Sometimes you have to go back to the basics to remember why you do any of your work in the first place. So today we talk about the question: What even is content marketing?
In this episode, I'll break down the definition of content marketing and its many forms.
This podcast seeks to answer your questions about content marketing and digital PR with straightforward, actionable tips. You can find all episodes here.
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Episode 6: What is Content Marketing? - Show Notes
This week's question comes from a simple Facebook comment, where someone asked me:
- Superdrug Online Doctor
- Superdrug Online Doctor case study
- Choosing the Right Types of Content Marketing for Every Stage of the Sales Cycle [blog post]
Well, What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is a type of inbound marketing that utilizes content to inform and engage audiences and potential clients and customers.
It's not just about producing high-quality content – you also have to promote that content. These two functions make up the core of content marketing.
Content marketing can be used for every stage of the funnel, so let’s talk about each stage.
Top of the Funnel
Example content types: Viral content campaigns, infographics
When you're developing top-of-the-funnel content, your goal is to appeal to mass audiences for general awareness purposes. Reasons to do this include broadening your brand recognition and putting your name out there to people who may have never seen it otherwise.
Because of this, you'll be targeting a large audience. At Fractl, we create data-driven, emotional content to appeal to the largest number of people possible, and then we pitch this content to publishers.
When high-authority publishers cover the story (and mention your brand and link to your site), you get a lot of exposure.
Middle of the Funnel
Example content types: Ebooks, white papers
Middle-of-the-funnel content targets people who are either in your industry or who are interested in your industry and are thus more relevant to your product or service offering. We call this "related awareness," and you'd target these people to give them more details about your work now that they're exploring more within your vertical.
Because of this, you'll be targeting a medium-sized audience. Ebooks, white papers, and other actionable resources work great with these types of audiences.
Once you create the assets, reach out to influencers in your industry who may want to share them or include them in their own blog posts or resources.
NOTE: Blog content is also a huge part of content marketing, and while it generally falls into middle-of-the-funnel, it overlaps with other parts of the funnel, as well. (More on that in the podcast.)
Bottom of the Funnel
Example content types: Case studies, testimonial pages
Bottom-of-the-funnel content is for people who have heard of your brand and are now trying to figure out why your brand is better than the competition. Thus, this content is created for more niche awareness and should position your brand as the No. 1 choice for potential customers/clients.
This will be the smallest audience you target, but also the audience with the highest potential to convert. Case studies, testimonial pages, and other resources that clearly demonstrate the results you've provided in the past work well for this level of the funnel.
You won't be doing too much promotion at this stage, but you do need to strategically place this type of content around your site so that it's placed where it'll be the most effective to those who see it (for example, on your contact page).
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Welcome to Ask Amanda About Marketing, a podcast in which I, Amanda, or occasionally a special guest, answers your questions about inbound marketing. Straightforward, right? If you want to submit a question email me at email@example.com. I'd love to hear from you. Let's get right to it.
Today's episode was inspired by a Facebook comment I saw on a post about the podcast and the comment simply read:
What is content marketing?
And at first I kind of laughed and I thought okay, this is a pretty basic straightforward question. But then the more I thought about it the more I realized that this is actually a really valid question and something that is good to step back and reflect on—the entire scope of content marketing, all the different things content marketing includes which I think sometimes we forget about, especially if we specialize in particular types/subsets of content marketing.
So I want to use this podcast episode to explore the different ways content marketing is used, talk about exactly what it is, and how it impacts your business goals.
So let's start with the basic definition—or at least what I would consider the basic definition—of content marketing. To me, content marketing is a type of inbound marketing that utilizes content to inform or engage audiences and potential clients and customers. So obviously that's a really broad definition, but I don't want it to be too limiting because now that content is being used in so many different interesting ways, I think that content marketing does involve a lot of different tactics.
And that's why it's important to analyze this broader definition to see maybe there are some strategies were missing out on. And I think the best way to talk about the different approaches is to consider it in terms of the different stages of the sales funnel because content marketing can influence every single stage. So that's how I’m going to organize this podcast. We're going to start the different levels of the funnel and the types of content marketing that are typically used in them.
So let's start with the top of the funnel. So when I say top of the funnel, I'm talking about a large audience. This is probably people who don't even know what your brand is. You're trying to reach out to people who you want to give general awareness to—just get your brand name out there. That's why internally, we call it “general awareness” in this part of the funnel because we're approaching the outreach portion of content marketing.
We're thinking about who were trying to reach and that's going to influence the type of content we create. So in this top of the funnel section, a lot of the times what we're trying to do is create some sort of viral content—or even if it's not viral something that gets attention on blogs or sites that are going to have large audiences. Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. For our client Superdrug Online Doctor, we did a variety of content campaigns where we created our content based on original data or thorough research we did and one example of an account campaign that did super well was called Perceptions of Perfection. And what we did was, we took a stock photo of a woman and we sent that photo to designers in various countries, and we ask the designer to touch up the photo based on what they thought the beauty expectations were for their country.
So we ended up getting at the end with a series of photos from different countries depicting what we thought were the beauty standards of those countries. The campaign did really well when we started to promote it. We were reaching out to different publishers to see who wanted to cover the story. BuzzFeed covered it and I got more than 3.5 million views and then sites like CNN, Yahoo, The New York Times, Huffington Post, Mashable—I have the report pulled up. It's insane—The Daily Mail, Business Insider—all kinds of really high authority sites picked it up. And while we can talk about what are the different things that made this campaign so successful, the main thing to take away here is that the campaign's goal was to appeal to a broad audience and that it is exactly what it did.
And you have to go into coming up with your content strategy with these objectives in mind. This campaign wasn't specifically related to Superdrug Online Doctor as a brand, but it was tangentially related as we like to say—or laterally related—meaning that even though it's not completely aligned directly with the mission of Superdrug Online Doctor and the products that offers, it is semi-related to some of the products that it offers because we're talking about beauty and how people perceive beauty and just the concept of beauty as a cultural phenomenon.
So it's okay to go a little bit off-topic—not off-topic necessarily but just slightly less related. If you're trying to appeal to a broad audience get your brand name out there to a wider audience and show that you're willing to do interesting research to provide value to your audiences.
So now let's talk about the middle of the funnel. The middle of the funnel has more of a related awareness quality to it, meaning that when you're doing outreach, you're probably going to be targeting people who are at least familiar with your industry, who are in your industry, and who may be particularly interested in a brand like yours. Maybe they have a need that your brand would fulfill. Maybe you have answers to questions they have.
There's a little more of an inherent interest built into this audience and we consider this audience to be about medium-sized. So not as general as just the public but still not particularly very niche either. It's kind of this middle ground where people are probably interested, but maybe they still haven't heard of you or your products in a lot of detail. So when you talk about content marketing in the context of the middle of the funnel, you're probably going to be creating content that's going to, like I said, answer questions that this target audience might have. Because that's how you're going to position yourself as an authority in the space and it's how you're going to get people to find your brand. If they you know, put in a query in Google and your brand answer comes up, that's going to be huge. You're going to be on the map. You're going to be on their radar. But also you have to consider how you're going to keep these people coming back. So when you provide content, there are different strategies in order to achieve this.
Here are some examples of middle of the funnel content marketing. You can create eBooks, Whitepapers—resources that really delve into the work you do what differentiates you, how people can solve problems they have. It should always provide value in the middle of the funnel.
This is extremely important because when people take your advice or your information and they benefit from it, they're all the more likely to come back to you for help in the future. So resources like that—eBooks and Whitepapers—that perhaps you’re gating. Perhaps you're asking for their email address in order to have them access this information. And deciding whether to do that or not is going to come down to how your brand awareness is already functioning.
If your brand is already particularly well-known, you can probably gate things because people already know that the information they're going to get is really high value. But if you're new on the scene and you really want to just expand your reach to this more relevant audience, you might not want to gate things. It is it's a tricky balance. You have to, maybe, test things out because the benefit of gating is that you'll have their email and you'll be able to continue to reach out to them about relevant resources. Keep them interested in your brand and what your brand has to say.
The other example, I want to talk about is blog content because I think that creating a blog is a huge subset of content marketing and it's something that almost everyone's doing and if you're not doing you probably should. Blog content can fluctuate between the different levels of the funnel. I'm talking about it in the middle of the funnel because most of the time you're not going to be so broad that you're appealing to a general audience because that's not really going to do you a lot of good.
When people are on your site, you want them to at least have some interest in your product or services. When you're considering your blog strategy a lot of the times you're going to be thinking, okay, what kind of issues do my potential customers or clients want to solve? What kind of information are they looking to know? What can I provide them with my expertise with my brand and my team's expertise that's going to make their lives easier and make our brand look like we're going to be the best compliment for whatever they're trying to tackle.
That's why blog content so important and why usually I attributed to middle of the funnel, although it can go to the bottom of the funnel to if you're getting really specific about your own product offering. So again, when you consider this in the context of content marketing, the first thing you need to do is create that really quality content, but the second thing is still outreach and even if you're not actively pitching other writers or other blogs to mention your blog posts and you know a list article about the best blog post about, blank, you know, that's something you can do.
But in addition to active outreach and promotions, what you have to consider is the SEO component. SEO is still a part of content marketing. People tend to look at them into separate different things, but they're really not. They supplement each other. They build each other up. So when you're thinking about developing your blog content, you have to be considering the SEO and by that, I mean: what keywords are you targeting? Have you done keyword research to see what people are actually asking about? What do people want to know? And then when you're crafting that blog post, are you answering those questions?
And this is part of content marketing because this is how you're going to reach those audiences. There's no point in publishing the content if you have no plan for how they’ll even find it. So incorporating that keyword research is how you're going to actually market this content.
So the marketing part comes in and it's not as direct. It's not as direct as emailing somebody and saying, this is really relevant to you please share this on social—you know, not that it would be the best approach of the world. But this is more subtle and extremely important because this is building into the dynamic of how people interact with the internet, how people find online content.
This is how content marketing works. It's not just about the content development. It's how you plan on getting that content into the hands of your audience.
Finally, there's the bottom of the funnel. This is where your objective is more “niche awareness.” So people who have probably heard about your product offering or your services and are now looking to find out how you compare to other products and services. Why should they choose you? What is it about your brand that puts it over everything else on the market?
So this audience is going to be particularly small. However, it's the highest converting potential which makes it really important and a complete oversight if you do not produce content for this specific group of people.
So here are some examples of bottom-of-the-funnel content. You can make testimonial pages on your site. So if you have clients or people who purchase your products and are particularly happy, if you feature their testimonials or reviews, then people who are looking at the site are going to think, wow, okay, so this really is offering what it says they're offering.
Another example is case studies based on your own experiences with clients or customers. The reason why case studies works so well for bottom-of-the-funnel content is because people who are reading case studies can actually imagine themselves in the place of the people you're featuring. So if you have a customer saying how much your product has benefited their business or benefited their personal lives, then people who are reading this can think, this could be me. And that is such an important, you know, revelation for them to have when it comes to getting closer to making that purchase.
If you offer a service like we do at Fractl, case studies provide the same thing. They say, these are the kind of results we can get for you just like we got for this client if you have similar goals. And they also get a sense of what the product is going to look like, you know—by “product” in this case, I mean content. What it's like to work with us, what they can expect.
There are so many things that are communicated in a case study that are difficult to explain otherwise because you're providing concrete examples. A lot of sites will put information out there like, we're the best because we create really innovative content and that's great except you need to show that innovative content. If you don't, why should somebody trust you why or how will somebody know that you've accomplished this in the past?
So case studies make really great bottom of the funnel content as well. You know, other examples might be industry comparisons. If you take the time to really show the differences between you and the competition and map it out in a really clear way or developing calculators that show maybe, this is the kind of money you'll save if you go with us or this is the benefit you'll have in a numerical way that really drives it home.
Bottom of the funnel content is great when it's quantitative, when it's really tangible to people and it really drives home why your brand is better than everyone else's brand. And this part of the funnel is going to involve the least amount of outreach because presumably, people have heard about your brand by the time they reach this level the funnel—that you've nurtured them throughout the funnel.
But you still need to make sure that you’re, quote-unquote, “promoting” this content by putting it on the right places on your site. For example, you might want to have case studies or testimonials on your contact page or on pages that are more specific to your services. You know, you might want a list of your past clients. Anything that shows their sense of authority signals to potential customers and putting those in the right places of your site would be the equivalent of quote-unquote “promoting” this type of content.
So to sum things up, there are many types of content you can create in each stage of the funnel. For the top of the funnel, you need to be creating content that's going to appeal to general audiences—wide ranges of people—to get your brand name out there. For example, creating content campaigns that are really data-driven that you can then pitch to different publishers to see if they'll write about it and mention your brand and link back to your site.
For middle of the funnel, we're talking about more related awareness, people who may have already heard of your brand or if they haven't, then they would have some kind of inherent interest in your brand because they're heavily involved in the industry that you work in. So types of content that work well here are eBooks, Whitepapers, and developing blog content because you want to be providing information that's more relevant to their jobs, to their responsibilities, and their concerns. And when you try to do outreach for middle of the funnel content, you can do some of the pitching that I mentioned for top of the funnel for more related industry publications. You also need to take a SEO into consideration and do your keyword research. And otherwise try to, you know, look into influencer marketing, see who's influential in your industry and reach out to them and see if the eBooks you're creating would be relevant to their audiences.
And finally for bottom of the funnel, that's a more niche awareness goal. You're looking to talk to those people who have heard of your brand, who are looking to learn more about your brand. So it's a small but heavily important targeted audience and content like case studies, testimonials, industry comparisons, and such would be really great for this part of the funnel.
So as you can see content marketing can take a lot of different forms and I haven't even touched on all of them. Like, these are just some examples. But what you need to take away from this is that content marketing involves creating all different types of content and still trying to think of how you're going to promote them or get them out into audiences. It's not enough to just make a post and put it on your site. That's what's key to content marketing or those two pieces working together to achieve a marketing goal that you have.
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