Content marketing is the publication and distribution of valuable content that is relevant to a defined audience for the purpose of driving action, such as website traffic, lead conversions or purchases.
Content Marketing, once a catchphrase and digital marketing tactic, is now seen as a key component in the success of a brand’s online marketing strategy. Make that, their marketing strategy. Online marketing and marketing are one and the same in our digital age.
With years of content publication, tracking, and measurement under our belts, we have the data to state confidently that content marketing accelerates business growth. Content marketing continues to evolve and to stay ahead of the game we’ve had to grow and change as well.
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The Definition of Content Marketing Has Evolved
Since the early 2000s, organizations have been collecting data and using it to make better decisions about what, when, where, and who to target in online marketing campaigns. What we’ve learned is that customers are increasingly engaged in the buying process. They are seeking information to answer their questions, educating themselves about their options, reading reviews, viewing demo videos, and scoping out online communities for support before they even speak with a salesperson or purchase a product.
Without content, none of this is possible. Content Marketing feeds search engines, social media channels, online media outlets, and brand blogs. Content is the fuel that powers the internet.
HubSpot’s 2021 State of Marketing Report explains that 82% of marketers polled report
actively using content marketing, up from 70% in 2020. Video, blogs, and infographics are the primary marketing media being created while social media is the top channel used in marketing today. As buyers are spending increasingly more time on social media, marketers are serving up content to match their interests.
Twenty years ago, when brands and publishers shifted their focus from print and television to the new world of digital media, marketers focused on creating websites with educational and promotional content while figuring out how to get search engines to serve up their sites in search results. That part hasn’t changed much.
However, internet use habits have changed, and so have content consumption and buying habits. According to Pew Research, 77% of Americans go online on a daily basis while 26% of Americans report being online almost constantly. Advanced customer experience analytics and data on buyer behavior allow us to build content strategies that are highly customer-centric. We know what our customers want, as well as where and when they want it.
Focus on the Buyer
Parallel to how SEO has evolved, from the days of producing tons of content focused on specific keywords, so has Content Marketing evolved. As Google has shifted the way they serve searchers to providing the most relevant, helpful content based on the searcher’s intent, so have Content Marketers changed their focus. Content Marketing strategy now centers around publishing helpful content that serves buyers by answering their questions and adding value to the customer experience.
Companies that use content to build trust and forge a relationship with buyers will be remembered when the buyer is ready to purchase.
Marketing ~ Sales ~ Customer Success Alignment
The alignment of the customer experience between the Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success teams has become a priority in recent years, particularly in B2B companies. Content that was once only used for marketing purposes is now used by Sales and Customer Success teams to build relationships and educate customers. Personalized content experiences that meet specific customer needs are used in sales engagement to help buyers make decisions, which fuels sales growth, increased customer retention, and higher referral rates.
Related Video: How to Use Content to Align Sales and Marketing
Savvy Content Marketers realize that different buyer groups prefer different forms of content. Using data on buyer behavior, we are creating content in the format that best attracts our target audience. Types of content marketing include:
- blog content
- social media posts
- ebooks and white papers
- case studies and testimonials
Video especially has seen tremendous growth. 52% of marketers say video content has the best ROI. (Hubspot) Brands that use video marketing grow their year-over-year revenue 49% faster than brands that don’t. (Aberdeen)
Podcasts are also having their moment. Research by Edison Research and Triton Digital found that in 2021 78% of people are familiar with podcasting, this is a 4.72% increase over the previous year. Podcast listeners have grown nearly 30% in the past 3 years. Their research also found that “In 2021, 28% or 80 million Americans are weekly podcast listeners. There are now 10 million more weekly podcast listeners than the 69 million Netflix account owners in the U.S.”
Learn more in our video 20 Video Marketing Statistics That Demand Your Attention
Also, consider the increasing use of mobile devices and smartphones. Mobile consumption must be considered when creating content. Pew Research states that 89% of mobile users go online daily and 31% go online almost constantly. Content Marketing campaigns that are built around the mobile experience, voice search, and content that is easy to digest and share will appeal to mobile device users.
The Role of Content Marketing
The perception of the role of Content Marketing within organizations is one of the biggest changes in its evolution. Once seen as a “nice to have” – as in “it would be nice to have a blog” or “when we reach a certain size, we’ll start doing email marketing” ~ growth-driven organizations now realize they can no longer wait until “someday” to begin using content in their online marketing, sales, and customer success strategies.
Content Marketers now have a seat at the table as companies plan their annual marketing strategy. Armed with data that takes a deep dive into what’s working and what isn’t, along with trends in search engine optimization and social platforms, we help shape the business goals and map out how to achieve them. Reports by leading data firms show that 86 percent of B2C brands and 93 percent of B2B organizations use content marketing to connect with their target buyers. (Sources: CMI and IAB)
How Content Marketing Works
High-growth companies now understand that Content adds value at every stage of their buyer’s journey and, like a magnet, pulls leads from one stage to the next. It’s not enough to have a blog and do occasional promotion of blog content on their social channels. Companies that are successfully using content marketing create consistent, buyer-centric, messaging across all channels, planned out in focused, measured campaigns.
High Quality + Promotion Over Quantity
Content Marketers are working smarter, not harder. The best ROI comes from publishing high-quality pieces of content, then promoting that content on the right channels, to the right audience. Publishing blog posts frequently, then hoping to climb in search rankings won’t yield the best return on your content marketing efforts. We’re finding that there is more bang for our buck when we publish a valuable piece of content, then distribute it on the right marketing channels, use paid media to promote it, and repurpose the piece in multiple ways.
Guest posting on authoritative third-party sites is an effective addition to our content mix. The opportunity to expand brand visibility and thought leadership, gain high-quality backlinks, and drive organic search and referral traffic, makes guest posting an important part of content marketing campaigns.
Read 5 Link Building Strategies That Actually Work
Change is Constant
One thing is certain, the definition of Content Marketing will continue to evolve. Technology will advance and bring with it new, exciting ways to reach potential customers. As we gain deeper insights into buyer needs and behaviors, content preferences, and internet use, we will develop better, more targeted ways to connect with our buyers.
It’s an exciting time in marketing. Are you ready for the changes to come? Here are a few actionable items that will help you meet the challenge:
- Begin with a clear understanding of your buyer persona and their online buying behavior (get your buyer persona template here)
- Map out your buyer’s journey
- Create helpful, compelling content that addresses their problems and questions at each stage of the buyer’s journey
- Publish content that is unique to your brand – think original research, customer success stories, and industry insights
- Build your email list by offering unique content resources that potential buyers can download
- Use email marketing to nurture leads by sending relevant content to them based on their interest
- Publish blog content consistently and promote it on all of your social media platforms, making sure you have a strong brand voice to build thought leadership
- Use keyword research and SEO best practices to ensure your content performs well in search
- Add guest posting on relevant, high-authority sites, to your content marketing strategy
- Optimize your website for the mobile experience
- Use analytics to track and measure your content performance
- Always put your buyers first ~ a customer-centric focus will serve you best
Need help aligning your content offers to your buyer’s journey? Download our free guide.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2019, and has been updated for freshness, completeness, and accuracy.