What Is Content Marketing? The Ultimate Guide

Marissa Sapega, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

Over the past several years, the surge of interest in content marketing (social media has been particularly influential) has made it trendy—and you know how marketers love trends. Yet, given that there are so many marketing opportunities and everyone has limited time and budgets, what makes it an appealing strategy? If you decide it’s right for your business, how do you execute it well?

Don’t worry; we’ll answer those questions and more in this article.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  1. What is content marketing?
  2. How does content marketing work?
  3. Why is content marketing so important?
  4. The benefits of content marketing
  5. Content marketing types and examples
  6. Tips for creating a content marketing strategy
  7. Key takeaways

You can use the clickable menu to skip ahead to any section. Let’s get started! 

1. What is content marketing?

Content marketing is the process of sharing information, assets, resources, and so on, on various channels to help achieve your marketing goals (such as boosting brand awareness, lead generation, and sales). Content marketing supports all these goals and more.

2. How does content marketing work?

 Content marketing draws attention to your brand and helps move people through the marketing funnel. Depending on who you ask, the marketing funnel can have up to five stages, the most common being awareness, consideration, conversion, loyalty, and advocacy. Different types of marketing strategies and content align with the stages. “Top of funnel” (TOFU) content is geared towards boosting awareness, “middle funnel” (MOFU) promotes consideration, and “bottom-funnel” (BOFU) is best for conversion.

You can create content for each stage of the funnel. For example, TOFU content—like shareable infographics, “how-to” guides, blog posts, and videos—help improve brand awareness. People unfamiliar with your brand who have a problem that your product or service can solve are the best audience for TOFU content. Before they can become customers, they need to be aware of your brand, and valuable (sometimes entertaining) content is a great way to achieve this.

MOFU content is for people who are aware of your brand, but are not yet sold on it to solve their problem. “How-to” guides are useful content for this audience (particularly when they include your product), along with case studies and product overviews. 

People at the bottom of the funnel just need to be convinced that your product is the solution to their problem. BOFU content like customer success stories, product reviews, and user-generated content (UGC) are all critical for nudging a prospect over the finish line.

3. Why is content marketing so important?

Now that you know how content marketing relates to the marketing funnel, it becomes more evident why it’s critical for brands. Each type of content serves a distinct purpose in helping move shoppers closer to conversion.

Pro tip: You can combine organic distribution with paid options for broader reach and impact. The more content you have and share (on channels like your website, social media, email, podcasts, YouTube, SMS, etc.), the greater the chance that your target audience will come in contact with it.

4. What are the benefits of content marketing?

Content marketing’s benefits are far-reaching and varied. For example, it:

  •     Creates a sense of community: When you share reviews or encourage UGC, you’re connecting people who have experienced the same problems and have been able to solve them by using your product or service.
  •     Educates prospective customers: If people don’t know what your product does or how it can help them, they won’t buy it. Content marketing allows you to educate them in a fun, valuable way.
  •     Boosts credibility: Content like case studies, success stories, and positive reviews prove that your brand is credible; “how-to” guides help position you as an authority on a topic.
  •     Generates revenue: Customers need to work their way down the entire funnel to hit your bottom line, and content marketing helps facilitate this journey.
  •     Builds relationships: Consistently providing valuable content to customers helps them remember you and form a more positive connection with your brand.
  •     Helps with search engine optimization (SEO): If you host content on your site that garners external links, it signals to Google that your website is trustworthy and deserving of a higher rank.

Content marketing can also be more cost-efficient than other forms of advertising like paid search. If you create “evergreen” assets (that is, content that remains relevant over time), you can continue to promote them regularly and gain views from organic traffic.

However, keep in mind that even if you are just creating blog posts and grassroots videos on a shoestring budget, you’re still spending time that could be spent on a different activity. The bottom line: Content marketing is budget-friendly but, ultimately, not free.

5. What are the different types of content marketing?

There are virtually unlimited options for types of content you can create—budgets and imagination are your only restrictions! Along with ensuring anything you make is professional-looking and provides value, always include ways to promote your product or service. It’s all well and good to create an amazing video that goes viral, but if it doesn’t support your business goals, it’s not as much of a success as it could be.

Here are some of the most common types of content marketing and some examples to inspire you:

 “How-to” guides

The home decor/improvement, makeup, fashion, and food verticals are well-known for how-to guides. Prose’s hair blow-drying guide sets you up for success with top tips for achieving a smooth, frizz-free style. Notice that it includes links to a brush that it sells, as well as a prominent visual with a call to action to save $10 on your first order. These help nudge customers into taking action. 

Case studies

Tubik Studios is well-known for its stunning creations, one of which they showcase in an eye-catching case study. This type of content marketing serves a dual purpose: like a wedding band, it is social proof that someone else has found them appealing enough to partner with them—and it also shows off the gorgeous end product. The artful way Tubik has presented this case study only adds to its appeal. Even if you’re not in the market for a design agency or particularly interested in food apps, you can’t help but be drawn in.

Videos

How’s this for successful content marketing? Poo-Pourri’s cheeky (pun intended) video has garnered over 44 million views. Even if just a fraction of those viewers purchased the product— say 1%—that’s almost 500,000 bottles of the odor-busting spray. Even better, this video educates you about the product in an entertaining way, which makes it more likely you’ll watch it until the end instead of hitting the “Skip ad” button. The best content marketing assets provide value—which, in this case, is entertainment—and promote your products. Poo-Pourri’s clever ad hits the bullseye for both.

 Infographics

If you are looking for a way to communicate information in a concise and appealing way, consider creating an infographic (bonus points if it’s an interactive infographic). An infographic pulls together any combination of data, statistics, facts, quotes, and visuals in a way that makes it easy to consume. Even documents that could be considered boring, like a quarterly report, can be transformed into a work of art by the right designer.

 Guides

You’ve probably heard of Michelin-starred restaurants and Michelin tires. At first glance, they don’t seem to have much in common, right? In actuality, the siblings who founded the famous French tire company created the Michelin Guide in the 19th century to promote more driving—and, therefore, more demand for tires. The guide included maps, how-to instructions on changing a tire, and leisure spots. In 1926, they started highlighting fine dining establishments with a single star, a notation that expanded into the iconic three-star ranking system used worldwide today. Not only did this guide improve Michelin’s brand awareness, but it helped boost demand for their products. Little did the Michelin brothers know their brilliant content marketing scheme would one day make their name globally synonymous with culinary excellence.

Blog posts

Hubspot is well known for many things, but its stellar reputation for inbound marketing excellence is perhaps its most notable achievement. Founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah were interested in “pull” marketing strategies to draw customers to their product rather than “pushing” it on an audience. To achieve this, they set about deliberately building a massive content repository that followed a “hub and spoke” model and answered real questions posed by marketers. They built credibility by providing valuable content that resonated with their target audience, helping position them as a market leader in the industry.

Templates

Who wants to reinvent the wheel? Perhaps some ambitious entrepreneurs out there are just dying to improve it, but most of us are happy to learn that there are samples and frameworks we can use as a foundation to create something we have not yet mastered. You can create a template for virtually anything: dinner party menus, editorial calendars, wedding speeches, and more. And if yours is good enough, people will happily use it. Just ensure that whatever you build aligns with your brand and business goals. For example, if you’re a real estate agent, a template for the perfect cover letter may garner copious attention, but not necessarily from your target audience.

Quizzes

People are always interested in giving their opinions, even if only to learn something about themselves. Quizzes are an excellent way to pique your audience’s interest and showcase your products; if you set them up cleverly enough, you may even make a sale from them! Warby Parker’s frames quiz is fun even for people who don’t need glasses, and helpful for ones who do. Even the sillier quizzes, like Buzzfeed’s “What Dessert am I” could be more than just a fun way to waste some time online—a bakery or caterer could easily repurpose it. 

6. Tips for creating a content marketing strategy

Creating content without a strategy is a surefire way to waste a lot of time, money, and resources. Before you begin to shoot a video, write a guide, craft an infographic, or build any of the content types in this guide (and beyond), take a breath. Here’s what you need to ask yourself before you leap:

What do I want to achieve with this content?

As mentioned earlier, some types of content marketing are better suited for different customer journey stages. Pause to identify what results you’d like to see—increased brand awareness, revenue, leads, website traffic, app downloads, et cetera—before you begin. 

What is my budget?

You may have champagne dreams but a budget better suited for mass-market beer.  No matter your budget, be sure to weigh your options carefully before moving ahead. Just because you have the money to afford a slot in the Super Bowl commercial lineup doesn’t mean you should take it.

Furthermore, low-budget doesn’t mean ineffective. Just look at Blendtec’s original “Will it blend” 2007 video on YouTube. At first glance, it doesn’t look all that impressive; it could be any one of millions of homemade videos. But if you watch it, you’ll see why it has racked up over 12 million views. Not only is it fascinating (who doesn’t want to see what happens when you blend glowsticks?!) but it provides documented proof that this blender will shred pretty much anything you can throw at it. 

Who is my audience?

Knowing your audience is essential for marketing success. Once you understand their pain points, where they spend time in real life and online, what attracts their attention, you’ll be able to create content that will draw them in, and hopefully persuade them to become a customer.

You can even start with the time-tested Google hack, “don’t hit enter.” If you begin typing a query in Google, a dropdown menu will appear with popular searches that may be similar to yours. This is a great way to see what people are looking for in your industry. Once you have an idea of what questions people are asking, you can build content that answers them better than your competitors have.

Knowing your audience will also help you determine what type of content will resonate best with them. For example, videos are perfect fodder to draw in shoppers if your audience spends a lot of time on Instagram; wordy blog posts and case studies will not be as effective.

How do I measure success?

As with any marketing strategy, you need to identify marketing metrics and key performance indicators that will help you measure your content strategy’s success. Don’t be swayed by metrics that look impressive but don’t actually help you achieve your goals (social media marketing metrics are especially susceptible to this). When you outline your goals for the content, include ways you’ll use to evaluate whether or not you met them.

7. Key takeaways

What is content marketing? Content marketing can be a highly successful marketing strategy for any company, but, like every other strategy, it takes thoughtful preparation to get the ROI you desire. Just remember to map out your goals, get to know your audience, and measure your results! With a bit of forethought and creativity, you can build assets that will effortlessly move your customers through the marketing funnel and keep them coming back for more.

Interested in learning more digital marketing strategies? Check out CareerFoundry’s free 5-day course. You may also be interested in one of the following articles:

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