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What is Content Marketing and How Can It Help My Business?

“Content is king.” First uttered by J.W. Click and Russell N. Baird in 1974 and echoed by Bill Gates in 1996, but regardless of your source, they were right. “Content” is everywhere in marketing these days—with so many brands name-dropping content in so many different ways, it can be easy to get confused. You may be asking yourself “What is content marketing? And how can it help me achieve my business goals?” The good news is, you’re not alone.

To understand content marketing, start by redefining business from a transaction to a journey. On the surface, making a purchase may seem like a simple transaction: You pay, and in return, you receive a product or service. In reality, however, buying something is actually the last step on a much longer journey. Think back to the last big purchase you made—perhaps it was a car, a home, a vacation, or a college degree. You likely did considerable research before pulling the trigger on your purchase, because you wanted to ensure a return on your investment.

Regardless of what product or service your company provides, your consumers will likely do their research on what you—and your competitors—have to offer, and this goes beyond your product.

Customers want to know your brand is trustworthy, reliable, and frankly, worth giving money to. To position your audience as customers, and, ideally, advocates of your brand, it’s important you position yourself as a thought leader in your industry. That’s where content marketing comes in.

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a strategic marketing tactic that includes creating, publishing, and distributing relevant content to predetermined target audiences—i.e. personas—to engage, attract, and entice them to become customers.

But rather than trying to directly sell your product or service to potential customers through radio spots, TV commercials, and billboard buys, content marketing builds trust between brands and customers by providing answers to the questions they’re already asking. Once you become the go-to resource for information on the product or service your offer, you build awareness and authority for your brand, and you ultimately become the go-to place of purchase.

Becky Dobyns, Digital Content Specialist at Qualbe Marketing Group, traces all the advantages of content marketing back to genuine connection. With content marketing, authentic, friendly conversations replace stiff business suits and awkward sales pitches.“Good content has first listened to the needs of the business’ customers and then lets customers know either the pain it is delivering them from or the heaven it is delivering them to.”

Though content marketing has a singular mission of converting your audience, the content you create can take the form of social media, blog posts, infographics, data visualizations, ebooks, white papers, and webinars. Because content marketing is about meeting the needs of a target audience at a specific time in its buying journey, how you share your content is equally important as the quality of the content.

But content marketing isn’t just about providing value to the customer. It’s incredibly effective at building awareness for your brand, improving search engine rank and performance, establishing your brand as an authority in a specific field, and providing validation to your prospects and customers—all of which make your audience more likely to become customers.

How Content Marketing Benefits Businesses

1. Content marketing helps people find your business

SEO and content marketing go hand in hand. In order to have a chance to rank well in search engines, you need to consistently produce new, unique, high-quality content.

It helps to publish great content frequently, but resource constraints and staffing shake-ups make that impossible sometimes. When in doubt, focus on quality over quantity. Keywords should be used as the anchors of your content to understand what questions people are asking online. But above and beyond keywords, make sure you’re creating content that meets a need or answers a question for your target persona.

Search engine behavior has shifted in the last five years to reward websites that provide legitimate resources to users. Brands that build content with the user in mind often see their sites elevated in search engine results and benefit from increased traffic.

2. Content marketing establishes thought leadership

Simply finding your business isn’t enough to convert passive web users into customers. Your audience needs to know what you have to offer before they’re willing to buy in to your brand. Content marketing is your chance to establish authority in your industry and show the world what you’re good at. “When someone has questions or problems that are relevant to your business, your content gives a 24/7 introduction to how you can best serve them,” says Jon Cook at Keynote Content.

3. Content marketing moves potential customers toward purchase

There are many benefits to content marketing, but if it’s done well, it can slowly turn potential clients into customers by leveraging the momentum of the buyer’s journey. Every piece of content on your site should be created for a distinct persona with a clear goal in mind. That ensures your prospects find what they’re looking for in the form of content that answers question after question and gently nudges them down through the sales funnel.

Our sales funnel includes awareness, consideration, decision, and advocacy phases. Yours may be slightly different, but make sure it pairs user intent with different types of content to ensure it resonates with the audience you’re targeting.

Awareness Phase

During the first phase of their journey, potential customers are only tangentially aware they have a need to fulfill or a problem to solve. People in this stage aren’t looking for solutions, they’re just exploring their situation at an abstract level.

Content solution: Blog posts, infographics, and quizzes designed to spark interest, entertain, or leverage pop culture resonate best here.

Consideration Phase

The consideration phase is when users can fully articulate their need, problem, or question. They are actively gathering information to solve their problem and are comparing products and services designed to do so.

Content solution: Thorough, well-researched ebooks, infographics, data visualizations, and “vs.” blog posts designed to answer multiple questions will resonate best.

“Content marketing is essential in establishing the ‘know,’ ‘like,’ and ‘trust’ factors. Most individuals can smell a sale a mile away, so it is only after they trust you will they buy from you.”

Decision Phase

The decision phase is where the magic happens—it’s the part of the journey when a prospect is convinced of the value your product or service and becomes a customer. Prospects are seeking reinforcement of your value proposition and content that highlights the myriad opportunities available to them with your product or service.

Content solution: Regardless of format, promotional, personalized, and branded content that highlights customer success stories, benefits, and advantages will resonate best. Incentivizing action through free trials, live demos, consultations, and coupons can also be effective.

Advocacy Phase

Content marketing isn’t done once a prospect becomes a customer. The advocacy phase is where brands work to develop loyalty among current customers to turn them into lifelong customers. These people are already engaging with your brand because they’re convinced of the value it provides—your content should encourage them to convince others of the same.

Content solution: Reviews, testimonials, loyalty programs, philanthropic events, and customer spotlights are most effective in this phase.

4. Content marketing can reduce costs and save time

Between desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets, Americans now spend more than 10 hours per day staring at digital screens.To market effectively, you need your brand to be where your target audience already is—online. By positioning yourself where potential consumers already are, you are much more likely to intersect with your target audience in a meaningful and hopefully fruitful way. Strategically creating and distributing content where your audience will engage with it can reduce the chance of duplicate marketing efforts, saving you time and money.

5. Content marketing humanizes your brand

Content marketing presents opportunities for your brand to show its authority in a particular industry. On a simpler level, content marketing also lets you show your brand’s personality, perspectives, and values, which can help establish a connection with your target audience.

“Content marketing is essential in establishing the ‘know,’ ‘like,’ and ‘trust’ factors. Most individuals can smell a sale a mile away, so it is only after they trust you will they buy from you,” says Melissa Slawsky, CEO of Brainiac Bundles.

Moving Forward with Content Marketing

What is content marketing? Though it has many benefits and expressions, content marketing is a powerful tool for aligning your business’ marketing initiatives with your long-term goals.

Whether you are a content marketing expert, or if the realm of SEO, keyword research, and building brand authority is still foreign to you, it’s not too late to dive in and take advantage of all content marketing can do for your business—everything from saving time and money to enhancing your brand’s public image.

It certainly takes time and strategy, but content marketing can engage your target audience, encourage them to patronize your product or service, and, if your content is done well, make them lifelong advocates of your brand.

If you want to learn more long-term strategies for positioning your business as a voice of authority in your industry, thought leadership marketing may be up your alley. To learn more about it, read Why CEOs Need to Champion Thought Leadership Marketing.

Ashley Abramson

Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer in Minneapolis. When she's not writing for clients, she's working on her online magazine or spending time with her husband and two young sons.