Where Is The Content in Your Content Marketing? Seven Steps To Creating Truly Effective Content

A new study entitled “The Contentious State of B2B Content Marketing” shows how content has become an essential marketing strategy.  The findings of the survey point to a challenge I would imagine is vexing to your company: effectiveness.

The most popular forms of content (articles, newsletters, blogs, case studies and videos) will receive more support in 2013 as more than 50% of survey respondents report that they’ll increase funding for content marketing. But there’s a problem.

Only 6 percent of survey participants consider their content marketing really effective and 62 percent consider their content marketing to be mediocre. Do you find it ironic that B2B companies are willing to increase budgets for a marketing strategy they readily admit is mediocre?

I want you to do much better. If you’re struggling to realize a return on your content marketing strategy, here are 7 steps that can substantially improve effectiveness. By effectiveness, I mean these strategies will help you attract ideal clients, pull them into serious sales dialogue and position you as the trusted expert with whom they want to work.

  1. Define what you want content marketing to do for you.
  2. Define the goals, opportunities and challenges of your ideal clients.
  3. Start every piece by reviewing your ideal client profile.
  4. Tailor your content to the format.
  5. Include a promise of benefit — always.
  6. Use roadmaps whenever possible.
  7. Make your content actionable.

Step 1: Define what you want content marketing to do for you.

Content marketing is not the perfect solution for every marketing plan. It has its role and you need to be clear about what you want content marketing to do for you. So I recommend you set specific goals and define specific metrics to see if you’re achieving goals.

For instance, let’s assume that your goal is for content marketing to help you acquire new clients. The metric is fairly simple. How many new clients did we acquire? But the tracking part can be tricky. The question you have to answer is: what prompted the lead to enter the top of our sales funnel? Was it a blog, webinar, article, video or what? This is one reason you need marketing automation. It will help you specifically see what piece of content pulled a prospect into the sales funnel.

Some other goals that you might consider include:

  • Brand awareness.
  • Lead generation.
  • Client retention.
  • Lead nurturing.
  • Being perceived as a though leader.

Some of these goals are fairly easy to measure. Others, however, may require more subjective metrics or market surveys. If you want to know if your market considers you a thought leader, you’ll probably have to ask through a survey.

Step 2: Define the goals, opportunities and challenges of your ideal clients.

Here is another ironic data point from the survey. While only 6 percent rate their content marketing strategy as “very effective,” only 52 percent rate “producing engaging content” as a major challenge.  Really?  Here is a spoiler alert.  If your content marketing is not very effective, the problem might be the content. I’m just saying.

I know from surveys I’ve conducted that most of you reading this article have not formally defined your ideal client. This is the crux of the problem. If you write content that doesn’t matter to your audience, it’s just white noise. Let’s change that. Right now.

Take out a pen and paper. Think of the very best clients you’ve ever had and the kind of clients you really want. Got that picture in your mind? At the top of the piece of paper, write “My ideal client.” Directly below this write “Their top 5 goals.” Then make a list of those goals. Below that write “Their top 5 opportunities” and list them. Then write “Their top 5 challenges” and list those as well.

Here are some important definitions:

  • A goal is something they really want to achieve. It’s on their radar screen and they’ve probably reserved a portion of their budget for it. They’re actively looking for solutions and help to achieve this goal.
  • An opportunity is something that fascinates them, but they may not be fully committed just yet. They probably have not formally reserved budget for this, but they’d be willing to discuss a project if you had good ideas.
  • A challenge is something that they believe prevents them from realizing their goals and going after their opportunities.

Step 3: Start every piece by reviewing your ideal client profile.

I participated in a brainstorming session with a professional services firm that was building an editorial calendar for the coming year.  They were throwing out all sorts of ideas and suggestions. Then I asked one simple question: how do these topics compare to your ideal clients’ goals, challenges and opportunities?

You could have heard a pin drop.

I think this happens a lot more than most people will admit. You know you have an article due or you need to come up with an idea for a webinar or a white paper. Then what? Most people start with what they know and care about. This is the problem.

Let’s take a different approach to achieve a better result. When the time comes to produce content for your marketing efforts, begin with your ideal clients.  Review that list that you just built and then ask “Which of these topics will produce content that matters to people I really want to work with?”

Step 4: Tailor your content to the format.

The goals, opportunities and challenges of your ideal clients are a great starting point. But these can also be overwhelming. Most of your ideal clients will have big goals, substantial opportunities and huge challenges. So how can your content address these?

One step at a time. If an article is 1,000 to 1,500 words, a webinar is an hour, a white paper is 50 pages, a video is 3 minutes and a blog post is 500 words — how can you put your best advice forward in these small increments? You have to tailor your content to the format.

This means you pick big topics for big formats and small topics for smaller formats. A white paper can cover several important goals. But a short blog post may only put forward one simple suggestion for one challenge.

Step 5: Include a promise of benefit — always.

A promise of benefit is the reason people should either give you a few minutes of their time to read your article or their complete contact information for something more valuable. I recommend that you always include the promise of benefit at the beginning of your content pieces.  A promise of benefit greatly increases engagement.

For instance, the promise of benefit for this article is “7 steps that can substantially improve your content marketing effectiveness.” I know that content marketing is a real challenge.  By offering you 7 steps to make your content marketing more effective, I’ve given you an incentive to read this entire article.  Oh, and by the way, you will benefit if you follow this counsel.

Step 6: Use roadmaps whenever possible.

Frameworks, checklists, roadmaps, guidelines, step-by-step approaches — all of these help prospective clients feel like you’re working for them, even before they’ve met you. It makes them feel like you’ve got it figured out and know what to do to accomplish the goals that matter to them. That builds trust and makes them want to talk to you.

Step 7: Make your content actionable.

You may disagree with the following statement, but in my experience it has proven to be true time and time again.  Busy professionals don’t want to learn — they want to achieve. Learning is merely the gateway for them to achieve. This is why your content has to appear actionable.

It has to suggest steps they can take to achieve their goals.  Action matters 5 times as much as information. We call this type of guidance “how to.” When you adopt a “how to” orientation toward content marketing, your readers will stay with you longer, give your counsel more credence and want to connect with you to keep the ideas flowing.

About the author

Randy Shattuck is a senior marketing executive and founder of The Shattuck Group, a full-service marketing firm that specializes in growing professional services firms. You can reach him at randy@theshattuckgroup.com.

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