If you’re looking for a way to establish authority in your industry and reach your ideal audience, content marketing is the way to go.
The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Companies like Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Cisco, and John Deere use content marketing.
Increasing customer loyalty is the top reason business-to-consumer, or B2C, companies create content, at 81 percent. Sixty-four percent of these companies have committed to content marketing, resulting in higher success than their peers.
To start a content marketing initiative, begin by creating a strategy that dictates what types of content you’ll create, how often you’ll create it, and how you’ll distribute it to your audience.
Next, focus on actually creating that content — e-books, customer success stories, blog posts, social media posts, videos, infographics, and any other content that can raise brand awareness, build customer loyalty, and boost sales. Finally, identify key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of your efforts.
What content marketing doesn’t do is focus entirely on pitching your products and services directly. Instead, it takes a long-term approach to educating and building trust with your customers.
In this guide, you’ll learn
- The importance of content marketing and all the benefits that come from investing in good content marketing
- Best practices for content marketing that every company should follow
- How to create a successful content marketing funnel, including what content to provide in the awareness, evaluation, and conversion stages
- The different types of content marketing, such as video, infographics, case studies, blogging, and more
- How to create a content strategy, including what goes into it, how to make a business case for it, and how to develop goals
- The key marketing metrics to use when you measure the success of your content strategy
The importance of content marketing
If you’re not including content marketing as part of your marketing strategy, you’re missing an opportunity to connect with and educate your customers and prospects. Content marketing allows you to build trust and relationships, and it gives your prospects and customers the information they need to better evaluate your products and services before making a purchasing decision.
Content marketing can also help with your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts because search engines will index the content you post on your website and display it in search results.
What makes content marketing different from advertising is that you’re not trying to directly sell to your customers and prospects. In some cases, you’re not even mentioning a product.
For example, if you’re a specialty outdoor goods store, you might create blog posts about how to find the best camping spot and tips for taking care of your tent without specifically saying, “Buy this tent from us!” That way, even if a person isn’t ready to buy from you, they’ll still become familiar with your brand, and you’ll start building trust. In the future, when they’re ready to buy, they’ll come to your brand first.
The benefits of good content marketing
When you invest in good content marketing, you can reap a lot of benefits, including
- A significantly lower cost per lead compared to paid search. In just the first five months, companies that use content marketing see their cost per lead drop by 80 percent. Over two years, the cost drops even lower as a cumulative result of better SEO and increased customer trust.
- Three times as many leads. In addition to the decreased cost per lead, content marketing can bring you more leads for the money you spend. For every dollar spent, companies get three times more leads than with traditional marketing.
- More time spent on your site. The more content you have on your site, the more customers and prospects have to read. They’ll stick around to click through blog posts or infographics, and they’ll learn more about you and your products in the process.
- Increased search visibility. Every time you add a new post to your blog, that’s another page Google can index. More pages don’t always equal more search traffic, but they do help you rank for keywords and show up in more search queries.
- More educated customers. People search the web for something because they have a problem (or want to be entertained). If you have a solution, you can educate these customers about their options by developing content that addresses their pain points.
- Stronger customer relationships. The benefits of content marketing extend to your existing customers too. When you provide valuable content, whether it’s email newsletters or topics on your blog that are relevant and helpful, you’re building relationships and increasing the likelihood that customers come back to you when they need to buy something again.
- A shorter sales cycle. No matter what you sell, there’s a sales process for customers. If your content marketing addresses challenges that customers face at each stage of this journey, you can help steer them toward a decision faster.
- Getting in front of your target audience. You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can definitely attract your ideal customer to your website with content marketing. When you create content with them in mind, you’re more likely to reach the people who are most likely to buy from you.
- Creating brand advocates. If you create great content, your loyal customers are more likely to share it with their network. That’s a great way for you to get in front of more potential customers who are similar to your existing customers.
Content marketing best practices
There are many benefits of content marketing, but in order to get the best results, you should follow some best practices.
Make it relevant
If you want to build and maintain trust with your customers and prospects, you need to provide them with relevant content. That means appealing to them based on their interests, not just what your company thinks is important.
Build an ideal customer profile that includes the types of content your target audience already reads, the channels where they spend time (Facebook, Instagram, community forums, etc.), and the kinds of problems they’re trying to solve when they come to you.
You’ll have the most success with content marketing if you give your customers and prospects valuable information. There are a lot of unmet needs out there, and your job in content marketing is to find and address them. Conduct research into what your audience needs, like techniques to improve their workday or tutorials that guide them through complex processes.
Content marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. One piece of content won’t be enough to build trust. You can only build trust and increase awareness of your company by publishing content on an ongoing, regular basis. Deliver your content on a regular schedule, and make sure it’s high-quality content that aligns with your brand voice.
Inspiration from good content marketing campaigns
A lot of brands have already put good content marketing practices into action with their campaigns. You can take a page from their playbooks to set yourself up for success.
You can’t talk about good content marketing without mentioning HubSpot. The online CRM provider has created tons of educational content for their audience, as well as tools they can use, like a marketing persona generator.
HubSpot regularly publishes in-depth blog posts to help their customers become better marketers; they also publish free e-books that dive even deeper into topics of interest.
If you’re an outdoor adventure enthusiast, you’ve likely heard of GoPro. The camera company has gained a huge following, in no small part thanks to their content marketing efforts.
GoPro’s content marketing relies on user-generated content (UGC), and their customers are very engaged. They tag GoPro in thousands of videos on YouTube and Instagram — all of which highlight what you can do with a GoPro camera.
GoPro has also created their own video content. The GoPro YouTube channel has nearly 8 million subscribers, and their videos get millions of views. The brand has almost become synonymous with handheld adventure cameras.
One of the longest-lasting examples of content marketing is The Furrow magazine published by John Deere. The company started it to help customers with the farming and agriculture issues they faced.
As times and equipment changed, so did the format of The Furrow. It’s now online as well as in print. But it’s still going, and it’s one of the most tried-and-true examples of a company using content marketing to demonstrate their expertise.
Cosmetics presents a great opportunity for content marketing, and Sephora has capitalized on this. The beauty company created an insider community for their customers, and like GoPro, their customers create most of the content. They share tips and product recommendations, which are very valuable to the rest of the community members.
Sephora has also created interactive digital content for their customers, like the Sephora Virtual Artist. This feature in the Sephora app lets customers try on makeup virtually and gives step-by-step tutorials for using it.
Now that you know what content marketing is and why it’s important, you should start creating a content marketing strategy. In the next section, you’ll learn about the content marketing funnel, including the different stages of the funnel, to help lay the foundation for your content marketing efforts.
Creating a successful content marketing funnel
A content marketing funnel is a system that takes your prospects through the purchasing process step-by-step, from when they first become aware of your company to when they finally purchase from you.
The funnel model is used because of how leads generally move through the buying process. Think about the wide mouth of a funnel as the space where a lot of people become aware of your products and services. As they get closer to purchasing from you, leads tend to drop off, hence the narrowing of the funnel. For example, the average conversion rate for an e-commerce company is 2.9 percent, which means that for every 1,000 visitors, only around 29 ultimately become customers.
You can improve your conversion rate by creating a successful content marketing strategy that shepherds your prospects through the three stages of the buying process — awareness, evaluation, and conversion. Each of these stages will require different types of content to appeal to buyers at different stages of the decision-making process.
The awareness stage
Awareness is at the top of the funnel and is the first step to getting customers. Because the top of the funnel is the widest part, it should cast the widest net and get the most eyes on your brand.
In the awareness stage, the goal for your content is to increase brand awareness and generate leads. This content should pique the interest of as many people as possible and make them want to learn more about your brand. The goal isn’t necessarily to talk up your product. You should aim to produce informative content about the industry or problems potential customers may face.
Awareness content can include blog posts that answer high-level questions, infographics that highlight something about your industry, short but informative videos, webinars, and even the “About Us” page on your website. Top-of-the-funnel content should be useful to prospective customers, but it should also be fun, engaging, and interesting to a wide group of people. The more people who are aware of your brand, the better.
You may want to offer gated content to capture prospects with stronger buying intent. This is an opportunity to gather information about your leads by requiring them to fill out a form before accessing or downloading a piece of content, like a checklist, e-book, or guide.
For example, you can use JotForm to capture visitors’ names, email addresses, and phone numbers. This can help you identify prospects who are more likely to purchase so that you can follow up with targeted content and offers later to move them further down the funnel.
The evaluation stage
Now that all eyes are on your brand and your content, you can move to the middle of the funnel, or the evaluation stage. The middle of the funnel is narrower than the top, meaning your audience of potential customers is going to be a bit smaller and more targeted. Potential customers are already aware of your brand and are starting to consider purchasing from you.
The goals of your content in this stage are to nurture the leads you’ve already generated at the top of the funnel and track their purchasing intent. You’ve got their attention; now you need to build trust and show them what you have to offer and why you’re better than the competition. This content should still be educational, but you should also highlight product benefits and key brand differentiators.
Some of the content you can produce to achieve this goal includes email newsletters, blog posts that provide comparisons of your products versus competitors, demo videos, product descriptions, and e-books.
For instance, at this stage, you might create a series of videos that showcase the benefits of your products. Shopify took a similar approach and created videos to show potential customers how their mobile interface allowed e-commerce shop owners to quickly and easily manage their stores on the go. While the videos were entertaining and showed customers using their product in various locations, they also highlighted specific product features that help Shopify stand out from their competitors.
The conversion stage
The bottom of the funnel is where things get serious. In this stage, your content should be geared toward converting prospective customers to actual customers. Often, sales teams will use this content, so it should focus on providing information that will help leads finalize their decision to buy.
Bottom-of-the-funnel content should also focus on speeding up the purchasing process. In order to do that, you need to create content that highlights why your product offering is better than the competition. Content at this stage is usually heavily data-driven and focuses on answering any last-minute objections a buyer might have.
Examples of conversion stage content can include some of the previously mentioned content types — blogs, infographics, and videos — but the content should be more targeted and provide compelling data to persuade leads to pull the trigger. Case studies are very common types of conversion stage content, as they highlight other customers who have had success with your product and service, and include data points to back this up.
Now that you know more about the content marketing funnel, it’s time to dive deeper into the different types of content marketing we’ve mentioned.
Types of content marketing
Now that you know about the different stages of the content marketing funnel, you’re ready to start populating the funnel with content that will help move prospects through it and ultimately turn them into customers. The content you create can shepherd prospects through the buying process faster and even encourage them to spend more with you.
Each type of content has its advantages. In this section, we’ll discuss videos, infographics, case studies, white papers, blogs, surveys, questionnaires, and quizzes that will help you to engage with your audience and quicken the sales cycle.
Engage your audience with video content
Research has found that 83 percent of businesses believe that using video provides a return on investment, or ROI. This is why video content is so valuable for companies.
How-to videos, behind-the-scenes footage, and product demos can all help your audience make decisions. If they see how a product is used or how it works, or they learn more about your brand and what you stand for, they may be more likely to purchase your product or service. You can also film customer testimonials and short success stories to use as part of your content marketing strategy.
While you can publish video content on your website, adding outside distribution platforms can be very effective. YouTube is the first platform that comes to mind. Brands like Rip Curl have created an entire channel dedicated to their content that highlights the lifestyle of their customers.
You can also publish videos on social media. Post short snippets on Facebook and in an Instagram feed. With the advent of Instagram TV, you can publish longer segments of video, with a preview posted in your Instagram feed. You can also use Facebook Live and Instagram Live to stream live videos, such as a company announcement or a fun behind-the-scenes look at a project you’re working on.
Infographics make data accessible
Infographics are exactly what they sound like — graphical representations of information. Companies turn statistics and complex data into bite-sized facts that can be represented visually. This makes it easier for your audience to consume, and, as a bonus, infographics are very shareable on social media.
For example, if a survey you conduct finds that 82 percent of dog owners buy birthday presents for their furry friends, you could represent that percentage in dog bones in your infographic.
Infographics can spice up your landing pages by replacing boring bulleted lists that highlight your features and benefits. You can also add infographics to your newsletters, repurpose them for slideshows, and share snippets of them on Instagram.
Case studies make your customer the hero
Down the line in the decision-making process, your prospects may want to find out if a person or company like them had a similar problem — and if your product was the right solution. That’s where case studies, also known as customer success stories, are helpful.
A case study is a story about how one of your customers solved a problem with your product. It lays out the problem, such as difficulty keeping track of company finances. Then it discusses the solution — in this case, your company’s small business accounting software. Finally, it details the results of using the solution — 20 percent more revenue and 50 percent less time spent running financial reports.
A lot of business-to-business (B2B) companies use case studies, but they can also be valuable for business-to-consumer (B2C) companies. If you sell a complex product or service, it’s helpful for a prospect to see how it worked for someone like them. For example, a specialized gym may use success stories to highlight how their unique methodology worked to help clients lose weight when nothing else did.
Many companies post their case studies on their website, usually on a dedicated page called “Case Studies” or “Success Stories.” Some also offer their case studies as PDF downloads. You can distribute them via social media by taking pull quotes from the stories and tweeting them or using them as teasers on Facebook.
White papers dive deep into solutions
For more complex products or services, white papers can help your prospects gather more information about your business. There are three main types of white papers you can create: a classic problem-solution white paper, a listicle (like a top 10 list or checklist), or a backgrounder white paper that includes a lot of details about a product.
Most companies use the classic problem-solution white paper or listicles, which don’t mention a specific product until the end. The idea is to warm up the reader by letting them know there’s a solution to their problem and then drop in your product as the ideal solution.
Problem-solution white papers are very popular with B2B companies, particularly software companies, although they work for a lot of complex products. You can include sections like a market overview, the industry drivers creating pressure on the reader (your prospect) to choose a solution, and a checklist of things to look for when shopping for a solution.
Listicles tend to be shorter and focus more on how a problem can be solved, like “10 Ways to Improve Your Marathon Time.” They’re digestible and catch the reader’s attention quickly because of their titles.
Most companies will offer PDF downloads of their white papers on their website — behind a lead capture form, of course. Because white papers are typically downloaded by more serious buyers, it’s common to request their contact info. This way, your sales team can close the sale with some gentle nudges.
Engage new and existing customers through blogs
Regularly publishing posts on your company blog can help generate sales and engage prospects as well as current customers. You can use your blog to announce new products, provide behind-the-scenes looks at your company, demonstrate subject matter expertise by publishing commentary on an industry topic, and provide how-to instructions for products.
You can also use your blog to answer questions that members of your sales team are asked frequently, such as what customer support is like after the sale or how a certain product feature works. Not only does this help prospects make a decision, but it also helps build trust with existing customers who may be looking for answers.
Blogs are also an excellent tool for SEO. Search engines favor sites that are updated frequently, and blogs fit the bill. In addition, each post will be indexed, so you can continually conduct keyword research and write blog posts based on those keywords.
For example, you may discover through your keyword research that a lot of people search for “organic dog biscuits.” So you write a post about what to look for in organic dog biscuits, and search engines index it. Then, when someone searches for organic dog biscuits, your post will pop up in the results.
Generate leads and engagement with forms, questionnaires, and surveys
As mentioned above, forms can provide a great way to generate leads, as can questionnaires and surveys. A lot of companies put some of their bottom-of-the-funnel content behind lead capture forms, which is helpful for salespeople because they can see what the prospect was interested in and follow up with them. You can also use simple contact forms for lead generation, asking users to check the box that corresponds to their interests.
Questionnaires and surveys go deeper. You can use questionnaires and surveys to ask customers what their biggest challenges are and what they think a good price point is. You can also ask questions about what types of industries users work in or what their interests are so you can better segment your content.
Ultimately, there are a lot of different content types you can use in your content marketing strategy. The next section will delve into how to create a strategy that propels your content creation and helps you use the content to get results.
How to create a content marketing strategy
In the last section, you learned about the different types of content marketing. Now it’s time to put them all together into a content marketing strategy that drives sales.
A content marketing strategy is a complete picture of how you’ll use content to generate more business. It details everything — from who your content is for to how you’ll measure its success.
Just as you wouldn’t start a business without a business plan, the same goes for creating and distributing your content.
You need a cohesive strategy to ensure the content you’re creating and pushing out to your audience adheres to your brand voice and is valuable and relevant to them. Rather than a “spray and pray” approach to churning out content, it’s a targeted, focused roadmap that will help you create content that accomplishes the goals you set for your business.
A lot goes into creating a content marketing strategy — far beyond just the types of content you’ll use and how you’ll distribute it to your audience. Start by defining your target audience, including the problems that would lead them to your product. Develop a business case and a strategic plan that sets goals for the strategy, including which metrics you’ll use to measure success.
Define your positioning
Before you start creating different types of content, you should know who you’re creating it for and why. This is where the positioning for your content marketing strategy comes in. Identify your ideal audience, what they’re looking for, and how your product meets their needs. This will give you audience personas.
An audience persona is like a character sketch of the ideal person who will buy your products or services. Surveys of your existing customers can be extremely helpful here. You can create forms with tools like JotForm to ask your customers what they look for in products like yours, what they associate your company with, and more.
Collecting this data helps you identify the needs you’ve already met, the needs you could be meeting, and the perception of your company so that you can tailor your content for the people who are most like your existing customers.
Once you have that information, distill the audience persona and your value proposition into a positioning statement to guide your content. For example, an outdoor products retailer’s positioning statement could be “We sell premium camping gear that holds up to the most extreme conditions for the outdoor enthusiast.” That statement identifies the ideal audience (outdoor enthusiast), their problem (needing gear that holds up to extreme conditions), and a solution (premium camping gear) that solves the problem.
Develop the business case
According to research from the Content Marketing Institute, 72 percent of the most successful B2B companies measure their content marketing ROI. These organizations are proficient at using metrics and can see which of their efforts get results.
However, because content marketing takes a more roundabout approach to generate sales, it can be difficult for companies to measure ROI and create a business case for content marketing. You need to build these metrics and how you plan to measure ROI into the business case.
Content marketing will benefit your business, even if the results aren’t immediately apparent. You’ll be able to drive brand awareness, bring the right kind of visitors to your website, and produce information to help nurture leads through the sales funnel. These alone should help build a strong business case for content marketing. But if you need more, here are a few things to include when you’re making a push for content marketing:
- Why you need content marketing
- How it will help you meet marketing and sales goals
- The budget and infrastructure you need
- The business results you expect
Budget and infrastructure may prove to be a sticking point as you’ll need additional resources to be successful at content marketing. Some of these could include marketing automation tools and email newsletter providers like HubSpot or Mailchimp. You may also need to hire additional people or use freelancers to help you create your content, including visuals. Figure out what tools and resources you need and include a budget for them.
Craft a strategic plan
Once you get the sign-off to start content marketing in your organization, your next step will be to craft a content marketing plan. This is the roadmap you’ll use to guide your content marketing efforts.
The most important part of this plan are your goals and KPIs. Without these, you won’t be able to measure success. Here are a few goals that can be part of your content marketing plan and some sample KPIs:
- Create brand awareness. Since this goal is all about getting your brand name out there, measuring brand mentions and social shares is a good way to determine how well your top-of-the-funnel content is working.
- Drive more website traffic. You can measure all of your KPIs related to this goal with your website analytics platform of choice: number of visitors per month, percentage of returning visitors, time spent on site, and conversion rates for calls to action.
- Generate sales leads. This goal may require a little more legwork to measure success. The KPIs should include the number of leads you get from each piece of content and your landing page conversion rates.
- Convert leads into customers. KPIs for how well you’re generating revenue from your leads can be the lead-to-customer conversion rate for each piece of content and the average time it takes to close a sale for new customers.
- Boost customer loyalty. You can measure how well you retain your customers and drive upsells by looking at your retention rate (or churn), as well as the revenue from upselling and the percentage of repeat customers.
Keep in mind that you can have more than one goal for your content marketing program, and you’re not limited to the five goals listed above. The next section will take a deeper look at how to set the right content marketing goals for your campaign.
Setting content marketing goals
In the last section, you learned how to craft a strategic plan for your content marketing, including a brief overview of content marketing goals and KPIs. Setting goals for your content marketing is different than setting goals for more traditional marketing tactics like advertising, although some of the KPIs you use may be similar.
Goals for content marketing campaigns
There are a lot of content marketing goals you can set. Let’s delve into a few that you may want to start with when you create your campaigns.
Generate brand awareness
Most of the time, content marketing isn’t going to immediately result in a wave of new sales. It’s more of a long-term strategy that establishes your brand as a viable option for prospects.
You can generate brand awareness by getting your content out there, increasing your brand’s visibility, and building thought leadership in your industry. For example, you could create a guide to camping along the Pacific Crest Trail, which is informative and shareable on social media. You could use a KPI like brand mentions or social shares to measure this.
Build trust with your audience
Useful, interesting, and valuable content builds trust with both potential and existing customers because it teaches them about your expertise, your products, and your company as a whole.
Some content types good for building trust are blog posts, e-books, and videos with tips for using your product or other information that could help your customers in their jobs or lives.
Trust is hard to measure, but you can get an idea of how you’re doing by checking new visitors versus returning visitors to your website.
Attract more leads
This is a natural extension of your marketing program. The content you create can attract leads and new customers if it’s shareable, sparks conversation, and establishes authority.
Companies can attract leads through infographics, videos, and blog posts about industry topics and items of interest to their audiences. A content marketing KPI you can use is how many leads you get through email capture forms.
When you set a goal to drive conversions, you move into more bottom-of-the-funnel content. You can do this through case studies, more detailed blog posts, or videos about your products and how they benefit customers. You can also answer customer questions through relevant, helpful content.
One KPI for this type of content is landing page conversions, which we’ll discuss below.
Using content marketing metrics
As mentioned in previous sections, measuring content marketing ROI is different than measuring the ROI of other marketing initiatives. However, monitoring key metrics like social shares, website traffic, backlinks, and click-through rates can help you determine how effective your content marketing is. Here are a few you should pay attention to:
- Social shares. Keeping track of how often and how much of your content is shared on social media is a valuable way to measure brand awareness and let you know which top-of-the-funnel content is working. There are platforms you can use for analytics; some social media platforms even have the necessary analytics built in.
- Website traffic. Check what’s bringing people to your website. It could be search engine traffic as visitors search for the keywords you’re using in your blog posts, or it could be social traffic. You can use Google Analytics to see where your traffic is coming from, as well as what content is getting the most traffic.
- Returning visitors and customers. If your goal is to build customer loyalty, one of the content marketing metrics you should track is repeat visitors — and the content they’re engaging with. This way, you can continue to craft content that meets their needs and answers their questions.
- Click-through rate (CTR). The CTR for your website is based on how many people actually click through to your website from search engine results. You can find this in Google Search Console.
- Backlinks. If your content is particularly shareable, people around the web will link to it. Backlinks are still valid for SEO purposes. Google Search Console will show you what kind of sites are linking to you, and you can use that information to inform your future content marketing efforts. Tools like Moz can help track your content marketing SEO efforts and show you how many backlinks you have and from which websites.
- Time on page. Along with website traffic and returning visitors, this content marketing metric will show you how engaging your content is. For example, if most visitors spend only a few seconds on a post, you know they’re probably not reading it, and the content isn’t resonating with your audience.
- Conversion rate. To figure out how effective your content with calls to action (like downloading an e-book or making a purchase) is, you’ll need to look at the conversion rate. This is how many people took the specified action as compared to the total number of visitors to the site. Google Analytics tracks conversion rates and lets you set up custom events that count as conversions (like clicking on a specific link). Platforms like WooCommerce integrate with Google Analytics to provide another way to track conversion rates, and most e-commerce platforms will provide some form of reporting and analytics as well.
While there are many different metrics you can use to measure your content marketing efforts, these are a good starting point.
We’ve covered a lot of content marketing basics, from what it is to how it can help you.
You learned about creating a successful content marketing funnel and the different stages of the funnel — awareness, evaluation, and conversion. Each stage requires different types of content to attract, educate, and engage your prospective customers.
We discussed different types of content marketing, ranging from videos to white papers and blogs. You learned about using infographics to represent complex data in a digestible way, how to use case studies to help readers understand your business, and how to leverage forms, questionnaires, and surveys for content marketing. We also covered how blogging can help your SEO performance, which in turn helps with brand awareness.
Finally, not only did you learn the importance of creating a content strategy — from defining your positioning to developing a business case — but you also learned about the goals you should have for your content marketing campaigns.
As you work on the content marketing strategy for your organization, keep this guide nearby to help you create content for every stage of the funnel. You can also use it as a reference when you make changes to your strategy or start branching out into other forms of content.