No matter how far you’ve come in your content marketing career – and how much you continue to progress – there are always a few things you wish you were better at, understood more deeply, or had known about earlier.
On my career path, I traveled from print journalism to public relations to digital publishing before arriving at the content marketing crossroads. At that point, I needed to get up to speed on some fundamentals that hadn’t factored into my previous roles; so I turned to informational resources like CMI to power my journey of discovery. (Yep, I relied on content marketing to strengthen my ability to be a content marketer.)
There’s always more to learn; but my self-education efforts have helped me to bridge some knowledge gaps, develop new skills and techniques, and produce better results for my clients and content partners.
I thought I would return the favor by revisiting the fundamentals of successful content marketing from top to bottom. Think of this post as a road map to CMI’s best resources on topics where you or your team might benefit from a refresher course or an expanded view.
What is content marketing?
Like most things in life, you can’t reach your full potential for success with content marketing until you understand exactly what it is (and what it isn’t) – including how it’s defined, what business goals it can help you achieve, and what roles it should play in relation to your other marketing disciplines and techniques.
While some circles of the digital industry have yet to agree on a definitive characterization of the technique, the definition we use at CMI represents the consensus:
Content marketing is the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
In short, instead of pitching your products or services, content marketing works by capturing the attention of your target audience members and helping them address their informational and task-oriented needs. The belief is that your audience over time will come to trust and rely on your guidance, recognize your company’s unique value proposition, and ultimately reward you with business and loyalty.
Let’s unpack the definition further to hone in on its three most essential components:
- It is relevant to a target audience: To build and reinforce loyal, trusting relationships between your business and potential buyers, your content marketing efforts need to communicate with them on their own terms and appeal to them based on their interests – not just the perspectives and priorities your business wants to further.
- It provides them with tangible value: Content marketing is most likely to succeed when it serves a specific and largely unmet need, like delivering critical information buyers are likely searching for, providing a tool or technique to make their lives easier, or guiding them through the steps of a complicated process they might have difficulty navigating.
- It is consistent: Even if you luckily find viral success with a single content effort, those gains can only be sustained over the long term if your content efforts remain consistent – meaning they are produced on an ongoing basis, delivered on a reliable schedule, and always aligned with the standards of quality, value, and purpose your audience expects.
Goals to pursue through content marketing
You can accomplish a lot with a consistent, relevant, and valuable content marketing program. But you’ll never be able to attain the results you want if you haven’t first identified your goals.
Some of the most common goals marketers pursue through their content programs include:
Where content fits in your marketing plan
Content marketing can’t function at its best in a vacuum nor is it meant to be a replacement for other promotional techniques. Content works best when it operates in a cooperative capacity – when it is used to fuel and complement your other marketing efforts in alignment with your overarching business goals.
For example, content marketing works well with:
Getting the buy-in you need
Now that you can clearly characterize content marketing’s value proposition, you’ll be better able to communicate its benefits in terms that others – including your internal and external teams, the C-suite, and other key stakeholders – will understand and appreciate.
The value proposition is a must if you want to secure buy-in and ongoing support: If executive management does not believe in the value of content marketing, it will be incredibly difficult to get the budget, resources, and approvals to keep your content engine running at peak performance over the long term.
While every buy-in conversation is unique to the organization’s priorities and marketing goals, at a minimum be prepared to address common questions and objections, such as:
- What are the expectations for success? Detail the business results your content efforts will help accomplish, and an estimate of the time you expect it to take for those results to be realized.
The following checklist can take your buy-in preparation process further, giving you the tools to assure stakeholders that your content program will be well positioned to achieve success. You may not be able to get every element in place before you ask executives for their support, but the more boxes you can check, the more effective your content marketing program buy-in pitch is likely to be.
Setting the stage for success
With buy-in secured, you can get down to the business of planning, creating, and sharing the high-quality content your audience craves.
While no single technique for developing and managing content suits every organization, we recommend following this content marketing framework. Think of it as a syllabus of sorts, covering the five core elements necessary to run a successful, scalable, and highly strategic content marketing operation:
- Audience: A well-defined explanation of who your content can help the most and the benefits your program is designed to provide for them.
- Unique brand story: The specific and compelling ideas that will flow through your content creation efforts, and how they will reflect your organization’s values and brand voice.
- Processes and teams: The details of how you will structure, plan, execute, and manage the tasks involved in activating your content marketing strategy.
- Measurement plan: The way you will monitor the performance of your content, evaluate its impact, and implement processes for ongoing optimization.
In upcoming posts, I’ll dive more deeply into each of these building blocks and explore best practices for applying them within your organization. Stay tuned.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute