The unusual quick guide to getting started with content marketing without the BS around it.
1. Stop trying to do what your competitor is
Never said turn a blind eye. But come on, conduct the research to identify what they’re doing, what seems to be working for them and what they’re coming up with.
But stop there. Don’t start copying the whole framework because the idea here is to reinvent the wheel, not recreate the same thing.
Those projects only worked back in college, where you could simply ask a senior for their work and present it to the professor to get a 10/10.
If you start copying the content that your competitor is publishing, you’re literally trying to present the same pasta to a foodie, hoping for a WOW-response from them. Come on, can you eat the same pasta every day for months and months?
Instead, use your competitor analysis to identify what they’re not tapping into. See where their content is amiss and then analyse how you could fill that void for a customer. That’s the sweet spot where you can grab the same audience’s attention without having to battle by spending thousands of dollars on promotions.
You know exactly what I mean. So I’m not going to stretch the ‘don’t copy’ explanation here.
Here are a few things to look out for:
- Content formats that your competitor uses to share information and to promote their products
- Their top-performing content pieces (you can use smart tools like SEMrush or Moz here)
- The keywords they are ranking for
- The related keywords to the phrases they are not focusing on (hey, opportunity!)
- What type of content is the audience interacting or engaging with
- Their digital footprint and what the market seems to be talking about (Mention or Google
- Alerts, whatever floats your boat)
- Partners in the ecosystem that have been helping them promote content pieces
And here’s what you should be using the above information for:
- Listing down the content formats that you should test out (some the same, some they haven’t even tested out)
- Topics that they may have covered but you can bring a twist to or add more value to (to de-throne them)
- The keywords that they’re clearly missing out on (but there’s enough search for it)
- Identifying what kind of content the audience really wants to hear from you (they have been the test bunnies; you don’t need to make the same mistakes)
- Shortlisting co-marketing partnerships to reach a more qualified audience
- Listing out sites that you could reach out to for sharing the value you bring to the target market
2. Set the tone before you even write a word
Mostly, you’ll see companies starting to write content based on their keyword research. It’s like a reflex action for them.
Oh, this is what is being searched for. Let’s make a content piece around it right away.
I’m not going to call everyone out on this because I have done it too before. The emphasis being on the word ‘before’ here.
There is nothing entirely wrong about wanting to quickly capture a keyword. But there’s everything wrong with not knowing what you want to achieve by writing something, and everything ABSOLUTELY wrong with not knowing what goal you’re going to achieve from it.
This where setting the tone for your business comes in.
Simply put, letting your audience know what to expect from the content you write or will be writing on, from day 1.
For example, you have a software that helps professionals be more productive. There’s obviously so much you can write on productivity. So how do you give your content a differentiator?
I am going to address the challenges in remaining productive while working from home.
I am going to share solutions to remain productive in a remote working environment.
I am going to give examples of strategies that work to remain productive in a work from home setup.
There’s a very slight difference in all the three tones. But if you read them again and again, you’ll notice how each one varies.
One is being that blunt friend pointing out the challenges you’re facing. The other is being that friend who has a bucket full of solutions to offer no matter what your question is. The third is that friend who has a story or experience for everything you’re going through.
Setting the tone does not mean having to stick to it for years at end. You can always experiment with your approach.
But when you’re starting out, you want your efforts to remain aligned and not digress from the goal you’re trying to achieve. That’s where the tone comes in like a set of rules and regulations to keep you in check!
3. Lay down your goals clearly (even if they don’t sound like immediate money)
Just when are we going to start writing content?
I know. I know. You’re getting restless. But hold on!
It is important to define what you’re trying to achieve from content before starting to invest hours on it week on week.
Whether you’re planning to write all the content on your own, outsource it or hire someone full-time on a contractual basis for it, it is important to understand what your goal with content marketing is.
While yes, the myth-busting we started with clearly talks about how you shouldn’t tie content marketing to direct sales, you should however tie it to a few goals that add up to it eventually.
A few content marketing goals that pros like Copyblogger and other experts will back me on chasing:
Goal #1: Win the trust of your audience
The first and foremost goal that content marketers need to be focusing on or founders should be setting for their team, is building trust.
You’re spending hours or maybe even days creating content. But if your audience does not trust your credibility or your authority in the domain, they’re not going to engage with it. They’re going to call it just another piece of information that has been ‘curated’ by someone smart, from experts.
Lack of trust kills conversions. And by conversions here I mean, how your content is consumed by your audience.
So how do you build trust?
When you’re starting out, make sure that you’re focusing on sharing content pieces that actually add value to your audience.
As you move through the content piece, build a storyline that makes it easy to consume, state your sources of information, how you stumbled upon those sources and how you arrived at a conclusion that you’re sharing in the content piece.
Being absolutely transparent about what you’re 100% sure about and what you’re assuming in the content piece, can go a long way!
Goal #2: Attract new prospects to your company
The very next goal of your content needs to be that it should attract your audience. It needs to be appealing enough on its own for your audience to want to read it.
By audience here, I don’t just mean your existing customers. That’s because they already know the value your product or service brings to them.
I’m talking about being able to keep a steady stream of audience coming to your business, that is more likely to turn into a prospect.
So your content marketing strategy is essentially moving between being able to add more value to your existing customers, and at the same time offering something remarkable to a similar, new audience.
And the only way to do this, is set the goal of creating content that is actually share-worthy.
The goal should be to make your content piece the ultimate source of information for your audience. It should be something that they instantly want to share, link to, refer to or even take snapshots from to use for work.
I like to lovingly call these content pieces, ‘authority content’.
Such a content piece can be created when you know two things – what your customers are looking for and what you actually have expertise on. So make sure you take the time to identify their weaknesses, your strengths and the middle ground where you can become the best of friends!
Goal #3: Explore the prospect’s pain
Do you know what grabs everyone’s attention immediately? A solution to their problems.
If not a direct solution, maybe even a suggestion!
The thing is, the consumer today is agenda-driven. No matter what they’re searching for, it has a hidden agenda behind it. There is a problem that they’re trying to solve.
I’m not kidding when I say buying lounge wear is also addressing a problem and not entirely frivolous. Think about it, if you’re spending hours at home, wouldn’t you want to have something comfortable in your wardrobe too?
When you focus on understanding your prospect’s problems, you are able to better identify how your business would fit into their lives. You get the core of your marketing message that can be used to start a conversation with them through content.
That’s why as nagging as you may find me, I’m always interested in knowing more about your customer persona. If you don’t have one, I might even push you to spend a few days creating one so that your marketing team (or me) can understand who we’re talking to.
A few things your customer persona should include while finding a prospect’s pain points include:
- What frightens them?
- What keeps them awake at night?
- What goal of theirs depends on overcoming this challenge?
- What pisses them off? (Come on, I’m pretty sure even you hate businesses that have made false promises to you before. Might as well know what your prospects have gone through too, right?)
Remember to keep some room for your prospect to throw in more questions. The content you put out there, addressing their pain points, may result in comments or questions. So think of all possible scenarios while writing something out and make sure you are not caught off-guard. Especially not looking like someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about!
Goal #4: Illustrate the benefits of your solution
Alright, you know who your prospect is. You also know their pain points.
At this point, it’s almost obvious for you to want to create an ad using the tagline ‘hey, we solve this for you’. But, hold on!
Claiming that you can solve a problem for a prospect is no longer enough. You’re not doing outbound sales here! You’re trying to educate the prospect before selling to them.
This is where your content marketing strategy should focus on ‘showing’ the prospect how your product/service benefits them. It should show the prospect what they will be getting when they work with you.
For example, replace that content piece you wrote around ‘my product will solve this problem for you’ with ‘10 ways to solve this problem’. You can see the change of tone in the title itself!
Goal #5: Overcome prospect objections
Yes, your prospect customer is seeking solutions.
Solutions to problems they might be facing right now. Problems that might be so big that their day-to-day productivity levels are low. They may even be taking some losses trying to tackle these problems.
But if you think that’s enough to get them to buy your product or service, you’re wrong.
Because while they’re actively looking for ways to solve a problem, they’re also thinking about the potential problems that might come with a solution.
For example, if they feel your product is all too complex. They’re going to overthink purchasing it or even signing up for a free trial simply because their potential problem looks like having to onboard a lot of members from their team.
Each one taking their own sweet time to learn.
Another goal of content marketing should be addressing these prospect objections. Identifying the reasons your ideal customer will shy away from clicking on the subscribe button or even giving your product a trial.
Here’s what I mean.
If one of their biggest objections is the learning curve, create content that demonstrates how easy it has been for similar customers to use your products and services. Or maybe even share the collaterals you have created to make this learning curve faster.
Similarly, if you think your pricing is what is holding them back from purchasing your product, focus on creating content that shows how in the long run it will get them higher returns and maybe even profits!
What’s more? You’ll never run out of ideas. Because your prospects are always going to come up with new objections.
It might not look like a good thing to have. But trust me, if they’re coming up with new concerns, they’re looking at your product and giving you more opportunities to strike a conversation with them.
Goal #6: Paint a happy picture with your product
As we’ve mentioned before, the goal of content marketing is not to sell. It is to help your prospect customer visualize how useful your product or service is.
This is where storytelling comes in.
It is the strategy wherein through content, you’re focusing on helping your prospect experience the product or service ‘mentally’. You’re helping them see a story where your solution is making them experience things differently and positively.
I call it creating a mini movie script where your customer is the lead role and your solution is the Robin to Batman.
If you’re wondering why you should be making an effort to tell a story, here’s why storytelling in content marketing works:
In a search result full of ads and solutions competing one another on pricing and features, stories are what people remember. Not the discount you’re offering. And definitely not the feature list you’re boasting about.
That’s why in most cases, you find case studies work well for products. This content format shows your prospect how a customer similar to them is benefitting from your product/ service. So if they swap the name with theirs, they’re able to see themselves in a winning situation as well!
And it’s not all that difficult!
Here’s what a good story consists of:
Think about how you walk into a shoe store and try out a product. Then you walk around in it to get a ‘feel’ of the comfort it offers. Storytelling in content marketing is pretty much similar – the only difference being, that you’re doing this ‘trial and walking around’ mentally.
Goal #7: Attract partners with complementing skills
A one man army can last only till you finally burnout or hit a creative roadblock. Or even worse, the most fretted writer’s block.
You or your content marketer, whoever has been in charge of creating quality content, is eventually going to hit a point where they are just tired.
Now before you jump to this and call your marketer ‘inefficient’, think about having to write an article on a cow every week. There’s going to be a point when you start getting repetitive, but now your readers are used to finding more value on every visit.
So what do you do?
Attract partners that complement the knowledge you bring to the table.
For example, if you have a product that helps automate advertising campaigns on social media. Your content marketer may hit a block after creating a few exhaustive guides on advertising. They’ve been getting superb responses, but how do consistently keep creating such content?
By bringing on someone who could maybe create as exhaustive guides on using social media organically!
By doing so, you’re equipping your audience with both the strategies – growing organically and growing using paid ad campaigns.
See what I did there?
When you start publishing quality content that builds a positive reputation in your target market, you’re automatically going to attract such partners. Welcome them with open arms, but of course set the rules with a few guidelines based on your previous performance data.
Goal #8: Deepen loyalty with existing customers
Did you know that acquiring a new customer is 5 times more expensive than retaining a new one?
Infact, if you just focus on improving your customer retention by 5%, you could see an increase in your revenue by anywhere between 25% to 95%?
If you haven’t picked up on my drift already, well, customer retention is important. Building loyalty is important. And content marketing is key to building this loyalty.
Building loyalty means ensuring referral and repeat business.
So how does this tie in as a content marketing goal?
Whether you’re targeting new customers or existing ones, make sure you’re adding value to them at the stage of the journey they are at.
While your content marketing strategy should focus on driving in a new audience, it should have equal parts of focus on adding more value to your existing audience, subscriber or customer base.
Imagine having spent 2 years building an audience of 2000 consistent people, and then losing them to acquire 50 new subscribers. That’s not a bargain worth making!
Goal #9: Develop new business ideas
One thing that I have realised is that content marketing can sometimes bring in ideas that you hadn’t even given a thought to.
Right from repositioning your brand message to redefining your unique selling proposition, or even discovering new, but closely related opportunities that you could address – content marketing does it all. But only if you keep a close watch.
So when you’re marketing content, make sure you’re keeping a close watch on how your audience is reacting to it. Start making little changes or testing new approaches to see how this response changes. Don’t try to do it all at once!
The idea is try new ideas without hampering the rest of your content marketing funnel.
For example, if you see a lot of sign ups for an ebook you wrote, consider turning it into an email course and re-marketing it. You’ll not just be able to test another format in the market, but also max out the potential of an existing content piece.
Similarly, if you have a marketing automation product and you’ve only been talking about automating social media. Consider exploring email automation as well – most struggle with that every day. (Including me, and those big products are just not for me, anyone listening?)
Goal #10: Build your reputation on search engines
Most companies think content marketing is just about creating content so that you can be discovered on the search engines. While it’s not entirely wrong, setting this as the goal can have you heading in the wrong direction. That’s because the only way to build a reputation on the search engines is to offer value to your audience. And if they find you valuable, that’s when you start ranking.
So focus on the above content marketing goals before you start chasing SEO.
When you know what works in terms of content or what your audience finds the most value in, optimize the hell out of that piece for it to be found on the search engines!
Go go go.
4. Get down to spending time on keywords
You hate it. I know.
I hate it too. (Yes, I do!)
But is there any way around keyword research? NO.
Can you just get started with content marketing and then see which keywords you want to focus on? Also, NO.
But can you at least outsource keyword research to an expert? Oh, absolutely – in fact, it’s something I recommend to most.
Although, I do believe that whether you’re going to be doing the keyword research on your own or hiring someone else for it, there has to be a method to the madness.
Here are a few things you can do to get started with the keyword research (feel free to skip steps based on where you are in your content marketing journey):
- Identify the key terms that you want to be known for (broadly break up your product/ service into the use cases it caters to)
- Take note of where you’re overlapping with your competitors (so you know where there’s opportunity and what might take you more resources to accomplish)
- Pull out the list of keywords your competitor is ranking for (ideally, please sift these keywords based on the themes – easier to go through – SEMrush here again)
- For each theme/ term you want to be known for, pull out a list of search terms (exact match, broad match and related) to get an idea of what people are looking for
- Highlight the keywords with medium to low competition across all themes in your competitor keyword sheet
- Highlight the keywords in your own keyword sheet that have a low to medium competition and have not been tapped into by your competitor
- Identify the key themes/ terms you want to focus on that give you an edge over the competitor or what your competitor seems to ignoring (but do validate why they have been ignoring it – if there is no demand for something, no point focusing on that)
- Shortlist a batch of about 100 keywords in total across the themes/ terms you decide to go ahead with (make sure each at least has a monthly search volume of 100+)
While the above is a good place to start, I would additionally add the following:
- Rope in a SEO expert!
The thing is, we as content marketers, often tend to pick out on keywords that ‘make sense’ or ‘sound right’. The truth is, by doing so, we often miss out on a lot of opportunities because a lot of our audience isn’t really thinking about how they’re searching for something.
Admit it, you too have searched for ‘grocery store cheap’.
That in no way makes sense in a sentence. But it made sense to you then and did get you the right results!
This is exactly what an SEO expert will help you with. Whether you bring someone in full-time or outsource this activity, make sure you’re fool-proofing your keyword research before spending months trying to rank for something no one is looking for.
5. Set up a content marketing calendar
Once you have all the groundwork done, it’s time to set up a content marketing calendar.
Creating content on the fly is great, because it lets you experiment with topics according to what your target audience wants to hear, or read.
But even then, having a content marketing calendar is like your grounding force. When you lose track, it’s the thing that will bring you back and align your energy. If that sounded too philosophical, it might just be!
As marketers, we often tend to get more ideas while writing content. So what we do immediately, is line up the next pieces accordingly. But in this process, we lose out on the initial ideas – the place where we started from and the why.
A content marketing calendar is like a tool that helps you plan and execute your content marketing strategy in an efficient and timely manner. Might I say, without losing any of your ideas!
Using a calendar-based plan for content marketing gives you an overview of how your content will be laid out over a specified course of time. And you don’t really have to go all out creating a calendar for a year.
Based on what product or service you’re selling, and how dynamic your market needs are, create a calendar for anywhere between 15-30 days.
Once you find your sweet spot, you can start planning ahead too.
Before you start crying about how difficult it is to create a content calendar, and you’re not sure what to include, here are the simple field to stick to:
- Draft title
- Publish date
- Content type
- Media type
- Media entity (the destination of your content)
Buying stage (TOFU, MOFU, BOFU)
Yep, that’s it. That’s all you need to do!
Now you can create this content marketing calendar in a tool that suits you best. It could be an excel sheet, a Google Excel spreadsheet, Hootsuite, Trello, Asana – there are too many to name here, to be honest.
Me and my team personally prefer either Google Excel spreadsheets or Trello to plan the content calendar. Sometimes, we also use a mix of both to improve our alignment with projects, and set up automated reminders for those the tasks are assigned to.
If you’re interested in learning how to set up a content marketing calendar, head over to https://vanhishikha.com/trello-b2b-content-marketing/ right away!
Now unlike other tips you may hear on ‘stick to the plan’, here’s something I also recommend in a content marketing calendar: Keep it flexible or at least keep scope for changes because consumer needs are different, and there’s no point writing content that just doesn’t work!
6. Create a framework for remaining consistent
The thing about content is that if you’re not consistent, it isn’t going to work. You’re constantly going to question yourself if you even need to create content or not. And then you’re going to frantically work on creating content because everyone’s doing it – especially your competitors.
As a result of this, what happens is that you’re creating content in spurts. You’re publishing one week and you’re sleeping over the next two. Sorry, not sorry!
There are many reasons why people go slack at creating content. Some of my favourite excuses are:
- It’s not showing the results we expect
- It’s too time-consuming to create content people
- It’s impossible to know what our readers want
- It’s not ready yet – we’re working towards creating a perfect content piece
Mmmmm. Yeah, right!
If you have a content calendar well documented, you’re already tackling the ‘what to write’. For the rest of it, you need to follow one simple golden rule.
Done is better than perfect. Unless you want your competitor to become the definition of both ‘done’ and ‘perfect’.
Here are a few simple ways in which you can create a framework for yourself to remain consistent at content marketing:
- Make your content calendar easily accessible (create a shortcut to it on your desktop if the need be)
- Set up your content calendar on tools like Trello (to know what’s in the pipeline, in process, in review and so on)
- Give yourself hard deadlines (and set up Trello to send you automatic reminders on email or any other channel you actively check)
- Set aside one day of the week to create outlines for your content (if you don’t feel like working today, this is the next best thing instead of spending time on Instagram or procrastinating)
- Set aside one day of the week for ‘focus writing’ (cut out all the distractions and make sure your focus is on writing ONLY)
- And time your activity (write like you’re giving an exam)
- Give yourself an hour’s break to answer mails or have a cup of coffee
- Come back and give your content piece a good proofread
- Ask for feedback from your team mates (if you have them)
- Focus on beautifying your piece with videos, images or graphics
- HIT PUBLISH, COME ON!
The one thing you need to know and learn about content is that you can always go back to it and fix it.
If you got some piece of information wrong, you can always go back and edit it. Stop worrying about someone pointing it out – you can thank them if they do!
If a graphic wasn’t good enough, you can always go back and change it. People will only appreciate your effort!
If you got a bit of grammar wrong in some pieces, call yourself out and fix it up later. Again, if someone points it out, thank them for it!
If you missed out on an important section, go back and add it to your content piece. Heck, even tell people you added more to it!
PS. Google loves it if you keep your content pieces up-to-date.
In short, just get to it and stop making excuses when it comes to content. Yeah?
7. Include your distribution strategy in your framework
One of the things that most marketing teams slack on, is distribution.
But how do you expect the best of your content pieces to get delivered if you don’t take it to your audience?
Remaining consistent here is as important as publishing consistently.
This is why you need to include your distribution and syndication strategy in your framework. This would be as simple as including a list of platforms you need to share your content on after publishing it.
You’ll just feel accountable for distribution when those columns in your excel sheet or your task board look empty.
8. Set up a way to measure your content marketing efforts
Alright, content marketers. Let’s get real.
I know you hate numbers. I know it takes away your “creative” time. I know going through endless data is just “exhausting”.
But I also know your manager or your boss is five steps away from asking you if content marketing even works.
Trust me, this one comes from experience.
There are a number of analytics tools that you can use to measure the performance of your efforts. Right from the very basic Google Analytics to all those other tools out there, choose your poison.
But set the right metrics to measure of course. As a content marketer (and a writer), you can’t just endlessly spend all your time on numbers. So you need to be smarter about this and take control of your creative time.
I’m not going to deep dive into metrics here because that’s like a whole new guide. But here are some that are absolutely critical to measure your content marketing performance:
- Web traffic by source/ medium to know where your content consumers are coming from
- User behaviour to understand what a visitor does after consuming the content you offer
- Keyword ranking to see how your content piece is showing up on the search engine for relevant phrases
- Impressions to analyse how many times your content is visible when an internet user makes a search
- CTR or click-through rate, is the percentage of people who see your content (impressions) and click on it
- Content shares and backlinks to see how valuable your visitors find the content to be
- Scroll depth to see how far a person is willing to read through your content (also helps with placing call to actions btw)
- Bounce rate to see if your content distribution channels are effective at reaching and driving the right audience to your site
- Leads generated to see how effective the content piece is organically as well as when you use it for paid campaigns
- Authority in the industry because if you’re writing just for the heck of it, you know what I have to say about it
9. Keep this guide aside and get to it
You’ve been reading this for a while now.
You wouldn’t become an expert in a day. Unless you get out there and get to it, you’re not going to learn what works and what doesn’t.
The “what ifs” are of no use when you can’t back them up with concrete data.
So it’s time for you to set aside all those content marketing myths you’ve been hearing, and get to work.
Content marketing, just like other tactics, is a continually evolving domain. There are no set rules and no set strategy that works for all.
If you’re questioning yourself too much while creating content or starting with content marketing, I urge you to go back to the basics on why you need it.
Some of my favourite people who can tell you best about content marketing are Ann Handley and Gary Vaynerchuck.
These are people who showed the world that content marketing is for everyone. Content marketing works for every business.
And if you’re willing to put “pull” before “push” (education before selling), content marketing is for you.
Oh and when someone asks you if content marketing is even a necessity any more, ask them to go buy the latest Apple device without reading it’s descriptions or return policies.
Or even better, pass this book along!
Time to get back to work. I have a content calendar to keep up with.
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