How To Be Successful With Content Marketing In 2018

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Where did we come from, where do we go?

Content marketing started out as a Wild West, around 2012, with huge opportunity to get in early, stake your claim, and show your mettle.

The brands that did it well in the early days were able to build tremendous followings with healthy ROI without spending a ton of money or time devising sophisticated, growth-hackery content promotion and distribution plans. These pioneers simply created decent content and started sharing it with the world. And they got results because there were so few brands self-publishing at that point in time. The company I worked for most recently, Visually, was one of these innovators and had amassed an engaged-audience of over 500,000 of the web's most rabid infographic fans.

But it wasn't long until the carpetbaggers arrived on the scene, starting in 2013.

They mimicked what had worked for the pioneers with a hearty, "Us, too!" attitude. But instead of capitalizing on what had worked in the very early days, this second wave of brands fought to stand out in an increasingly-saturated space. Some of the carpetbaggers saw results, many didn't.

And by 2015, everyone was 'doing content marketing' ...and everyone was seeing diminishing returns. Lots of folks got burned out from trying to pump out a ton of mediocre content, posting it on their social media channels, and seeing zero return on their efforts. The majority of companies were so focused on the quantity of content they could produce that they failed to register the importance of quality and distribution.

By 2016, the tactics that had worked early on (the good ol' 'spray and pray') no longer worked unless you were one of the brands that had cashed in early and had earned a significant audience that you could market to directly. Or, you had a pretty healthy marketing budget that could buy your way into qualified eyeballs for your content.

Fast forward to now. We're heading into the last quarter of 2017 with 2018 coming up fast. 

The question is... is content marketing still an effective channel? The answer is unequivocally yes if you approach it with the right mindset.

 

Here are the steps you need to embrace to be successful with content marketing as a channel in 2018.

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1. Create a plan and document it, damnit. 

It is extremely easy to go down the content marketing rabbit hole. One of the most important factors of effectively leveraging content marketing as a channel is to be absolutely ruthless with your resources to ensure that you are devoting your budget, time, and team's bandwidth to creating and promoting content that is going to get you the results you're after. In order to do that, you've got to be willing to commit to a narrow focus and stick to your plan. Documenting your plan is step one.

2. Be willing to invest the time necessary to be successful.

Over half of marketers (2017 B2B Content Marketing Benchmark Report, CMI) report that the reason they've fallen short of their content marketing goals is that their organization hasn't devoted enough time to the effort. Not surprising! Content marketing is a long-game and it does require an investment. But when it works, it not only raises your brand's profile (which is useful in direct selling) but it creates a stream of new leads and customers that you didn't have before.

3. Do less content that's more awesome.

Rewind to 2013/14. Remember how I said the web was becoming increasingly saturated with fluffy, low-impact content? Uh, yeah... it's not any different now. Garbage content gets garbage results because the second a prospect trades some real estate in their inbox in exchange for access to your content and they realize that they've been GOT by your crappy bait-and-switch maneuver, they're outta here. You've not only forfeited your investment into the content you created but you've sunk your promotion/distribution costs. And you've burned a bridge because that prospect won't ever listen to you again.

So, to recap: the reason you need to create extremely valuable content is that you want to make sure you capture your audience's attention and get them to consume your content thereby getting to know your brand and your offerings.

You want your audience to think, "Such and such brand really gets me and they really seem like they know their shit. This is good content." 

Lastly, you want to capitalize on that goodwill with the chance to occasionally talk about what you're selling. You know, to generate revenue and shit.

4. Find a primo external resource that can help you get there.

Creating really rich, meaningful content is no small feat.

It requires core competencies in marketing strategy, research, analysis, and creative production. And that doesn't even begin to cover what you actually DO with the content once it's ready to go live. Promotion and distribution require additional skills.

Also, because content is a long-game, you want to get content out the door and into the hands of qualified prospects as quickly as possible so that it can go to work for you. (Shameless plug: that's where The Content Canvas comes in... we help some pretty cool companies with their content and marketing efforts and we can help yours, too.)

5. Understand how content fits into the bigger picture.

We've talked a lot about how crucial it is that you create valuable, meaningful, actionable content so don't take this the wrong way. But here's a truth-bomb: content is a vehicle. It's a means to an end. A piece of content is an asset that you use to communicate with and foster action within your target audience.

So, in order to be successful with content marketing, you have to go beyond just the content. You need a strategy to make sure that you're not only getting qualified eyeballs on the content, but that it's converting and ultimately that it's furthering your business goals like introducing new business to your top-line, increasing deal size, churn reduction, or what have you. 

6. Be patient, be consistent, be thorough.

Because content marketing isn't an overnight shot-in-the-arm for growth, it requires dedication and patience.

If you do the right things (publish valuable content, promote that content heavily and to the right audiences, convert your traffic, nurture your prospects, etc.) you still likely won't see huge results within the first few months even. This is because it takes time to build a presence in your market's content space and to build a relationship with an individual prospect. Also, consider your typical sales cycle.

Now consider that your content prospects are further up the funnel than your typical sales prospect; they haven't yet moved into the intent phase where they've gone from simply existing in your market to having any sort of desire to consider purchasing something.

So, stick with it... be consistent in your cadence of creating new content, promoting your existing content, and nurturing your audience. Not only does content marketing require hands-on time and sustained consideration from your team (or your content partner) but it requires the patience and understanding that you are building a presence in your market for the longterm rather than running a quick sales campaign.

7. Get the funnel infrastructure behind your content figured out ASAP.

One last tip to be successful with content: make sure you have the right technology and underlying 'blueprint' correct and in place as early as possible.

What I mean by this is that you have the following ducks in a row before you start publishing content:

  • A marketing automation platform setup and working with a strong nurturing email drip that's live
    What we recommend: ActiveCampaign
     
  • A landing page platform with some basic page templates that are designed and ready to go
    What we recommend: Landingi
     
  • A lead capture solution so that you can display your content assets on your website and blog and capture those visitors
    What we recommend: Sumo
     
  • Integrations set up for your different platforms
    What we recommend: Zapier
     
  • Promotion and distribution activities figured out; who will create the strategy for getting qualified eyeballs..who will execute it? Do they know how to execute each step or will it be a learning process?

Content marketing is still a viable, strong channel for B2B brands to create market awareness as well as generate leads and yes, even revenue. The steps above are a starting point for creating a humming content machine that can create momentum for your company's growth funnel while elevating your brand.

Kathleen Smith