The Complete Guide to Content Marketing

You encounter content marketing all around you every day – in fact, you’re interacting with a piece of content marketing at this very moment. According to Hubspot, 70% of all marketers are investing in content marketing as of 2020. Want to build your own content strategy like a pro? You’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we’ll cover what content marketing is, how it fits into digital marketing strategies, how to design your own content strategy, and upcoming content marketing trends for 2020.

What is content marketing and why is it important?

To put it simply, content marketing is the creation and publishing of any type of digital content to attract, engage, retain, and/or convert customers across one or more channels. Most often, content marketing doesn’t directly promote specific products; instead, it takes the form of informative or humorous videos, social media posts, or blogs. In focusing on a cohesive strategy across all content, you both create a recognizable brand and strengthen your marketing’s effectiveness.

For example, you’ve probably seen multi-channel marketing campaigns from major brands like Dollar Shave Club’s humorous, tongue-in-cheek approach. Though this marketing campaign was first launched 8 years ago, it still stands out as an extremely effective and successful approach with content spanning video, multiple social media channels, and Dollar Shave Club’s blog. Even though the content itself isn’t the same on each channel, it’s recognizable as belonging to DSC due to their content’s distinct style, aesthetic, and tone and helps to further build their brand.

Source: Mikah Sellers

When content marketing is well-executed, it has benefits beyond brand building. Useful content can help position your company as a source for trusted industry expertise. At the same time, your content can build your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) value through relevant blogs, earned digital media containing backlinks, and (indirectly) social media. Content can also help you develop and maintain strong customer relationships — and that can include content generated by your audience!

You may be curious about how content you didn’t create can contribute to your marketing efforts. Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign is an excellent demonstration of the power you can unlock simply by inviting your audience to share. The campaign appealed to consumers’ desire for personalization and story-telling, causing an explosion in beneficial word-of-mouth marketing, a global increase in sales, and millions of new social media followers. If you can similarly tap into your audience’s needs or desires, you’ll have the ability to generate a wave of organic buzz and reach thousands of potential new customers.

Source: Broadway at the Beach

However, this isn’t to say that just any content (user-generated or otherwise) will positively impact your marketing efforts. A successful content campaign must take into account several key factors:

  • Current external state of affairs. Brands that distribute content during times of political or social unrest, on somber days such as September 11, or on the back of major news stories may be viewed as tone-deaf. For instance, Spirit Airlines released an advertisement in 2010 that appeared to be making light of the BP oil spill. The ad was immediately met with a massive backlash, and the company had to backpedal in an attempt to save face.
Source: Business Insider
  • Your brand’s positioning. You must have a clear understanding of how others view your brand to ensure content campaigns don’t come off as sarcastic or out of touch. In 2014, the New York Police Department had recently experienced negative PR and sought to rebuild trust by asking people to share photos of themselves with NYPD officers with a #myNYPD tag. The public wasn’t quite ready to spread positivity about their interactions with the department. Users quickly began to flood social media channels with photos of police brutality, effectively achieving the precise opposite of the campaign’s intended effects.
Source: BBC
  • Subject matter and expression. Even if your content is well-intentioned, be cautious of how it may be perceived. Every piece of content should go through multiple independent reviews for imagery, wording, tone, and overall message to check for things like bias and insensitivity. Peloton learned this firsthand with an ad campaign in 2019 that was meant to position their exercise equipment as an excellent holiday gift. Instead, their advertisement came across as sexist and became the subject of online ridicule.
Source: Vox

Which industries spend the most on content marketing?

While content marketing is a growing trend across all industries, there are some areas clearly investing more into content marketing than others. Overall, Deloitte has reported that companies across all industries spend an average of 11.6% of their revenue on their broader marketing budget.

Source: Deloitte

Of the amount spent on marketing, the Content Marketing Institute has found that companies spend an average of 26% of their total marketing budget on content marketing. We can combine Deloitte and the Content Marketing Institute’s findings to extrapolate the following content marketing spend as a percentage of revenue by industry.

In spite of the growing trend toward heavy content marketing spend, this form of marketing is actually more economical than many other types of marketing due to its steep ROI. In fact, content marketing costs around 62% less than other forms of marketing while generating up to 3 times as many leads!

Source: Lyfe Marketing

 

How important is content in a digital marketing strategy?

Your digital marketing strategy will not be complete without complementary content marketing; truly, it may be the most important component of any digital marketing strategy. Consider how you would interact with two companies as a consumer. Let’s say you’re looking for a new television, and each company sells a television at around the same price and with the same set of features.

Company A’s digital presence consists of their website and online advertisements. Their website contains only their store address, hours of operations, telephone number, and the list of their products with pricing. Their advertisements contain only product names, pricing, and a link back to their website to complete a purchase.

Company B’s digital presence consists of a website, social media channels and online advertisements. On their website, they have their store address, hours of operations, telephone number, a list of their products with pricing and customer-generated reviews containing photos of the television in their own homes, an interactive quiz to guide you to the right television for your budget, space, and feature needs, and a blog.

Company B uses their blog to post daily about topics including new additions to platforms like Netflix, movie reviews and upcoming television releases. Their social media channels are available 24/7 to assist with basic support questions, and they often post 15-30 second video snippets of movie and television reviews on these channels as well. Their blogs and videos are popular and are often reshared, and their volume and quality of content has made them the first result on most search engines for search phrases centered around purchasing a new television or looking for something new to watch.

From which company are you most likely to purchase a television? If you’re like most other consumers, you’re more likely to develop an affinity toward — and subsequently purchase from — Company B. In fact, Lyfe Marketing has shown that 70% of consumers “believe that organizations providing custom content are interested in building good relationships with them.” With lower costs, better customer relationships, greater reach, and higher conversion rates, what more could you ask for?

How does content marketing support digital marketing?

As we alluded to earlier, content marketing touches nearly every part of digital marketing. You may be surprised to learn that there is a distinction, however, between simply creating content and content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute asserts that the difference is content marketing involves the regular creation and distribution of high-quality content.

Their assertion is a good rule of thumb to follow. Simply creating one video and sharing it over and over again won’t do much to help you reach your overall digital marketing goals; however, a steady stream of blogs, videos, ebooks, and infographics will slowly but surely help to increase your reach and aid your audience in their buying decision. You can read more about the steps involved in consumer purchasing decisions in our Facebook Marketing 101 ebook [link here].

As a reminder, we walked through the following in Facebook Marketing 101:

“There are two main purchasing decision models used in marketing. You may choose to appeal to one or both in your content; the choices aren’t necessarily binary but can be thought of as existing on a scale. Your knowledge of your target audience will determine which method is the best to appeal to. They are:

  1. Consumer Processing Model
  2. Hedonic Experiential Model

The Consumer Processing Model (CPM) refers to a more logical approach to purchases. The model consists of 8 steps:

  1. Exposure to information
  2. Selective attention
  3. Comprehension
  4. Agreement
  5. Retention in memory
  6. Retrieval
  7. Consumer decision-making
  8. Action

Your content may be the first time your audience is exposed to your information. Once they are exposed, there are three types of selective attention that may take place. The first is involuntary and is caused by a sudden movement, loud sound, bright color or pattern, or similar components. The second is non-voluntary, and it occurs when someone’s interest is piqued after involuntary attention. The third is voluntary, which means a person has chosen to pay attention to the content.

The next step occurs when the recipient absorbs the content piece’s message; it is what they perceive the message to actually be. They’ll then agree with the content if it aligns with their motivations or values, appears credible to them, or seems to solve a pain point specific to the individual.

Later on, the customer may recall all or part of the messaging later on. This may be due to something memorable or resonating within the piece, the frequency of exposure to the content, or both. As they get closer to a purchasing decision, they will compare your product with other relevant products to determine which best aligns with their motivations and values or solves their pain points. Finally, the consumer will make a purchase.

The Hedonic Experiential Model (HEM) refers to purchasing behavior that is driven mainly by the pursuit of products or experiences that will be fun, exciting, entertaining, or otherwise stimulating. This model is much less structured than CPM and is much more based on eliciting an emotional response from the consumer.

First, the consumer becomes aware of the product or company via a piece of content. Their interest will be piqued if they perceive the piece’s messaging to provide them with fun, excitement, or even the fear of missing out if they don’t make a purchase. In turn, they want to purchase the item to “lock in” these feelings and may complete the purchase.”

As you can see, the frequency with which you post content can clearly drive various parts of consumer purchasing behavior. Likewise, if your content speaks to your audience’s motivations, preferences, or even fears, your company’s products is much more likely to remain top of mind as customers are going through their decision-making process. If your digital marketing fails to produce high quality at a regular cadence, you may lose out to companies that make content marketing a core focus area.

 

Is content marketing really effective?

Many surveys and studies have shown content marketing is an extremely efficient form of marketing in terms of ROI. The key is to understand the appropriate metrics by which to measure success as well as the appropriate timeframe within which these metrics should be affected.

So what are the most common metrics used to judge content marketing success? The most frequently used are:

  • Organic traffic. 76% of marketers use organic traffic as a measure of content marketing success. Why? Because regular, high-quality content helps your website’s search engine ranking — meaning your website should come up higher in more searches. Great content is also more likely to be backlinked by others, thus reaching a larger audience and increasing the likelihood of others finding their way to your website.
  • Bounce rate. Content that is relevant and well-written should hook readers and encourage them to continue looking around your website at other pieces of content or products. The bounce rate for a particular piece of content will help you understand how “sticky” the piece is.
  • New subscribers. If your content is targeted and helpful or informative, readers will often want to continue receiving additional pieces. Make it easy for them to do so with a clear way to subscribe to receive more content directly.
  • Inbound leads. In B2B marketing, you can use gated content as a way to entice potential customers to complete a lead form. You can then utilize progressive profiling tactics to continue building out their customer profile as they continue interacting with your various pieces of content. Alternatively, you can offer a lead form as a way for interested readers to request more information within relevant pieces of content.
  • Social media followers. Many content marketing campaigns are designed to generate likes, shares, and comments on social media platforms so as to increase the general audience reached. Similarly to subscribers, you are more likely to gain social media followers if your content is targeted and engaging. In gaining a wider audience, you are now able to nurture additional leads through the purchasing process.
  • Backlinks and ranking. Your content should target relevant keywords or phrases for which you’d like to rank well on search engines. If you create strong content based on these targeted keywords and phrases, you should see the number of backlinks and the overall rankings improve over time. You can measure this through an SEO tool like SEMRush.
  • Return on investment. Of course, your content marketing cannot be considered successful if you don’t earn more than you’ve spent on the effort. You can calculate revenue fully or partially attributable to content marketing through lead source tracking (such as pixel tracking) and compare the sum to the amount spent on your content marketing strategy. You can learn further details about this calculation here.

Want a detailed explanation on how to track each metric? Check out this guide from OptInMonster.

 

What are the different types of content marketing?

Any type of content that can be humorous, informational, helpful, educational, or otherwise interesting, it can be utilized as a part of content marketing. The list is extensive, and includes:

  • eBooks
  • Whitepapers
  • Blogs
  • Videos
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • Guest posts (written by another and hosted on your company’s blog or vice versa)
  • Social media posts
  • Infographics
  • Digital events

 

What are the best tools to use for content marketing?

It can be difficult to keep track of the many pieces of content and their statuses, so we recommend using at least one tool to stay organized and analyze results. Here are a few of our favorites:

ToolUse casePricing
AirtableKeep track of editorial calendar and content statuses$0 to $20+/user/month
Hubspot

Optimize website for search engines

Keep track of editorial calendar and content statuses

Excellent customer service and sales funnel management

$50 to $4200/month
SEMRush

Research keywords and phrases

Keep track of SEO analytics

$99.95 to $399.95/month 
Google Analytics

Monitor content metrics

Discover demographics, activities, and flow of users visiting your website

$0 to $150,000/year
Hootsuite

Manage editorial calendar and posting, including social ads

Keep track of audience and engagement metrics

$0 to $599+/month

 

What are the best ways of using Linkedin for content marketing?

LinkedIn is a unique platform in that it is specifically targeted at professionals, many of whom are actively seeking advice and recommendations. This is particularly valuable for B2B marketers because your audience is already primed and ready for engagement.

The first way you can leverage Linkedin as a B2B marketer is to post your company’s blogs, videos, infographics, and other content to your company’s Linkedin page. This is an easy, free way to get your content out into the world for others to see! You can also share these items in relevant Linkedin groups, but make sure the content is truly valuable to the group’s members and isn’t forced into discussions.

You can also utilize Linkedin to share content from other industry experts. While this may seem counterintuitive, sharing content from others gives you a little breathing room in terms of pressure to create constant content, demonstrates engagement and understanding with the industry as a whole, and even gives you the opportunity to tag the author — which may result in even broader reach if they engage with your post!

Likewise, Linkedin provides an excellent opportunity to share pieces written and posted by your individual employees. Linkedin users respond well to individual experts’ posts, and sharing such a piece on your company page can help to amplify your employees’ voices while still driving home the association between their expertise and your company.

Linkedin also offers the ability to purchase advertisements. According to Mezzanine Growth, businesses that utilize Linkedin as part of their marketing strategy generate 80% of their social media-sourced leads from the platform. You’ll have the option to utilize what’s called “sponsored content” via Linkedin ads, which looks like a typical Linkedin post but is displayed beyond your followers to reach people who meet your targeting specifications.

 

What is the future of content marketing?

Content marketing is a relatively new concept in marketing, but it’s growing and changing quickly. So what’s next?

Improved SEO. As up to 58% of consumers begin to utilize voice-activated searches (like Alexa or Siri), search engines are updating their natural language processing capabilities. This means savvy content marketers should focus on optimizing their content to answer full questions rather than typed words or short phrases. Additionally, a large portion of voice searches are completed using a mobile device; this makes optimizing your website and content for mobile devices even more impactful!

Increased personalization. With improvements to search engine capabilities, users will be looking for content that is precisely matched to their interests and needs. This means addressing the long tail queries exactly. For example, users may search for the best horror films of 2020 for teenagers — they won’t want just a general list of the best horror films of all time.

More visual content. Internet users are estimated to watch 100 minutes of video online in 2021, a full 19% increase from 2020. Take this as a cue to give people more of what they want, and adjust your 2021 content marketing strategy to include even more video content. For best results, vary the length of content and utilize new features like Youtube Chapters.