As a writer for HubSpot, a marketing and sales automation company whose founders pioneered the idea of using content for lead generation, I think about content marketing all day long.
But what exactly is content marketing?
Good question—when I first heard the term, I had no idea what it meant either.
Content Marketing 101
As with most marketing buzzwords, content marketing easier to understand when you break it down…
Content: Written, visual, or audio communication. Think anything you consume with your brain.
Marketing: A form of communication between you and your potential and current customers, with the ultimate goal of getting them to buy your product or service.
Why Use Content Marketing?
If you’re anything like me, you barely pay attention to ads anymore. Research shows that most people completely ignore banner ads (the ads on the right and left side of your window when you’re browsing a site) unless they’re explicitly told to look at them. This phenomenon is known as “banner blindness.”
That means trying to turn people into customers through ads is typically expensive and ineffective.
Content marketing, on the other hand, is a proven strategy. According to the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising study, consumers trust content marketing more than ads on TV, the radio, billboards, movies, and magazines.Consumers trust content marketing more than ads on TV, the radio, billboards, movies, and magazines Click To Tweet
The 7 Main Types of Content
Now that you understand what content marketing is and why it works, you might be wondering: what kind of content should I be creating?
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are the most popular types of content used in content marketing:
Blog posts: Blogging is one of the most popular types of content marketing, probably because blog posts are relatively easy and inexpensive to produce. They’re also simple for users to find via search engines.
Infographics: An infographic is a visual representation of information. You can create one yourself using a tool like Canva or Piktochart or hire a designer to make one. While infographics are more time-and-energy-intensive, they can perform very well. According to LewisPR, image-rich content is viewed 94% more than plain content.
Video: LewisPR also found videos are shared 12 times more frequently than links and text posts combined. They run the gamut from extremely sophisticated (usually produced by an agency) to low-fi (i.e. the type of video you film on your computer or phone).
Visuals: Anything visual that’s not an infographic or video falls into this category, including photos and slideshows, diagrams, and data visualizations.
eBook: An eBook can be as simple as multiple blog posts on the same subject, or as sophisticated as a traditional book. eBooks are usually educational and run upwards of 2,000 words. In order to create this Credit Card eBook, PaySimple compiled a number of informative blog posts on credit cards and supplemented with additional information.
Case studies: A case study (also known as a customer story) describes your client’s experience with your product or service. It typically begins with their problem, talks about why they chose your product over the competition, and ends with their results. These help prospective customers envision how and why they’d use your product.
Podcasts: Every year, podcast consumption rises. Four in 10 people have listened to a podcast in the past month, and podcasting advertising will bring in around $220 million in the U.S. this year (an 85% increase from 2016). To capitalize on this trend, you can start your own podcast, serve as a guest on someone else’s podcast, or buy a podcast ad.
How Content Marketing Works
Now that we’ve explored what types of content you can produce, let’s discuss when and why each one would be valuable.
Content helps move consumers from one stage to the next of their decision to buy, also known as the buyer’s journey.
To illustrate, imagine you wake up one day and your back feels extremely stiff. You might search “stiff back causes” or “reasons wake up with stiff back”. That brings you to a blog post about various factors that cause an achy back. You end up clicking on a related post on the site about solving your back issues. The suggestions are all good. Incidentally, one is “buy a new mattress.”
The next day, after another night of bad sleep, you google “comfy mattress.” One of the first results is the mattress brand that published the blog posts you’d read. Since you recognize and trust the name, you click—and eventually end up buying one of their products.
This is a perfect illustration of how content can take you from knowing nothing about a brand, in this case the mattress company, to investing a considerable amount of money in a product.
The buyer’s journey is typically divided into three stages:
- Awareness: The consumer realizes they have an issue—You wake up with a sore back.
- Consideration: The consumer defines the issue and starts looking into various solutions—You identify your old mattress as the cause and start looking at replacements.
- Decision: The consumer picks a solution—You compare a few mattress brands and choose one.
Every piece of content should map to one of these three categories. Ideally, you’re helping your customers wake up to their situation, narrow down their choices for solving it, and then understand why your product is the best choice.
When you create something, try picking a stage before you actually bring anything to life. That’ll keep you focused—and ensure you’re not focusing on one part of the buyer’s journey too much and neglecting the others.
For example, if you run a lawn care business, you may want to write a blog post aimed at the awareness phase that explores the dangers of a particular pesticide and explains why your business opts for a more natural solution. Write “awareness” at the top of your draft so this objective stays top of mind.
Where to Publish Content
Now that you’ve put all this time and effort into creating content for different stages of the buyer’s journey, what do you do with it?
The great thing about content marketing is that you don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket. Different types of content are well-suited for different channels.
To give you an idea, I publish several blog posts a day to HubSpot’s website. This attracts visitors from Google, other websites who link to our posts, and people who go directly to the HubSpot blog to check out our new content.
But I also occasionally write guest posts for other blogs. This helps promote HubSpot to readers who may never have heard about the company before.
Here are the main outlets through which you can promote content:
Your own blog: Helpful for driving people to your site and building search authority (i.e. how trustworthy and credible Google and other search engines believe your site is, which boosts rankings).
Other blogs: Guest blogging is helpful for building a new audience and strengthening partnerships with other businesses.
Social media: Helpful for engaging with current and potential customers on platforms where they’re highly engaged.
You can also repurpose one piece of content for multiple outlets. Maybe you produce a podcast episode and upload it to iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud. You could also write a blog post transcribing the podcast and publish it on your blog.
Before you create a piece of content, identify your primary objective. The format and topic should be optimized both for your goal and where it will exist. For instance, if you want to answer common questions about the problem your product or service solves, you should probably go with an eBook or blog post on your site. However, if you’re trying to get more social media followers, you might want to film a short video for Facebook or write a status on LinkedIn.
Content marketing FAQs
1. Should I replace my ads budget with content marketing?
No. Ads can still be effective, and unlike content marketing, their results are both easy to track and relatively quick to kick in. I recommend investing in both ads and content marketing.
2. How long does content marketing take to work?
Content marketing is a long-term strategy. Creating content takes a lot of time and resources, and at first, you probably won’t have many (if any) followers, readers, email subscribers, viewers…you get the gist.
Your efforts pay off over time. The more people who consume your content, the more new people will consume your content. Not only will current followers share what you’ve published with their peers (which has an exponential effect), but getting increasing traffic tells search engines and third-party outlets like Facebook that your content is valuable. That means it’ll be surfaced to more people.
At a certain point, you’ll be in a steady state. Existing content will be doing a ton of work for you, meaning you can produce new pieces fairly infrequently and still get great results.
3. If it takes a while to pay off, how can I measure my short-term results?
There are leading indicators your content marketing campaigns are working, but full disclosure: You’re going to have to take a leap of faith. To track engagement with your content, you can look at: page views, number of downloads, social media likes, overall traffic to your website, how many people share the post, how many people comment, follower growth, and email subscribers.
You can also ask people who buy from you how they discovered your brand and what influenced their decision. If they say, “My friend referred me, and after checking out your blog I thought you guys seemed like you knew a lot about this,” then it’s clear your content has helped you win business.
4. Is content marketing expensive?
It depends. If you hire a full-time writer, editor, graphic designer, and SEO strategist (the core components of a content marketing team), yes, the cost will be significant. But if you do everything yourself and/or work with a freelancer, you can get the job done for fairly little.
Most businesses should skew toward the latter. Chances are, you can’t sustain anywhere near the quantity of leads an entire dedicated team would produce — at least when you’re just starting out. Begin with a pared-down operation, and scale up as necessary.
Content is a powerful tool—the fact that you are reading this blog post right now is evidence of that!
In a world where consumers are increasingly guarded with their attention and trust, content helps your brand become a credible source of information. The relationships you develop via content marketing will turn into bottom-line results.
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