It’s now widely known that businesses that invest in content marketing will achieve greater success with lead generation, brand awareness and customer engagement.
However, it can be somewhat of a dark art, and strategies that may have worked a year ago almost certainly can’t be relied on now.
The US-based, and excellent resource, Content Marketing Institute (CMI) 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”.
Released in late 2017, the CMI’s report of the organisation’s annual benchmarking survey of business-to-business content marketers shines some light on what successful content marketing looks like.
Focus on meaningful goals and metrics
The top goals for the B2B content marketers who were surveyed were lead generation (80%), brand awareness (79%) and engagement (71%).
Before you dive in, ask yourself: what outcome is your organisation looking for? Until you have a clear idea of what results you want, you won’t be able to meaningfully or methodically measure it.
Last year, Jayson DeMers, founder of SEO agency AudienceBloom, spoke to the importance of setting clearly defined goals before you begin.
“For example, how often do you want to publish? How many impressions do you hope to achieve with your first publication efforts, and how fast and high do you want them to grow?” DeMers wrote in Entrepreneur.
“You need to set a vision for yourself.”
For “truly measurable results of content marketing efforts”, the top metrics CMI respondents looked to were website traffic (42%), sales lead quality (34%), sales (30%) and higher conversion rates (27%).
Part of recognising the value of a content marketing strategy is to understand content marketing is not a static discipline; the digital landscape is constantly evolving.
In order to fully develop a workable strategy and truly reap the benefits of content marketing, aim to be constantly educating yourself in latest findings and trends in the industry.
While you can track down plenty of resources online, below is a short checklist of sites that come highly recommended by content strategists:
- The CMI website offers a range of articles and resources to prompt ideas about ways you can audit and improve your content;
- Hubspot regularly publishes data on content marketing trends and offers expert advice;
- Contently showcases news, research and advice about content trends, digital strategy and how successful storytelling can improve your audience engagement; and
- Nudge publishes updates, case studies and research about successful native content campaigns.
While 72% of the best performing B2B content strategists were arguably modest in their assessment of their organisation having a “sophisticated or mature” content marketing strategy (possibly due to the ever-changing nature of the space), only 2% the least successful performers rated themselves as having a sophisticated strategy.
Commit to a realistic strategy
Successful content marketers understand the need to invest time in a larger strategy to garner visibility and gain professional traction and authority with an audience.
Of the organisations CMI surveyed that were most successful with content marketing, more than 90% indicated they were “very committed” to content marketing, with 80% saying they had a clear vision of what an “effective or successful content marketing program looks like”.
Interestingly, 91% of respondents who reported the most successful strategies indicated they were realistic about what content marketing can achieve.
So before you go ahead and conceive a fantastical plan, what does a realistic content marketing strategy look like?
According to CMI respondents, a checklist for success includes:
- Documenting your strategy, which includes an overarching plan and processes that are ongoing (ie. that extend beyond one or two individual campaigns);
- Outlining how the strategy intersects with other parts of the wider business; and
- Details of how you will operationalise your content goals, taking into account the point of difference in your content when stacked up against competitors.
Give it time
Successful content marketing is a slow burn; patience is crucial to seeing benefits from your efforts.
From the cohort of respondents with the most successful content marketing results, 77% agreed that their leadership team understands this and allows “ample time to produce results”.
Consistency is also important, which includes scheduling regular content over time to gain familiarity and authority with your audience. Leaving large, unpredictable gaps between publishing new content will result in your audience losing interest.
Of the respondents who felt their organisation faced stagnancy in their content strategy, more than half of respondents thought “not enough time devoted to content marketing” led to this lack of success.
Focus on quality over quantity
While it may be worth experimenting with different types of content and delivery channels in the beginning, once you determine where the greatest return on investment lies, stick to what works for your business.
It can be tempting to churn out large amounts of content to maintain a steady publishing schedule, but keep in mind that quality beats quantity every time.
Where possible, focus on creating unique, shareable content. If your resources are really skint, it is worth repurposing other content (with permission, of course, it’s generally a copyright infringement to just copy and paste) that will create a conversation with your audience and create an interest in your brand.
The CMI survey shows content marketers believed blogs, email newsletters and social media content were the top three tactics most critical to their content marketing success in 2017, while 70% plan to create more original B2B content in future.
Nowadays, with such a breadth of competitors in the digital space and the importance of having a strong online presence, CMI’s findings reflect the reality that there is no such thing as shortcuts or blind luck when it comes to brand awareness and engagement.
The biggest takeaway lesson? A solid content marketing strategy is no longer an optional investment for business success.
Take the time to experiment with what content yields the greatest interest in your business and keep your ear to the ground.