Do you need to develop a content marketing strategy? Interested in how to develop content that will grow your business?
In this article, you’ll learn what content marketing is and how to create a content marketing strategy that works.
What is content marketing and why is it important today?
In content marketing, you focus on a very specific target audience and provide them with valuable, relevant and compelling information over a long period of time to cause certain behavioral changes. This is very different from advertising, where you use someone else’s audience to deliver your message and pay for that opportunity.
Instead of talking about what widgets you sell or how great you are, the content you provide through this marketing strategy helps your target audience live a better life or get a better job. It is believed that if you build a loyal audience over time, they will reward you with more product or service sales and stay your customer longer.
When Joe started the Content Marketing Institute, they did a big study and found that people who subscribed to their blog, attended their webinars and listened to the This Old Marketing podcast spent 20% more money than everyone else they were targeting. These were their best customers. He realized that if they consistently delivered these services over time and built that audience, they would create the best clients imaginable.
Content marketing is actually hundreds of years old, and it originated in the loyalty field. Most of the first attempts at content marketing were special magazines, similar to what you might get at Costco or Sam’s Club. John Deere’s “The Furrow” magazine, created in 1897, still exists today because it sells John Deere equipment.
Why should your business think about content marketing? What we’re seeing now, especially on the Internet, is a territory grab for audiences. Advertising is ineffective, and in many cases ineffective at all. If you are going to compete for attention and build an audience, consider that audience as your future customer list. Once you build that audience, you will create an asset, and people from that audience will buy more and stay longer.
Content marketing is the most economical form of marketing. You can spend a lot of money on Google and Facebook to get a tiny reach of an audience that might spend a few seconds with you, or you can invest that money in creating content that will potentially work for you forever. While the shelf life of many of the actions you take for paid or organic social advertising is very short, the blog post you write today could attract an audience to you years from now. The long-term potential is huge.
To get results in content marketing, you must consistently create irreplaceable content. Adopt the mindset that you can become the leading expert in something and will create content that is different from what everyone else is doing.
This seven-step content marketing strategy will help you understand why you need content marketing, what type of content makes sense for you and who your audience is.
#1: Identify your sweet spot
The first step is to find your sweet spot. To do this, identify what expertise you have to offer, determine what your audience is struggling with, and make a connection between the two.
On one side of the page, list your skills and expertise. What do you know more about than anyone else? Next to that, write your audience’s pain points. What keeps them up at night? The intersection of these two lists will give you a good starting point for stories you can tell that will fit your audience’s needs.
Creating a mission statement for your content is important. Start by defining your target audience – the bigger the niche, the better. If you think your audience consists of plant managers, that’s probably not a niche audience enough. It should be plant managers in the Pacific Northwest in companies with 10,000 or more people outsourcing to China or India. That’s how specific you want to be.
Next, decide what you’re going to communicate to that audience. Simple advice in writing? A list of a few items? Stories from a podcast? YouTube videos? You need to know what stories you are going to tell and how you are going to tell them.
The last step is the most important. What is the outcome for the audience? What will they get as a result?
Darren Rose’s digital photography school mission is to offer simple tips to help digital camera owners get the most out of their cameras. He believes that if he accomplishes this mission, he can become the world’s leading information expert for this audience. And guess what? He has become one.
#2: Find your content slant
Your “sweet spot” is just a starting point. Now you need to take it one step further and find your zone of differentiation, or “content slant.” You can’t just create the same content everyone else is offering and expect to stand out. You need to find an area where there is little or no competition, where you can cut through all the noise and gather an audience.
To give a vivid idea of what a “content slant” is, Joe quotes Mark Schaefer’s phrase “find the seam” from his book, Cumulative Advantage. Once you’ve found your content area, you have to find that seam, or hole, in the line (like in soccer) and push through it as quickly as possible with as much energy as possible. Creating a mission statement for your content in the first place will help you figure out where your bias lies.
There are many potential ways to differentiate yourself, such as working with an audience that no one else is paying attention to, choosing a platform that is a green field, or positioning a story.
Years ago, Jenny Doan, CEO of the Missouri Star Quilt Company, decided there had to be a better way to stitch a quilt. She coined the term “quick quilting” and began creating YouTube tutorial videos on quick quilting. She did it over and over again and started gaining an audience. Today she has 750,000+ subscribers and has more people working in Hamilton, Missouri, than any other city. People come from all over the world to see her because she positions the story differently.
When Indium, an industrial soldering equipment company, was trying to find a new way to market, they valued their expertise – engineers who knew more about industrial soldering equipment than anyone else. Their primary audience was mechanical engineers who needed soldering training because they had to specify equipment, and they didn’t know how to do it. This was Indium’s sweet spot.
From there, Indium decided they wanted to create a blog, but realized they didn’t have any good writers on staff, so they hired an editor who interviewed the engineers. The engineers then produced content, creating From One Engineer To Another, one of the best blogs in the industry.
#3: Choose a platform to focus on
Now you need to choose a primary platform to build your audience. Based on who you’re targeting and what your content slant is, choose your content type – audio, video or text plus image? Then choose your primary platform. YouTube for video? Apple Music or Spotify for podcast? WordPress blog for text and images? Instagram for photos? Clubhouse for interactive audio?
Successful content entrepreneurs don’t choose two or three destinations – they choose one. Become a blogger, youtuber, Twitch streamer, or whatever works best for you, and focus on becoming the best at it within 9-12 months. Then, once you’ve built a minimum viable audience, you can move on and diversify, which we’ll talk about a little later.
#4: Building an audience
The 9-12 months you spend building your base will lead to building an audience. This is where social media comes to the rescue. If you decide you’re going to work on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, remember that you don’t control any of these connections. Those followers or subscribers belong to Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, not to you. The platforms allow you to tap into their audiences right now.
You have to have a plan for how to move up the hierarchy of subscribers and move on to email. You go from a rented audience to your own. If you’ve built your YouTube platform and gathered 10,000 subscribers, start building a plan for some sort of email offering in the future.
#5: Generating Income
For the first 9-12 months, you shouldn’t expect to generate any income. That doesn’t mean you won’t generate income. Just keep your expectations low because it takes time to build a loyal audience.
After about 12 to 18 months, you’ll be at a profitable point. With a loyal audience built, you can generate income in a variety of ways. You can sell advertising sponsorships, hold conferences and events, sell premium content like books, ask for donations, use affiliate marketing, or sell subscriptions like on Substack.
You can also regularly meet content marketing KPIs, such as selling products or services, making customers more loyal (like John Deere does with its loyalty magazine) or creating better customers, like TD Ameritrade does with its thinkMoney magazine. TD Ameritrade has found that customers who receive this magazine trade five times more. They created a better client because of their content.
This is the moment when you can think about diversification. All great media properties start with one base, one platform, and when they create a minimum viable audience to generate revenue, they start to diversify. For example, if you’ve created a blog, you may now be ready to launch a podcast.
It usually takes 6-12 months between launches because it takes time to diversify and build another audience.
#7: Decide whether to sell or make big moves
Here you get to the most important part: Sell or go big? Joe ended up selling Content Marketing Institute, which was his goal. He sold it for just under $30 million on revenues of $10 million, and it took about 7 years.
Red Bull Media House is an example of a company that decided to go big. They went from Red Bulletin Magazine to creating Content Pool and all of their entertainment and video content. Now you don’t know which is more valuable – Red Bull Media House or Red Bull itself?
At this point, you can really start to expand and grow. If you follow this model, you’ll typically have an asset value of about $5 million in 5 years, based on the examples Joe looked at in his book.