What Is Content Marketing? Attract & Retain Your Audience in 2020

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Did you know that nearly 70% of B2B marketers have a documented content marketing strategy? Companies that publish at least 16 posts per month get about 4.5 times more leads than those publishing four posts or less. Content marketing drives brand awareness and can take your small business to the next level. It's also an effective way to engage your audience, increase customer loyalty and attract qualified leads.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Content marketing is a highly effective form of marketing that can drive profitable customer action, increase brand awareness and help you build stronger relationships with your target audience. Compared to traditional marketing, it's less promotional, more affordable and easier to measure.

Content Marketing at a Glance

Think about your favorite brands — they all use content in one form or another to educate their audience, nurture subscribers, share product updates or generate sales. Adidas, for instance, has a blog featuring workout tips, sports news and interviews with popular athletes. Google uses its blog to share inspiring stories, digital marketing tips, technology trends and updates on its latest projects. Head over to Etsy's blog and you'll find thousands of posts on gift giving, home decor trends, fashion, DIY and everything in between.

The content marketing industry is expected to reach a whopping $412.8 billion by 2021. Companies worldwide are seeing the value of quality content. About 84% of the most successful B2B marketers rely on it to build customer loyalty, while 83% use it to increase customer engagement. Furthermore, 75% say that good content helps generate sales and revenue, reports the Content Marketing Institute.

According to a report by Demand Metric, 90% of businesses use content to maximize their marketing efforts. Nearly 80% of chief marketing officers say that custom content is the future of marketing. It not only drives website traffic but also increases sales, builds trust and provides value to your audience. Plus, it costs about 62% less than traditional marketing strategies, making it ideal for small businesses that want to get the most out of every dollar spent.

Most small-business owners start with a blog they manage themselves and outsource copywriting later. If, say, you own a local gym, you can blog about the benefits of exercise, share workout tips or publish training videos on your blog. You can even build new income streams by creating a members-only section that features premium content, training plans and expert tips.

What Is Content Marketing?

Content marketing comes in many forms, from blog posts and newsletters to videos and infographics. Case studies, white papers, e-books and podcasts are just a few to mention. However, few small business owners know how to leverage quality content to raise brand awareness and turn prospects into buyers.

This form of digital marketing is all about storytelling — that's one of the reasons it works so well. Today's consumers are bombarded with advertisements and flashy gimmicks. When they go online, they expect to find valuable and consistent content that matches their interests. Content marketing aims to anticipate and meet their needs by delivering engaging, relevant information in the form of blog posts, how-to-guides, news and so on.

The idea behind this concept is that brands must give something of value to their audience to get something valuable in return. Think of it as a strategic approach focused on creating and distributing relevant content to a highly targeted audience. If you do it right, you will build stronger customer relationships, make your voice heard and expand your reach.

However, you can't just post on your blog every now and then and expect to get results. Content marketing is an integral part of inbound marketing, a business methodology that aims to attract, engage and delight the target customers. Its goal is to provide the right content to the right audience at the right time, which in turn leads to more sales and greater customer satisfaction. To put it simply, inbound marketing requires quality content to work.

How It All Started

Content marketing has been around for centuries in one form or another. Back in the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin published "Poor Richard’s Almanack" to spread the word about his printing business. The "Edison Electric Lighting Company Bulletin," which was issued in the 19th century, aimed to raise awareness of electric lighting and its benefits. "Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment," a booklet published by Johnson & Johnson in 1888, appealed to medical professionals to whom the company sold bandages.

Content marketing isn't just a passing trend. Every brand has a story to tell. Whether you're a startup or an established business, you can leverage the power of content to share your story and build your brand's reputation.

What's different today is the shift to online media, meaning that buyers are consuming content in new ways. In this digital era, consumers go online to learn about products, connect with brands and research the topics about which they care. By creating different types of content, marketers can attract and engage prospects in smarter, more effective ways.

Creating a Content Marketing Strategy

Content marketing is an ongoing process and can take months to generate results. Expect to go through a period of trial and error to discover what works best for your small business.

Before getting started, you'll need to determine your target audience, what content formats to use, what problem you are solving and more. Think of your content marketing strategy as a road map that tells you how to attract, engage and convert readers into loyal customers through high-quality content.

This road map not only guides your content writing efforts but also outlines the best ways to promote your work and create a sense of community around your brand. Furthermore, it will position your company as an industry expert and define your brand voice. Follow these steps to create a content marketing strategy that works:

  • Define your mission and goals: Set clear objectives for your content marketing campaign, whether it's more traffic, increased sales, brand awareness or social media engagement.

  • Know your readers: Collect demographic data and define your target audience.

  • Set key performance indicators: Determine how you will track your content marketing efforts. Keep an eye on the number of signups, email subscribers, social media mentions, website traffic, return on investment and more.

  • Assess your current situation: Use website analytics tools to see which of your posts perform best and how your content compares to that of your competitors. Try to identify problem areas and seek ways to improve them. Optimize your current content for search engines.

  • Choose the best content channels: Use Google Analytics or Buzzsumo to find out from where your website visitors are coming. For example, if most of your traffic comes from social media, focus on creating engaging content for Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and other social networks. Consider your audience, your industry and the type of business you run.

  • Map your content marketing strategy: Decide what types of content you want to use, such as videos, blog posts, guest posts or slideshows, and how often you'll publish. Use a content calendar to schedule your posts.

  • Track your results: Collect qualitative and quantitative data to determine how your content performs. Again, use analytics tools to track website traffic, bounce rates, conversions and other key performance indicators.

Diversify Your Content Marketing Efforts

When it comes to building a successful content marketing plan, the key is to adapt your efforts based on previous results. No campaign is perfect right from the start. That's why you need to constantly adapt and experiment with new strategies.

For example, if you're not getting enough traffic, consider setting up more targeted landing pages for long-form content, such as how-to guides. Use Google Trends to discover popular topics and then try to cover those that relate to your business. Check your competitors too. See which of their pages get the most traffic and comments, cover the same topics from a different perspective and optimize your posts for the target keywords.

Don't be afraid to create new types of content. Blog posts are not your only option. In fact, more than one-third of content marketers prioritize visual images, and 24% use videos to attract and engage their audience. According to a HubSpot survey, companies that leverage video content receive 41% more web traffic and grow 49% quicker than nonusers.

Sharing inspiring photos and videos on your blog and social media pages is a great way to increase customer engagement. Consider posting behind-the-scenes videos on Facebook or LinkedIn to tell your brand story and give your business a human face. If you’re targeting business professionals, create industry reports, white papers, e-books or webinars. Think about the challenges they face and then create relevant content to address their pain points.

Should You Outsource Content Writing?

There's a lot that goes into content marketing. You not only need to create quality content but also publish regularly and use different formats. The more frequently you post, the more traffic you get. Ideally, use a mix of short- and long-form content and seek creative ways to share emerging industry trends to which your readers can relate.

If you're just getting started, you can create your own content. Aim for at least two or three posts per week. However, you may need a helping hand as your business grows. Otherwise, you might find yourself spending hours writing content instead of focusing on the core aspects of your small business.

Decide whether you want to hire an in-house content creation team or outsource this task. Consider your budget and copywriting needs. For example, a company that relies heavily on visual content may need to hire photographers, video producers, copywriters and content managers, so the costs will add up. It could also outsource these activities to a public relations agency.

Think about what type of content you need, how often you'll publish new posts and what you're trying to achieve. The complexity of your industry matters too. In-house writers tend to have a better understanding of a company’s needs, branding efforts, audience and products. Creative agencies and freelancers, on the other hand, bring a creative knowledge base and can give you a fresh perspective.

Content Is Still King

At the end of the day, it's up to you to decide whether you should hire an in-house content writing team or work with an agency. The latter option involves lower costs, but an in-house team may create more personalized content. Ideally, do what you can on your own or hire a professional copywriter and outsource video creation, photography or graphic design.

Your content should do more than engage your audience. It also needs to educate and inform prospective buyers, convey your message to the target customers and drive profitable customer action. Although the benefits are not immediate, your efforts will pay off in the long run.

A well-thought-out content marketing strategy can lead to higher visibility in search engines, more social and referral traffic, increased return on investment and lower advertising costs. Considering these aspects, it makes sense to invest time and energy into creating content that provides real value to your audience. Many small businesses are not doing much in this regard yet, so you'll have a competitive advantage if you jump in today.