Don’t Be Another ‘Greenwasher’

Window cleaner using a sponge to wash a window with clear blue sky

The term ‘greenwashing’ was first coined in 1986 to describe outlandish and unsubstantiated claims and promises that corporations were spreading about themselves.

In brief, greenwashing describes disinformation efforts to convince audiences that an organisation is doing more to protect the environment than in reality, presenting an inaccurate image of environmental responsibility.

Now, 35 years later, greenwashing has accelerated into a widespread and prevalent issue plaguing virtually every industry. Many corporations are willing to bend the truth — and in some cases lie — in order to con consumers who increasingly question the ecological footprint and impact of companies they patronise.

Greenwashing sells moral values

With belief-driven buying at an all-time high, the ‘green angle’ offers a highly effective marketing opportunity. According to marketing firm Edelman, three out of five consumers’ purchase decisions are significantly impacted by an organisation’s social or political stance. This lines up with a recent ING report that found 61% of people agree they would be less likely to buy a product if the company was performing poorly on environmental practices.

Indeed, in the current climate, pitching moral values can help a company sell its products and services. Unfortunately, many businesses have found that making such assertions, regardless of their veracity, can propel many consumers over the finish line.

The old adage “doing good is good for business” certainly rings true. However, for many companies, looking like you’re doing good is, well, good enough.

Despite regulations and trade associations policing the issue, it’s still relatively easy to pump illusion over reality. “Many companies have adapted greenwashing tactics which carefully sidestep federal regulations regarding false advertising and work to provide a counter argument for the part of your brain telling you it isn’t worth the potential costs,” warns Giovanni Lopez-Quezada.

How, then, can a company prove reality-based green credentials without looking like just another greenwasher? What can marketers do to showcase their employers’ green initiatives and/or values without appearing to be just another perpetrator of greenwashing?

Be transparent

The public is getting better at spotting the type of wishy-washy language marketers use to make a company or product seem authentic. The answer in this case, is to be honest and transparent.

If you are positioning your company — or even simply a specific initiative or programme — as green, describe openly its full benefits. Moreover, don’t be afraid of exposing aspects of your operations that aren’t so green. In fact, doing so opens the door to discuss how you plan to improve in the future.

While that level of honesty and genuineness with customers traditionally has been considered a liability in business, consumers today appreciate and reward transparency and accountability, attributes that help build a stronger, more loyal bond with clients.

Be warned, however: This degree of transparency requires accuracy. In the era of social media, digital audiences are quick to ferret out misinformation and just one or two slip-ups — even if accidental or unintentional — can tarnish a brand’s credibility.

Ditto cherry-picking information in a way that could convey a false impression.

Instead, focus on making strong statements you can support. Any claims should be provable. And avoid using a self-aggrandising tone at all costs.

Impact is the enemy of greenwashing

Greenwashing 101: Companies too often are laser-focused on showing the world that they are indeed green-friendly. The marketing campaign becomes the most important element.

Rather, to communicate a message about sustainability aspects of your products or services, showcase real, substantial impact.

Look for data points — tangible facts — that showcase what has actually been achieved. Rather than publicising what you’re company has done or is doing to help the environment (and how amazing you are), focus instead on the programme, initiative and/or its positive impact.

Show (don’t tell) consumers why the issue is important to your company — and why they should care. Then use those data points to reinforce your assertions.

As Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), a non-profit whose mission is to “build a just and sustainable world,” writes in its Understanding and Preventing Greenwash report, “if the initiative is a small portion of the company’s efforts done for the sake of reputation…it’s greenwash.”

BSR suggests asking the following questions before embarking on a marketing campaign in order to ensure the impact comes first:

Is the topic of your message a significant environmental achievement?

As BSR warns, “if you reach the conclusion that the initiative is not making a significant change, don’t communicate it, or at least hone the scope of your message. Chances are people will see through inflated words and you will risk losing trust. Take a step back and develop an impactful initiative that is worthy of communication.”

Is the issue you are addressing material to your business?

If your impact doesn’t align with your core business, it may not necessarily matter to your stakeholders. Plus, if you are getting involved in environmental issues that don’t relate to your core business, it can come off as an attempt to distract from the primary environmental issues that are associated with your company.

Have you invested significant resources? Have you spent more money on the marketing than the activity?

This should be obvious. If you haven’t invested substantial resources in the green initiative or activity, it’s likely it will fail to achieve an environmental success worth sharing. In other words, focus on impact, not reputation.

Have you already achieved the results you are claiming?

At times, it’s better not to talk about what you are planning to do or what your green initiative or eco-friendly product/service will achieve. Wait for measurable, tangible results, or at least change your messaging so that it shines the spotlight on what has already been achieved.

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Donald Trump, Despicable King of Content

Donald Trump supporters at a presidential campaign rally

It’s a long-standing joke – going back to early 2016 – among my family and friends: “Don’t ask David about Donald Trump.” 

So I want to get this clear at the start: I loathe the American president. No president in my lifetime has earned the degree of contempt I feel for this imposter. I believe he’s a force for evil — a “wicked stage master,” as American journalist George Packer calls him — the living representation of what I think is wrong with this world: racist, anti-semitic, xenophobic, narcissistic, misogynist, nationalistic, fascist, authoritarian, selfish, greedy, fraudulent, classist, arrogant, cruel, hypocritical, vain, cynical, pompous, domineering, inept, frivolous, materialistic…for more, go here.

And yet, I have to give him credit for a single skill. Honestly, I do. 

Before I’m deafened by the collective gasp from those family and friends — “Hypocrite, David!” — let me explain.

Donald, the content marketer

As a media professional, I have to acknowledge his mastery of one of the keys of effective content marketing:

He knows his audience. 

And he knows how to appeal to them. Again and again, despite howling opposition from all corners of his country and the entire planet. 

He is maddeningly consistent — even in the face of occasional and usually mild critiques from his allies — and loyal to that core base that may yet inch him to reelection in November, although I shudder at the thought of the havoc he will wreak if given another four years.

I’ve often likened him to the original Godzilla, made only stronger by the force of the bullets, missiles and electric lines lobbed at him by the Japanese military. 

Godzilla from the original film

And this modern Godzilla, with his “shrewd, reptilian brain” (Packer again) knows better than anyone how to play to his audience, calling on his singular skill with persistence and flair.

In a famous essay, philosopher Isaiah Berlin divided thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs and foxes. He drew the distinction from a saying by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Donald Trump is a hedgehog, albeit one wearing an orange wig. He has nailed that one big thing.

Playing to the crowd

The signs of playing to his audience are legion. In the past few days alone, he insisted on holding his first campaign rally since the Covid-19 lockdown in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the site in 1921 of one the worst racial massacres in US history that left some 300 African-Americans dead — and on the same day as Juneteenth, an important holiday for black America, marking the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read out Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation in Texas, freeing slaves in the final holdout state.

In a nod to the outcry in a country torn by growing social protests over racial injustice, Trump agreed to reset the rally — for the next day. But he’d already won the points he was doubtlessly looking for from his diehard core supporters.

Donald Trump supporter holding pro-trump poster

Last week, his administration erased protections for transgender patients against discrimination — announcing the move on the four-year anniversary of the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida — and in the middle of Pride month, which commemorates the June 1969 Stonewall riots, an important date in the history of the movement for LGBTQ+ rights. 

In the midst of the protests, he suggested via tweet (with no evidence) that a 75-year-old protester in Buffalo, New York, who was seriously injured by police may been a “provocateur” who staged the event (and presumably his injury).

A day later, Trump argued against renaming American military bases named after Confederate leaders — even as military leaders themselves expressed support for the idea.

In a country roiled by the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over the horrifying abuse of black Americans dating back since before the country’s founding, Trump stays true to his base.

Nationwide polls show that despite the fact that he’s losing against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, he still holds on to 93% of his Republican base.

As CNN wrote recently, “Trump has made a clear play during his presidency of satisfying the Republican base, and the polling indicates that this effort is clearly paying off. His base is not abandoning him, even as his overall numbers remain weak.”

But while most Republicans would deny they’re racist — as Trump himself does repeatedly — the data would indicate otherwise. “Donald Trump’s support in the 2016 campaign was clearly driven by racism, sexism, and xenophobia,” researchers Vanssa Williamson and Isabella Gelfand wrote in a piece for the Brookings Institution. “While some observers have explained Trump’s success as a result of economic anxiety, the data demonstrate that anti-immigrant sentiment, racism, and sexism are much more strongly related to support for Trump.” 

You think I should learn from this?

As deplorable as is this element of his support, what’s the lesson for content marketers?

“The more you know about your audience, the more powerful your digital marketing efforts will become,” Mindy Weinstein wisely advises in Search Engine Journal. “It isn’t enough to know the demographics and location of your prospects. You have to know as much as possible about them, including their personality traits, interests, values, opinions.”

I would argue that Donald Trump is a master at that aspect of content marketing, instinctively and with a political organisation around him to reinforce and build on those instincts in their own communications with his supporters.

In our world as content marketers, Weinstein points out that the outcome of this exercise is practical and hard-edged, resulting in:

  • accurate topics and keywords to target;
  • information that helps you craft your pages to trigger more effective conversion;
  • a better user experience;
  • content optimisation;
  • messaging that leads to the specific action you seek from your audience;
  • leads to key influencers.

To get to know that audience, she recommends starting with the basics: Market research, compiling all the data and details about your targets that eventually will feed any personas you build. 

Two tools Weinstein recommends are YouGov, whose free version offers access to data pulled from more than 200,000 consumers, and Demographics Pro, which analyses Twitter and Instagram profiles for insights into their followers, starting with basics like age and gender, then digging deeper into brand affinities, audience interests and more.

She uses other tools such as qualitative interviews, quantitative surveys and personas.

Donald Trump’s content shapes a powerful ‘brand story’

For Trump, the “success” of his content inherently relates to the brand story that has evolved since his presidential campaign, and the impact it had then and still has on his target audience — those Americans most likely to vote for him.

His 2016 campaign aimed at specific concerns and prejudices of his likely pool of voters and presented Trump as the solution to those issues — “I alone can fix it,” as he famously claimed — through a brand story that presented him as a successful and experienced businessman who isn’t afraid to speak his mind or take on entrenched political and economic powers (fictional as that claim was).

Trump’s “content” consisted of his Tweets, declarations and actions. I know this isn’t traditional content marketing — but he’s not a traditional president.

The results for his candidacy? His base ate it up. They still do.

Agree with him or not, we’ve all been talking obsessively about him since 2016.

Some share and engage enthusiastically with him on social media, while others complain. Doesn’t matter what’s said. Ultimately, we (myself included) all have helped spread his brand story wider and wider, in the process helping him reach even more potential supporters.

Indeed, Donald Trump’s campaign received billions — yes, billions — of dollars worth of free media. In fact, according to data tracking firm mediaQuant, he amassed $5.6 billion in free earned media throughout his campaign, more than Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio combined.

Trump also got 50% more media coverage than Clinton during the election.

What he truly understands, better than most, is how to speak to his audience. He intuits how to offer them the kind of content that will appeal to them, get them emotionally charged and move them to consider the value he says he has to offer.

And therein beats the heart of content marketing.

Reading minds

As Benyamin Elias, director of Content Marketing at ActiveCampaign, puts it: “When you know your audience, you can pluck the words right out your customers’ mouths and use it in your marketing. You can read minds.”

Elias then draws a straight and convincing line to more leads (“because people feel you understand them”), more customers (“because leads feel like you understand them:) and more referrals (“because customers feel like you understand them.”). (Emphasis, mine.)

From there, he believes that conversion rates, social media shares, email opens and clicks and sales will all rise. 

By the way, this should not be because you’re trying to manipulate your audiences. Rather, its should be because you understand them, their needs and their desires in ways that enable you to bring them value with your product, service…or simply, information that helps guide them (which is the core of our business at VitalBriefing).

Interestingly, Elias also criticises the exercise of building personas if you’re missing the psychographic piece that must accompany the demographics in order to provide the “AIO” element – activities, interests and opinions.

Add to that data analytics to “help you send your messages to the right people at the right time.”

His ultimate point is that you need to arrive at the ability to speak (or write) in the language that your audience uses and understands.

Sound like a certain American president?

Of course, it’s fair to argue Trump is manipulating the public with false information — which he certainly does on a steady basis. (As of May 29, according to The Washington Post, Trump had made false or misleading claims 19,126 times in 1,226 days in office, an average of one per every waking hour of the day.)

Obviously, this is not an approach I endorse, recommend or advocate. In fact, I’m depressed by the fact that his behavior doesn’t send his support plummeting. But the reality that he maintains a considerable well of support indicates to me that he understands the kind of content that appeals to a significant portion of this base.

As Search Engine Optimisation guru Neil Patel says (not referring to Trump), knowing your audience is more critical than identifying keywords to stuff into your content: “Catering to a specific and defined audience is far more powerful than targeting keywords.”

Shares, engaged time and comments matter most to publishers when measuring audience engagement

It makes sense. As Patel notes, engagement is far more important than generating traffic to your website. Because if they get there and you can’t engage them, you’ve lost the battle, and the audience.

If they’re neither commenting, sharing or buying, bringing them there brought you (and them) nothing.

All those actions reflect an understanding by publishers that the game is about far more than attracting eyeballs. If they’re sharing your content, spending time with your content or on your website, commenting on what they read and see or visiting various pages, then you’ve connected with them in one way or another.

In short, you speak their language. You know your audience.

Just like the president I can’t stand to hear or see.

But still…I have to give him credit for that one big thing.

Writing right: How to create effective content marketing

It takes a lot of work to write effective and engaging content marketing articles and blogs.

As content specialists, we know that for a fact.

That said, as brands across every industry look for cheap inbound marketing opportunities, many are now pursuing content marketing strategies.

That makes sense. When produced in-house, among other benefits content marketing articles:

  • serve as a relatively low-cost form of marketing that can be leveraged to target specific audiences and prospects
  • boost leads and conversions
  • improve site traffic
  • raise brand awareness and credibility
  • support the sales cycle.

These benefits explain why market research company Technavio forecasts that the content marketing industry will be worth nearly a half trillion dollars by 2021, more than doubling in value in the five years from 2016.

If you’re considering devoting time and resources to a content strategy, however, heed our warning: don’t bother unless you intend to create high-quality material.

If you’re here to discover what that actually means, be patient. We’ll get there.

First, we need to explain why this is so important.

two pairs of hands with text imposed

Avoid creating content for content’s sake

The old days of “put out anything” are gone. Publishing low-calibre articles or blogs today is counterproductive, and even can alienate a company from its targets and prospects.

Does it really makes such a drastic difference for your material to be well-written, researched and optimised for SEO? Take it from us:

Yes. It. Does.

There are two major reasons that lead to the same end: the value of your content.

Don’t be a salesman

The idea of brand relevance that offers value to the public aside from selling products or services has become crucial.

No one engaged in business research wants to feel like a sales mark (unless, of course, they’ve arrived at the purchase stage in their buyer’s journey.)

Rather, what people are looking for is useful information that helps guide decisions.

That was a major finding we uncovered during our research at the dawn of VitalBriefing, before we even launched the company. Our extensive market research found that people are sick and tired of companies trying to sell them products and services.

Indeed, 71% of buyers agreed that they’re turned off by content that seems like a sales pitch, according to research from the Economist Group.

Plus, in the wake of major events such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, coupled with the explosive growth of ‘fake news’, consumers are looking for — and demanding — credible, authentic, reliable and high-quality content.

Meanwhile, the sales cycle is growing increasingly longer. On average, B2B buyers now consume between 10 and 14 pieces of content before committing to a purchase. But nobody wants to deal with a salesman.

Since the focus should no longer be on ‘selling’, we all must provide value, guiding prospects through the sales funnel/buyer’s journey with content.

But if it’s not high-value material, don’t bother.

Playing by Google’s rules

The flip side of this value relates to SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation.

In response to content consumption trends, Google, in the way it ranks results on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), has increased its emphasis on content quality and authority.

In 2018, Google made a number of significant changes to its algorithm. One of those is known as the Medic Update, and it changed the way Google measures the quality of a webpage.

To offer users the best possible experience, Google’s algorithm evaluates web pages first and foremost for the value it believes they will provide audiences.

Google scores an article or blog on key metrics in relation to value provided to the audience, such as bounce rates, average time spent on the web page and whether a reader clicked out of a domain after reading the material or if they further explored a site (think: your site).

This means that if you intend to write effective content marketing articles and/or blogs, you had better ensure you’re doing the best job you can.

In addition to supporting your sales funnel, good (and great) content also will improve the SEO of your entire website, ensuring your homepage and content rank higher for the most relevant searches and keyphrases.

Find the right topic

Remember, you should ensure that the topic of your article or blog:

  • reflects your company’s expertise and brand values
  • is relevant to your target and sector
  • provides value to the reader

To achieve that assurance, you’d better do your due diligence — which in this case translates to doing your research.

For instance, if possible find an angle or connection to major recent news and events to discuss in your article.

Also, what subjects are experts in your space creating content to address? Look for the industry-specific buzzwords and hot topics that you could take on.

You could also do some keyword/search phrase research and create content that targets a specific search query.

And, of course, remember we’re talking about content marketing articles rather than simple marketing or sales material. These pieces should clearly reflect your organisation’s mission and values in order to resonate with your audience.

Get them to believe in your story and they’ll believe in your brand.

If you think you’ve found a good topic, ask yourself this: are you offering expert insight or opinion, or even actionable advice? If not, then what makes your article noteworthy to the reader?

Other factors to keep in mind:

  • Think of the consumer experience. Will your blog appeal to your target’s problems and aspirations? Don’t focus on you or your company (except for bottom-of-the-funnel content). Instead, your content topic should appeal to your prospect’s problems and aspirations.
  • Buyers — especially when doing their initial research — don’t look for solutions. They make searches in relation to, and consume content that helps with, their problem or opportunity.
  • Consumers particularly like talking about experts who inspire, challenge, educate and get them emotionally charged. By homing in on the right emotional triggers, the best stories will show how you can solve their problems, satisfy their desires, identify opportunities and even threats to their future (B2C) or their business (B2B).

Formatting your article

Users spend an average of 15 seconds on a webpage. You must do everything possible to ensure your content is appealing from the lede (first sentence) and entices your audience to read to the kicker (last sentence).

Although optimising the formatting of your piece won’t guarantee success, it certainly will help. The more attractive the formatting, the more likely your audience will keep reading — and to take that crucial next step after consuming your content, from engaging with you on social media, visiting your homepage or downloading something off your site.

Here are some tips that will help. (Take special note of the last one on the list):

  • Write shorter paragraphs (1-3 sentences)
  • Define a consistent writing style (Voice? Tone?)
  • Use bullet points to break up text
  • Use proper subheadings (H2, H3, H4, etc.)
  • Define a consistent typography and colour pallet
  • If possible, use boldfaced, italicized and underlined text
  • Include key takeaways at the end
  • Embed image(s) or video(s)

Don’t forget to showcase your value proposition

Remember this: you are trying to achieve a goal with your content marketing articles or blogs. You are striving to convince your audience of something — to get them to do something.

You need them to take that next step at whatever stage of the funnel they’re at. To get there, make your value proposition clear in the right way.

Easy to say (or write), harder to pull off. Somehow, without talking about your company and its services, you must make it clear that your company and services are first-in-class.

How can you do that?

Prove it through your competence and knowledge — after all, these are the qualities that distinguish you from your competitors. The subjects you cover should make it easy for your expertise to shine through.

The importance of a call-to-action (CTA)

Throughout this process, remind yourself of your end goal — which isn’t simply to see your company’s name in print, online, or in any particular medium. You want your prospects to read that piece of content and continue their way through your funnel.

Remember to match whatever you’re writing about with the appropriate CTA to accompany the article.

For instance, if your desired outcome is audience download of a white paper or ebook so that you can capture qualified leads (e-mail addresses), you’ll probably want to cover a more technical topic that leaves them hungry for more in-depth information.

On the other hand, if your ambition is to boost social media engagement, you’ll probably target a broader, more attention-grabbing topic with broader audience appeal.

Ultimately, it may seem there’s a lot to consider. Don’t be dissuaded or discouraged. Practice makes better, if not perfect, and the more you write, the easier most of this will become.

Eventually, you won’t even need to think about many of these elements — they’ll just come naturally.

Do you need more content marketing tips and advice to help you creatine effective and engaging material? You might be interested in:

Our CEO’s #1 Content Marketing Tip: You Need To Read

I was born into a family of readers. Long before I knew what that would mean for my life, my well-being and my career, I had been gifted both a healthy addiction and key tips to creating effective content marketing that would drive what I would do with my life.

Young man sitting on books drawing creative ideas while looking at computer

In fiction, I revel in great writing and great writers and my taste is eclectic, crossing centuries, countries, styles. At the top of my favorites, and who have had profound impact on my life and thinking, sit Chekhov, Dickens, Nabokov, Munro, García Márquez, Austen, Tolstoy, James, Tyler, Bellow, Roth, on and on.

I’ve hauled their books around with me over more decades than I want to admit here, in dozens of boxes, across continents and countries, in vans, cars, trains, boats, planes and briefcases.

What do they all have in common, the gift that keeps on giving?

They tell great stories.

They tell us about those around us, as well as ourselves, and the world we live in.

And they show us the way to creating great content ourselves. How they do it is both subtle and obvious, and always delightful (even when the subject matter is painful).

The lives they lead

From David Copperfield to Elizabeth Bennett to Colonel Aureliano Buendía to Augie March to Humbert Humbert to Anna Karenina, their characters illustrate aspects of our existence and make us think about what we do, how we do what we do…and why.

That’s why when I enter someone’s home for the first time, I try to make a beeline for their bookshelves. That way, I have an immediate sense of who I’m dealing with, how they think and what they care about. It’s one way to anticipate what to expect from our time together.

It’s an insight into my audience of the moment.

It’s amazing how what goes around, comes around. I had no idea when I founded a content company that the lessons of literature and great writing would underpin our approach as content creators and content marketers.

Whether we’re reading for personal or professional reasons, we return to the sources we trust, the authors we believe, the analysts we consistently value because the content they create is meaningful to us.

And that’s what we should represent to our own audiences. They should value our content for the same reasons we value those we trust.

As content creators, we have much to learn from the wisdom and brilliance of great writers. There are the obvious ways:

  • Effectively structuring complex material (payoff: logical flow of content, easy to follow)
  • Unlocking the power of the telling detail (payoff: a critical example is worth paragraphs of description)
  • Ensuring economy of language (payoff: wasted words waste time)
  • Displaying empathy and understanding of the audience (payoff: enriching your buying personas)
  • Showing, not telling (payoff: creating visual images with language improves recall)
  • Surprising and delighting, informing and educating (payoff: increases engagement and loyalty)

Life’s Pleasure

As a young journalist, I learned that what matters most is the single sentence – a few, if you’re really good – that a reader will remember from your story later.

For me, that means opening sentences like this, from Vladimir Nabokov’s wonderful autobiography, Speak, Memory: “The cradle rocks above an abyss and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”

Or this, from Jane Austen’s Emma: ” “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence, and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

Such sentences are packed with meaning, every word carefully weighed, building to a conclusion that foreshadow everything that’s coming — and keeps the readers (think: your audience) moving to where the author (think: content marketer) wants them to go.

It’s the kind of writing that opens a window — a door, really — to walk through and escape this world while learning about it at the same time, guiding the audience into seeing things differently, imagining possibility where they might not have otherwise.

Content Marketing Tip 101: Walk The Walk

To one degree or another, isn’t that what we all want for the content we create? A well-crafted, well-told, engaging story that will seduce our audience — regardless of the medium.

If the audience believes in your story, blog, infographic, podcast or video, they’ll believe in you, your brand, your product, your service. “Hook” them with content that’s irresistible, that invests them in you, and you’ll see better results — for example, social likes and shares, longer and more sustained engagement with your material.

Then they’re on the way on the buyer’s journey to your golden land, leads that evolve from unqualified to qualified and, finally, to conversion.

As a foreign correspondent some years ago, I had the great privilege to spend time with Gabriel García Márquez for a story I was writing. It was late in his life and he knew time was running out.

How did he spend it?

“I don’t read new fiction any more,” he said. “I reread the books I love.”

As content marketers, that’s what we want for our audiences. If they believe in us, they’ll keep coming back. But to win that loyalty, we must consistently be authoritative, credible, entertaining, timely, relevant, authentic — and interesting.

Losing the reader

As a newspaper and magazine journalist for many years, I knew brilliant investigative reporters who could unearth incredible stories, spending months digging deep, amassing facts, unearthing evil and wrongdoing — then put it all together into an incomprehensible story that lost its readers after the first paragraphs.

I’m thinking of all this now after reading an insightful piece by Carina Rampelt of Find a Way Media for the Content Marketing Institute in which she makes the compelling case that “reading fiction can make you a better content creator.”

By now, it’s obvious how much I agree. All good writing makes you a better content marketing creator because the elements of storytelling and writing are the same in any medium — from long-form print to short-form digital blog posts, from Facebook and LinkedIn posts to thought-leadership-content headlines.

Even tweets, today’s digital poetry. (Of course, there’s also the can’t-take-the-eyes-away-from-the-car-crash tweets of American President Donald Trump. But of all the factors I listed above for winning audience that he’s missing, he can’t be faulted for not being interesting.)

Even as Rampelt emphasizes the lessons to be learned from literary fiction as they apply to effective content marketing, she aptly cites William Faulkner on the virtues of an expanded horizon: “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.”

Faulkner was right, partly

Who am I to argue with Faulkner, although at the top of the heap I would rate the merits of great non-fiction equal to those of great fiction in the practical help it offers content creators.

In different ways, each genre imparts invaluable keys to organization of material, structure, storytelling and use of language — all critical to content marketing that resonates with audiences.

Non-fiction is particularly helpful in a different way than fiction because it relies on the notion that accurate and credible facts matter — presumably as does the content you will produce.

Let me add to Rampelt’s point. Often our clients ask us whether “the story” is really so important given that what they want is a sales-focused result — be it leads, conversions or sales.

Our answer is yes, it really is that important.

All results, including those driving to the sale, will be enhanced by ensuring you tell a good story (great story, even better) in whatever format you’re telling it — from text to video to whatever. Even your website copy and content need to follow the rule.

Storytelling = ROI

There’s a wonderful example of how effective storytelling creates ROI. In 2009, an outfit called Significant Objects launched an experiment, gathering 100 talented writers, assigning them an object bought for a few dollars as fodder for a fictional story, then putting the object and story up for bid on eBay.

ROI of storytelling is $27.06

The group was testing a theory: “Narrative transforms insignificant objects into significant ones.”

And it did. In their first outing, the group sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51. They repeated it several more times, raising money for various charities.

The formats of digital platforms create different challenges — the need for scalability of content, multiple screen sizes, specific requirements of SEO and search.

While they have a huge impact on how we shape and present our content, the elements of effective writing still apply: clear, concise language, well-organized structure of information, clean and error-free copy, an understanding of the audience that will consume what you have to offer so that what you create resonates and creates loyalty.

And again, first and foremost, last and most important, for creating effective content: a compelling story, well told.

So we’re back to the beginning, coming full circle to the most important content marketing advice I can give: Never stop reading.

Do you need more content marketing tips and advice to help you creatine effective and engaging material? You might be interested in:

Content Marketing ROI: What Does It Really Mean?

Content marketing has grown into one of the most critical elements of any digital marketing campaign.

That makes sense considering that the average B2B buyer now consumes some 13 pieces of content — up from five just a few years ago — before committing to a purchase. Moreover, studies have found that compared to traditional marketing methods, content marketing is cheaper and produces higher numbers of leads and conversions.

Content marketing boosts leads and conversions - infographic
Content marketing yields great results

Yet, although business leaders increasingly acknowledge the importance of content and the need to create it, persuading company executives to invest time, budget and resources to ensure a consistent and dynamic output of original, high-quality content often turns into an uphill battle.

Why is it so hard to turn the obvious into action?

Content marketing’s ROI conundrum

Here’s the problem: Content marketing and ROI are not easy bedfellows. “There’s very few benchmarks, a little research and some examples that have been published on content marketing ROI,” explains Michael Brenner, CEO of the Marketing Insider Group.

For such a widely-used marketing method, that isn’t much to go on.

From the outset, this means that the sector hasn’t yet found a reliable answer to the ROI question. It also makes it that much tougher to convince decision-makers to buy into content.

The relationship between spend on developing content and the revenue those efforts generate isn’t in-your-face obvious. Rather, it generally requires a combination of educated conjecture and guesswork.

And because no widely-accepted, foolproof formula to gauge the return on content marketing yet exists, justifying the spend is all the more challenging. Indeed, every C-suite wants sales metrics — data that showcases in real numbers the correlation between strong-performing content (or a content-focused campaign) and the bottom line.

Not so easy.

Content marketing support sales…but isn’t a sales tool

Content marketing sits very nicely somewhere in between marketing and sales.

What we mean is that it most certainly is not a sales-specific tool — but a tool that supports sales. This reality presents a substantial problem for marketers.

On one hand, the impact that original, well-crafted content can have on digital marketing metrics (e.g. lead generation) is impressive. Just look at how effective content marketing on LinkedIn can be:

Content marketing on LinkedIn boosts leads and conversions
Content marketing on LinkedIn boosts leads and conversions

On the other hand, though, finding a reliable way to measure the link between a specific piece of content and the sales it yields is counter-intuitive. It’s simply too hard to prove a cause-and-effect in relation to revenue.

Yet, that’s what many content marketers have to do.

Focus on value

The business approach to content marketing has evolved over the past 15 years. No longer can selling serve as its focal point. Straight sales pitches increasingly are ineffective — simply spewing facts and figures doesn’t have the desired affect.

Instead, digital audiences are after content that provides tangible value. Indeed, engaging, high-impact material that offers valuable information or insights — for example, content marketing, branded content and thought leadership — will sell a service or product online far more effectively than a sales pitch.

In part, this shift has been driven by consumer preferences. Nobody wants to feel like a sales mark. However, a newer and powerful factor has ever-greater influence: how search engines determine the value of web content.

In its rankings, Google, for instance, has doubled down on content quality, expertise and authority. In other words, high quality content that performs well with audiences because it addresses a clear need will rank higher on search engine results pages for related searches.

Great content that answers a visitor’s intent in a clear manner without appearing as condescending will go a long way. And, of course, high quality content gets shared and viewed more.

The idea of ‘staying relevant’ is crucial for content. As the focus shifts from ‘selling’ to providing value, content is your best tool.

The truth about ROI and content marketing

However — and we know it’s not pleasant to read — don’t expect fast results. Experts across the board — including digital marketing guru Neil Patel and the Content Marketing Institute — all offer similar advice: with content marketing, you must play the long game.

Business leaders who obsess over ROI are making a serious mistake because that obsession forces their marketing teams into a flawed content strategy.

“If you are defining your ROI metrics solely to demonstrate results and to justify your organization’s content marketing budget, you may get a confusing picture when you try to look at your analysis to determine what’s working, what’s not, and how you can make your content marketing strategy better,” says Brenner.

Now, we’re not advocating that you throw ROI out the window. It’s imperative for content marketers to figure out how their strategy will boost the bottom line.

But, if your content isn’t outwardly selling anything, how exactly do you do that?

Measuring the success of your content

Success metrics and KPIs of content marketing
Top success metrics/KPIs of content marketing

As we explained in another recent blog, the success of content marketing is about measurement and “defining the key metrics that will most significantly impact sales, which vary from one company to the next and hinge on factors including the type of content, platform and media type.”

We’re not talking just in terms of your sales-affiliated KPIs such as qualified leads or conversions. Experts agree that non-financial gains including audience growth and SEO rankings are also important.

Ultimately, content marketing only works well if your campaigns post strong numbers for those metrics that are most crucial to your ambitions. Trust us: the return on investment will follow.

Metrics to consider include brand awareness growth (social engagement), SERPs rankings (SEO), average time spent on content/site, subscriber growth and site traffic growth (page views, page users, pages per session).

Free tools including Google Analytics and Hotjar can help with these types of KPIs.

ROI of content marketing: tips and tricks

Ultimately, you need to consider three key elements for your content-marketing ROI: cost, utilisation and performance.

Cost: This is a standard ROI component. A good way to figure out whether your ends justify your means is to know how much you spend on average to produce original content and compare it against your core performance KPIs.

Utilisation: Don’t create content for content’s sake. Ensuring your content is being disseminated as widely as possible and that it isn’t going to waste will boost its performance.

Performance: The success of your content is, of course, tied directly to its quality. And as already stressed, you can calculate that value by bringing it back to those success metrics you should have identified. Don’t look only at the major content KPI categories such as pageviews and social shares. Although good indicators of your content’s performance, you should still pay close attention to the original business case that got you started on this content journey.

Finally, there are a number of free guides online that can help. Brenner, who also is the author of The Content Formula offers strong guidance in this blog.

Discover the most important tips and tricks that will help you create effective and engaging content marketing:

Webinar – Promoting, Analysing and Improving Your Content

Register below for our webinar: Promoting, Analysing and Improving Your Content (Thursday, 14 May).

So, you’ve produced a strong piece of content – article, blog, video, graphic, whatever. 

Now what?

In this age of information overload, standing out from the competition is critical. As all organisations need to produce effective, cost-efficient marketing campaigns, knowing how to craft engaging content that yields leads and conversions literally provides a lifeline for survival and growth.

Creating the material, however, is only part of the content marketing process. What comes now – how you share, publish, republish, analyse and optimise your content – is just as important.

Join us for the final instalment in our three-part webinar series covering the must-have tips, tricks, strategies, tools and approaches you need to produce consistently effective and engaging content that yields leads and conversions.

In this webinar, we will cover the best practices for post-publication of your content. I.e. how do you analyse its success and, more importantly, use those insights to improve your content marketing?

Creating Content Marketing That Sells

Content marketing boosts leads and conversions - infographic

The most important thing to remember about content marketing? It really isn’t about you at all.

OK, you might have lots to say about how cool your company is and how great your products and services are, but there’s not much of an audience for that.

Save the foghorn for your advertising.

Then, what’s content marketing about?

It’s actually about the consumers. More specifically, it’s about looking at things through their eyes to make absolutely sure they get something they want. As James O’Brien of Contently put it a few years ago in a much-cited quote: “The idea central to content marketing is that a brand must give something valuable to get something valuable in return.”

This means using what you have of value and sharing it with the world.

The “it” is understanding and experience. You might deliver something as simple as how-to content. Could be delivered in a blog post or short video. It’s good old-fashioned education and if it’s useful, your customers will thank you for it.

And they’ll share.

Harness the power of thought

Be more ambitious and you can aim for thought leadership. If you have comprehensive knowledge of your sector and you’re able to convey it, then sharing your insight can make you a go-to when consumers are seeking more understanding.

Take The Garage, IT giant HP’s website, which serves up life tips for reducing gadget screen time, together with content on the arts and lifestyle, all aimed at helping visitors do just that.

The upside is that as an authority you earn status. Your customers may well trust you enough to make you the first stop when they’re looking for guidance.

And another thing: Rooting your content in the latest industry trends might feel like the thing to do. But they can be very short-lived and will age your posts quickly. Rather, think timeless:

  • Base your content on audience interests, not Google News
  • Identify problems, be helpful
  • Share your insights – wisdom has a long shelf life

Stay with the flow

Getting good results requires a strong dose of commitment. That can be a big issue. It’s easy for everyone to get all fired up with a brand new content marketing strategy. But it’s even easier for enthusiasm to wane a few months later when the ideas stop flowing.

Audiences are quick to notice when gaps between posts get longer. Credibility gets shot to pieces. The go-to brand becomes the forgotten one.

How do you make content king?

This might sound run-of-the-mill, but it’s about resources and planning. First, you need to assign people to the programme and define clearly and carefully their duties.

Second: Yes, you really do need an editorial calendar to bring rigour to the process. A tool such as Trello will do the job.

This means knowing the three w’s: What you need to do, when you need to do it and whose job it is.

So, now you know whom you’re posting for, what your content is about, and when you’re producing it. Get ready to slot it on the company blog, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on YouTube, on Instagram — in fact, anywhere you can think of to get it out there.

Go ahead and call that scatter-gun marketing, if you like. It works.

Be on target

If you want to own an effective strategy, be picky. Do some research and find out where your customers go to consume their content. Profile your audience and target accordingly. If you’re providing a professional service, LinkedIn is definitely a good channel. But TikTok’s a better bet when you’re chasing youth with your products.

Now, like many people, your ambition might simply be to blog away and rack up those regular posts. But you could be missing a trick or two if you do.

Before you hit the keyboard with your latest notion, stop and ask these questions:

Video is a good way to go

It’s still hugely popular with online audiences and increasingly so with content marketers who have found that the format is the top engager of online audiences, HubSpot research finds.

It might well be the optimum way for you to get your message across. And with all the animation tools available, it’s not that difficult to do – two-thirds of marketers create their own videos, according to a Promo small-business study.

All you need to do is storyboard it, which can actually be quicker and easier than crafting a fully-fledged piece of writing.

Also, make sure you exploit what it is you’ve come up with. Write a blog post and riff on it by making a video, then screenshot the video and post it on Instagram, grab that same image and put it on Facebook as well, along with a summary of the blog post.

Measuring success

Now you’ve gone to the trouble of creating your content. You’ve posted it. Your messaging is out there. It must be time to move on and think about your next post, right?

Not so fast. You’ve done everything you should to this point and you might be feeling pretty happy with what you’ve produced. But what about your audience? You need to find what it is people are looking at.

It’s all about measurement, and there are key content marketing metrics and KPIs you must keep an eye on:

  • Page users
  • Page Views
  • Pages per session
  • Time spent per page
  • Social shares
  • Social comments
  • Social follower growth

Key takeaways

  • Know your audience – find out what interests them
  • Aim to produce timeless content rather following fashion
  • Post regularly
  • Ensure your content marketing strategy has all the resources it needs
  • Choose your channels
  • Repurpose your content
  • Analyse the analytics

Discover the most important tips and tricks that will help you create effective and engaging content marketing:

Build Engagement by Lining Up Your Content Marketing on LinkedIn 

We’ve learned over nearly a decade in business that the right content will have a huge impact on your success — boosting sales, generating leads, promoting your brand, showcasing your expertise and helping guide your clients and prospects into the right decisions. It differentiates you from your competitors and ensures your customers know exactly what you want them to know.

As a home for that content, though, it’s also clear that in a B2B context, LinkedIn has become the most important tool in your content marketing toolbox. 

While Facebook and Twitter have their place in social media marketing, LinkedIn is firmly established as the platform for business. An educated and affluent user base, built on curated networks, it’s growing quicker than other social media platforms and now claims a staggering 600 million users, two-fifths of whom log in every day.

Content marketing on LinkedIn boosts lead generation and conversions

We know that users approach LinkedIn with business specifically in mind, visiting the site to:

  • forge connections that can help their careers;
  • amass knowledge that can improve their performance (two-thirds of LinkedIn users consider themselves ‘news junkies’);
  • find new leads (and cultivate existing ones).

As a tool for business, it’s a far more compelling proposition than other social media networks. With 80% of B2B leads from social media coming direct via LinkedIn, the platform yields at least three times as many conversions than its biggest rivals.

And then you have to consider who is spending time on the platform: it is the most used public social network by CEOs, with 20% of LinkedIn’s userbase being senior-level influencers and decision-makers.

Now ask yourself this: Is the content you post on LinkedIn hitting its target? You need to answer or you risk squandering opportunities. Buyers now consume, on average, thirteen pieces of content before making a purchase (up from five pieces several years ago), and differentiating your content marketing is tough.

With this in mind, there are rules to follow when writing articles for LinkedIn and publishing or sharing on the platform: 

Know the difference between views and results 

It’s relatively straightforward to write sensationalist, deeply personal or highly controversial content and get plenty of “likes”. That’s not the same as generating customers, revenues and leads. The difference between what is for you and what is for your audience is a critical distinction.

Sharing success or pain is about you and likely to distract your audience for a moment. To achieve real results, you need to offer something for them – busy people who may visit LinkedIn for a few precious moments each day (CEOs and decision-makers).

Who are ‘they’? 

This is a key question. You can be indiscriminate about who joins your network but you cannot be casual regarding your content. Do you want to reach potential buyers and generate sales? Or showcase your expertise on specific subjects so people will come to you for advice?

Appealing to the wrong crowd may generate likes but it won’t generate business. The “right” people should follow you because they trust they’re going to find helpful content.  

Understand what your audience wants. Look at the type of content your intended audience has engaged with in the past: what has generated likes, comments, follow-up? Look at their network and organisations: which type of content has hit the spot?

Creating content marketing for LinkedIn audiences is a delicate balance between understanding what people want to take in while saying exactly what you want to say.  

Get it right, though, and you will succeed on what is hands down the most effective social network for B2B lead generation: LinkedIn makes up more than half of all social traffic to B2B websites & blogs.

How do busy people find your content? 

There are two main ways that people find your content. Either someone in their network engages with it or they’re scrolling down their feed and find it.

Either way, you haven’t got long to get them to stop and pay attention. Social media expert Tim Queen says that most people will only see the first three lines of your content before deciding whether to engage. That’s about the length of a Tweet. As such, it needs to tease, be seductive and simple, and carry a clear message.  

For some, that could be an open-ended question that piques curiosity, for others it could be showcasing eye-catching data that will entice somebody to read or engage with your content.

What are you trying to say? 

Your LinkedIn posts need to offer a payoff for the reader. That sounds self-evident, but it’s often the case that posts reflect what a company wants to say about itself, rather than what a reader wants to hear. 

Simply writing an article or filming a video and then posting it on LinkedIn is a waste of time and resources. For your content marketing to drive sales, you need to create highly engaging and visual material of value to your target audience, not simply post any content you’ve produced on LinkedIn. 

When to post? 

Social media is constantly evolving and so the right time to post may change over time. Equally, you need to bear in mind that others will have access to the same data.

In theory, 10-11am, Monday through Wednesday, is the best time to post on LinkedIn, but if everyone posts at the same time your content may get lost in a mass of other posts. While conventional wisdom dictates that the best time to send out emails is first thing in the morning, that can leave organisations vulnerable to the increasingly prevalent habit of members deleting all posts before their real work begins.   

Sprout Social has done extensive research on the right time to post on LinkedIn for different types of content. However, you should experiment posting at various times to measure when you get the best engagement. Don’t lose sight, though, of Tim Queen’s warning that posting regularly should be central in any social content marketing strategy.  

What’s the secret sauce? 

There’s no substitute for a consistent output of relevant content that demonstrates your expertise and that your target audience will like and share. Easy to say, but harder in practice.

Here’s some of the content we’ve created for our clients (and prospects) that we believe hits the mark. With that kind of specific content in hand, it is then possible to leverage hashtagging (#) and tagging (@) functions on the platform to help build a stronger network and maximise viewership (and therefor engagement) on your posts.

IBM has been one of LinkedIn’s big success stories. It’s grown its followers from 779,000 in 2012 to 3.2 million today by sharing articles from a wide variety of contributors on cutting-edge subjects such as artificial intelligence (AI).

Used right, this platform is a powerful tool. Forget the scatter-gun approach, to be focused and targeted in your LinkedIn content marketing strategy, remember: 

  • generating likes and followers is not the same as generating results; 
  • consider your audience and what they want to learn, not just what you want to say; 
  • ask how people will find your content and remember you have barely a few lines to force them to stop scrolling past you;
  • create high-quality, targeted content that your audience will appreciate. It doesn’t happen by accident so do your research ahead of time.  

Discover the most important tips and tricks that will help you create effective and engaging content marketing:

Planning content marketing for key stages in the buyer’s journey

Does your business need to create content marketing? More importantly, do you know how to produce effective, engaging and high-impact material for each stage of the buyer’s journey?

Welcome to the club. Content marketing is now must-have as companies across all industries accept that high-value content is the most effective way to attract clients and prospects.

How to create content marketing for various stages of buyer's journey

As proud content geeks (i.e. content marketing specialists), we love seeing this sector rocket to the forefront of digital marketing. However, few organisations give much, if any, thought to the exact type of content they need.

We know because we talk to them all the time when discussing VitalBriefing’s content marketing services. While they acknowledge their need for content, they’re lost at sea, lacking the means to define, much less produce, quality content.

Even when they decide they should…well, frankly, they get it wrong. They go straight to the last step — create the content — rather than following the process that guarantees an effective content marketing funnel.

We’re going to walk you through that process so that you’ll know where to start, how to proceed and how to finish with the exact content that will bring you clients, prospects and new opportunities.

Here’s our first piece of advice: Don’t create content for content’s sake.

To help you avoid the trap that snares many companies, we need to start with a trip.

Connecting the buyer’s journey to your content marketing

There are three basic legs of the voyage your prospects take on their way to becoming your clients:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Decision

First understand the concept and use of a buyer’s journey (AKA the customer journey) in your content production and we promise that your content will be successful. Want to draw more visitors to your website? Generate more qualified leads? Educate your customers so that they’ll appreciate your expertise?

Whatever the goal, the buyer’s journey should serve as the framework for the steps your audience takes on the way to a purchase: First, they identify the problem (awareness). Next, they do their research (considerations). And finally, they commit to buy the product or service that will solve their problem.

“When the buyer’s journey works in your favor, from the marketer’s perspective it’s helpful to view the buyer as progressing through the stages of knowing, then liking, then trusting your brand,” says Barry Feldman, writing for the Taboola blog.

Why is the buyer’s journey so important?

Almost every element of a digital marketing campaign reduces to a piece of content — text, graphic, sound, video, social media — you name it. Brands and companies are producing and publishing more than ever, while digital audiences are lapping it up as fast as it hits them.

Indeed, more than four of every five buyers conduct online research before making a purchase, according to data from eCommerce merchandising company MineWhat.

Moreover, B2B buyers view an average 14 pieces of content before buying from a vendor (up from five several years ago), while more than half view at least eight during their purchase process, according to market research firm Forrester.

Mapping the customer journey from start to finish

Think about it. One individual stumbles on your website, article or video during an initial web search related to a need you can help fulfil. Another is farther on the customer journey and almost ready to buy, edging toward a decision between you or your competitors.

Brands should have content marketing tailored for each of the specific stages of that journey.

Now it’s time to plan accordingly.

Glue your content marketing plan to the buyer’s journey

You apply strategy to every other aspect of your business. It’s no different here: Start with a clear and dynamic content marketing strategy to ensure that what you produce lands at the right audience at the right time — and is appropriate specifically for them.

Here’s why: If people don’t relate to your content, they won’t consume it. You have literally seconds to grab them.

Before choosing the subjects to cover in that content, answer these questions:

  • Who’s your target?
  • Where are they in the buyer’s journey?
  • What do you want them to do when they’re done?

Got answers to all three? You’re ready to get started. If not, we’ve got some work to do together first.

There’s an arc to the customer journey. “By looking at how people develop a relationship with your brand over time (commonly called the buyer’s journey), and determining what kinds of content are most helpful for people in each stage of their journey, you can anticipate what type of material you’ll need,” writes Ben Kulakofsky.

By linking a content strategy to pre-defined stages of your company’s buyer’s journey, you’ll develop the various types of content marketing that will connect with your desired audience at the most appropriate point in their customer journey, inspiring them to become customers.

Buyer’s journey: targeting the ‘Awareness’ stage

Ok, this stage is the easiest. It’s the top of the sales funnel. At this point in their journey, prospects:

  • realise they have a problem – or opportunity;
  • have initiated their research, searching for answers and solutions;
  • prowling for resources, education, data, opinions and insight

At this stage, your content should focus on the buyer’s pain points, not on your company or offering. “They are still formulating the vocabulary around the issue that will help them search for a solution,” explains Kulakofsky.

Your single goal at this stage is brand awareness. To get there, you should prioritise keyword and search query targeting that your company’s prospects might use so that your company ranks at the top of those searches. It makes sense to improve your SERPs rankings: 70% of buyers use Google during the research phase, according to a study by Pardot.

Think about the best format and kind of content to reach your prospects in this stage. Could be a blog post. Or a white paper. Maybe an eBook and eGuide. Or images such as videos and infographics.

If you’re following the steps we’ve outlined so far, the answer will be apparent. Bottom line is that the content should create trust by being objective and educational, clearly articulating the problem or opportunity, contextualising it and outlining solutions.

Be guided by these key factors in your planning:

  • Research the best keywords and long-tail search phrases to target;
  • Ensure the content is high quality, easy to consume, original, well-researched and featuring credible references;
  • Determine the best channels and platforms for its promotion — social media content marketing can be a game-changer in this stage;
  • Bake in the next step for the prospect after consuming the content. Present a clear Call to Action (CTA). Have you made it obvious, logical and easy to perform? (Like? Subscribe? Call? Email? Buy?);
  • Grab attention with content that’s seductive, visual and shareable.

Buyer’s journey: targeting the ‘Consideration’ stage

What happens once your prospects reach the middle of the funnel, closer to buying? Now you can call them leads. They’ve reached the ‘consideration’ or ‘evaluation’ stage, with a stronger understanding of their problem, deeper into the effort to solve their problem, researching potential solutions and evaluating their options.

Your task is to keep them moving on their journey.

This is arguably the most crucial moment of the three stages in the buyer’s journey. While not there yet, the lead is moving towards a decision regarding appropriate solutions. You need to nurture her or him.

“People in the middle of your sales funnel are likely to be looking to you for content showing that you’re the experts in your industry,” Hubspot points out in its blog. “That’s why the most effective types of content in the evaluation stage…compare your features and benefits with that of your competitor.”

The prospect has you squarely in mind now. While your content should maintain a level of objectivity, it should highlight the merits of your solution, team and brand.

Companies that get this stage right will vastly increase their chances for payoff at the end of the journey. Deliver refined and dynamic content now and you’ll generate middle-of-the-funnel engagement and lead management experience at a response rate four to ten times higher than generic e-mail blasts and outreach.

Here’s your list when planning content for the consideration stage:

  • Make it easy via this content to collect contact details;
  • Research the best keywords and long-tail search phrases for you to target at this stage. We recommend targeting long-tail phrases that have words such as service, product, tool, supplier, reviews, solutions, and pros and cons.
  • Consider investing in ‘retargetting‘ with this content (for example, paying to get it delivered to specific prospects and groups).
  • Create CTAs that clearly benefit the prospect, such as requesting a product demo, downloading solution-oriented material (white papers, eBooks, webinars), or offering a free trial.

Buyer’s journey: targeting the ‘Decision’ stage

You’ve brought the prospects to the end. Now they’ll make their choice and commit to buy.

“A lot of the hard work was done in the previous two stages,” says Isaac Justesen. “If you have done a good job of educating a prospect and presenting them with potential solutions in an engaging and respectful way, there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to strongly consider your company when it comes time to vote with their wallet.”

Your prospects are looking for any reason not to buy from you, so don’t give them one. Your content now should be focused on converting leads into sales. You need one more push to get them over the line. It’s time for a compelling CTA that convinces and/or inspires them to choose you.

A strong offer, together with the right type of content at this stage can substantially improve conversions. The content should be direct, with important information about your offering. It shows why you’re better than your competitors and showcases your value proposition.

That content can feature:

  • Case studies;
  • Product literature and demonstrations;
  • Assessments;
  • Estimate request buttons;
  • Pricing tier information;
  • Product tutorials;
  • Downloads;
  • Calls-to-action for trial offers and free product demos.

“By itself, a bottom-of-the-funnel offer isn’t likely to close a lot of leads into customers,” Hubspot argues. “However, when you have it mapped appropriately to the buyer journey, you’re combining the compelling nature of that final offer with all the engagement you’ve created leading up to that point.”

You’re nearly there. Get these factors in order, and you’re good to go:

  • Optimise your website’s navigation, UX (user experience) and CTAs. These elements should drive prospects and leads to your bottom-of-the-funnel content.
  • Ensure customer support is easy to reach from this content — this is crucial to closing the deal.
  • Content here should resolve any lingering questions, concerns or reservations that could stand in the way of the decision you want.

Now you’re ready to create the right content marketing at the right time for the right audience. Go forth and grow your business.

Is Content Marketing the Key To Your Business Growth?

In just a few short decades, the internet has exploded into an expanding universe of content – and content marketing.

Content marketing boosts lead generation and conversions

Run a web search and prepare to spiral into a black hole of possibly interesting but often false and distracting material that risks sending you spinning across a galaxy of irrelevance.

Information consumers — all of us — in this dense and fast-moving medium are challenged to know which sources to believe, especially when the term “fake news” is tossed around like confetti by our most powerful leaders.

“What’s gone from the internet isn’t ‘truth’, but trust: the sense that the people and things we encounter are what they represent themselves to be,” writes Max Read in New York Magazine.

It may sound counterintuitive – using more content to battle the content overload we are now experiencing – but high-value content marketing is critical for any business looking to separate itself from its competitors and effectively engage their target consumers.

In fact, a robust content strategy has fast become a key element of many business sales processes.

Standing out from the crowd

Amid this tide of dishonesty, it’s imperative for your business to open up an authentic channel of communication rich with real and valuable content.

But if it’s never been more important for businesses to generate quality content to stay competitive, how do you deliver high-quality, targeted information to current and future clients without getting lost yourself in the endless forests of information?

And more importantly, why do so many of us find it so hard to produce effective content marketing that supports business growth?

According to Doug Kessler, creative director at Velocity Partners, the answer to succeed with inbound marketing is to build a great content brand:

  1. Aim high and strike your target.
  2. Become known for producing top-notch content.
  3. Deliver on your promises.

Hit these three goals and you’ll attract quality producers who can power your upward spiral.

By providing reliable, engaging branded content and thought leadership that your customers opt in to read and share, you build trust – far more effectively than by throwing advertising at them – and can set your business apart from the competition, improve your brand recognition and reputation while highlighting your expertise in your industry.

According to DemandGen, 95% of B2B buyers consider content to be a trustworthy means of evaluating a company and its offerings, while Hubspot finds that prospective customers consume at least five pieces of content before buying – both points offering clear indications of content’s importance.

Anna Rosenman, an executive at customer relationship management software leader Salesforce – which just launched a content management system within its platform to enable businesses to harness customer data – says that without content, your commerce site is a mere webpage facilitating transactions.

Your own content also can serve as a forum to develop your brand’s voice, a place where you can present a more personal face of your business.

Marketing expert Michael Brenner notes that forcing the brand name on the customer’s attention can be counter-productive, so try to mention it as little as possible. This restraint could also help you to decide whether to host your content on your main branded website, or on a separate domain.

With trust and a relationship established, your content can educate your audience with the information they need to take the next steps in the conversion process, whether making an actual purchase, getting in touch for more information or engaging with you online.

The key is to provide highly readable content that enriches the reader with new insights and ideas. The Content Marketing Institute says that after reading recommendations on a blog, 61% of American online consumers made a purchase.

Content marketing/business growth case studies

Brenner offers examples.

A personal favorite: A few years ago, consulting company Capgemini suffered from poor brand awareness and was falling behind the competition. Vetoing a proposal to buy display advertising in golfing magazines — and even to sponsor a professional golfer — its brand manager opted in 2013 for a content marketing strategy based around Content Loop, a storytelling website integrated with LinkedIn featuring topics such as big data and the cloud, stories aimed at putting the company “at the heart of business and IT conversations”.

After one year, the brand site had drawn nearly one million new visitors, the firm had gained more than 100,000 new followers to its LinkedIn page and enjoyed 1.8 million shares of its content.

Crucially, the strategy generated nearly $1 million in sales the first year and has been growing since.

Other examples range from luggage company Away, which created Away Here, a high-end, magazine-style blog focusing on travel and lifestyle topics to enterprise chat provider Slack’s blog, “Several People Are Typing”, with tips on productivity and collaboration and Home Depot’s Garden Club portal, which is packed with how-to guides.

How to quantify your content marketing efforts

Quantifying the efforts you put into content marketing is difficult. Don’t fall into the mistake of identifying financial gain as the immediate goal. Rather, you’re in a marathon, not a sprint.

Nevertheless, return on investment can be maximized by creating a strategy that focuses on select topics for your target market rather than simply churning out content for its own sake.

Media and competitor monitoring for current trends are key. Same for harnessing data on the customer experience on your site that’s useful for future content planning, such as journey maps, user feedback and customer profiles.

Improved search engine optimization for your business provides consistent and relevant content, including a variety of topics and keywords. Indeed, Tech Client provides this heartening statistic: Websites that post consistent blog content boast on average 434% more pages indexed by search engines than those that don’t publish at all.

Believe this: Content costs about 62% less than traditional marketing techniques — and generates three times as many leads, according to DemandMetric. Obviously, that’s a highly efficient and effective way to maximise your budget.

While it’s cheaper than straight-up advertising, dedicating budgets to this effort is important. Data from the Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs shows that B2B marketers allocate 29% of their total marketing budget, on average, to content marketing (26% for B2C). The most effective allocate 42%, and the most sophisticated and mature allocate 46%.

Key takeaways

• Know your audience. Put yourself in your buyers’ shoes, be aware of their challenges, needs, interests, desires and concerns – and tailor your content accordingly.

• Choose the right tools and software to produce and show off your content.

• Unless you have an in-house team, outsource to content-creation professionals.

• Decide on, then develop your brand’s voice: serious, funny or whatever. Just have a voice.

• Post consistently and regularly across content types and platforms.

Discover the most important tips and tricks that will help you create effective and engaging content marketing: