As communicators, we often tell ourselves our audience is too busy to consume our content, and there is already too much content out there anyway. What’s the solution?
Many brands believe the answer is to create as much content as possible in an effort to force their voice to be heard. But more content doesn’t mean more results.
“If you give your audience the content they want in the format they prefer, the time it takes to consume it is magically created,” says Jay Baer, President at Convince & Convert.
In other words, your audience makes time for the content that is relevant to them. In fact, 82 per cent of consumers enjoy reading relevant brand content. But no matter how relevant your content is, it won’t matter if no one reads it. So how do you get the most eyes on your content?
Once you have a piece of content that you want to share, you need to distribute it in the right ways. You must look for ways to extend its lifespan. A truly great piece of content, written with your audience in mind and promoted across multiple channels, can thrive online and continue to provide benefits to your brand long after you’ve published it.
What Is Content Marketing and Why Does It Matter?
You may think you know the answer to this, but with terms like ‘content saturation’ out there, you may not realize all the mediums encompassed by content marketing. In its most basic definition, content tells a story—ideally one about your brand to your target audience. In today’s digitally-focused world, anyone can write, publish and share content, but not everyone writes and shares good content.
Three main factors determine whether or not a brand’s content will attract and retain its target audiences: voice, tone and relevancy.
A brand’s voice articulates its personality, culture and positioning within an industry to its audience.
The tone, a subset of a brand’s voice, depends on the target audience and format of content. Paired together with the right voice, your brand’s content can be transformed from a scattered mess to a captivating story that resonates with your target audience.
To ensure your writing is effective, it all goes back to relevancy. By understanding how and where your audiences, both external and internal, consume content and what topics interest them most, you can better tailor your communication and ensure your voice is heard. (In case you were wondering, these consumer insights can be gathered efficiently and affordably through social listening.)
Let’s take a look at a few of the many benefits of content marketing:
- Content marketing generates three times as many leads and costs 62 per cent less than traditional marketing
- Eighty per cent of business decision-makers would rather gain information about a company from articles than advertisements
- Audiences are 60 per cent more likely to seek out products after reading a brand’s content
To reap these benefits and many more, a brand must develop a three-fold content marketing strategy that includes creation, distribution and amplification. Here’s a step-by-step guide of what to consider and how each effort will impact your brand in the long-run.
“If you don’t have an audience, the content creation process can get to be pretty lonely.” —Jay Baer
You need to take the time to create something that is interesting, useful and that your audience wants to read. This means focusing on quality over quantity. Don’t create content simply to say you put something out there, but rather do it for a specific purpose.
Step 1: Determine your goals
Begin by identifying the reasons for creating content. What is the goal? Who do you want to reach? Objectives can include gaining new customers, expanding your reach or increasing brand awareness. Work across departmental silos to ensure content can be tied to the business objectives of sales, customer service, marketing and creative departments. Once these are outlined, you can begin to figure out what type of content will accomplish those goals.
This is also the time to identify your target audiences. Remember, content affects multiple audiences. As such, first divide your audience on into broader groups, identifying prospects, customers, competitors, influencers and even employees. Then, filter those groups into smaller ones, like millennial prospects, mom blog influencers, sports fan customers and more.
Once the content is consumed, what action do you want taken? Are you looking to convert a prospect into customers or brand advocates? Drive traffic to your website? Clearly defined goals are crucial to building a solid plan.
Step 2: Listen to your audience
Guesswork has no place in your content marketing plan. It’s important to truly understand your audience in order to create the right content that will resonate.
Listen in on their conversations using media monitoring tools to segment by psychography. Pay attention to the platforms they are active on, how they use those platforms and what topics they are most interested in.
Also, gather insights on your target audience’s demography. With data on age, industry, sex and geography, content can be targeted on a smaller, more focused scale, increasing its relevancy to the audience.
Step 3: Provide value
Why should anyone read your content? What’s in it for them? Content needs to go beyond a sales pitch and offer value. If they can’t learn anything from it, they won’t want to read it. Knowing why your brand exists and what it provides makes communicating value much easier.
Enhance content by focusing on an emotion that will entice audiences to continue reading. For example, product- or service-driven companies may focus on creating fear, uncertainty or doubt (sounds a little like FOMO—fear of missing out—right?) in the minds of its audience. Mission-driven organizations or nonprofits, on the other hand, may rely on stories based on motivation, evolution or determination.
Provide structure and ensure your content is well-written. Use proper English but remember to “be human.” Not everyone in your audience is an expert. In fact, most people read your content to educate themselves, so keep it simple. Proof your work for mistakes and have multiple stakeholders review it too. The smallest typo could have a major impact on your reputation!
Step 4: Make it shareable
Set yourself up for success in the distribution stage by planning ahead. Your audience can be a useful tool for getting the word out about your new content, but you need to make it easy for them.
“Content quality is key,” says Scott Huegerich, Cision’s Director, Product Marketing. “It needs to be shareable and offer a unique view if you want people to spread it.”
Include social sharing buttons so all it takes for your readers to share is one click. What buttons you include will depend on what platforms your audience frequents. Include clear calls to action, too - invite your audience to share your stories!
This is even more important now with Facebook’s recent announcement to change its News Feed algorithm, yet again, to favor content shared by friends and family rather than brands. To ensure your content continues to be seen on the platform, sharing by readers will be key.
Finally, optimize content for search by researching and creating a list of the keywords your audience is already using to search. Avoid keyword stuffing or writing to make it onto search results lists. Content that follows this outdated tactic reads awkwardly and can impact a brand’s reputation as well as provide the opposite of desired results by reducing your ranking in search results.
Step 5: Include multimedia
Attention spans have shortened to just eight seconds, which doesn’t leave much time to engage your audience before they move on to something else. Tack on the fact that 65 per cent of people are visual learners and there’s no wonder multimedia has become such a content must-do.
Cision’s State of the Media 2016 Report found that video- and image-based content has become one of the top three most important media trends with more than half of 346 journalists surveyed using multimedia in their content. Follow suit to attract and keep your audience’s attention as well as that of bloggers, journalists and influencers who can further the reach of your content by sharing with their audiences. (More on this later.)
By including photos, videos, infographics and other forms of multimedia to tell your story, your audience will be more likely to pay attention and both retain and share it with others.
“In the old way of thinking, once a marketing project was published, it was done. In the digital world, once it’s out there, it has just begun. And you have to help it, give it momentum and keep it alive.” —Andres Nicholls, Global Executive Creative Director, Prophet
The continual development of new technology has provided a plethora of ever-evolving tricks and tools to ease workloads and increase communication. It has also flooded our inboxes, shortened our attention spans and sped up the news cycle. Consequently, communicators are tasked with not only knowing how to write the right message, but how to use the right distribution platform to share that message.
Use a distribution service
The State of the Media 2016 Report found that both U.S. and Canadian journalists find press releases to be the most valuable resource a PR professional could provide.
Press release distribution services can provide a lot of visibility, high-quality authoritative backlinks, referral traffic and opportunities to link to your brand. However, success in distribution is contingent on providing a newsworthy story targeted for its recipient.
So why do some claim the press release is dead? One explanation: outrageous expectations. Others fail to recognize that in today’s world, distribution goes beyond a singular press release.
“Brands need an overall focus on building media presence that’s longer-term, not a quick hit of visibility,” says Scott Huegerich. “And if press releases, images, videos and your other assets act as individual arrows to hit target audiences, a distribution service is the bow needed to launch them.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was one tactic used to shape every brick. Patience is a virtue, especially in content marketing.
The rate at which audiences consume content is dependent not only on demographics like age and gender, but also on how and where it’s made available. Brands that integrate distribution with the PESO model are more apt to seeing success with their promotion efforts.
To do this, devote 80 per cent of your efforts on promotion and 20 per cent on actual content. In addition to sending out a press release, consider email distribution and social publishing. Keep in mind that these are just tools to build your story’s impact.
One of the most overlooked tactics for content distribution involves your own brand. While external audiences determine the type of content created, the first audience to involve in distributing content is internal stakeholders.
If departments like sales and customer service aren’t aware of, or interested, in the content being developed, you’re missing major opportunities to gain insights on what’s important to current customers, prospects or outside thought leaders through word-of-mouth.
Prior to publication, communicate the pain points, solutions and unique viewpoints that the content addresses with sales and customer service teams. This can be done easily with internal emails. Make it simple for internal advocates to spread content by including pre-crafted social messaging, hashtags and tracked links.
As touched on earlier, look to those who already serve as the gatekeepers to engaged, loyal communities and utilize those influencers to further extend your content’s reach.
“Influencers are much better at distributing content than causing commerce,” says Jay Baer. “If an influencer stands behind content, people download it.”
Use a media database to find the right messengers for your brand’s story. To identify which key influencers to reach out to, look at their recent conversations on social, preferred discussion topics and audiences. Ensure their messaging aligns with what your brand has to say.
Go beyond the number of followers - quantity does not always mean quality in regards to engagement - and learn what topics interest your target influencers. You may find a topic that your brand could write about in the future.
Influencers should be treated similarly to reporters and editors. Rapport must be built and relationships nurtured before asking them to share your content. To win their affection and attention when publishing and pitching content, focus on how your story benefits their community, not the reverse.
Send them custom tracking links to gather data on how many times the content is shared and what percentage of their audience is reacting to, or engaging with, it.
Incorporate paid media
Depending on budget, goals and the campaign, brands can choose from a variety of ways to promote content for a price.
Ever click on one of those “Recommended for You” articles at the bottom of your go-to media outlet’s website? That’s sponsored content. Other paid media examples that you may have seen, but not yet considered implementing, include social ads (promoted Facebook stories, Instagram posts or tweets) or customized display ads, which are placed directly in your news feeds. For those working with smaller budgets, sponsorships or guest posting on influential blogs may do the trick.
Test different options based on your audience and goals. Continuously dive into Google Analytics to determine which paid media efforts are increasing downloads, leads and conversion. Reassess where you funnel your money frequently, especially as paid media continues to shift its power on the PR and communication industry.
Share on social
“Social helps a brand enhance its ability to become an authority on a subject, topic or industry by providing the opportunity to network with prospects around the globe,” says Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich.
While every piece of content should cohere to a larger narrative, the experience should be different on each channel. Messaging should not be copied from Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn.
Social media can increase the number of eyeballs reading your content, if you also know when to post.
Learn the ins and outs of the major channels, keep informed on any updates, new features and changing algorithms (Facebook we’re looking at you!) and use that information to guide how and what you share. You will see likes, comments and word-of-mouth grow.
Invite people to subscribe
It’s important to attract more readers, but it’s even more important that you grow a loyal community of followers who will return to your website to read and ultimately share future content.
“Make sure you have a reliable way to alert people that context exists,” says Jay Baer. “You can do this through organic and paid media.”
A few popular options include setting up a press release RSS feed, email newsletter, podcast subscription or blog subscription form to keep readers aware when new content publishes.
If you get them to subscribe once, you won’t have to work as hard to the next time. All you’ll have to focus on now is creating the best content your team can muster.
“Content is the currency of the social web and sharing that content is the catalyst to new relationships and business benefits.” —Mark Schaefer, best-selling author and marketing consultant
Reuse and repurpose
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time you write. Today’s data-driven landscape has all the answers needed to instruct you on how to peel, slice or chop larger content into smaller pieces.
For example, take an e-book, break it up by chapters and publish blog posts based on those sub-topics. Ensure you include call to actions that link back to the full-length piece of content. Or, take the most interesting statistics to create an infographic that can be easily shared across social media . Then, go even further by disseminating pre-crafted social media posts out to your team for sharing throughout the weeks following the content’s initial publication.
However your brand decides to reuse and repurpose its content, ensure you use tracking links for measurement purposes.
Curate relevant content
Stand out by sharing content that aligns with your brand and the interests of your audience. Offer insight, insert your research or point of view into the conversation.
One simple and easy way is to comment on other blogs or digital newsrooms that cover similar topics, real-time events or trends.
Who is sharing your content? What networks are they turning to do this? How are their followers reacting? All of these questions can be answered with the right monitoring and measurement tools. Readership data will help identify which channels and strategies are working and which need improvement. For example, if no one is engaging with your LinkedIn posts, brainstorm a few hypotheses to determine what is causing this result. Change direction as the data dictates, but remember to only make one change at a time. Measurement is an ongoing process that must be revisited often if your brand hopes to succeed. It also is one of the biggest skills gaps that PR and communication professionals face. With a multi-touch attribution measurement model, communicators can determine what messages fall short, why and what to do about it to improve the next content strategy.
Content is the base, the center point, the crux of all brands do today to communicate a message with their audiences. While many estimate the future of communication will focus closely on multimedia creation and paid promotion, text will continue to provide the fuel to spark these growing trends. Writing good content is not a new goal for brands, but those that rely on an integrated solution to tell a story, track its reach and analyze its impact will win over the most engaged readers and have a much larger impact on business goals.