You may have heard about the concept of “content marketing” without quite understanding what it means.
Simply put, content marketing refers to interesting and educational information distributed to a target audience for the purposes of advertising.
It’s not a new concept, but actually goes back to the late 1800’s with the earliest trade magazines.
The Michelin guide is a great early example, where the French tire company, in order to better promote the new invention of the automobile (and of course their tires), created a free travel guide.
It grew into a world-wide paid publication, and even today restaurants all over the world fiercely compete for the coveted 3 Michelin Stars.
For an early Internet example, I remember receiving regular personalized e-mails from a company called LifeMinders. Each email contained links to various articles. Subjects included everything from car care, music and relationships to pet care, football and Valentine’s Day on a budget. The articles contained ads and links to websites, which were the primary sources of LifeMinders’ income.
I found their articles to be very educational and instructive. The company is long gone, but are best known for having the self-professed “worst” Super Bowl ad in 2000, which was simply text on a yellow background.
When I eventually learned about content marketing, those old LifeMinders emails immediately came to mind. They had a great idea that was simply ahead of its time (and blowing their entire budget on a Super Bowl ad likely didn’t help either.) I still keep their e-mails as swipe files after two decades, as sources of inspiration for my own content marketing efforts.
What is Content Marketing Today?
While the tools and distribution methods have changed, the concept of content marketing is the same as those early Michelin guides. The purpose is to educate while gently promoting products or services. This is the “content is king” axiom (Bill Gates, 1996) in action. It’s a long-term and continuous affair of publishing quality, useful content for your audience, followers and subscribers. You can think of yourself as an online publisher.
If you enjoy writing, making video and audio presentations, blogging, podcasting or even teaching, you’ll love content marketing. You likely have been doing it without realizing the name of the technique. This would be especially true if you have recommended products and services with an affiliate link, or simply include ads in your blog posts.
Many marketers debate on what content needs to be shared. Some would argue that it should be related to your product, service or brand, while others insist that these take a back seat and focus more on the needs of the reader or viewer.
I favor a mix of both, but primarily make content educational and interesting, as this is what content marketing was created for, and you want your readers to continue to find value in your offerings.
Have you considered a strategy of content marketing in your business? Here is how to start.
What Are Your Goals?
Of course, your primary aim is to gain a steady stream of income. However, you need to plan how you will gain this income, and each piece of content can have its own goals. Here are some suggestions:
- Increase in website traffic, sign-ups and subscriptions
- Convert your readers to a sale
- Strengthen bonds with current customers
- Rank the content piece in the search engines
- Show customer appreciation
- Brand or Product Awareness
- Increase Repeat Sales
- Create a Fan Base
- Increase exposure in social and other media
Thinking of a goal determines your plan of action. It’s essential you know why you are publishing a particular piece of content so you can measure the results.
The Value of Helping Others
Gone are the days when marketing was focused on selling a product instead of answering needs. We are in an era where customers demand the best from us. They expect us to care about their welfare.
Content marketing is one of the better ways we can help others. We can, in fact, achieve many, if not all the goals mentioned above (including revenue increase) if we primarily aspire to serve and help others.
Can the pursuit of profit and altruism co-exist in the business world? Certainly! In fact, big companies often experience a boost in sales when they focus on and pursue social values aligned with that of their customers. This is something to think about when developing your content.
Teaching is often mentioned as one way to earn additional income in many articles. Sharing your expertise not only can make a difference in other people’s lives but improves your standing and authority among in your niche and among your audience … not to mention the feeling of doing something worthwhile that helps others.
What Should Your Content Be?
You know who your target audience is (and if not, here’s how to research who your audience is). I’m sure your knowledge extends beyond the usual demographics of your customers. You may already have in mind topics or subjects that are relevant to them.
Earlier, I mentioned LifeMinders and the various topics they covered in their e-mails. Will any of those examples resonate with your audience? Here are more ideas that might inspire you:
- How-to guides and instructionals appeal to people. Choose wisely but never discount topics outright. Who’s to say a mechanic wouldn’t like a recipe of a homemade pizza?
- People appreciate being updated on the latest in technology, fashion, financial trends, etc. It shouldn’t matter if these are already available with your competitors.
- You can share your content through a story or video divided into episodes. This requires more work and planning, but if it is entertaining, your audience will look forward to your next piece.
There are also some effective formats and templates to use for your content. These are:
- Case studies on products, services, etc
- Tips and tricks and “10 things that will help you…” type content
- Interviews with experts in your niche
- Crowdsourced content – ask your subscribers their opinion on something, and compile it into content
- Checklists, such as “7 things to do before going to college”
- Product reviews and comparisons
Remember to not focus on the promotion of your products and services. You are sharing interesting information that is relevant and engaging to your target audience.
If you are an affiliate marketer, many will purchase what you “gently” advise in your piece of content … or you don’t advise anything and the ads on your page will earn you the income. If you are a brand, the goal is for your audience to think of you on their next purchase.
Choose Your Channels
Before the Internet, trade magazines were the only avenue of content marketing. These days you have a multitude of options. Pick the platform that will serve you best. Here are the most popular. You’re not limited to choose just one. I use at least three of these in my business:
Think back to the example of LifeMinders … all their content was through email. Your main goal is to increase your subscribers. The more subscribers, the more readers consuming your content. Make your subject and headlines appealing and eye-catching. We have an article here on crafting great headlines.
If you already have a website, you can set aside a section dedicated to content marketing via a regularly updated blog. Provide a link via e-mail or app if you want your audience to go directly to your content. You can also advertise to send people to your blog.
You blog can contain videos and be linked to your website and social media. As an added bonus, companies will invite you to place their ads when your blogs attract many readers.
It’s a no-brainer to employ social media for your content marketing. Facebook Pages and Groups, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok and LinkedIn can open new doors for you. Do not underestimate the power of sharing. You may find your content go viral in the most unexpected places, bringing a flood of traffic.
Hundreds of people make a full-time living by creating daily or weekly content on YouTube. Toys and Colors is a family playing with … well, toys. Daily content producers such as SSSniperWolf focuses on gaming, life hacks and commentary … both make an income from sponsorships, product placements and advertising revenue.
As a marketer or brand, product reviews are the go-to format, as well as educational and how to videos in your niche. Many marketers incorporate humor to entertain as well, and become influencers or personal brands themselves. Brian G Johnson is a great example of an affiliate marketer turned YouTube content producer focusing on video marketing.
Types of Content Marketing
- Article, Blog or Post
Articles are still the most common form of content marketing, in the form of educational blog posts, product reviews and emails. The opportunities are endless – engage your readers with something they would find interesting, tips and tricks on a subject, honest product comparisons and reviews (with links on where to buy both), and interviews with experts are just some examples.
Infographics are best to present graphs and statistics in an interesting fashion, but you can turn anything into one (check out my favourites here and here!) Challenging topics can be broken down into chunks of information, which is not only easier to grasp but more entertaining to learn.
This is a bit more demanding, as you need proper lighting and a good camera and microphone. However, if you love presenting yourself, this is a fantastic way to create content, and one of the most lucrative, especially as YouTube is the second most visited site after Google. Most people would rather watch a video than read.
According to this report, thirty-two percent of Americans listen to podcasts. Is there any chance your target audience is among them? Talk about something interesting … cooking, meditation, business, life hacks, even crochet. Don’t sell anything on your podcasts, though most popular podcasts have sponsors.
Don’t forget syndication! You can take your content, such as an article, and turn it into an infographic, video and podcast, then upload to various specialized websites and search engines to increase the size of your audience in all areas!
Content Marketing as an Affiliate
If you earn commissions by promoting somebody else’s product, you will likely already be practicing content marketing by writing informative articles and product reviews. Now, it’s only a matter of fine-tuning your efforts so you can rank higher in Google.
The most common content type is the product review. It is an honest and unbiased rating or evaluation. Yes, you earn a commission for every sale or even a click of a link. But, your focus is on the needs of your audience first, not to the manufacturer or company.
You should list all the pros and cons you discover, because that’s what a reader expects you to do. You wouldn’t want to simply be a salesperson, because you don’t add value … the reader can simply go to the company website to learn more.
As an affiliate and a content marketer, you need to position yourself as an authority figure in your niche who just happens to review products that an interested reader may be interested in buying.
Mix your reviews with informational and educational content to help your readers. Many of our affiliate businesses also include a Facebook group where we interact directly with our audience.
Is Content Marketing For You?
Would your brand or business benefit from content marketing? Keep in mind that you’re in it for the long haul, with a regular schedule of new content, either daily, weekly or monthly.
Content marketing is definitely one of the best strategies to grow your business and email list. Weigh the financial returns versus what it would cost you in terms of money, time and effort. You can hire writers, video producers and graphic designers to help as well. A successful content strategy all comes down to setting goals to increase your audience, finding satisfying ways to monetize your content, creating on a schedule and, most of all, having fun!