Content marketing. It’s just a buzzword, right? A fad. It’ll be vogueish for five minutes and then fade away, along with inbound marketing, engagement marketing, omni-channel retailing, growth-hacking, sentiment-surfing, buzz alchemy, vibe butchery, hashtag evangelism and anything that isn’t either an angle or a temperature being measured in terms of degrees.
How much of a fad content marketing is or isn’t depends on the practitioner. For those who have latched onto the term and used it to re-badge or reboot outdated SEO strategies, it probably will be replaced in a couple of years by whichever new clothes the emperor is buying. But there are those who have given it more thought and realised that, at its heart, content marketing is just marketing – in the sense of directing appropriate messages at the right times to the right people – going by a modern, buzzy name.
In the context of the internet, digital media and connected devices, content has power way beyond being just a bit of trendy marketing speak for the mid-teens. It forms an increasingly important part of people’s decision-making and purchase processes.
Research from Nielsen suggests consumers are five times more dependent on content than they were five years ago, while a similar Forrester study shows, somewhat precisely, that purchasers engage with 11.4 pieces of content prior to buying something.
Social media posts have their own role to play in this landscape, both as a means through which other content can be pushed out to target audiences and influencers and as a form of content in their own right (the latter of which is often neglected by a certain subset of marketers who think the only type of content is blog content). Implemented properly, a decent social media content strategy can have a tangible effect on your bottom line.
The trick to it all is taking a tailored approach and creating social posts that are appropriate, timely and targeted at the right people. For best results, you’ll need to develop buyer personas so you know who it is your business wants to reach through its social content. Stripped right back to basics, these personas should be based on the answers to questions such as a) who you sell to, b) who you want to sell to and c) the topics and questions that a) and b) are interested in. By various means you can build up a complex picture of your customers or clients, even encompassing things such as the devices they use to access content and the times of day they use social media.
Armed with that, you should then consider that people are interested in – and influenced by – different types of content and different messages depending on where they are in the buying journey. In theEword’s model of how content fits into the buying journey, the process starts with discovery. This is the point before buyers are aware of your business or its products or services (they may even be unaware at this stage of the existence of certain products/services, let alone know that they want/need them). Here, content that gets you noticed, that marks you out as a reputable and expert operator, is powerful. After discovery comes deliberation, where buyers weigh up their options, which may include your business and its competitors. During this phase, it is important to educate and inform buyers as much as possible. If they know more about your business and what it offers, it is more likely that the third stage of the buying journey – the decision – will go in your favour. In the decision phase, cementing the trust that you’ve been building throughout the journey so far is vital. Reviews, testimonials and other forms of ‘social proof’ can be instrumental in convincing people that your business should be the one they trust and choose.
Studies have shown that throughout the buying journey, user-generated content – for example, social media interactions, conversations or reviews – has a part to play. While some would suggest it is not as powerful as expert, third-party content, or even content produced by your own business, user-generated content can influence how people perceive you whether they’re at the discovery, deliberation or decision stage. In the case of the latter, independent, unbiased reviews from your other customers or clients can be hugely powerful in pushing people over the line in your favour. And people will generally see through any selective cherry-picking you attempt through your own channels: there is an increasing trend towards buyers searching on review forums and social media sites to see what other people are saying about you, before they decide to engage.
Just considering all of this for a moment highlights the fundamental errors being made by businesses who just pump out the same social posts all the time, without taking into account timing, messaging or intended audience. Blindly repeating the same things seems even more folly when you consider that up to 90% of the buying journey could already be complete – won or lost by the quality, relevance and timeliness of your content – before a potential customer or client even gets in touch with your business. Next time you write a social post, ask yourself who it is for, what purpose it is going to serve for that person – and in what way it will bring them closer to becoming a buyer.