It’s said that experience is the best teacher — I’m here to tell you that content marketing proves this adage. I spent an entire semester learning about content marketing in a college marketing class, but I learned more in about a week of working at Influence & Co.
Based on my coursework, content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing content designed to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — ultimately driving profitable customer action. The class boiled these mechanics down to two concepts: the upstream (who receives content marketing messages) and the downstream (the logistics of those content marketing messages).
That’s not wrong, of course, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. This view of content marketing is sort of like a black-and-white film. Let's bring some color into the picture.
Here’s what my experiences have taught me: Content marketing is a tactic companies and individuals use to further educated conversations within industries and with audiences. It's purposeful, helpful, and relevant content that professionals and consumers find valuable and interesting.
Overall, content marketing should help build relationships and trust — two things brands and industry leaders need to cultivate with consumers now more than ever.
Learning by Doing: Putting the Content Marketing Funnel to Work
It’s one thing to see the content marketing funnel depicted in a Keynote presentation; it’s another matter to put that funnel to work achieving real, tangible goals. At Influence & Co., we use off-site content (bylined guest-contributed articles and secured press mentions) and on-site content (blog posts, downloadable whitepapers, and email drip campaigns) to help clients achieve goals and build relationships.
With Influence & Co., I've been able to work with and target reputable, well-known publications such as Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Thrive Global, and others. I've also worked with a lot of industry-specific publications that reach our clients' target audiences. That’s where many clients have seen greater returns on investment — one client was published in technology blog ReadWrite and enjoyed a surge of 50 more downloads for an on-site whitepaper.
One client I've worked with wanted to rank for a phrase, "harmonic retail," which was coined by the company. We worked with that client to create guest-contributed articles that amplify the phrase. Ready for a happy ending? That client now ranks for that phrase on Google.
As I’ve practiced and executed content marketing strategies on behalf of clients, I’ve had to unlearn some key concepts from my college days. Here’s what real-world experience has taught me:
According to my content marketing class — and the theory of upstream and downstream — anything you publish on a website you don't 100% own is not content marketing. I wholeheartedly disagree; off-site content is a vital part of any content marketing strategy! At Influence & Co., we see the important role it plays in the content marketing funnel. Perhaps more importantly, we acknowledge and appreciate that any digital content can affect the way consumers, prospects, or audience members interact with and learn about your brand.
Influence & Co. works with publications to reach the audiences our clients seek. If we were to develop clients' own publications and strictly post content there, it wouldn't be nearly as successful because a client wouldn't have the same reach. Instead, we cultivate and maintain relationships with publications that do the legwork of developing readerships. Our publication strategists are in constant contact with publication editors, and we know what content they are currently looking for as well as what they'll want next. Meanwhile, other members of our media relations team work to secure mentions, interviews, and feature stories about clients through press coverage.
Not only do guest-contributed articles meet your target audience where it already is, but they also lend you and your company more credibility. These publications are trusted entities that have strict contributor requirements. When a client is published, it shows readers that they have poignant, interesting, and credible insights.
SEO was hardly ever mentioned in my classes, which is a major concern in our digital age. When we did discuss it, professors typically noted its importance but said a budgeted SEO spend was enough to get you paid placement on the first page of search results. That's not exactly something you can rely on, though — how often do you click on the "ad" atop your Google search results?
There is no doubt that SEO plays a huge role in content and how people find it. When pulling and cultivating SEO reports, such as keyword research or technical website audits, there are a ton of factors that impact how a client's website may (or may not) show up on the first page of Google search results.
Here’s where ICo. can step in: We can perform keyword and technical audits, pull that data, analyze it, synthesize everything, and point out specific areas that need a client's attention. From there, we work together to create content that highlights targeted keywords. We don’t pay Google or other search engines; we organically help you rank better over time.
In my content marketing class, behavior was the most important aspect of target audiences. This notion isn’t wrong, per se, but it’s an oversimplification. It turns audiences into action bots and forgets to treat them as living, breathing humans. When we want to develop deeper relationships and build trust with our fellow human beings through content, it's important to treat readers as autonomous people with full lives.
The buyer's journey is comprised of action steps, sure, but demographic and psychological factors are equally important. More often than not, our clients want to speak to audiences of well-defined roles, such as CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, young professionals, entrepreneurs, and more.
Getting the target audience right is critical to the success of your content marketing — depending on your goals, these audience members can become qualified leads, brand loyalists, future investors, etc. Reaching an audience is more about figuring out what those people are reading, where they're reading it, and why are they reading it now. Writing for relationship-building is the key to quality on-site and off-site content.
The main lesson? You can't expect an A+ on your company's content marketing plan by relying on SparkNotes theories. If you want to receive extra credit, turn to the experts who put the theories into practice every day!
This blog post was conceived and co-written by my wonderful team: Laura Heck and Ryan Gauthier.
I'm a content strategist at Influence & Co. I'm a lifelong learner who's ready to dive into a new topic at a moment’s notice (which is why I keep a notebook on me at all times). I most enjoy getting dinner with friends, curling up with a good book, and binge-watching the latest Netflix Original.