Content marketing identifies a process of planning, preparing, and producing non-commercial content potentially relevant to your customers. So what is content marketing? It is a complex practice that requires a great deal of insight into the buyer personas: knowing your customers, what they want, and what their objectives are, means knowing what is interesting for them and producing content that they can judge of quality.
The goal of content marketing is to build a relationship with your customers. It has nothing to do with the commercial side of your business, or rather, it shouldn’t be talked about directly. It has nothing to do with your products. If you talk about your products, you are advertising, not content marketing.
Content marketing is the tool to help your customers make choices, accepting that they will only sometimes choose your company as a partner.
So content marketing is one of the ways that companies have to get closer to their customers without being too aggressive on a commercial level. But not only. If a customer is ready to buy something, he will have already done his research and be ready to pick up his wallet.
However, remember that there are also prospects who do not have clear ideas, have yet to decide what to buy, and need help. Or maybe they need to understand better what alternatives they have. Content marketing does exactly that: being there when someone needs your help.
Content marketing: the definition
Content marketing is a business process that uses strategic marketing to create and distribute relevant and valuable content for buyer personas to attract new customers and retain existing ones.
To arrive at this definition, we started with Wikipedia, which quotes verbatim:
Content marketing is a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing, and distributing content for a targeted online audience.
Well, this is a great starting point, but lately, it is that I’m getting sophisticated; I find the Wikipedia definitions a bit too generic, so in the definition of content marketing, I would add at least the following concepts:
Damn, how many things. On the other hand, the description read above is purely academic and does not provide even a minimal practical application or a purpose, a reason for applying a marketing strategy linked to the content (a content marketing strategy, in fact). Here, the mentioned terms come into play, which we take up again and try to fit into a broader definition.
- Strategy. Content marketing is and must be a complement to traditional marketing. The flourishing of bloggers, YouTubers, and various influencers is proof of this: people need to read, watch, learn, laugh, cry, be amazed, or whatever they are looking for at that moment. All this becomes strategic when a company makes content marketing a real process from which to give birth to the business.
- Process. To be effective, each activity (including content marketing) must be made a repeatable and measurable process. CRM, email marketing, and marketing automation platforms must help companies structure processes. OFG is a platinum partner of Hubspot, for example.
- Relevance. Here we shift the attention to the content: the relevance depends on the target and buyer personas. By relevance, we mean how important the content is for our readers, how much interest it arouses, how much it is shared, and consequently, how much reach it manages to obtain. Relevance is the holy grail of content marketing. As already mentioned, content is not relevant in itself, in absolute value, but it becomes relevant about the people to whom I address.
- Distribution. This is a key point because it defines how many people see my content. Today social media is less and less “social” and more and more “media,” so if the company wants visibility, it has to buy it. Ergo, finding the right tools for my audience is always a question of knowing my buyer personas.
- Attraction. This is the first part of the inbound process, but it would be fine even if we don’t apply inbound marketing. We use the content to attract traffic (we expect it to be qualified traffic, but it depends on the marketing objectives we set in the strategic definition phase).
- Loyalty. This is the final part of the inbound marketing process, where I use content to keep my customers interested in my brand. The loyalty process is much more complex and continues with content marketing. Still, the latter can play an important part alongside more conventional methods (customer service, loyalty cards, gamification, etc.).
- Profitable. We don’t do all this for glory or personal satisfaction, but we have to bring everything back to a commercial level: everything that is done must have a return and be sustainable.
So. Very well, we got there. It is easy to say that content marketing is only related to creating and distributing content. It has to be deeply related to business, lead generation, and customer retention. Something that impacts the customer journey and customer experience to satisfy even the most difficult customers. It’s not just content marketing that does this, but it’s an important point that should be considered.
Why doing content marketing is essential.
Your company uses content marketing to start, build and keep the relationship with your prospects and customers alive. But of course, there are other aspects of content marketing that you should take into consideration. Producing quality content also means:
- Increase your digital presence, therefore the probability of being found wandering on search engines, youtube, or social media
- Increase inbound traffic because, in addition to being found by your potential customers, if you have written content that they judge of quality, you have also managed to attract their attention.
- Become a trusted partner because if a prospect starts following you, it means you’re doing a good job in building the relationship, and very likely, when it’s time to buy, he will think of your company because he will have been able to appreciate how well you know that subject.
- Open a constant flow of communication with your prospects and have a way to always keep active contact with your customers.
- Recycle content in various forms. A blog post can also become a video, a series of social posts, a podcast, a webinar and
What is content strategy?
The odds tell us that your company is not the only monopolist in your sector but has many competitors, each of which will have its ways of communicating with its customers, which could also be yours.
The first strategy to implement is differentiation: does your company have its characteristics and peculiarities that make it a unique entity, but so does the way it communicates? Wikipedia says verbatim:
“without original and desirable content or consideration for the rights and commercial interests of content creators – any media venture is likely to fail through lack of appealing content, regardless of other design factors.”
In practice, in a world where the consumer is looking for information and not the other way around, it must have at least one of the following characteristics, in order of importance:
- Originality, even just in the way they are presented
- news, to be the first to convey this information
- relevance, the importance of your target
When a site or a brand becomes relevant to its target, it gains authority, takes part in the life of its followers, and increases its power over the market.
Someone said that with great power comes great responsibility. This Marvelian paradigm also remains valid in communication: the responsibility, in this case, is towards one’s customers and concerns; once excellence has been achieved, the quality of one’s content to which consumers have been loyal. And the quality of content depends on the content marketing strategy we have adopted. So once again, content is king only when everyone rewards its qualities: if it’s original, search engines like it; if it’s relevant, consumers like it; if it has both these characteristics, even the brand itself likes it.
In summary: content marketing and storytelling meet not only in telling one’s story but also in what we decide to tell, the way we decide to say it, the emotions and feelings we manage to ignite in those who use our content, the means we decide to use, the formats that are most aligned with the needs of our customers. I say enjoy and not “read” because content marketing can be adapted to any content, be it textual, visual, or auditory.
By now, it is clear to us I would say: at the basis of the content marketing activity, there is not a minstrel with a guitar in hand but
- solid marketing, consistent with corporate values
- attentive to building a relationship with its customers
- focused on acquiring new customers who share those same values
- focused on building consistent messaging across all ecosystem touchpoints.
Seems like a good starting point to me. Let’s see how to set up a content marketing strategy.
Know the buyer’s personas.
“Content is King” is a much-abused phrase that comes from a visionary article by Bill Gates (written in unsuspecting times back in 1996, before any social network was even thought of) and which has been widely misrepresented. In its original meaning, the founder of Microsoft himself states that in the not-too-distant future (today, ed), most of the turnover generated on the internet will be made up of content, which is very different from actually saying that content is the king of communication.
Content marketing is important and must be of quality, interesting, engaging, and relevant.
But who decides if the content is of quality? For whom is it relevant? What may be of interest to me may not be useful to others. Indeed, it certainly is. So if I look for some things and you look for others, if I judge an article as absolutely relevant and I agree with it, and you find it useless, the content, however well constructed, cannot be king. He may be a prince, but not a king. Then who’s in charge?
In reality, we have already said it: the user, your buyer persona, commands. So the customer is the real king. Everything revolves around him: from the use of content to the use of products, from the search for information to the purchase phase, from the choice of alternatives to after-sales.
In other words, content marketing must be planned and prepared for the customer journey that our company has been able to build. Well, that’s the real point of the discussion. To write relevant content, to make an effective content marketing strategy, you need to know what is relevant to your audience. But how do you know what customers think?
It is no coincidence that part of this analysis is dedicated precisely to deepening the buyer personas and a fundamental point that forms the basis for the content marketing strategy. The strategy will still have to be redefined and reworked over time, but this is inevitable both because the business evolves and because buyer personas’ needs can change.
Set up a content marketing strategy.
The point is, therefore, that finding insight into your customers is the basis for understanding their way of thinking and behaving and is, consequently, the basis of content marketing: knowing them well, therefore, means better interpreting their needs, also in communication.
Once the buyer personas have been drawn, we can proceed to set up a content marketing strategy:
- Storytelling. We have just seen how content marketing is a relational tool to establish a privileged relationship with our customers. To do this, a story must be told: every successful brand has something to say. What do you fight for every day? What’s your goal? What’s your story? What messages are closest to your brand?
- Finding Ideas. We will face a method to recover successful ideas to support the production efforts that we must necessarily sustain. I speak of the process because that is what it is about: the difference between good content and relevant one is precisely the presence or absence of a methodology on which to lean to have a fixed point, even in a creative process. We will address techniques to find ideas and make them grow and evolve to get to writing valuable content.
- Editorial plan. We are not just talking about a content plan but also how to organize the next production steps: we will build a real content creation strategy that we will implement in different tactics to make it repeatable over time. A plan of this magnitude identifies which content streams we want to pursue over the coming months and which initiatives to undertake during the year. The plan helps us in building coherent content.
- Definition of KPIs. We will then see how to define the KPIs we will evaluate after publication based on indicators based on the behavior of our users.
- Content creation. Here too, it is important to have a method that creates, in golf, this word used, “consistency,” which is a mix between coherence and repetitiveness. So it’s the standardized process that gives this sense of certainty about what we’re going to write and makes us more confident. In any case, creating valuable content is much more than just writing and publishing. We will then see best practices to communicate our products or services effectively.
- Content promotion. We will delve into the most effective process for successful content distribution: getting the maximum reach for our content – which means, which methods, which contents. This point is important; we will see how more time should be spent promoting content than creating new ones.
- Measure and analyze our efforts. Finally, we will see how to establish what worked and what didn’t, to calibrate our strategy towards the path of perfection constantly.
Difference between content marketing and storytelling
Each of us loves stories: we like to tell them, listen to them, feel part of something, and believe in values similar to ours.
Every time I explain what storytelling is and give examples, the images in my interlocutors’ heads are linked to a company of storytellers, almost as if it were a minstrel from the 2000s who tells sad or funny stories.
That’s not really the point. We have seen that storytelling is a powerful means of dialogue that aims to touch our customers on an emotional level and through which to build a valuable and lasting relationship. How do you do it? The first rule is to be true to yourself and your values, to attract those communities that share the same vision of the world.
What is corporate storytelling? Something much simpler than you might think. Storytelling means telling your story, your values, and ideals to align the brand with your customers: telling this story, therefore, means much more than telling the “true” story of the company or product; it means showing the world one’s values, the corporate mission, one’s vision, what one believes in even if it means taking sides in favor (or not) of some idea that we know is not shared by everyone. The way we tell it, our tone of voice, is part of storytelling.
Another thing is capturing the attention of our customers:
- Every minute in the world (every minute) Google alone receives about 4 million queries.
- Almost 1,400 blog posts are created.
- Facebook generates about 2.5 million UGC (user-generated content).
And I’m not talking about the billion users of TikTok or Instagram.
In short, capturing attention becomes a rather complex business. For this reason, it is not enough to tell a story: storytelling is (as Mina and Cocciante said) a matter of feeling, a theme linked to emotions and feelings. It is a question of aligning the company to the feelings of its consumers, to remain in you but musical, to create resonance with their ideals.
This is why marketing and communication also mean having to do content marketing and can no longer just be synonymous with ad campaigns, beautiful posts on Instagram, or beautiful phrases to put on the site. The messages are too many, the time that each user can dedicate to us is less and less, the attention decreases and, with it, the interest of our potential customers: to do marketing today, you need to understand customers, know what they want and let them live an experience always on top.
Not capturing their attention with click-bait campaigns (which make people click) but I’m talking about relevance, a real relationship, building a relationship with each of them: with fewer customers in absolute terms, but much more motivated and resonating with the company’s values. I’m talking about content marketing.
So what is the difference between content marketing and storytelling? Now that we’ve discussed it extensively, it’s obvious: a company does storytelling through content marketing.
Content marketing and marketing automation
The personalized, one-to-one experience is the basis of this new relationship we are trying to build with our customers.
Giving generalist and not well-profiled messages means losing an opportunity to be relevant. But how can we be precise and punctual in our content marketing strategy if we have tens of thousands of customers?
We are talking about automated management of operations but the final result must be tailor-made marketing, where I know your name, I know your birthday, I know what you bought, I know you are interested in those products and anything that may be of interest to help you buy my products/services again.
This is possible today thanks to marketing automation and one or more integrated software that allows you to analyze data and react accordingly.
We said to ourselves that communication agencies have changed. I add that those who still need to do so will have to. The goal of today’s marketers must (must) be to establish stable and lasting relationships of trust. Don’t attract users to the site to increase the number. Only have a few followers on Facebook.
A serious marketer knows these things are of relative importance (growth hackers call them Vanity Metrics): fewer selected users are better than many to increase the number. Put like this; it doesn’t make sense; it just doesn’t always work that way. Why?
It is often an internal matter. Often marketing would like to do but can only do so much because management or ownership expects results in traffic or likes on posts.
Okay, this is a way of measuring activity: a somewhat superficial way. A series of sub-levels of reading and other KPIs define the real results: still speaking of Growth hacking, we have seen the North Star Metric, that single metric that must guide the whole business. I’d start there. Then we have the interactions, the time spent on the pages, and I don’t know what else might be interesting for you: the point here is that it’s easier to look at the “easy” numbers than trying to understand in depth if what I do is appreciated by my customers.
Content marketing and blogging
The blog is one of the most classic content marketing tools and one of the most effective for several reasons, not least because it pushes a lot on SEO. To write from an SEO perspective, you need to respect some golden rules, including, for example:
- Including keywords is okay, but avoid repeating them too often in the post. The main keyword should be placed in the first paragraph and in the H1.
- If you are an averagely advanced SEO user, tools like Semrush or Google Search Console help you understand which are the main search queries in your sector or for which your site is already indexed. Other ideas can be found in the analysis of competitors’ sites or blogs.
- Another important thing to do is to analyze, given a keyword, the structure of the articles positioned on the first page and understand which information and titles helped position those articles. Reasonably, it’s best to poke around without making too much of it.
- Remember to link your articles with other articles on your blog internally. This way, you will reduce the site’s bounce rate, which doesn’t hurt.
So the visual part weights every communication activity except our company blog. The images, in addition to making reading a little easier, help to focus the article’s content better and capture the attention of our future readers who still need to decide whether or not to start reading. That’s why the images will help you:
- Building your credibility: yes, the dress makes the monk. You will only be believable if you look believable first. In an old advertisement that has remained historic, it was said that seeing is believing. Here’s more or less the concept: the human being needs to make eye contact and base their inevitable judgment on the first impressions of him (which, for God’s sake, can change, but you have to work twice as hard). It’s not that we do it on purpose, it’s a mechanism that we are programmed to have to make the world around us easier. In marketing, it is no different.
- Keep your brand identity consistent. Brand identity is essential for every brand, including yours. Maintaining consistency of color, treatment, style, and tone of voice is essential to remain recognizable and attract new and old users.
- Telling a story: to put everything on a scientific level, when our brain sees something it wants (ancestrally something that could have increased the chances of survival), it releases dopamine, illuminating the pleasure center. Now, I don’t think a blog post makes us drool with joy, but one image can attract our attention more than others, and it’s the one we need to exploit for our mere marketing purposes. Stimulating curiosity can be another tactic to get attention. In short, the end justifies the means.
The human brain is programmed to grasp visual information on the fly, while written information must be processed more actively.
Now, we could wonder if all this should be explained in a written article, but we can’t do anything else… I’m sure you’re reading everything carefully. In any case, it is unthinkable to use only visuals for communication because the text is fundamental. Hence, the challenge is to use fewer images than possible but to optimize them as best as possible within one’s communication strategy.
Today, let’s see some tricks for choosing images wisely, even before understanding how to have the images best aligned with the blog contents and not create confusion and false expectations but generate attention and interest.
- Placement matters. Eye tracking studies show that images above the headline attract more attention than those below. Ogilvy had already noticed that the images contained in the text but aligned to the left (text to the right), make you lose attention and lead the eye to look for the next line of text to read.
- Put some text. Okay, we have said until now that the text is not read. Instead, a small text (a caption) helps to focus the users’ attention. Small not only in size but also in the number of words. This text will also be better remembered. Also, Ogilvy noticed that a small text above the image is read about 3 times as much as the text below the image.
- Let’s all look at the convert button. It seems strange, but when you look at an image, you sometimes need to do what you want. If, inside the image, someone looks in a specific direction; the reader will be inclined to do so too. The same goes for someone pointing with their finger, or don’t underestimate the power of an arrow.
- Use image bank photos wisely. This doesn’t mean we can’t use photos from image banks, God forbid. We avoid the ugly and trivial ones that could have a double negative effect: on the one hand, they discourage your users, on the other, you could easily find them on your competitor’s site.
In short, today’s takeaway is that content marketing is also made up of the image it brings with it, which is as crucial as the post’s content. To inspire you below is a series of free image banks with Creative Commons rights (read carefully the rights associated with each image before using it and make sure you can do it, do not take them from Google, which in 99% of cases are covered by rights):
Content marketing and visual content
I am well aware that taking charge of blog management is not a complex but highly time-consuming job, which, however, brings advantages in terms of understanding marketing logic but, above all, helps to keep yourself professionally updated and curious, not to mention the benefits in terms of SEO.
Digressing for a second, although sometimes researching topics, writing text, and searching for images is a burden to be sandwiched between other work activities, I must admit that it is one of the few working moments in which I dedicate myself, leaving room for my curiosity and giving me time to explore new and interesting topics. Definitely:
- If you don’t have a blog, start one. I will never stop saying how useful it is (for users and yourself) to create content.
- If you’re not opening it because you need more time, have someone handle it (a communications agency or an internal resource). In doing so, we skip the part where the blog helps you grow professionally, but the benefit for your users and SEO is always valid.
After the long introduction, let’s get to the point. It has been demonstrated, and we have extensively discussed it in this blog, by research on user behavior, brain scans, and analysis of eye movements, how visual content is processed by the brain much faster than the copy counterpart.
About 90% of the information processed is visual (images, colors, faces, etc.), and it is a process that mostly takes place on an unconscious level, so we cannot do without it: everything that is written, however natural, is a human artifice and therefore must be learned to be mastered. On the contrary, man is born to “read” the signs, dangers, and challenges that Mother Nature gives us every day, and as marketing men, this is something we cannot and should not ignore.
Therefore, for a quest for pure survival (we are talking about our ancestors), the human brain is born with the ability to “see” an image faster than to read a text: we are talking about a reaction time of about 60,000 times higher. Objectively without going to bother ancestral programming or making it trivially a matter of time, that must be dedicated to a long text like the one you are reading or to an image that is explanatory of the concepts we want to express.
If we add up the data proposed so far, we can say that 70% of the text content we see during the day is ignored by our brain (including the texts we are so busy generating on our site, alas). At this point, however, I would say that it becomes clear how important it is for a marketing man not to lose sight of the visual part within his content marketing strategy: Social Media, in some way forerunners of market trends, have long understood: the success of Instagram and Snapchat, the space that Facebook itself dedicates to images and videos is explanatory of how much visual content is the way to go.