Social media has transformed marketing from one-way monologs to a conversational model. The term of “content marketing” has been buzzing for a while, but what does it really entail? Creating blogs, videos, e-books, infographic and white papers with thought-leadership content is only part of the equation. You also need to make sure the content supply chain and distribution channels are running smoothly, ready for market feedback. Do it right and you will be able to measure the ROI of content marketing because it should convert leads into sales.

This article is about why content marketing is important, how businesses large and small need to understand it, and how to link your marketing activities to actual sales results and user acquisition.

Startups Need Content Marketing

Over the years I’ve met lots of startup founders who have done a great job developing their products, services and customers. They are either closing the first round of funding, or have just done so. They usually have technical or design background.

Now for the first time entrepreneurs wonder, “what about marketing? How do I grow my numbers 10,000 times at every front without a significant marketing budget?”

Corporate America Needs Content Marketing

I’ve also met lots of marketers who work at different marketing departments in huge corporations, specializing in fields including (but not limited to): product marketing, solution marketing, branding, PR, or digital marketing. It’s easy to work in silos and lose touch with market demand and the company’s ultimate goal: to drive sales.

Now, marketers wonder how everything should piece together, and how they are contributing to the company’s sales goals?

The answer to both scenarios is content marketing.

Step 1: Define Your Engaging Content Strategy and Keywords
Since your company is creating the content, it should be all about you, right? Wrong. The truth is no one cares unless you are solving their pain points, educating or entertaining them. Creating content only about yourself is like throwing a rock into the lake; the rock will sink, be buried and forgotten. Creating content about your customers is like fishing; you want to use what piques the interest of the fish as bait.

Tip: Want to know what people are searching online? Use Google’s Keyword Tool Box andWordtracker to help identify the trends and keywords, and use them in your copy to improve your SEO rankings so customers can find you. Remember to tell an engaging story people will retweet, share and comment on: the launch of Google Panda in 2011 punishes keyword stuffing.

Step 2: Target and Focus

This is especially important when you only have limited budget, because non-target and broadcast pitches are spam and resources wasted. Who are your target audience or prospects? Visualize customer “personas” and virtual profiles by giving them names and job titles; ask questions such as:

  • Why would Peter download the app, or
  • How would my solution help Stephanie, and when?
  • Will Peter and Stephanie want to come back for more?

Identify these scenarios and create use cases, stories, and useful information that would actually help them with their pain points.

Step 3: Plan to Repurpose Content

To maximize the value of your marketing dollars, plan to repurpose your content beforehand. Plan for one set of marketing content each month, and repurpose it for different materials. The advantage of doing so, besides saving money, is that you end up with an integrated and cohesive campaign.

  • Email drip campaign about product launch corresponded to a press release
  • Make a blog post about the same product launch
  • Consolidate all email and blog content into a brochure for trade shows
  • Reformat all the content to craft newsletters

Step 4: Identify Internal and External Thought Leaders

To run an effective content engine, you need to have a production plan. Set content calendar and weekly content quota. To ensure a steady stream of content supply, internal bloggers have to be held accountable for keeping up with the editorial calendar. Therefore, content creation should be part of their KPIs.

Tip: Good content is not cheap. If you have enough budget like American Express to hire Guy Kawasaki to blog on Open Forum, great. If not, do what OKCupid does: they have a huge amount of data of users, and they turn these data into interesting stories people would talk about and share online, and long-tail content. Share your industry expertise without hard-selling. 

Step 5:  Be a Good Listener, and Really Listen

Are you tuning in to your customers, on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and… Quora? Do you know what they say about you and your competitors? Marketers and business owners need to actually be quiet for a moment here. In the conversations online lie the key insights and information we need in order to understand customers and serve them well, and respond appropriately (preferably real-time!).

Tip: Use social listening tools to move out of marketing monologs, and engage with influencers. Influencers have the power of amplify opinions and messages like wildfire. The best influencer identification software I’ve had my hands on is Traackr. It is a one-stop shop: Traackr provides detailed profile of influencers, how relevant they are to your campaigns and projects, how often do they talk about the key topics, and how influential they are online – all you have to do is to conduct a target keyword search.