marketing funnel:

Sending a generic, non-personalized email weekly or monthly won’t get you anywhere. Rather, a segmented database and email sends that are targeted at each buyer person is required. By dividing your email lists into segments, not only does personalization become easier for you but the recipients are more likely to engage with the message and share it, too.

For example, to segment your lists properly, here are some sample questions to ask new subscribers:

  • Do you prefer, daily, weekly, or monthly emails?
  • Which type of content do you like? Blog posts, infographics, or videos?
  • What is your primary role in the organization?
  • What goals are you trying to accomplish?

To demonstrate, here is CoSchedule’s landing page sign-up form, of which all fields are generic:

CoSchedule Landing Page Example of Signup Page

Upon completion, the form expands and requests more detailed information about the online user — including team size, and the user’s main goal:

CoSchedule Landing Page with Popup Form Fields

The purpose of this form is to bucket the users in a particular segment and qualify he/she accordingly. By designing the form this way, CoSchedule can send higher-targeted emails while providing more relevant content that proves they can help solve the user’s problems. Granted, all those emails will likely be automated, but they’ll at least be personalized because of the information CoSchedule has already collected.

Email marketing automation is a behavioral targeting email sequence that triggers when users interact with your product or services on different channels like your website, social media, or emails. According to Marketo:

63% of companies successful in marketing automation plan to increase their marketing automation budget.

To increase your chances of engaging and nurturing prospects as well as retaining customers, combining email marketing with marketing automation is an industry best practice.

Blogs

Blogs play a significant role in content marketing strategy. As the importance of content marketing rises, blogging has become a primary means for brands to establish expertise and distribute a message. Blog articles can become a huge source of education, induce loyalty, and can shorten your sales cycle by providing target audiences with consistent, relevant, and useful information.

Blogging also has certain SEO advantages. Every blog post helps increase the number of pages of your website, which are crawled by search engines. According to HubSpot “businesses with websites of 401-1000 pages get 6x more leads than those with 51-100 pages”. By writing better quality content and incorporating the right keywords, each post helps attract increasing amounts of search traffic to your site so that your brand attracts the right audience.

In addition to expertise and SEO benefits, blogging has the power to lower your customer acquisition cost. That’s because every blog post gives you an opportunity to attract more search traffic to your site — leading to the possibility of converting readers into customers.

Sending an email newsletter to leads not only educates your potential customers but also keeps them loyal to your brand and pushes them further down the sales funnel. Brands use several techniques to re-engage their blog visitors.

HubSpot, for instance, uses a complementary lead magnet at the end of each blog post to increase the probability of conversion. So, on a blog post titled, “10 Examples of Successful Co-Branding Partnerships (And Why They’re So Great)” they have the following CTA:

HubSpot Lead Magnet Example

At Instapage we use an exit intent form on our blog to increase our subscription base:

Instapage Blog Signup Form on the Website

Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing which rose to popularity in 2016, involves using influencers (people your target audience admires, follows, and looks to for expertise) to promote and sell products and services via social media and other media platforms.

Within influencer marketing campaigns there are three tiers:

  1. Micro-influencers: These have a limited reach of influence i.e. immediate circle of friends, family, and colleagues.
  2. Power/middle influencers: People who have organic social media followers between 10,000 and 250,000 come in this tier. Middle influencers have the highest level of impact on their audience because they trust their reviews and opinions, which makes them more likely to listen and engage with what they are saying.
  3. Top tier influencers/celebrities: Celebrities have the highest audience reach of all the influencer tiers as they often have millions of social media followers. However, they charge a premium for their endorsements and have a lesser probability of persuading their visitors to buy something compared to power influencers.

This Instagram post features a middle tier influencer promoting a green tea ice cream to their audience:

An Instagram post featuring a middle influencer promoting green tea ice cream to an audience

To measure the success of influencer marketing, it’s important that you keep an eye on metrics such as impressions, views, reach, cost per view (CPV), and cost per engagement (CPE).

The unique characteristic that makes influencer marketing a success is that it involves persuading real people to produce content they know audiences will respond to. It helps you stay on trend and strengthen brand identity, with the help of influencers whom audiences already find credible, making your brand more credible.

Landing Pages

A landing page is a standalone web page created to promote a single offer and get visitors to take action. This action can vary from signing up for a free trial, registering for a webinar to downloading a white paper and more.

Landing pages contain persuasive elements such as compelling headlines, no off-page navigation, a lead capture form, social proof, explanatory videos, and a strong call-to-action that convince visitors to convert.

You can use landing pages in your content marketing arsenal regardless of your business industry and niche. Smartsheet uses the following landing page to promote their free trial:

Smartsheet Free Trial Landing Page Example

Landing pages are essential pieces of every content marketing campaign, as they help optimize the visitors’ journey from the ad to your page.

Webinars

Every high-quality content asset has three main goals it should fulfill:

  1. Provide educational and relevant information that interests your target audience.
  2. Give answers to the biggest concerns and problems that your audience is facing.
  3. Increase online visibility and credibility.

Webinars help you achieve all three goals because they help educate your audience in a format that offers a deeper level of engagement. But what exactly are webinars?

A webinar is a live meeting, presentation, discussion, educational session, or a product demonstration. Webinars can be viewed online by users, and can also be saved and archived for the future (in your monthly email newsletter, for example). This video content format is generally focused on one topic and conducted to educate and inform attendees about subjects related to the brand’s main value proposition.

Webinars can help establish leadership and authority in your industry because they offer you the unique opportunity to partner up with influential personalities or brands and address potential customers from a joint platform.

A common section of webinars is the Q&A (typically at the end) where presenters have the opportunity to have a personal connection with their audience. During this portion, the audience gets a chance to ask questions about the content, which gives presenters an opportunity to eliminate any doubts about them from purchasing the product.

As an example, Instapage hosts a weekly webinar to educate audiences the importance of landing pages, advertising personalization, and how to scale landing page production with the platform:

Instapage Weekly Webinar Series Featuring Ander Frischer

Podcasts

At the end of 2016, more than 57 million Americans were listening to podcasts on at least a monthly basis — a 23% increase over 2015. Clearly, audio content assets used in content marketing continue to gain popularity.

Podcasts offer marketers the opportunity to reach out to their audience with minimal investment, on a platform that currently has a lot of shareability. Since podcasts are quicker to digest marketers are using them in their content marketing campaigns to establish thought leadership and credibility among their target audience.

Inviting guest speakers on podcasts is a great way to take advantage of the shared audience pool to discuss your brand’s unique value proposition. Including a CTA at the end of each podcast provides a customer acquisition opportunity.

Instapage hosts podcasts that feature marketing thought leaders from Silicon Valley and beyond who share their stories of breaking through the noise to build respected brands and successful businesses.

Before you decide which content assets you would like to invest in for your content marketing campaigns, it’s essential that you define your buyer personas so you know what the audience prefers.

Create Buyer Personas

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and the data you’ve collected from your existing customers. Connecting with relevant customers is an important step of any marketing strategy, a buyer persona is a simple way to narrow down your potential customers. Creating buyer personas helps you answers the question of how and why people buy.

By identifying your target buyer personas you can determine what they like and what they don’t, you can find out if they are facing any challenges and what resources do they have to solve those problems? Detailed buyer personas help you gain valuable and relevant information about your ideal customers.

Dividing buyer personas into segments based on the information you’ve managed to collect, helps you target content marketing campaigns more efficiently.

However, your buyer personas should not include more than 2 or 3 large segments. As, a different chunk of buyers responds to different marketing techniques, having 10 or 12 buyer persona segments can create problems for you. Remember that each profile segment needs a lot of attention. Multiple profiles will create more confusion – they can affect your budget and force you to spread a thin layer of attention on all your segments.

Interviewing your customers is the best way to collect information about your potential buyers as with the technique you can collect top notch qualitative data such as what motivated them to buy your product or service. Especially, people who have recently purchased your product will give you better insights about their buying experience.

As interviews are a part of qualitative research, they give you an opportunity to ask direct and in-depth questions – so asking your customers ‘what motivated them to act in a certain way?’ Can reveal several pain points of your potential customers.

Asking your customers their final decision-making process of buying your product can help refine your value proposition.

Understand Your Customer Journey

Mapping out your customer journey gives you an algorithm of how your potential customers become aware of your company or brand, how they interact with it and when they enter into different buying cycles.

Autopilot is a marketing automation tool that helps automate customer journeys. You can use Autopilot or similar tools to collect audience data as well. The data collected will be helpful in predicting customers’ actions as customer behaviour data can help you understand why customers are performing certain actions while interacting with your content.

Here, the main goal of your content is to educate your potential customers at different stages of their customer journey. Remember, customers at different levels of their journey need different types of content.

Customer journey mapping helps you decide the needs of your users. When they need short blog posts, when they need how-to-videos, when they need detailed guides, and when they need coupons and special offers.

You can map out different types of content which you show to your customers at different stages of their journey.

Content Marketing Frameworks

Analyzing content marketing frameworks helps you answer the question why you need content and how content marketing works. Let’s look at the two frameworks most often used in content marketing.

Andrew Davis introduced the content quadrant model. The model answers the fundamental question of why we need content. It dictates that a brand or a product needs content to highlight the problems of their target audience and how they can solve them.

In other words; content is the key to building trust among your target audience for a particular product or service, to help produce subscriptions.

Brand Awareness + Unique Value = Subscriptions

A consistent flow of high-quality content reminds your customers that they are a part of a credible brand. It creates a sense of loyalty and increases the lifetime value of your customers and raises retention.

Andrew Davis discusses three major goals of content production in his model:

    a. The first goal is to produce owned media or traffic which is unique to your brand, and you can control. The heart of any content marketing campaign is to enhance your subscription base. All your social media channels, your blog, and newsletter subscribers are your owned media.
    For example; imagine the reach of a brand that has 1 million followers on its Twitter account as compared to a brand that has only 1 thousand followers.

    b. The second goal of producing content is to win more by using your content on different social media and search engines. There are many brands out there which run native advertising campaigns on different social media channels.
    The purpose of these campaigns is to attract more followers and broaden the subscription base. Remember different advertising campaigns run at different funnel levels and target different audiences.

    c. The third goal of content marketing is to grow your customer experience or earned media. Your goal is to create evergreen pieces of content in such a strategic way that they gain organic ranking in different search engines listings. These search engine results will introduce your brand to a multitude of potential customers.

Once your brand is able to effectively distribute its unique value among its audience, people will become your referrals through word of mouth. Loyal customers will share your content, give reviews on different community forums, recommend and give a shout out to your product or brand on social media.

Content Marketing Framework by CMI

The content marketing framework was developed by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose of Content Marketing Institute in 2013. They updated the framework in 2017 after a series of experimentations and insights collected by observing which part of their framework performed well while working with well over 100 brands:

CMI Content Marketing Framework Chart

Purpose & Goals

A content marketing mission statement will help you prioritize your goals. It will help you define which tactic, channels and techniques help you achieve your goals.
According to the model, content marketing essentially helps you achieve three different goals:

The holistic purpose of content marketing is to engage audiences. So, whatever content-based campaign you are running to achieve your short-term goals, your sole purpose is not to create campaign-based content (because campaigns are short-term and run dry as they end) but your purpose is to create content around your main value proposition that drives your content marketing mission statement.

A content marketing mission statement will help you prioritize your goals. It will help you define which tactic, channels and techniques help you achieve your goals.
According to the model, content marketing essentially helps you achieve three different goals:

  • Campaign goals: Value-driven content marketing can accelerate your sales related goals. Content can make the sales process more efficient as your target audience, who are already your subscribers have consumed some or a lot of your content. So, they will smoothly travel through your sales funnel.
  • Cost saving goals: Data collected from your audience will help you locate your target audience in the sales funnel. Those who have consumed more content have travelled down your sales funnel and are likely to convert easily. So, your paid advertising campaigns work efficiently to target those prospects.
  • Business-growth goals: Once you have streamlined one asset you can develop other areas and attract more audiences. For example, once the Instapage blog gained a lot of traction, we ventured into creating marketing guides, podcasts, marketing videos and a marketing dictionary.

Audience

Audience plays an integral role in content marketing because they help you gather data – they allow you to gauge the success or failure of your campaigns.

How would you know if the blog post you just wrote has successfully completed its conversion goal if you don’t have any data i.e. you don’t know the post if the post engaged or didn’t engage your audience to take an action.

An engaged audience provides you with data. This is why subscribers have an important role in content marketing, because they allow you to measure current content assets and then create streamlined content assets for the future.

Moving from top to bottom of your marketing funnel, you can collect data at 3 levels of subscriber framework.

  • An engage subscription is measured by looking at who read your content and clicked through to other pages. You can look at the metric of new and returning visitors and also measure which content page got more traction by looking at your Google Analytics. Your RSS subscription is also a great way to measure your content reach.
  • An inspire subscription is measured by collecting in-depth insights from returning visitors through polls and surveys.
  • A reach subscription is the audience which is willing to subscribe in exchange for their contact information. You can bring them in your subscription circle by offering them valuable content. For example you can offer them an ebook, white paper or personal case study in exchange for their information.

Story

Marketers are in the habit of telling their audience what their value proposition is, and how their product or service can solve the audience’s problem. What they aren’t in the habit of telling are good stories that have the power to engage their audience.

Good stories don’t simply inform your audience about your product, they inspire them. When brands are able to create a good narrative they motivate their audiences to stay connected with the brand and persuades visitors to take action.

TOMS’ narrative of ‘One for One’ pulls at people’s heartstrings – who wouldn’t want to ‘improve lives’ when it doesn’t even cost them anything extra:

How TOMS as a brand using persuasive story technique to influence audience

Process

Process is the plan of action- it explains everyone’s roles. For example, if initially you want to focus on your blog, here are some questions you need to answer:

  • Who will right the first draft?
  • Who will edit the draft?
  • At what time is it going to publish?
  • Which media channels should be used?
  • Which tools are going to help gain more productivity?

It is important that your content marketing plan should have an overall purpose, it shouldn’t have an end date on it. Your content marketing should focus on iterating and improving your existing campaigns to pave the way for more focused and improved campaigns.

Measurement

Measuring your business’ success is important but you need to define your goals first.
Setting up your goals will determine what you want to measure, and will help inform your future content marketing campaigns.

These content marketing models can come in handy when creating your content marketing plan as they give you a blueprint of what you need to do and what you can expect your content to achieve.

Content marketing has the potential to positively impact your business growth by engaging your audience with the right content asset on the right channel. The success of your content marketing campaigns lie in creating an effective content marketing strategy, which is what the next chapter of the guide discusses.

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