Content marketing, also known as inbound marketing, is the practice of creating content that drives revenue by building trust between you and your prospects and customers. It focuses on adding value through content as opposed to directly promoting your product or service. It draws users to your site and helps convert them by solving user pain points.
According to the Content Marketing Institute content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing and produces 3 times as many leads. Globally marketers spent $28 billion in 2106 on content marketing.
If you’re not using content marketing you should definitely be considering it. But how does a small businesses develop effective content marketing?
Step 1: Be Clear On Your Objectives
The obvious main objective of content marketing is to grow revenue. But being clear on objectives means being clear on what part of your sales funnel you are attacking. You can think of the sales funnel as 4 segments:
- Top of the Funnel
- Middle of the Funnel
- Bottom of the Funnel
- Existing Customers
Eventually you’ll want content for every part of your sales funnel but you’ll need to take it in stages. Identify which part of the sales funnel could use the most help in drawing users, this is usually the top of the funnel.
Top of the Funnel
For the top of the sales funnel you’re trying to bring in users who are educating themselves on your space. The focus is going to be more around thought leadership such as industry trends, best practices, and industry news. Good examples of this sort of inbound marketing include:
- Industry reports
- White papers
- Explainer videos that define aspects of the industry (not your product)
- Online courses
Top of the Funnel Content Marketing Examples
Middle of the Funnel
Folks in the middle of the sales funnel are trying to research how to frame a buying decision, for example, what are the options, what are the trade-offs, what are the pieces that need to be considered.
Here a good content marketing strategy is going to help them organize their research around a buying decision. But to be effective it needs be done without pushing your solution too heavily so you don’t undermine your position as a thought leader and trusted advisor. Good examples of types of content marketing here include:
- Buyer’s guides that highlight Important features to consider
- Case studies highlighting how others solved their problem
- Detailed e-books on solution strategies
- How-to guides
- Latest product trends
- Budgeting templates
Middle of The Funnel Content Marketing Examples
Bottom of the Funnel
The bottom of the sales funnel are prospects that are going to buy and are trying to decide between your solution and competitors. Here you want to still build trust and add value around the actual purchase decision. However this is the part of the funnel where you want to convert. So unlike other content marketing you want to make sure you have a very strong call-to-action. Good types of content for this part of the funnel include:
- Feature comparisons
- Getting started articles and videos
- Product pickers
Bottom of the Funnel Content Marketing Examples
It’s far more profitable to keep an existing customer than to try and acquire a new one. So don’t forget to add value for existing customers and maintain the trust that they’ve placed in you. Some common examples of content marketing that work on this front include:
- Case studies of other customer successes
- How-to guides and tutorials
- Community events
While you want to add value, as opposed to an advertisement, this is a good place to do some cross-marketing.
Existing Customer Content Marketing Examples
Step 2: Know Your Prospect’s Questions & Concerns
In order to add value in your content marketing strategy you need to be empathetic to the buyer’s journey. So make sure you take their point of view, not yours. If you do the latter your likely to send out thinly veiled ads that will do the opposite of building trust.
In each step of the process make sure you are adding value not pitching wares. An example of some questions that a prospect might have at each stage of the sales funnel include:
|Sales Funnel Stage||Questions / Concerns|
|Top of the Funnel|
|Middle of the Funnel|
|Bottom of the Funnel|
This is a generic list. You’ll need to flex your empathy muscles to divine the specific questions your prospects are asking for your business at each stage.
Step 3: Develop a Content Marketing Plan
To do it properly you really should come up with a plan for your content marketing efforts. This should include:
- Create a segmentation and funnel movement strategy
- Develop a content strategy
- Develop a distribution strategy
- Set a budget
Create a Segmentation and Funnel Movement Content Strategy
After you have laid out your prospect’s questions and concerns through the sales funnel, you should create a mapping of content to address these questions and concerns. You should link content to another piece of content for a given funnel stage to answer all of their questions at that stage until prospects are ready to’ move down the funnel. At the bottom of the funnel and for existing customers, the content should drive them to the purchase process for new or upsell/cross-sell products. You are essentially working to push them down the sales funnel using content and links.
The goal is to help and guide them to the purchase process. Of course all prospects will not follow a straight path but you get the idea. In addition you may need to take into account that there often are multiple people involved in a decision process, especially in B2B, such as business sponsors, technical, financial, etc. So you may need to make this a matrix across different decision influencers and stakeholders.
Develop a Content Strategy
So now you should have a sense of how you are going to add value on topics at various stages of the sales funnel. You’ll need to decide what format makes the at each stage and by topic. Some topics are better served by webinars, others by calculators. You need take into account your production resources. Building a calculator will take engineering resources. Other content will require writing resources.
Most of your content will likely be written content. You’ll need to decide on the volume and robustness, e.g. length of content, and the frequency of publications. This will give you a sense of the resources needed. Sourcing content can include:
- Writing content yourself
- Staff writers
- Hiring freelancers (here’s an article on hiring freelancers)
- 3rd-party services, including those provided by marketing automation providers if you’re using such a system
After having decided on topics, format, frequency, sourcing, etc. you should build a content publication calendar to organize everything.
Define Your Distribution Strategy
So you’ve got your content strategy all ready. Now you need to figure out how to get that content in front of prospects and customers. The major distribution points can be divided into 3 buckets: your own channels, community channels, and paid channels.
Your Own Distribution Channels
The first and least expensive distribution channel is going to be your own distribution channels. They should include:
- Your website
- Email lists
- Social presence
As you build out your content on your website you’ll need pay special attention to SEO. For email content distribution you’ll need an email marketing platform. You should focus on getting email titles right and driving open and click-through rates. For social you should probably using a social management platform that can automated publishing and track social activity. Make sure you’re using an authentic voice and truly adding value. This is also a great place to have some fun.
For most industries there is an ecosystem that helps folks make purchase decisions. Often they need value-add content (not promotional content) that helps them drive traffic to their sites. Examples include:
- Industry publications
- Social groups
For industry publications the best strategy is to develop genuine, long-term relationships with publishers. Here’s an example list of trade publications by industry from WebWire. For conferences the most successful formats tend to be a discussion of industry trends or case studies of successful examples within an industry. Social groups are similar to industry publications in that the best strategy is to create genuine relationships with a community. Engage in conversations and get to know key thought leaders in the community. And on occasion recommend your value-add content.
To drive traffic to your content you’ll eventually need to take a at look at paid advertising. With the right return-on-investment (ROI), or revenue divided by advertising costs, you can invest in advertising to grow your content marketing traffic. You’ll need to figure out the least competitive ad channels that give you the best conversion rates for the price. Paid channels include:
There are a bunch of tools that can help in each of these areas. For example SEMrush is an example of software to help with SEO and SEM. For sponsored posts and content marketing networks platforms such as HubSpot, Marketo, and Eloqua could be useful in managing and tracking your content marketing efforts.
Set Up a Budget
Now that you’ve got a content strategy and have a handle on how much content you’re going to produce and the channels you’d like to experiment with first, you should turn that into a budget so that you can track investment against results. Your budget should include the following:
- Cost of internal and external staff dedicated to content development
- Cost, or share of cost, of software such as social management or marketing automation
- Cost of promotion by channel
Your budget should eventually have your traffic and revenue goals. Here’s a content marketing budget template from the American Marketing Association.
Step 4: Measure Your Results and Adjust
Once you get your content marketing plan launched you need to track results so you know what’s working and how to adjust investments and activity to maximize your content marketing results. Many of the systems mentioned above – such as content management, email marketing, social management, and marketing automation – will supply most of the reporting you need.
Regardless of the system you use there are a few basic ways you should track your data including:
- Cost per channel
- Cost by campaigns and content type
- Conversion rates and revenue generated
Cost Per Channel
Over time your going to need information that let’s make decisions around how much budget you should allocate across various channels. Ideally you should get a sense if for example Google search ads or sponsored content is generating more traffic, conversions, and ultimately revenue.
Cost by Campaigns & Content Type
In addition to knowing which channels are working you should have a sense of what sort of content and content types are working. Is video generating good ROI? Is a fun voice versus a more professional voice working better? Is your content map effective at targeting users with the right message at various points in the sales funnel? How are you using split testing to test content?
Conversion Rates & Revenue Generated
The holy grail of metrics is tying revenue generated to content and distribution channels and content production costs. But this is easier said than done. How do you measure revenue when someone visits your content and then clicks on your retargeted sales ad 3 weeks later? It’s often easiest to get indicative metrics like traffic, conversion clicks, etc. that you can use as a proxy for actual revenue numbers.
Bottom Line: Content Marketing Works But It’s Work
Content marketing can be a cost-effective way to attract users to your small businesses while at the same time build a well-perceived brand in the marketplace. Just remember the 4 steps:
- Be clear on your objectives
- Know your prospects’ questions & concerns
- Develop a content marketing plan
- Measure your results and adjust
Lastly make sure you go into it for the long term. Building a successful content marketing program takes a lot of work and takes a fair amount of time to show results. Be patient, experiment, and keep improving your metrics and eventually it can be a strong component of your marketing mix. If you’re just starting your web presence you’ll need to get your website up and running. Here’s our guide on building a small business website in 5 simple steps.