Content marketing is a digital strategy that consists of creating and publishing a range of alluring pieces of content and distributing them freely on the Internet to get the participation of your target audience in a conversation with you. Its objective is multidimensional: to entice your clients and goad them into interacting with you (maybe by signing up to a newsletter or blog); to build your image as a thought leader, that is, to get them to trust you as a genuine expert and problem-solver in your industry; to bring your audience closer and closer to you by raising their interest and engagement; and to finally do business with them.
These steps are generally referred to as the sales funnel: leading a number of people through progressive stages towards your business goal, which is hopefully a sell that represents a win-win situation for both parties involved. Content marketing is a form of inbound marketing, therefore, which means that, instead of interrupting your prospect through broadcasting, you start a conversation using a topic they like to talk about, and then attract them to you for more content that will hopefully inform, entertain or teach them something useful. The best metaphor is meeting guests at a cocktail party and then inviting them to a more serious conversation in your office at a later date.
Most of the readers of this blog are in the language business. They are either school owners and teachers, or publishers and consultants. You are, therefore, in the best position to exercise this form of strategy we call content marketing, as you deal with language itself: a vehicle to convey and discuss all forms of different content, as long as they are of interest to your audience. We are all working more and more towards niches, the market is fragmented and we are all discussing how to best make use of the so-called long tail, reaching very specific audiences by catering to their needs.
Another interesting characteristic of these times is that the lines between sales, marketing and customer service are blurring, as most businesses are directing their customers towards the internet for promotion, sales and help. Salespeople and Customer Service professionals are becoming high-level consultants, and it will soon become a privilege for a client to receive a real salesperson at their office to do business with.
So, in all departments of our companies, we should be producing digital content to communicate with the clients about our respective areas of expertise and skills. How do you produce content that can be used to build a relationship with your audience, solidify your position as a thought leader, gain their trust and finally SELL your goods and services to them?
I will outline a number of steps that will help you get started:
Define your buying persona: who is your typical client? How old is she? Where does she work? What kind of content would she be interested in? How does she use the Internet? Remember: the tendency is to sell to a niche, so try creating a realistic persona for each specific niche you want to reach.
Decide where you targeting audience is: this question was partially answered in the definition of your buying persona, but now let’s dig deeper. What is the best social media channel to find the people you are trying to sell to? This will be best done through testing and measuring. It will be hard to know beforehand what channels will provide the most response, conversion and sales rates, as the clients go down the sales funnel we mentioned before. Start with the major ones: Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. Then follow the metrics and start refining your strategy.
Create a content strategy and a calendar: breakdown your content output in the following way: 40% of it should be general interest content loosely linked to the product or service you sell. If you are a language school, for example, write or post images about interesting places, different cultures, national festivals, etc. Then the next 30% of your content should be directly connected to your product or service, although you are not selling it in a hard way yet (still using the example of a language school: give tips on learning strategies, good books to read, meaning of slang used in TV shows and films, interesting facts and figures about languages, quizzes, etc). Another 20% should consist of direct offers to sign up to specific communications, take advantage of promotions, give away coupons, etc., aimed at those who are already at the stage of making a firmer commitment to you. Finally, get your customer service team to use the remaining 10% to help your customer deal with post-sales problems and issues, by harnessing a frequently asked question page or producing how-to videos.
Assign different people in your marketing, sales and customer service teams to produce the content they can: ask your team what skills they have and what kind of content they would feel comfortable producing. Are they good writers? Do they make videos in their spare time? Are they weekend photographers? Illustrators? Would they like to use their beautiful voices to read a scripted podcast? Of course, if you are lucky, you may count on a professional design department, but these are becoming harder to budget for. Fortunately, the apps available on the Internet are making this facet of the job accessible to many of us who lack sophisticated designer skills. Everybody should be expected to contribute.
Measure, measure, measure: and adapt your content strategy accordingly. Don’t obsess about absolute metrics in your measuring process, as different platforms will give you different figures for a number of reasons: focus on trends over time and try to improve your KPIs (key performance indicators, as discussed and approved by your senior management) over time.
There is a lot more to say about content marketing. We will continue the conversation in future posts. For now, please share your ideas and comments with us in the blog.