The ultimate guide to effective content marketing

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Everyone is using content marketing to engage with their audiences, but not everyone is successful. In fact, fewer than half (48 per cent) of marketers surveyed by the Content Marketing Institute said they felt they were effective at content marketing.

Considering that the content marketing industry is worth £4 billion in the UK alone - that’s a lot of marketing budget not yielding results. So what sets effective content marketers apart from the rest?

First of all, we need to understand why content marketing isn’t effective. I believe it is down to three reasons: poor (or no) strategy, inadequate content creation or technology failures.

Strategy, content creation and technology are the three pillars of content marketing, and if you want to be effective at content marketing, you need to get all three of these to work well together.

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I’ve spoken on various occasions this year about the habits of highly effective content marketers, but this week I presented a webinar that goes beyond the theory and looks at some practical ways in which marketers can do more with their existing resources and achieve better results with content marketing.

You can listen to the webinar in full here, but if you want just a taster of the tools and tips that help me be more effective at content marketing, read on.

Strategy

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 56 per cent of content marketers don't have a written-down strategy. I wanted to test this stat, so I asked those listening to the webinar live about their strategies in an anonymous vote. Only 31 per cent said their objectives, plans and metrics for success are documented. Nearly three in ten are currently working on a written-down strategy, while a third said they have a vague strategy that’s not written down. Eight per cent admitted: “I make it up as I go along.”

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If you don’t have a written-down strategy, you will struggle with getting buy-in and budget. But it doesn't need to be complication - all you need is something that sets out your objectives in a clear and simple way. A good tip for setting objectives is to use SMART criteria:

Specific: Target a specific area of improvement
Measurable: Make your goals measurable as an indicator of progress
Achievable:   Be clear about how it will be achieved
Realistic: Be realistic about what can be achieved in the given time with the available resources
Timely: Specify the timeline for when results are expected to have been achieved

In terms of tools for strategy development, there are two I deem indispensable when planning our strategies:

  • CRM system: Everything in your strategy needs to be measurable, and what better place to look for relevant data than your CRM system? I’ve found custom reports in Salesforce invaluable in tracking some of my key strategic goals.

  • Marketing automation software: This tool makes it easy to engage prospects and customers on an ongoing basis - and measure the effects of your efforts. Whether that's through highly-targeted email marketing, social media updates or lead-nurturing programmes, you need a way to execute your strategy at scale and again measure its effects. Through a tool like Pardot, you can segment your audience and deliver the right message to the right people at the right time, and measure your performance at each step.

Learn more about creating content marketing strategy - Your content strategy made simple.

Using personas

In B2B, prospects complete two-thirds of their buying cycle before they have any dealings with sales, so effective content marketers use personas to develop highly-relevant content for each stage of the buying cycle. The biggest mistake marketers make when they develop buyer personas is that they rely on what they think they know about their audience, instead of actual data. There are many ways to get your hands on data - these are just a few of the tools I have used when developing buyer personas for Axonn.

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  • SurveyMonkey - The best way to get an understanding of your audience is by asking them. In-person interviews are great, but if you want to canvass opinions at scale, online surveys are your friend. SurveyMonkey works great and is free up to a point. Keep surveys short and simple to complete, and offer incentives to ensure you get enough responses.

  • Analytics - In the hands of someone who knows their way around Tag Manager and Universal Analytics, Google Analytics becomes a supertool.

  • Webmaster Tools - This is great for gaining an insight into pieces of content that performed the best in search and which headlines resulted in the high click-through rate.

  • Social data from competitors - Use social media to find out what makes people engage with particular types of content or specific social strategies. Then use this to offer them something even better.

Need more help developing personas? Download our free ebook.

Content creation

Content calendar - This needs to be simple and contain just enough detail so that everyone involved in your content production knows what is happening and when, and what their role is. There are great software solutions available for this, but I use a simple Google spreadsheet and it works well for us. You can even hook up your spreadsheet to Analytics so that your content calendar automatically updates with follow-up pieces to certain types of content (see the webinar for more info on how to do this).

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  • Ubersuggest - This is a free keyword tool that you can use to get ideas for keywords and topics generated from real user queries, so you can see from the slide here what happens when you stick the phrase "content marketing" into Ubersuggest. It could be just the prompt you need to create some relevant content related to your key terms.

  • Forums - I often end up on Yahoo answers or some random forum in search of answers to my queries. These types of forums are a great place to find content inspiration. People generally only ask questions on forums if they can’t find a satisfying answer on a search engine. See what questions your audience is asking on forums and social media to understand what type of content they are looking for - and what you should be creating.

  • Repurposing - One of my favourite and most-used content hacks is building repurposing into your content plan. What I mean by this is that as soon as you start planning content, you consider how each piece can be repurposed and what objective that will achieve. You should also remain open to this repurposing mindset, so you are always making the most of the content you have at your disposal.

Visual content marketing 

Graphics are of crucial importance in content marketing. It’s a well-known fact that images are more engaging on social media and that people are able to process visual information 60,000 times faster than plain text. And there are plenty of free tools available that lets you create some striking visuals for free without the help of a designer.

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  • Canva gives you a bunch of free templates and design elements in a straightforward, user-friendly interface to design simple graphics.

  • Giphy - If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, then a gif is worth 10,000. Giphy lets you search for these short clips which are ideal when you are telling a more humorous story on your blog or on social media. The Chrome extension allows you to search from your browser.

  • Quickmeme - Lets you caption popular memes with your own text to make it relevant to your content and audience.

  • Recitethis.com lets you create beautiful posters in seconds. All you need to do is type in your text and choose your template, and you can download the image, share it to a number of social networks, link to it or email it to someone. This is exactly the kind of thing that tends to go down well on platforms such as Pinterest.

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Technology

Many marketers are still intimidated by technology. If this is you, be warned: Gartner predicts that by 2017, CMOs will be spending more on technology than CIOs. Of course the marketing technology landscape is intimidating. But I think most of these fears are misplaced. I don't think in order to be effective at content marketing in this technology-driven time you need to understand technology, but instead you need to understand its potential. That is, you need to know what is possible with technology, and if you don't, you need to make sure someone on your team does.

One potential solution is to employ a marketing technologist. Marketing technologists are responsible for aligning marketing technology with business goals, facilitating the relationship between marketing and IT, choosing providers and so on.

You may think this is a pipe dream, but Gartner found that in 2013, 81 per cent of global organisations it surveyed had a chief marketing technologist in place, which is up from 70 per cent the previous year. Now this research was conducted among companies that turn over around $500 million a year, but it does show that the importance of technology in marketing is growing and companies are adjusting how they work to accommodate this trend.

There are three things all marketers can do to be ready for this new way of content marketing.

You need to structure your teams in such a way that you have easy access to technology skills and knowledge in the nearby future. Whether that means upskilling your existing team, hiring new staff with tech skills, building relationships with IT or ensuring your agency can help you in this area.


Learn about the marketing technology landscape, understand what’s available and what’s possible, and stay up to date with the latest trends.
Educate yourself on the best way to assess technology solutions with a view to purchase. See this blog by my colleague Peter Yates about how to do exactly this.

In terms of technology we use, something we offer our clients is content distribution via Taboola. This content discovery platform allows you to surface relevant content to audiences on third-party websites. It can be a powerful tool in the right hands.

We also use a number of social media tools:

  • Tweetdeck: Useful for scheduling posts but also for monitoring what is happening on Twitter. You can set up columns as you can see here and monitor important buzzwords in your industry, competitor or client activity, and even track sharing of particular links on your site. It's a tidy way to stay on top of social media listening and engaging.

  • Who.unfollowed.meThis is a nifty little tool to track which of your followers have stopped following you and also to check which of your followers you're not following or who you are following who isn't following you back. It's more than just a vanity exercise - this tool can really help you manage relationships better.

  • Tweepi lets you flush unfollowers, reciprocate, clean up inactive accounts and follow new people on Twitter. While you can't do mass unfollows, it does help you see at a glance a list of 20 people including their bio, location if known, and approximate last activity, and then you can tick to unfollow people within the app. 

  • Twitter Analytics are now available for everyone and I definitely recommend you keep an eye on them to understand what content your followers are choosing to engage with. Look out for particular trends; for example I know from looking at my personal analytics that my audience doesn't really like inspirational quotes or pictures of my lunch, but they quite like when I share useful content related to marketing and pictures of any kind.

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  • Buffer app -  This is one of my favourite apps of 2014. Buffer suggests relevant content and lets you schedule posts to various social networks. It has a very user-friendly smartphone app and Chrome extension, so wherever you consume content, you can simply add it to your buffer and it gets drip fed to your audience. Their blog is also one of the best content marketing blogs around and is well worth a follow.

So there you have it: an overview of 19 tools and some hot tips that can help you become a more effective content marketer.

But they come with a warning, especially with regards to the tools. Don't rely on them. As much as tools can make your life as a marketer simpler and give you fantastic insights, they are not going to be the thing that makes your content marketing a success or a failure.

Instead of relying on tools, you need to make sure you are getting the foundations of content marketing right, and making intelligent decisions along the way. So to recap, these are the foundations of effective content marketing:

  • Strategy. Base your strategy on solid data, develop dynamic buyer personas and write your strategies and plans down.

  • Content creation. Focus on what your audience wants and make sure you are including visuals.

  • Technology. Get savvy about technology and its potential for your marketing. Get access to these skills on your team and understand how to choose the best technology for you.

Free download - Marketing that gets results: How to be effective in 2016