Five reasons your business needs content marketing now

The art and practice of content marketing has become an important trend in the last few years. You’ve probably heard this term used in conjunction with SEO (search engine optimization), inbound marketingand social media marketing. But what exactly do we mean by content marketing ?

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What is content marketing?

Here is a definition from the Content Marketing Institute:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” 

Using content for marketing is not a completely new idea. It’s the way we think about content (or define it) that has changed, along with the tools we can use to make it available to others. As the Internet and social media become ever more important to people’s lives, the way they seek and gather information changes. Putting your content out in the world where people are looking for it helps them find you.

Why would you want to do that? Because you’re an expert and your customers need to know that. No matter what business you’re in, chances are you got into it because you’re an expert in an area or because you saw a chance to make a difference, and you’ve become an expert as a result of your hard work. By sharing your knowledge with your prospects, you’re not only improving your reputation, you’re helping your prospects in their journey to learn something new.

In fact, 88 percent of B2B marketers reported using content marketing as a part of their online marketing strategy. 

Why you should use content marketing

If building your reputation and sharing knowledge aren’t enough to convince you to consider upping your content marketing game, here are five preemptive reasons you should do it.

1. Old-style advertising is dead.

You may have heard this one before and thought “hog-wash.” But listen, I’m not trying to jump on a bandwagon here, and probably not saying what you think I am saying, so before you dismiss this, hear me out. Promotional ads aren’t enough anymore. Banner ads have been losing their efficacy rates for years. (Bannersnack).

The average click through rate of display ads across all formats and placements in the USA is now just 0.07%. (Display Benchmarks tool).  On the newspaper end, total ad revenue in 2013 was 49% lower than it had been a decade earlier, according to the “State of the News Media 2014” study by the Pew Research Center.

You have to bring more to the table. No one method will be enough to build your brand, develop leads and position your company in the minds of prospects. You need to offer something of value and, in the information age, that means — you guessed it — information.

Ads may help drive traffic to your website, or your storefront, but will that be enough? Probably not. To convert them into leads or sales, you need content that tells a story or promotes knowledge. Use advertising to boost your content, and you’ll be playing a different game.

2. Selling is dead.

Yep, another one that’s probably making you groan. But again, the way selling used to work — with cold calling and sales reps pushing a product that customers had never heard of — isn’t how it’s done anymore. Consumers are out actively seeking information to help them solve their problems and to understand what questions to ask before considering a new purchase. They have their own agendas, pace and options for how they want to receive that information. They don’t want anyone to “sell” to them. (Inc.)

Instead, modern sales reps need to form meaningful relationships with consumers – to provide information and guidance. If you wait for the phone to ring before you to start educating them about market differentiators and what they need to know to make a choice, you’re too late. Your competitors have probably already framed customer perspectives by offering information about the questions they should be asking.

In B2B, especially, 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier. (Corporate Executive Board).

Content marketing can help you generate thought leadership, an important part of ensuring that your company makes it into your prospect’s frame of reference for consideration, and can help you get information in front of your audience at the right stages in the buying cycle.

3. Old-style SEO is dead.

Did I get you again? That’s right…the old-fashioned form of stuffing your web pages with keywords and paying for links on other websites no longer impresses Google. What matters is content. Good content that makes people stay on your site and click through to more pages. (Once upon a time, we called this “sticky” content). Organic search engine ranking is increasingly about creating content that people actually want to read, and it’s measured by how long they stay on your website doing just that.

That’s not to say you should ignore keyword research… you still need to create your content based on the search terms your audience uses, not the ones your internal organization uses, or it will be virtually invisible to your potential audience. However, optimizing your website needs to be less about tracking keywords and rankings, and more about engaging visitors once they’ve landed on your website. For that, you need valuable content that impresses and inspires. High converting landing pages are what matter.

4. Google is dead.

Just kidding. But creating a website primarily for Google has lost its potency. Don’t focus your efforts on “gaming” Google to appear at the top of search results. Furthermore, what is “top” for each person is different, based on location, past search history, and even the type of device being used. There’s no “one right page structure” or “one right keyword” that will win you the Google prize. It’s really all about knowing your audience, planning content that appeals to each of your target “personas” and offering what they need to make their experience on your website, or with your brand (whether in a store, event or elsewhere) meaningful. And then you need to make sure your content is where your audience is – whether that’s on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or at tradeshows, industry journals or online media. Promoting your content through social media, PR and yes, even paid advertising, is an essential element of content marketing.

5. Print content is NOT dead.

(Did I throw you a curve?) In fact, content in all forms, offline, offline, mobile, video, TV, is in more demand than ever. Print is still a top-of-funnel medium. Print isn’t dead, experts say.  According to the AMA, “Print circulations are down, but in many cases, that means that publications’ readership has been culled to only the most engaged, which is a desirable trait, from an advertising standpoint.”

What’s even more in vogue than Vogue is customized content (content for a specific audience) produced by businesses. (Money CNN). Businesses are once again finding increasing success in printing their own publications, and, in fact, customers are responding to print simply because it’s so unusual to receive it now.

Plus, according to Allbusiness.com,  56 percent of all consumers trust print marketing more than any other advertising method.

And the majority of Millennials (45%) in a 2014 survey by Androit Digital say a combination approach of digital ads and traditional ad channels is equally or more effective in influencing their brand decision making, compared to either as a standalone channel. Furthermore, 3 out of 4 small businesses use both print marketing and online efforts combined. This strategy usually offers the best return on investment and gets the best response rates.

So what do you think?

Is content marketing in your plans for 2016? What made you decide to do it? Leave a comment or click to tell us what you think.

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Seven tips for social media success in highly regulated industries

For many business in highly regulated environments (such as pharma, medtech, health care and financial sectors), social media may seem like a tool that is either irrelevant or too difficult to manage within stringent and often-changing regulatory parameters. Yet, the truth is, social media is just as applicable to these sectors as other B2B markets, and can be equally as effective. Being compliant and being quiet are not irreversibly fused.

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Social media for B2B?

Yes, some of you out there may still think that social media is only for fun and games. Nothing serious is ever accomplished there, and even when serious topics (like politics) are discussed, it’s nothing but avarice and opinions. Right? Well, wrong.

Social media is a very effective tool for many B2B companies not only for promoting their content (more on this here) but also for keeping tabs on the pulse of their markets — what’s known as social listening. In fact, according to a 2016 report from Content Marketing Institute, 93% of B2B marketing organizations use social media. However, according to the same report, only 35% have documented their social media strategy. This could be a major downfall to success (read on for tips below).

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(Graphic from Content Marketing Institute Report)

If you’re not monitoring or participating in the conversation, how can you possibly know what your customers, colleagues, partners and prospects are thinking?

This brings me to two important aspects of social media in the B2B world, including regulated industries like healthcare, diagnostics and medical devices. You must focus on both monitoring and engagement.

That translates into LISTENING and SHARING.

Social media monitoring and engagement

Monitoring (listening) in social media means following your customers, partners or networks on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google+ and other channels, and regularly checking your streams so you are aware of what others in your space are saying. You can use tools such as Hootsuite, HubSpot or Sprout Social to monitor important subject areas and “follow” people you want to stay connected to, setting up alerts for particular areas of interest or “hot topics.”

Engagement (sharing) in social media means contributing to the conversation with new content, thoughts, ideas, reports, images, infographics and other content that your followers and audiences might find useful. It’s not (just) about self-promotion, but also about sharing ideas and contributing to a conversation. Your contributions can be entirely original (such as predictions, posts or reports that you or your company have produced), insights or perspectives on work from others (like adding your comments on news about a new law or protocol) or sharing things you found useful (such as a “How to” article or seminar presentation from the last conference you attended). Apply a simple rule: if your content passes medical, legal and regulatory review processes, it’s a candidate to build an engagement strategy.

How to keep your content compliant

In any business, but especially in the regulated industries, managing your brand’s reputation and keeping your company safe from infractions (perceived or real) requires a few extra steps to ensure success. You’ll want to create a plan that is approved at the highest levels of your organization and followed by everyone in the company who posts on behalf of your brand. Here are some tips for creating a well-organized social media plan:

1. Create a set of guidelines.

The most important first step is to create a document outlining the issues that can and can’t be discussed. If you have proprietary new research or R&D that is classified, all of your team members should be made aware (and firmly reminded) that all such topics are off limits. Be very specific about the words they can and can’t use. However, they may find that the knowledge they have in these areas makes a useful addition to online conversations or in discussions on professional forums. In that case, they should be clearly instructed about what issues are “fair game” for discussion, and where the boundaries are that cross into proprietary, protected or regulated information. Your team should be well briefed in the difference between presenting new facts and helpful information, and any speculation that could appear as an endorsement or recommendation around regulated topics. (Get a sample social media guidelines template here).

2. Develop written talking points.

A simple document or guide that outlines to your team all the most important “themes” or areas of expertise for your company, such as focus areas or new business areas, will give your team the ammunition they need to focus where you want them to focus. You might think everyone knows what to concentrate on, but if you haven’t put pen to paper (or more likely, hands to keyboard), you can’t be sure they are all on the same page.

3. Prepare a content calendar.

Turn your talking points into a social media calendar with posts planned for a week or more at a time. Focus on topics around which your company has expertise and wishes to become known in the market. Include a combination of curated and created content (posts linking back to blog articles or research papers, as well as content you share from other experts, industry conferences or partners). Remember: you want your topics to be about issues, not products. Consider what challenges your target audience is facing and talk to them about things they care about. Mention the problems your products solve, not the brands. The exception would be answering or responding to specific questions that others may post online about your products. (Need inspiration? Download a sample social media planning template here.)

4. Institute an approval process.

In some industries, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants witty responses might win points. But in highly regulated industries, off-the-cuff remarks could end up costing you dearly. Make sure that all your content and comments are approved in advance. Create a written approval process (approval template documents help) that everyone on the team understands. Include an approval “check off” at the top of your editorial calendar or blog post templates to indicate who needs to approve it and by when.

5. “Chunk” your content.

One way to ease (and speed) the approval process for new posts is to pull your social media comments and ideas from pre-approved content. Create larger pieces regularly (such as articles, case studies or white papers) with ideas that can be approved all at once. Then, pull bits and pieces of this into social media-worthy posts that let you spread your content out over several weeks.

6. Rework and reuse existing content.

Similarly, you can reuse existing content by turning it into new formats without requiring a lengthy regulatory approval process. Turn a research paper presented at a conference into a series of infographics, Slideshares, or video for YouTube (have the writer or a company thought-leader read it on camera and mix in still graphics or slides with charts). Create Tweetable callout images from the key data that link to a page where people can read the entire report. Turn the presentation into an “interview” with the expert. Think about additional ways to present content that might appeal to your audience.

7. Get help.

If you need additional resources to ensure your content is appealing and also compliant, you might consider looking to outside experts. Look to outsourced resources who have experience writing for regulated industries and know the ins and outs of posting content to social media.

Have any other concerns?

Do you have other concerns about social media we didn’t address here? Ask us in the comments and we’ll be glad to help.

Get a free template for social media guidelines here.