Content marketing is one of those something olds that’s become new again. The phrase itself has only been coined recently but the practice has been happening for years – hundreds of years even!

Poor Richard's Almanack coverIn fact, according to a recent infographic by Content Marketing World, the first instance might have been when Benjamin Franklin began publishing his annual Poor Richard’s Almanack to promote his printing business, circa 1732!

No matter what your business or cause, you’ve undoubtedly been practicing some form of content marketing, or, at least you have the raw content assets to leverage in doing so.

Joe Pulizzi, the modern godfather of content marketing and founder of the Content Marketing Institute, defines content marketing as follows:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on
creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content
to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately,
to drive profitable customer action.”

Content Marketing 101

Content marketing today can take many forms, in both text (blog posts; microblogging, otherwise known as Tweets; white papers; reports) and other media: audio (podcasts), video (webinars, video clips), images (with collections on Instagram or Pinterest), or a combination of text and images (“infographics”).

Below are the most effective types of content marketing, according to a survey on Content Marketing Trends from the Small and Medium-Sized Business Perspective performed by the Ascend2 research and marketing firm and the Allegra print/marketing/mail service network:

 

No doubt you’ve noticed the number of major brands whose television commercials now sign off with Instagram URLs or hashtags (a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic). This is all part of the 360° of integrated marketing, which starts with creating and distributing valuable, brand-relevant content in various fitting formats, on the appropriate channels defined by where your customers or prospects engage, and then promoting and cross-promoting to continually drive traffic to these resources and back to your website, which for now, for most of us, continues to be the hub for all our marketing efforts.

The Importance of Brand Storytelling

The rise of content marketing is also related to the resurgence of the idea of brand stories and storytelling. There are scientific studies on the neurobiology of storytelling that prove what seems easy to accept: that we as human beings are wired to love and respond to compelling, well-constructed narrative. Storytelling makes information persuasive and memorable.

Way beyond your “elevator pitch,” you have stories about your organization, whether yours is a commercial enterprise or a nonprofit with a cause-based mission. Consider your institutional knowledge. Dip into those reservoirs. What’s your origin story? “What passion,” as Paul J. Zak in Harvard Business Review asks, “led the founder(s) to risk health and wealth to start the enterprise? Why was it so important, and what barriers had to be overcome?” What are your hero stories (customers, patrons or star employees who have overcome, transformed)?

Of course, these raw stories need to be presented in a way that appeals to the reader, versus a self-promotional way. That’s part of the key to successful content marketing also. The way we deliver “value.” What’s in this for your customer or prospect, versus what’s in it for you? Why should they care? Providing valuable information to readers, for free, builds trust and relationships.

Benefits of Content Marketing

So, content marketing isn’t a sales pitch. Not directly. But studies prove that content marketing strategies improve a company’s sales pipeline: 74.2% of companies indicate that content marketing is increasing their marketing teams’ lead quality and quantity, according to Curata, a Boston-area tech startup that produces content marketing software.

Part of what makes content marketing such a hot topic today is, in fact, the way content marketing leverages the power of the Web – through search engine optimization (SEO), a whole separate but related discipline leveraging the way that search engines crawl the internet, and social media. As search engines mature, they become more sophisticated and more human like, and they reward website owners who produce consistent high quality, useful, non-“spammy” content.

Making a commitment to content marketing and the surrounding promotional efforts can enhance your brand image and reach exponentially.

Even just curating third-party content, which is essentially what you’re doing when you share valuable links you’ve found via your Twitter account, achieves the basic benefits of content marketing:

  • Building brand awareness
  • Increasing engagement with target audience/s
  • Establishing you or your brand/company/organization as a thought leader in your space

You’ll want to produce your own original content as well. The majority, in fact, should be original. But being an effective curator in and of itself elevates you or your brand.

Once you understand content marketing conceptually (and you’re bought in), you’ll want to do some basic research and planning: survey your existing content assets and consider how you might update, repurpose or reformat them for greater use; set up your various social media accounts if you haven’t already; figure out how you’ll create content on an ongoing basis and where you’ll distribute it; establish a calendar; and begin!

What’s most important – besides your purpose and goals and thinking about how to translate your brand voice to various content and social channels – is quality and consistency in posting. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Prioritize based on your specific audience/s and your available resources. And consider hiring professional help where you need it most.

For further reading, see the links under Content Marketing and Storytelling on my Resources page.