Last Updated 09 May 2017 | By:

A Comprehensive Guide to Content Marketing

(Tips, Tricks & Resources)

Ideas for Content Marketing for Your Startup

Content marketing has always been (what’s a brand without content?), and continues to be all the rage, especially with the rise of the internet –  everyone’s talking about building a, “content marketing plan.”

Yet despite the increasing amount of startups/entrepreneurs who understand the method in premise, fewer and fewer seem to be able to effectively implement it. So let’s dig into this content marketing guide and start with some basics.

Part 1: Content Marketing Basics

What Exactly is Content Marketing Today?

According to the Content Marketing Institute, it’s a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent “content” (any kind of media really, from tweets and blogs, to video and ezine articles) that attracts and retains a clearly defined audience. And, ultimately to drive profitable customer action.

In other words, you give something of high-value to prompt an action, that in return results in a transaction. This isn’t necessarily a sale – it might be as easy as encouraging the individual to forward the email or infographic onto a friend, or share it on social media. In some cases, content marketing invites individuals to provide their email address in exchange for access to a particular ebook, workbook, or the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…you get the idea.

 

What Content Marketing is NOT

Before we get to the really great ideas for content marketing, let’s first clear up what content marketing is NOT:

  • It’s NOT all about pitching sales. That ends up being more you-focused than customer-focused and doesn’t deliver enough value for people to stop, pay attention and engage.
  • It’s NOT poorly-produced videos. To make great video, it takes strategy. Yes, you CAN shoot decent video with a smartphone, but strategy comes first. Same goes for graphic design.
  • It’s NOT cheap. It takes serious time, labor, and execution to produce real results. If you think you’re just going to write a 1-page white paper and get your customers to go crazy, you’re out of your mind.
  • It’s NOT a one-time solution. Success from content marketing comes from consistent, high-value content creation and strategic distribution. If the quality of your content begins to suffer, so will results.

If you want an example of high-quality content, definitely check out HelpScout.com and WPcurve.com. The post in this screenshot is a stellar example.

HelpScout Blog

These companies seriously rock it when it comes to content marketing. WPcurve.org published a powerhouse post recently on the process they use to release their content…genius!

 

Content Creation Ideas for Your Startup

There are a large variety of ways to bring value to your audience. Instead of copying the same “10 Ways to Save Money on [x]” types of posts, develop fresh, new, unique and high-value content that compels someone to hit the forward or share button to send to a friend.

The goal’s to have ideal readers of content consumers say, “Holy smokes, this is awesome!” When you’re looking for new ideas for content marketing, consider these three gold mines.

 

Surveys

We often think of surveys as a way people tell us how unsatisfied they are with our company. And while that’s true, it’s also an unfortunate cliché that limits thinking. Rethink the word survey. Replace the word “survey” with “customer wants.” If you took a customer out for coffee and actually talked to them about their needs, you’d find a thousand things (more of this, less of that) and inevitably, you’ll discover endless content opportunities.

To make this strategy work, simply send a short survey out to your audience with a few key questions (not too long or you’ll lose people). Tell them you’re working on some free resources that’ll help them better [insert benefit here], and ask if they’d be willing to take a short survey to give you ideas for how your resource can be of more value. Remember, you’ll need to offer an incentive.

 

Questions, Questions, and More Questions

The teams at Google are smart – they assume when you search for content online, you search in the form of a question. Just watch what happens when you use Google Instant Search (you also find that people search for some bizarre things!). This goes to show that a question is a great way to develop content:

how to write a marketing plan

What are the FAQs in your niche? These could range from basic questions like,

“How much does [x] product cost?”

To something more complex, like,

“How do I compare two web developers when designing a new website?”

To take this a step further, consider questions that everyone’s thinking but no one has the guts to ask aloud. For example, a high-priced private university likely skirts around questions related to price. Or they try to “overcome objections” and point the individual in a different direction, such as telling the value story of their brand. But what if they created an entire content campaign around,

“Why our university is so expensive.”

Then they tackle it head on, and through the campaign their users discover that when you take into account many factors at other universities, they’re actually on the same playing field in terms of pricing. Interesting approach, and one that would spark debate – good fodder for sharing.

 

“Show Me” Content

There are still legions of new companies afraid to show their customers what they’re doing and what tools they used to do the work. In the modern world of “givers gain,” this doesn’t make sense. Typically when a brand discloses the tools and strategies they’re using, few clients and prospects say, “Ok, great. We don’t need you anymore.”

When you pull back the curtain and let your customers see what you’re doing, it further reinforces your level of market and industry expertise. Let’s compare it to a car mechanic.

He can show you what he’s doing, talk you through things, and even give you the wrench to tighten the bolt. But, you won’t likely end up fixing your transmission will you?

Part 2: Is Content Marketing For You?

Make decisions because you really believe in them, or don’t do them at all. Right?

Is content marketing something you’re willing to do, or not? Is it a, “Heck yes!” or, “Meh, I’m not sure.” It’s a proven way to generate leads. It helps with SEO. And if your content is really good, it could even go viral. But it’s also a big commitment. How many small businesses really have time to create effective actionable content, the kind that really does the trick? In order to make the most informed decision, ask yourself a few things:

 

Who Do You Sell To?

Content marketing can be both a B2B and a B2C game, but who you sell to is an important factor in deciding a) whether you market with content, and b) what kind of content you create. If you sell B2C, you probably want to start off by focusing on social media or mobile marketing (via your mobile site, inside your app, or by sending texts). If you sell B2B, ebooks, whitepapers and case studies can be powerful tools.

 

Are You Looking for Inbound Leads?

This one might seem kind of silly. Right now, you’re probably saying, “Psh, who doesn’t want incoming leads?” True. Incoming leads are wonderful. But some small businesses dedicate time (and money) to creating a lead generation team – cold callers or appointment setters – and that’s how they bring in leads.

Or maybe your new business is strictly based on referrals. If you don’t need incoming leads at this very moment and you’re a small business, content marketing might be a waste of your valuable resources.

 

Who Will Create Your Content?

Do you have a talented content cultivator on staff, or is your CEO also your salesperson, who also happens to be your writer? Content marketing is a delicate balance of writing to teach and writing to sell (and also writing to not annoy your prospects).

Getting off on the right foot when you start content marketing is a key to your success! If you put out content that’s not quite up to par and a handful of important leads see it, they’re probably not coming back again. Five leads might not seem like much, but if you put out so-so content, then it’s discovered by a prospect who tells a few of his friends and… you get the picture.

Part 3: How to Make a First Impression

It’s said a person decides whether they like someone within the first six seconds of meeting them. Similarly, people decide whether or not they like content within a matter of moments based on appearance, voice, relevancy and more.

When creating marketing campaigns, it’s important to deploy content that makes a strong first impression. Here are a few steps to help:

 

Know Your Audience

Not to be redundant but it must be stressed: this step is the most crucial part of any marketing campaign. Period. Being aware of your audience will not only let you know what type of content you should create but also give you insight into the best strategies to implement it to bring the most value to your customers.

Just like any other relationship, your followers will grow to know you and your voice, so the only way to bring them the best possible content is to get to know them as well. It’s a relationship and relationships require time and effort.

Note: Use buyer personas. Have you created buyer personas? If not, get to it. Check out this great Buyer Persona Template from HubSpot that outlines exactly what to do and how to do it.

 

Create Great Content

Easier said than done, right? Make yourself stand out! There’s no point in creating content that’s been done a million times before, and let’s face it, no one wants to read content that sucks. Your content should take time and it should be absolutely flawless. Bring value that excites your customers and moves them to share your content with others.

Note: Keep in mind that once you start creating awesome content, your audience will expect a constant stream, so keep it coming. See this Creating Content Guide with ideas that’ll help you make an amazing first impression.

 

Use Social Media

These days nothing is a bigger turn-off to savvy customers than an incomplete social media presence, so be purposeful and consistent.

Don’t half-ass it. Either have a polished social media presence, or no presence (not uncommon).Choose a platform or two and go all out! The amount of people that you can reach via social media is limitless so there’s no reason you shouldn’t take advantage.

Note: To establish consistency, it’s essential to create a schedule and stick with it. If managing social media seems like a burden, outsource it. There are great social media management tools out there like Buffer and HootSuite that are affordable and easy to use.

Part 4: Cut Down On Waste

Your average content marketing strategy, not to mention the content itself, is full of waste. Harsh but true. Just like a salespeople have sales goals, marketers also have goals to hit. At times these goals lead marketers to publish content for the sake of hitting deadlines.

Only publish content as often as you have something valuable to share, regardless of what that timing looks like. To cut down on content marketing waste and increase value to your readers:

 

Reduce

Look at your content marketing schedule. Are you pushing out a few ebooks and whitepapers per month and one or two blogs per week to go with them? If you don’t see value in each of these activities, reduce the amount of content you’re publishing. This advice is contrary to a lot of the content marketing advice you’ve probably heard, but often an important step in increasing value.

 

Reuse

Are you promoting your content like you should? A number of small businesses make the same mistake: they write a blog, tweet about it once and then see what happens. Traffic numbers generated in the following hours or days may be the only traffic that blog sees. Reusing your content amplifies your hard work.

  • Continue to promote your content at a pace you choose. Call your blog new for a few weeks, then a month later, “replay” your most popular blogs from the prior month to increase readership.
  • Partner with complementary websites and thought leaders in your industry to republish your blogs. This increases awareness of your company and content by introducing it to a new built-in audience.

 

Recycle

Is that amazing white paper you published in 2013 just sitting in the archives on your website? Recycle the content by pairing similar structure and copy with new research and design. This gives your content a fresh new face while decreasing the amount of time your marketing team needs to create a concept, research and get it out the door.

Part 5: Tips to Create Great Content

It doesn’t matter whether it’s infographics, videos, or photos you use to add flare… words are the main means of connecting content with people (visibly, and invisibly through metadata for search engines).

If you don’t get the words right, it’ll be hard to achieve success as a content marketer. But, research just about any topic online and you’ll find most articles will be poorly written. You can use this fact to your advantage by creating better content.

 

Tip #1) Focus on Spelling, Grammar, and Syntax

It doesn’t matter whether you prefer conversational or advanced-styles of writing, your readers won’t respect you if you publish mediocre content full of flaws. Two of the most important techniques that boost quality is to a) start with the foundational rules of written language and, b) use strong, confident sentences. You’ll instantly gain more authority. Polish your work. Edit!

 

Tip #2) Try Impulsive Writing

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been writing personally for years, or never considered yourself a writer. Whenever anyone has trouble putting something together, just write impulsively.

Observe your feelings, and try to look at your business through creative new angles. When something strikes, write. Any serious copywriter worth their weight in gold will admit, “You can’t force good copy.”

 

Tip #3) Truly Become Your Reader

Think about it, you use and consume content online don’t you? Chances are you do. What kind of content do you personally find most valuable when you experience a need, or encounter a problem and look for solutions using the internet?

This is probably in most respects true for your ideal readers as well. It’s just a matter of you discovering their needs, wants, and desires (relative to your offering) and then presenting it with the production value they find appealing.

 

Tip #4) Leverage Online Tools

These days roughly 90% of the high-quality content out there relies to some degree on technology to achieve its full potential. Start exploring 5 tools like the ones below and you’ll notice a dramatic improvement:

  • Portent’s Content Idea Generator gives you different suggestions for a title, based on the subject you enter. The ideas are really cool! You don’t have to copy the actual title; you can easily modify it according to your style and readers preferences.
  • Essaymama.com can save you in times of trouble. You started working on a topic that’s more challenging than you anticipated? Rely on the expert writers and editors at this website who can help you complete awesome content regardless of the volume of knowledge you currently posses. Don’t forget to read the glossary of essay terms, as well as the essay writing guide. Some skills in academic writing will only make you a more believable content writer.
  • Thesaurus helps you fight your greatest enemy – repetitiveness. Find synonyms that replace your habit words and your style will immediately gain appeal.
  • ProWritingAid is a great tool to use during the editing stage. The software helps you improve readability and eliminate errors that were unnoticed by MS Word or Google Docs.
  • Help.PlagTracker provides editing and proofreading assistance to help ensure your content is accurate.

 

Tip #5) Brand Voicing

Most everyone understand what the “voice of a brand” is and means, don’t we? It’s personality, but communicated through content (writing, graphic design, website presentation, etc.). So what’s the voice of your brand and how do you find it?

Well, there’s no objective answer to that question. But, once you begin searching, and defining, and creating, you’re on the way. And this voicing will dramatically, like night and day, improve the quality and effectiveness of your content.

 

Tip #6) Research, Research, Research!

This stage never stops improving your content. As an entrepreneur or content marketer you’re lucky, since it’s the most awesome part of your work. You get to learn new things every day, and not many people have a chance to commit to self-development.

Research isn’t an activity you do before you start writing and creating a good piece of content, it’s supposed to be a part of your lifestyle! Your creative mind should never stop churning, or at least, you shouldn’t stop keeping an eye on it. Use its entire potential and feed it new information daily!

 

Tip #7) Get Rid of Fillers!

Filler. It’s what we write when we don’t have a ton to say but think the content needs to be longer, or more complex. The question is though, how do we feel about filler as readers and content consumers? Yeah, we hate it.

Don’t forget this fact when you put your “content marketer” or “content creator” hats on. And don’t be deceived by things like word counts, or how long a video should be, etc. It’s a competition of value. Quality and value are what matters, not word counts.

Part 6: Trendsetting Strategies

The content marketing world is saturated. Everyone’s using SEO-optimized blogs now, somewhat polished social media, halfway-decent email automation, guest posting galore, PPC advertising, etc., to direct traffic to their business sites because these things work.

Then there’s the millennials – in order to appeal to this massive online purchasing demographic, businesses expend tons of resources nurturing this crowd and establishing relationships built on trust and social responsibility.

Startups could legitimately spend thousands of hours on content marketing while the other important aspects of the business nearly fall apart. So, let’s talk strategies.

 

Smarter Marketing

Startups MUST keep an eye on new trends for smarter marketing. This narrows focus and allows a business to get in front of competition that may not be incorporating trends yet. Don’t ignore your current content platforms.

Rather, it’s about incorporating new market trends as you continue to use these venues as well, keeping things fresh! You’re likely to get better results. Of course, you continue to maintain your blog, social media, email tactics, and your advertising, but with these trends in mind.

 

Leveraging More Video

Google owns YouTube and it’s now seeing the value of in-SERP video advertising. So, as you continue to use your current platforms, incorporate more video and begin to use video in your paid advertising as well.

Users are happy to see video replacing text – they can play a more passive role in getting information and getting it faster – both things are valuable to them. They’ll watch your video before they’ll read a competitor’s text.

 

Consider a Dedicated App

There’s no stopping it, more and more businesses will develop apps for mobile devices and now “wearables.” While mobile-optimized websites have been the right way to go, apps, especially for e-commerce, will be a big improvement and mobile users prefer them.

Features such a geolocation will allow business owners to speak more directly with individual customers. And be certain that your app is integrated with cloud technology so that users and potential customers can cross over several devices as they’re making purchasing decisions.

 

Digital Assistants to Replace Conventional SEO

SEO and PPC marketing are still very effective in getting a site spread and seen. But, with Siri and Cortana and other digital assistants on the rise, business owners will need to be certain that their information will be easily accessed by these assistants – this method of finding what they want is becoming more and more popular with users. While Google searches are still popular, especially with desktop users, mobile users prefer assistants.

 

Mobile Domination

This has already been alluded to, but it’s worth repeating, by the end of 2015 mobile traffic had overtaken desktop traffic according to Google, and it has now released its “Mobilegeddon” algorithm which will phase out sites that aren’t mobile-optimized. This won’t happen immediately, but it’s coming, and businesses that are prepared will be in a better marketing position. And remember millennials are almost totally mobile.

 

Wearable Tech & IOT

It will be of growing importance that websites are optimized for wearables. The Apple Watch 2 was just launched and other manufacturers will follow suit with smartwatches and other wearables. This has large implications for local marketing and will continue to mesh online and real-time marketing. Any business developed today should keep wearables in mind.

 

Emerging Virtual Reality

While it’s the most widely known VR device, the Oculus Rift, recently launched for general use, will certainly not be the only such device developed and marketed. Many of these devices are for gaming, of course, but there’s an entire area of opportunity for online marketing, as they’re integrated into social media platforms, direct messaging, and video channels. No one’s suggesting that a small business startup get into the world of VR just yet, but it will be worth keeping an eye on this new trend and planning for the future.

 

Increasing Advertising Budgets

Online advertising is just going to get more expensive as the demand for it grows. Right now, online ads are cheap, but look for prices to go up throughout the year. It’s the law of supply and demand.

 

Hyper-Personalization

New small businesses that haven’t planned for personalizing their content marketing efforts will be left in the dust soon. Landing page and email segmenting is already strongly in use, but consumers will demand more of it and in different ways.

Targeted advertisements, geolocation, and pinpointing individual needs within customer demographics will allow businesses to offer value and benefit that’s highly personalized.

A business owner may, for example, present three different offers, each of which will link to a different landing page and then segment email groups according to those responses. There are plenty of tools that can streamline this process, and this kind of personalization builds relationships and trust.

Of course, these trends will not be the only ones to emerge. New trends in marketing today are usually consumer-driven, so it’ll take vigilance to see what’s moving most quickly.

Part 7: Content Marketing Tools

The first thing every startup needs is a good idea about what kind of product or service it will offer. But, even when that idea gets a plan and becomes a reality, there’s still plenty of work to be done. First and foremost, your startup company needs to reach potential customers, and even though you believe you’ve come up with the next best thing, you won’t get far if you don’t get the word out.

Easier said than done, so take a look at these powerful tools that can help you create brilliant content.

1: WiseMapping.com

Mind mapping is a powerful technique which can help you organize and develop your content ideas and outline for your website. WiseMapping is one of the best mind mapping editors online which won’t cost you a dime to use. It’ll also help you during those difficult brainstorming sessions with your team.

2) HemingwayApp.com

The app highlights issues and provides suggested corrections. For added guidance, it also gives the user an overall score. This score is based on “readability” and can be extremely efficient when writing website content. Overall, the app is educational in its process and will only make you a better writer. And the best part is that the web version is free.

3) Canva.com

In addition to providing your customers with useful data when they visit your company website, you need to have some eye-catching visual content as well. Instead of hiring a graphic designer, you can check out Canva which has tons of templates to help you create presentations, posters, infographics, or Facebook covers even if you’ve never done anything similar before.

4) EduGeeksClub.com

If writing isn’t one of your strong suits, or if you simply don’t have the time to write daily or weekly blog posts, you can hire a professional writer from EduGeeksClub, an online editing and writing service which gathers some of the most reputable professionals in the field. You can also have their editors to go through your existing content if you feel like it needs some additional polishing.

5) NinjaEssays.com

As writers, whether it’s an assignment or your own new idea, we can all become blocked. Our thoughts can be scattered, we can miss grammar mistakes and spelling typos, and a fresh pair of (professional) editing eyes is a necessity for success. NinjaEssays is an online editing service that provides this type of professional help. You can work with trained experts to receive advice on research and overall structure, all geared towards your specific needs.

6) CoSchedule.com (Headline Analyzer)

Every website article or high-quality blog post must have a good headline to lure the reader into clicking on it. CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer is a browser-based tool which, using its algorithms, calculates the effectiveness of the title based on several factors including length, uniqueness, commonness, and the impact it has on the reader, and assigns a certain rating on a scale of 1 to 100.

7) Title-Generator.com

Whereas CoSchedule Headline Analyzer will analyze the headlines you’ve already written, Title Generator will helps create them, taking into account search engine visibility and the emotional impact. All you have to do is enter a keyword which summarizes your post, and the app will generate hundreds of headlines containing your keyword. Just pick the best one and run with it.

8) Piktochart.com

When it comes to multimedia content, infographics have become wildly popular in the past few years for a good reason. They offer crucial bits of information in an easily digestible and visually pleasing form. Piktochart allows you to create your own, relying on over 400 existing templates offered by the app. Maintaining and developing a certain business image is just as important as the stuff that’s beneath the surface.

9) Evernote.com

Evernote is proven to be extremely useful in organizing your brain. It lets you gather information from various sources (personal notes, online links, photos and audio files) into one place. The app also offers a live-chat feature. When using this function, the user has control over who sees which documents and if they have editing abilities. The free version is perfect for individuals and premium/business upgrades are also available that offer more collaborative options.

10) CoSchedule.com

Now available for use without WordPress, CoSchedule is constantly upgrading its capabilities. The marketing calendar is effective at planning your content and can connect with your Evernote, Google Docs and WordPress material. Not only can you import information, but there are also HTML, PDF and document export options. It also helps establish appointments and deadlines for articles and social media posts. And really, that’s just the beginning.

This comprehensive resource for content marketing was a group effort and made possible by professionals who live and breathe content marketing. A huge thanks to: Jackie SteinmetzBenedict BrychtaAli SchwankeJulie PetersenAntonio Tooley and Robert Morris.