Sam Grover is a Marketing Communications Consultant
Photo credit: Dom Prestidge
Johnson Corner sat down with Sam Grover to discuss how businesses can build a content marketing strategy.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is the practice of connecting with your audience by developing interesting, relevant content. It’s usually - but not always - educational in one way or the other, and it’s often only indirectly related to your underlying product.
Here’s a great example: Mitre 10’s “Easy as” guides. These are all really useful guides that teach you how to do all kinds of DIY things around your house. If someone reads one of these guides and decides to use it to build their retaining wall, replace their gutters, or whatever, their next step will be to buy some materials - and since they’re already on Mitre 10’s website, they’ll probably just buy those materials from Mitre 10.
This is a great example of content marketing. Rather than try to convince people that Mitre 10 is a great place to shop, the guides just help people solve a problem, and in doing so, they create a Mitre 10 customer rather than wrestle one from Bunnings or another hardware store.
What is the best place to start when it comes to developing a content marketing strategy?
You need to look at two things:
1. What does your audience need from you? Do they need to be taught how to do something? Do they need to know that you’re trustworthy? Or is it something else entirely?
2. What do you need from your audience? Do you want them to come into your store? Start a trial of your software? Book an appointment with one of your salespeople?
Too often, organisations think far too much about point #2 and not enough about point #1. But your content strategy should address both of these points. In fact, the first one is more important than the second. If you’re not thinking about what your audience needs from you, you’re not providing them with anything of value, and there’s therefore, no reason for them to engage with your content.
We can see this by going back to the Mitre 10 example. If Mitre 10 made a bunch of articles called “why Mitre 10 is the best place to buy a drill,” they would only engage with people who already need a drill. That’s missing out on a huge opportunity - the people who need to be educated about why they need a drill, and how they can use one to solve an underlying problem or add value to their home.
So to start your content strategy, find out what your audience needs from you. Talk to current customers, talk to people in the industry or demographic you’re targeting, and find out what they would like to know, but don’t know. Then start building content that fills this gap!
What role does a company’s brand identity play with creating engaging content?
Pretty marginal to be honest. Remember, it’s about the audience, not you. Your audience is looking to solve a problem, educate themselves or take advantage of an opportunity. They’re going to look at your content in terms of whether it does that or not. If it does, it’s a positive experience. If it doesn’t, it isn’t.
Having said that, providing people with useful content certainly helps to improve your brand identity. By becoming a trusted source of useful information, you establish and enhance your brand’s credibility.
How can a company best understand its audience?
Just talk to people, really. Find out what grinds their gears day-to-day, and find out where the gaps in their knowledge are. Importantly, you need to talk to both existing customers and potential ones.
For example, let’s say you’re a software company that does construction job costing. If you only talk to existing customers, you’ll end up with a bit of selection bias. So get out into the construction industry as well. Get in touch with people and ask if you can take them out for a coffee; go to events; keep an eye on online forums and so on.
It won’t take long to start to see some themes shake out. Then you can structure your content around these themes.
How does one discover the content style that will work best for them?
This is where the second part I mentioned above comes in - figuring out what you want from your audience. This is where you can make decisions around what kind of content you produce, and how you get it in front of people. For example, if you want to get a list of existing leads to book a demo, it would probably be useful to get your content to them through email, rather than issuing press releases.
The next bit of this is how you actually get your message across. Do you produce videos? Infographics? Written content? I’m probably biased because my background is in copywriting, but I’d always advise starting with written content. This is because it’s a lot more affordable than other kinds of content.
Once you produce some written content, you can keep an eye on how it’s performing. Which messages are getting the best cut-through? What are people clicking on?
You can then use this data to double down on the content that resonates the most. Are heaps of people clicking on a blogpost you wrote? Great - turn that blogpost into a video. You know people are interested in the underlying content, so you can now justify the higher cost of a video. What’s more, you’ve already done most of your script and framework! All you need to do is repurpose the blog a bit, and get cracking.
What is the most efficient way to execute content production?
In my experience, the main time cost doesn’t actually come from producing the content - it comes from long, unclear signoff processes. I find that the best approach is to start small, then slowly build a content production system that matches your organisation.
So you need to work out what you oversight and signoff process look like, then try to streamline it as much as possible. Do 10 people need to see everything you produce? That’s a lot, but if that’s the reality, make sure you clarify exactly who those 10 people are. Then you can build a system around getting their eyes on it.
By doing this, you’re avoiding the “signoff hell” process, where a constantly-shifting number of people needs to look at everything. Maybe it was 10 people the first time, and 15 the second time, then a different 10 people the third time. Ad-hoc signoff processes like this will absolutely kill your content production, so do your absolute best to avoid them.
Let’s talk about analytics, what should we be looking for to understand and improve customer experience, after they have engaged with the content?
This depends on what you’re trying to do. But make sure you align the analytics you’re tracking with the goals you’re trying to achieve. For example, if you’re writing content with the goal of cross-selling existing customers, you don’t need to fret about how much it gets shared on social media. Conversely, if you’re writing press releases with the intention of building your brand by getting into the media, you don’t need to fret about how many people converted after seeing each story. With analytics, you need to make sure you laser-focus on what you’re trying to do, then track the metrics that correlate with that goal.
You are quite big on re-writing content, talk to us about that and why is it important?
This is really an efficiency thing. I alluded to this up above. Lots of times, I see organisations create heaps of new content, essentially for the sake of it. But it’s really important to not forget about the content you’ve already used. If you’re going to make a video, is there a blog you can use as a starting point? If you’re going to start a blog, is there some longer-form content you can chop up?
This goes beyond just the content your marketing team has produced. Lots of organisations are sitting on lots more content than they realise. For example, do you have a customer service team? If so, they probably have template responses to their most frequently asked questions. These questions, and the answers to them, can easily form the core of some quality content for people who are trying to engage with your product, but running into trouble.
So don’t obsess over constantly creating new content. You’re not a newspaper. The reality is that your organisation can probably thrive on just a handful of messages, repackaged in different ways depending on where someone is in the customer journey.
What about quality, how to control and audit the quality of content?
Again, up to you. Different organisations are going to have different constraints, regulatory environments and cultures. The key is like I said above - create a clear signoff process, get it agreed, then follow it. An ad-hoc process will kill your content.
At the same time, make a clear distinction between the “must-haves” in your content and the “nice-to-haves.” Then, make sure all your content has all the must-haves. Beyond that, you should prioritise delivery over perfection. You can go back and forth on content forever if you want, to get it “just right.” But it’s much better to release five things that are 80% of the way there than it is to release one thing that is absolutely perfect.
Content marketing is a great tool for any business. The really cool thing about it is that it can be as high or low production values as you like. If you want to release a $50,000 video every month, you can! Or if you want to just push out a blog on social media every month, you can do that too. Either way, content marketing is about finding a way to create content that resonates with your customers, solves their problems, and leads them to you as the solution to those problems. The path you take to get there is up to you.