In 2016, we released an e-book on how to use content for promoting business. For those who don’t have time to read the whole book, here are the essentials in a nutshell.
Who needs content marketing and why?
Content marketing is a way of promoting business, just like contextual advertising or SMM. It can be used to develop a corporate image and raise awareness of the company, but also for achieving measurable results like boosting sales.
Content can be used for work with audiences at different stages of the marketing funnel: it’s possible to attract the attention of a large number of potential clients with publications in the media that direct to a company blog with interesting articles or educational videos. Then, on a corporate website, you can ask for the visitor’s contact details and offer the product via email.
Apart from promoting corporate expertise and increasing sales, content marketing is a good instrument for HR branding: photo and video tours of the office, comments by executives in popular articles on various topics and interviews with team members all help potential employees to decide whether they want a career at that company.
The ways of using content listed above suit both b2c and b2b businesses. Appealing content works everywhere, but companies selling say, tractors, shouldn’t count on a hike in sales after publishing one media column.
Forms of content
Generally speaking, anything can be content, meaning information for online or offline publishing.
Professional experience: descriptions of projects, research, how-to articles, public talks (presentations) and columns can be interesting for potential clients.
Opinions: people love interesting opinions. You can comment on burning issues in the media. Creating your own digests of opinions for a blog can be a good decision. An opinion does not need to be written, this is why some companies use audio and video to share their views.
Educational content: lessons, tutorials, support pages that enable users to learn how to work with a suggested product or service better, or just broaden their horizons, are a good option. People like to learn new and useful stuff, that’s why such content is always in demand.
Unique product features: don’t hesitate to talk about skills or innovative decisions used in a product.
Interviews: a great way to promote a company is making an interview with internal or external experts. They can be a celebrity that will provide extra PR effect or just know the topic perfectly and have an unusual opinion.
Environment: even offices can be content. A couple of years ago, a famous Russian UX company posted an article about the design of its office. It became so popular that it attracted even foreign language audiences, including UX expert John Maeda, who shared the link on Twitter with a few hundred thousand followers.
Who should create content?
In our experience, a significant number of companies, especially start-ups, shouldn’t waste resources on hiring marketing staff because they often fail to create really good content.
This can be explained by the fact that, for example, in IT companies “sacred knowledge” about the most appealing topics belongs to technical specialists or top management. The tech staff tends to consist of introverts who don’t want to waste their time talking to marketing people and bosses that simply don’t have the time.
Marketing people, in turn, have to post something. But their experience doesn’t always allow them to create high quality content with minimal help from their colleagues and managers. As a result, we see a lot of boring content without interesting facts that won’t attract anyone.
However, hiring an outsourced contractor can yield better results: the money has been paid so bosses are more likely to find time. Also, it is much easier to work with tech specialists by just sending them questions instead of bothering them in person.
Getting down to work
Many companies make the mistake of trying to promote their content by breaking into big media. It’s hard to do on the fly, and a couple of fails with an article that took a lot of time to prepare, might not interest anyone. It eventually kills the desire to continue working in this direction.
Working with media is a subtle process and it’s best to approach journalists knowing what they and their readers want. It’s possible to learn how to understand these things by creating your own blog. The existence of such a resource allows the company to go through the boot camp of creating articles on various topics and honing writing skills.
Also, it becomes immediately clear what topics interest the audience more and what is not appealing at all. A blog with a lot of posts is a great source of content for other platforms. Articles can be packaged into content for media outlets. After testing, you can proceed to increase the number of platforms for your content.
It’s important to keep in mind the marketing funnel. First, achieve the biggest reach possible, and then filter out interested users for more specific work. In order to solve the first task, it’s logical to resort to media outlets with high traffic that allow companies to post on their websites.
At the same time, you should continue working with media, offering them expert columns or comments on their articles upon request by journalists. All of this will maximize reach in order to work with the audience that’s already familiar with the company. Don’t get stuck at the planning stage – the best content is born on impulse, not because you need to write a viral article.
In addition, when it comes to corporate content, it usually involves a certain number of people, each of whom can affect the publication deadline. If, say, a software engineer won’t provide an editor with necessary information, you’ll have to postpone the publication and your whole plan will start to fall apart: you’ll have to post articles saved for future dates right now, etc.
It’s much better to have a few sections and plan future posts accordingly: “this week, we need one product feature post, one translation with comments by our experts and one business-related column in the media.”
Where to find your first readers
Content marketing rarely brings fast results so don’t expect to take over the world with one popular blog post or article in a famous media outlet.
Attracting the first readers that will form the core of your loyal audience is a hard task, but there are ways to make it easier.
If you have, for instance, a business-related article, share the link in specialized communities on social media.
It won’t hurt to involve experts from the outside. You can use comments of popular personalities in the industry or interview them on important topics. This approach allows you to kill two birds with one stone. First, you’ll have unique high quality content and second, they are likely to share the link to their interview or comment on their social media profiles with sometimes hundreds of thousands of followers.
Don’t be shy to repost your articles on outside platforms. For example, you can release a column in the media, and then publish its blog adaptation on your website and specialized resources.
Let the readers get to know you through other websites, it won’t stop you from attracting them to yours using links in future articles.
Now we’ve discussed what can help promote your content, here are a few words on the most common mistakes.
Don’t word count
A good writer treats the article as a whole and tries to tell a story. Having to keep in mind a required volume can kill creativity. If a company uses outsourced writers, linking their pay with the number of words is the worst thing to do. It prompts the writer to include empty information in the article to get more money.
Offline media has to consider the physical size of a newspaper. In terms of online media, blog posts and articles can be of any size, as there is nothing to limit it. Don’t worry that an article is too short, that doesn’t matter.
Quite often, short articles consisting of a few paragraphs are read by thousands of people, while long reads that took weeks to prepare go completely under the radar.
“This-Has-Already-Been-Covered” policy leads to failure
It’s always tempting to be the first one to cover something. But most topics a company could elaborate on have been already covered by somebody else. This isn’t an excuse to sit and wait for huge breaking news that will explode on all blog platforms and attract the attention of the best media outlets.
Regular postings are an important component of successful content promotion. You can’t write something unique every time unless your company is a giant like Google or Facebook. This means that you’ll have to learn how to find something newsworthy in unexpected places, look at existing topics from a new angle and compile different opinions and postings in order to channel a debate in the right direction.
Nobody wants your boring corporate news
With a few rare exceptions, corporate news doesn’t interest anyone except for founders, team members and relatives. So don’t publish press statements about a couple of new functions or changing the color of your menu buttons.
However, an article about how your company collected and analyzed data on audience preferences in order to introduce these features, or how changing the color of a button improved conversion and sales, could be appealing.
Earn the right to advertise
This is the single most important point. Former Apple staff and marketing guru Guy Kawasaki says companies should earn the right to advertise their products. If you start a conversation with your audience using press releases about your success, ignoring the interests of the readers, their numbers will not increase.
And vice versa, if your business wins an audience with compelling content, and then offers information about its goods and services to loyal readers, it will score really good results.