Content marketing may be a current buzzword, but it isn’t a new concept.
Smart marketers figured out how to produce content their customers value as early as 1895, when John Deere published a high-quality magazine (Outbrain) to help farmers become more effective and more profitable.
Today, audiences are savvier and more connected than ever, prompting an explosion of content across channels and segments. At the same time, content marketing pros are getting more pressure to prove their efforts equal results—and dollars—that are as memorable as the stories they share.
To build a content marketing program that drives big results, here are some things to consider:
Pinpoint a problem you can solve for your audience.
Effective content marketing solves problems—and generates revenue—by building relationships that focus on the customer. Start by pinpointing the customer need. Is it window coverings for homes with young kids? Creative solutions for bathroom ventilation? Smart home technology that’s powerful yet easy to use?
Successful content marketing programs solve a problem the competition is not already addressing or solve a problem in a new way.
Remember, content should always educate first and sell second. Above all, it should communicate your unique solution in a compelling fashion that’s also engaging, authentic and actionable.
Identify the hurdles that stand between you and the sale.
Consider why would-be customers don’t buy your products. Is your installation process challenging? Are your products difficult to understand? Are people unaware that they need your products? Are they unclear about how and where to purchase them?
Once you pinpoint those hurdles, remove or lower them by sharing the right information and getting it into the right people’s hands. If you succeed, your new customers will feel confident about their decision.
Tell a story.
People remember stories, not facts and figures. Storytelling forges an emotional connection, too, which can influence brand loyalty and repeat purchases.
So, how do we define storytelling from a content marketing perspective? This is still an intimidating concept for many people tasked with driving their company’s bottom line. “I’m just trying to sell a piece of tile. That piece of tile doesn’t have a story. It’s ceramic. Someone made it in a factory.”
The physical tile isn’t the story. Instead, the story is easy installation or great customer service or the memories families make in a beautiful kitchen.
Effective content marketing takes what’s most meaningful and allows the audience to consume and place themselves within the resulting narrative. It helps them overcome whatever hurdle prevented them from purchasing the product. It drives them to a solution that makes their lives easier or happier or more meaningful. Maybe it helps them choose the right blinds or shades for their home, where previously they felt paralyzed by the quantity of window treatment choices available online.
If you sell products in the home and building category, your customers might be in the market for them only once a year or even once a decade. After all, homeowners don’t install skylights or replace their kitchen appliances every weekend. They need a lot of education at many points on their customer journey. They probably won’t remember every product’s technical specs—meeting requirements is table stakes. What will drive the purchase is how confident they are in a product’s ability to become an enjoyable part of their everyday lives.
To gain confidence, they need a story—and they need you to deliver it.
Understand this: If you build it, they won’t come.
Crafting your story isn’t enough; you also have to bring the right audience to it. Successful content marketers understand where their audience seeks information and when they’re in a learning mindset. Then they bring targets to the best place for them to learn: their brand’s content.
They also understand that content marketing is not a zero-sum game. It’s unlikely that you’ll drive a sale the first time a person visits your site or engages with your content. You also need a well-planned retargeting strategy built to move targets through the customer journey.
Create conversations, not campaigns.
Often, when content marketing fails, it fails because the company executes it as a campaign with specific start and end dates, instead of a continual effort or conversation with a defined audience.
These companies aren’t truly invested in content marketing. They don’t make it part of their marketing DNA. They decide they need a content marketing program, so they create a microsite and drive traffic to it for a month or two. Then, they stop adding new content. Their products change, and one day they take the site down.
Don’t misuse paid search.
For some brands, it’s tempting to only drive paid search campaigns to destinations aimed at a purchase conversion. But people who are searching may not be ready to buy—often they’re looking for answers or solutions to their problems.
Your job, as a content marketer, is to provide those answers, turn your brand into a trusted resource, get them into the sales process and retarget them with less-expensive media later, when they’re ready to buy.
Never confuse sales with results.
Content marketers should always measure their efforts, but it can be tempting to skip straight to sales conversion, when succeeding on softer metrics such as education and inspiration are crucial to get the sale. To translate your content marketing program to sales dollars, you may have to inspire your audience to want something they’ve never owned or educate them on a purchase process they don’t understand. These aspects take time, but they have big potential.
Patience is a virtue, and it’s essential for content marketers. Consider Johnson & Johnson, which created a free media platform and turned it into a profit generator. Today, the company’s BabyCenter.com reaches more than 51 million parents worldwide. Meanwhile, it influences those hyper-targeted consumers with product messaging and collects data the Johnson & Johnson family of companies can, in turn, infuse into their advertising.
Ready to get started? Mine your site. Determine what drives clicks today. Take time to understand your customers’ questions or problems and where a solid content marketing approach can fill in the gaps. Recalibrate your content and your advertising according to how people are using your site. Tell your story.
John Mader is a VP and director of connections for Wray Ward. A version of this article originally appeared on the Wray Ward blog.