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What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is known by many names such as inbound marketing, corporate journalism, branded media, native advertising, and customer publishing to name a few. However, the basic idea behind the strategy remains the same, i.e., to create and distribute content that engages and attracts a targeted audience, while encouraging them to take action which is profitable to a business.

What is the Use of Content Marketing?
The growth of the World Wide Web, social networks, and mobile technologies has changed the relationship between consumers and businesses. Average consumers today don’t buy a product just by passively watching its advertisement on a billboard. They research on Google to compare similar products, read the product’s review online by experts, and even ask their friends on social networks, before spending their money.
As a result, businesses need to rethink their traditional marketing strategies and channels if they want to earn the trust of their customers and influence their buying decisions. This is where content marketing plays an important role. It helps businesses to attract potential consumers’ attention towards their products by highlighting and promoting their key features.

Content Marketing Strategy
Before you create a content marketing strategy for your business, you need to define the goals first. What are you trying to achieve with your content? Is it more subscribers to your blog? Or is it traffic acquisition? Or maybe, you want certain sales pages of your website to convert? Whatever they are, you need to clearly list the goals before you even begin laying down the strategy.
That being said, there are certain overarching elements to a content marketing strategy which are the same, regardless of your goals.
– Understanding your customers
– Building your brand message or story
– Defining the content you want to create
– Measuring the success of your content marketing efforts

Identify & Understand the Customer
Identifying your target audience is the easy part. What is more challenging for a business is to understand the pain points of its customers. Once you grasp the problems of your consumers and understand their requirements, you would be able to come up with perfect solutions to cater to those particular requirements.
When you want to create a content marketing strategy, finding out about your audiences and their needs is the most important task.

List Your Primary Customers
To accurately list your primary customers, give them specific names and identities. For instance, if you run a travel company, your audiences might fall under: experienced travelers, occasional travelers, tourists visiting a city, local residents touring the city, etc.

Collect Information about Your Customers
You can collect information about your major customers in a number of ways such as:
– Conduct a survey of customers visiting your site
– Ask your customer service for the questions customers are asking
– Read the emails and feedback of customers on your Contact or Help page

Identify the Characteristics of Your Primary Customers
Identifying the characteristics of your primary customers means learning about your customers’ experiences. For example, experienced travelers might know about airport codes and e-tickets but occasional travelers might not. Such well-rounded information helps you to build content that caters to each and every customer’s needs.

Create Personas
The best way to visualize and understand a customer‘s needs is to create personas. While creating personas, give specific details to a customer, for instance:
Assign a name – Raju
Age – 39 years old
Profession – Senior IT manager
Web tasks – Reads technology news daily, travel tickets, buys things on weekends, etc.

Story Building & Content Creation
Marketing gurus and pundits have often repeated the line that it’s the company that tells a better story wins and not the company which is bigger in size. This truism is even more relevant today with the growth of new forms of online media, which have empowered consumers like never before.
However, the question still remains largely unanswered. How do you tell a better story? Do you create a 10×10 feet poster, listing out the features of your product, and stick it on every billboard in town or do you create a swanky television advertisement? Which is the option that will give you more business and more revenue? Well, to be honest, building a good story and creating great content requires much more than that. It requires you to answer the 3Ws: who, what, and why.
To create a great story around your business, you need to clearly answer the following:

Why are You Creating the Content?
Defining your content goals is the first step.
– Why do you want to create a specific type of content?
– What is it that you want to accomplish?
– Does the content strategy match your overall business goals?
These are important questions that need to be answered.

Who are Your Customers?
It goes without saying that identifying your customers is the most important step of content marketing. You can refer to Part 2 of this tutorial to learn how to identify your customers. The bottom line is to list out the problems and preferences of your audience and figure out what kinds of content will they like best. Also, you need to answer the important question – what is the unique thing that you have to offer to you customers?

What do You Want Your Content to Archive?
You must ask yourself – how will my content help my customers? Will it help them to arrange a travel, buy a house, or train for an examination? You need to clearly define and understand how your content will affect the lives of your customers?

Content Marketing Media Channels
By media channels, we mean the platform you decide to use in order to market your content. This is an important step of your overall content marketing strategy because the channel also determines what content you must create. For instance, if the channel is a blog, then the content you can create are feature stories, product announcements, etc. Similarly, if it’s your website’s Facebook Page, then the content can be images, status messages, weblinks, etc.

Analysis of Your Situation
The first thing to do is to understand what existing channels do you have and which new ones you need or want.
– Do you already have a Facebook Page for your website?
– Do you need to develop a separate blog?
– Will it help in telling your story effectively to your customers?
The information about your customers and the story you want to tell are both crucial in deciding what media channels you want. It also depends on your budget and bandwidth.

Your Channel Objectives
Now that you have a fair idea of your situation, you need to map the objectives of your channels. For instance, depending on the story you want to tell and your content marketing goals, you might decide that a blog would be the best channel. So your channel’s primary objective would be to get more subscribers to your blog, which will generate leads for your sales.

Content Plan for Your Channel
This is the part where you bring together your channel objectives and your content plan. Taking the above example, the primary objective of your blog is to get more subscribers, which brings in more leads. To achieve this, you might decide to write a couple of articles and club them together as an ebook, which you can then provide for free to new subscribers. However, before you decide the right content for your channel, you also need to consider the different personas of your customers.

Editorial Calendar & Style Guides

What is an Editorial Calendar?
Content marketing is a long-term strategy and an editorial calendar helps you plan your strategy in an organized fashion. The calendar will contain details such as:
– List of the kinds of content you have or need to create, including the dates when they will be created and published
– The names of the content editors/producers and other stakeholders who are responsible for the project
– The media channel that you will use to market your content
– Metadata such as your primary target audience, SEO keywords, call to action, etc.

How to Build an Editorial Calendar
While you can use a simple tool such as an Excel or Google sheet to create an editorial calendar, you can also use web-based software offered by companies such as HubSpot, Skyword, etc.

What is a Style Guide?
A content marketing style guide is a document which standardizes your content creation guidelines. From the colors of your brand, the key phrases you use for call to action buttons to the spelling and punctuation usages, everything is documented and standardized by a style guide.
A style guide is a necessary document for the success of your content marketing strategy as well as to maintain quality of the content across your website. A style guide can list step-by-step rules for:
    A designer’s checklist – This will remind designers of your brand colors, correct image properties and copyright issues, icon selection, etc.
    A writer’s checklist – This will remind writers of the use of voice, spelling, punctuation, unique words, and phrases approved by the company. It will also advise writes on legal fact checking and proofreading methods.

Content Marketing Tools
Content Marketing tools come in different shapes and sizes. What will work for you is totally dependent on your business requirements and the scope of your content marketing strategy. The tools listed below cover the three central aspects of content creation, management, and optimization.

Content Creation and Publishing Tools
These tools will help you create a website from scratch, build your blog, and send emails to your subscribers and publish almost any kind of content. Known as content management tools, these range from the simple and free ones such as WordPress and Drupal to the paid ones such as Sitecore and Tridion.

Conversion and Data Capture Tools
What these tools do is allow you to build online registration forms and surveys for your key landing pages. They capture data of customers visiting these landing pages, which can be integrated with sales tools like Salesforce.com. Examples include Wufoo, Equola, Manticore, etc.

Content Optimization Tools
These are tools that help you to deliver specific content to targeted customers. Once users come to your website and identify themselves, these tools push content which are relevant to these users.
For instance, let’s say you own a travel website and a user comes and identifies himself as a tourist looking for cars in the city, now these tools will filter your content and provide the user only the relevant information, while hiding the irrelevant ones. Examples of such tools include Google Website Optimizer, Adobe Omniture, Autonomy Optimost, etc.

Social Media Management and Listening Tools
These tools are excellent for managing and tracking the content for your social channels such as Facebook ad Twitter. One of the most frequently used tools is Hootsuite, which allows you to centrally schedule your social media posts. For Twitter, you can use Tweetdeck and for further analysis, you can grab tools like Radian6 and Sysomos.

Challenges & Solutions
Developing the perfect content marketing strategy for your business is not easy. You have to accurately identify your target customers and understand their problems. You have to define your media channels and build editorial style guides. You have to make sure that your story will resonate with your audience without misleading them.
However, even after you’ve managed to bring all the pieces of your strategy together, three crucial challenges still remain:
– Creating engaging content
– Creating enough content
– Finding the budget to create the content
Let’s look at some of the ways in which you can solve these problems:

Research, Research, and Research
The first rule of creating engaging content that’s right for your audience is by way of research.
– Don’t assume that you know exactly what kind of content your customers will like or need.
– Do some market research to find out what your competitors are doing.
– Gather feedback from your customers.
– Look at data and analytics of your website’s traffic.
– Test your webpages and email campaigns.
The bottom line is to not regard yourself as an expert but a learner of the art of content marketing.

Resist Content Overkill
As in life, where you will not always make the correct decisions; not every content piece you create will do well either. Your webpages might see fantastic traffic but your blog might not be getting as many subscribers as you hoped it would.
– Don’t panic and start spamming your blog with one article after another.
– Instead, spend time on producing quality content that is a clear reflection of your brand message and story.
The trick is not to produce a ton of random content but well-researched content that will offer lasting value to your customers.

Define Your Content Budget
Once you understand what kinds of content you will create, find out how much of it is one-time content such as a webpage and how much of it is ongoing content such as blog articles.
This will give you a fair idea of how much you need to spend on creating content. Then you can decide whether you want to build an in-house content team or want to rope in freelancers. However, make sure you hire the right persons. For instance, someone with a journalistic background will be able to write you the best blogposts, while a copywriter will pen down the perfect call to action content for your webpages.

Measuring & Tracking Success
Whether you’re creating a content marketing strategy for your own business or a client, the primary questions still remains – What’s the Return on Investment (ROI)? For all the efforts you’ve put in your content marketing strategy, the ROI needs to be positive.
What constitutes ROI varies from business to business. However, every successful content marketing strategy needs to answer at least one of the three crucial questions listed below:
– Has it driven sales for the business?
– Has it saved costs for the company?
– Has it helped in making customers lives easier, thus increasing retention?
To sum it up, a growth in sales, decrease in costs, and customer retention are the three key areas which determine the success of a content marketing strategy. Let’s look at each of these points in more detail:

Measuring and Tracking Sales
Measuring and tracking sales is the part which answers whether your business actually made any money. The results of your content marketing strategy must need to answer questions such as:
– Did you make any sales through your e-commerce section?
– How many visitors came though organic or inorganic search and bought your product or service?
You can measure all of this by looking at you sales metrics in your own CRM and Google analytics.

Measuring and Tracking Cost Savings
Cost savings is basically your actual profit: (Converted Leads – Total Cost per Lead). While calculating the total costs per lead, you need to factor in the money you spent paying employees or freelancers in creating the content for you. This also includes all the overheads such as the rent, insurance, utilities, design costs, hosting fees, subscriptions, and software costs.

Measuring and Tracking Customer Retention
By customer retention, we not only mean the new leads coming in but also the average life of the existing customers. Your goals must be to keep all customers longer and happier. You can measure this via your CRM to track what kinds of content are being consumed by your customers and measure whether that content has helped in retention and renewal of subscriptions.