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TL;DR

MarTechExec takeaway

"Content marketing is about so much more than just making content. More than anything, it's about providing value to the right customers, when, where and how they need it. Content marketing is essentially the guiding force that leads them through each stage of the customer journey." – Lana K. Moore, Executive Editor at MarTechExec (@martechexec

Definition

Content marketing is a strategic marketing process that aims to drive audience segments through the customer journey. To do this, content marketing requires a consistent delivery of relevant, interesting and timely content across the Awareness, Consideration, Decision and Loyalty stages.

Guiding principles

Follow in your customers' footsteps

Use the different stages of the customer journey to drive all your content marketing efforts. Create a customer journey map to pinpoint your customers’ thoughts, emotions and needs at each stage.

Don’t create for creation’s sake

Abide by your customer journey map when creating content. Optimize your media, message and delivery methods for each stage. Develop a clear purpose for every piece of content before your team starts working on it.

Flexibility is everything

Allow your content marketing strategy to evolve over time. Keep a pulse on the performance of your content marketing efforts, but remember to cater your KPIs to the objectives of each customer journey stage.


What's content marketing?

To be frank, people often treat the “marketing” part of “content marketing” like a silent vowel.

They either don’t realize or don’t want to accept that content marketing transcends the simple creation of content. And even the most experienced martech professionals are guilty of this backwards thinking.

Content vs. content marketing

Content marketing is a multistep and continuous process that’s woven throughout your content’s lifecycle — from creation to distribution to analysis.

Whereas content is tangible, content marketing is intangible. Content is blog posts, webinars, infographics, GIFs. Content marketing is wind in your content’s sails, so to speak — delivering your content to the right place, at the right time and to the right people, effectively.

A crash course on content marketing vocab

The first step in mastering content marketing involves learning its “language.”

For the sake of our commitment to clarity, we assembled this list of the most vital content marketing terms you need to know:

Lead magnet

Lead magnets attract new leads by offering goodies they just can’t resist. Lead magnets ask that customers provide their contact information in exchange for valuable content.

Content upgrade

Like lead magnets, content upgrades offer your customers an incentive for providing their personal information. But unlike lead magnets, content upgrades relate to specific pieces of existing content.

Landing page

A landing page is a destination to which you send prospects to take a specific action.

Evergreen content

Evergreen content covers foundational information, which means it never goes out of date.

Micro-content

Micro-content refers to small, snackable chunks of content, like photos, GIFs and factoids.

Touchpoint

A touchpoint is any digital interaction between a user and your brand.

Customer journey

The customer journey is the path a customer takes from first touchpoint to last touchpoint, i.e. conversion.

The customer journey: From linear to labyrinth

Like Stephen Hawking once said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” Smart marketers seize shifts in customer behavior and act on them — no matter how daunting they may seem.

Classic example: Netflix.

The now $70 billion company adapted to the changing needs of movie lovers – like its founder, Reed Hastings, who recognized a fault in the renting model after paying $40 in late fees for Apollo 13.

To say the company’s change in direction paid off would be the understatement of the century.

A new era in content marketing

As illustrated by Netflix, we don’t market like we used to because customers don’t buy things like they used to.

Once upon a time, touchpoints were few and far between, and the customer journey was linear. But an increase in “pricing, technology, and programming options” lead to more touchpoints — digital doorways that gave us direct access to our target audiences.

It’s a double-edged sword, though. Sure, we have an unprecented number of channels through which to reach our target audience. But because of this, our customers are more dispersed and more indecisive than ever before.

In order to grab customers’ attention, we need to get in their crosshairs. And in order for them to take a shot on us, we have to convince them that they should.

How the customer journey guides content marketing

Although B2C companies, like Netflix, approach content marketing a bit differently than do B2B companies, both groups’ priorities remain the same. Today, all content marketers abide by one core philosophy: Be known, be found, be chosen.

As illustrated in this chart from eMarketer, both B2C and B2B companies prioritize brand awareness (Be known), search engine visibility (Be found) and lead generation (Be chosen).

To achieve these goals while navigating the madness of the new customer journey, content marketers engage in an activity which maps that journey, conveniently dubbed customer journey mapping.

In layman’s terms, customer journey mapping is the process of applying your buyer personas to the new customer journey. You “map” the path your customers take to conversion, then break up your content marketing strategy into the journey’s different parts, or stages.

This customer journey map from PPG Web Solutions illustrates the major differences between stages in the journey.

Something to note: There are tons of variations of the customer journey. For our purposes, we’re going to talk about the customer journey in four stages: Awareness, Consideration, Decision and Loyalty.

Stage 1: Awareness

The awareness stage occurs first in the customer journey. It represents the period of time between a customer acknowledging a problem and searching for a solution to that problem.

Creating content to drive awareness

This is the time to make customers aware of the problem your business solves. Think of awareness stage content as a “teaser” — It draws attention, makes an impression and leaves the customer wanting more. It’s short, sweet and to-the-point.

Popular awareness stage content includes:

  • Blog posts
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Quizzes
  • Checklists
  • Display and native ads

This sponsored post from Dell appeared on The New York Times website.

Promoting content to drive awareness

If you want to be seen by customers in this stage, you need to get in their crosshairs. That means understanding where they go looking for information and how to position yourself there.

Popular awareness stage channels include:

Evaluating content to drive awareness

Awareness stage metrics will confirm how well your content garnered attention. Most of these metrics are pretty surface-level, e.g. what you’d find in any basic analytics report.

Popular awareness stage metrics include:

  • Referral traffic
  • Social shares
  • Channel engagement
  • PPC clicks

Stage 2: Consideration

The consideration stage starts when the customer goes beyond broad research about their problem and starts looking into specific paths to a solution. This is also when they start compiling and comparing solution providers.

Creating content to drive consideration

Position yourself front-and-center in the customer’s search with content that promotes your solution. Give the customer an idea of what to expect from a relationship with your business.

By all means, do promote your actual solution. But also feel free to “humble brag” about your customer service, community outreach, innovative ideas, etc.

Popular consideration stage content includes:

  • Product demos
  • Tutorials
  • Webinars
  • Testimonials
  • Free samples or trials

GetResponse used expert testimonials in conjunction with a free trial offer to reel customers in.

Promoting content to drive consideration

Consideration stage content follows a similar strategy as awareness stage content – getting in front of the right eyes, at the right time, at the right place. But content promoted during this stage goes a step further by targeting smaller, more defined audiences.

These audiences have already demonstrated an interest in your type of solution — Now, it’s time to get acquainted.

Popular consideration stage channels include:

  • Your website or blog
  • Social media
  • Conferences
  • In-store events

Evaluating content to drive consideration

Consideration stage metrics tell you the depth of interest your content achieves. These metrics go beyond the simple clicks and shares of the awareness stage, instead tracking the performance of more specific goals.

Popular consideration stage metrics include:

  • Registrations
  • Click-Through and Open Rates
  • Content downloads
  • New vs. returning website visitors

Stage 3: Decision

As it sounds, the decision stage occurs when a customer is ready to make a purchase from one of the previously researched solution providers. Customers in this stage place an emphasis on ease of transaction, customer service and company credibility.

Creating content to drive decision

Put the icing on your content marketing cake by promoting your most flattering materials. Convince the customer that your solution is the best solution with hard facts, credible assessments and expert reviews.

Pardot interviewed one of its thought leaders for a Q&A post about marketing automation.

Popular decision stage content includes:

  • Expert Q&A
  • Case studies
  • Product specs
  • ROI calculator
  • Whitepapers
  • Pitch decks
  • Cart abandonment emails

Promoting content to drive decision

Customers interested in your specific solution will seek you out — most likely on your website, through unbiased review sites or a combination a both.

You want to bring home the bacon? Then bring your best content to the table. And by table, I mean the aforementioned channels.

Popular decision stage channels include:

  • Email
  • Landing pages
  • Industry organization websites
  • Review websites

Evaluating content to drive decision

The bottom line on evaluating decision stage content is how it affects, well, your bottom line. Even a million views on your expert interview video or 100,000 ebook downloads don’t mean anything if they don’t lead to conversions.

That said, evaluating decision stage content requires looking at the more sales-y metrics — You know, the not-as-sexy-but-absolutely-vital stuff.

Popular decision stage metrics include:

  • Deals won vs. lost
  • Upsell and cross-sell rates
  • Conversion attribution

Stage 4: Loyalty

The loyalty stage starts at the moment of purchase and includes all customer-brand interactions thereafter. Skimping on loyalty content isn’t a death sentence. But research shows that prioritizing and optimizing it results in more repeat purchases, referrals and engagements.

Creating content to drive loyalty

Loyalty stage content aims to please. It rewards customers for repeat purchases by offering exclusive deals and resources. Use this content to show appreciation for your customers, while also continuing to sell yourself and the versatility of your solution(s).

Popular loyalty stage content includes:

  • Coupons
  • Giveaways
  • Surveys
  • Loyalty programs

Sephora used marketing automation to tailor VIP offers to repeat customers.

Promoting content to drive loyalty

Send loyalty stage content direct to customers through email, direct mail or within their account on your website. This ensures they won’t miss it. You can even personalize your loyalty content based on the customer’s purchase habits, like Sephora did in the example above.

Popular loyalty stage channels include:

  • Email
  • Direct mail
  • Product pages
  • Checkout page

Evaluating content to drive loyalty

Similar to decision stage metrics, loyalty stage metrics gauge how well your content keeps customers active.

Popular loyalty stage metrics include:

  • Churn rate
  • Purchase frequency
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Customer referrals

Content marketing hurdles

Considering how many pieces make up the content marketing puzzle, it should come as no surprise that expertise is tough to achieve.

And as martech evolves, keeping up to speed with content marketing only gets harder. Research shows that these hurdles, in particular, cause content marketers the most distress.

Creating valuable content

According to eMarketer, 33 percent of U.S. creative/marketing professionals struggle to create valuable content. Interestingly enough, 43 percent of the same group said their content marketing challenges were caused by lack of bandwidth.

“It is a complex dance to be able to create a non commercial article that also discretely promotes the company and its products while ensuring thought leadership for the author.” – Mark Shapiro, President at SRS Tech PR

“Attention is a resource, and it becomes more valuable every day. Content that targets market segments on a personal level will rise above the noise of bland, broad, boring content every time.” – Tim Jernigan, Head of Product Marketing at Badger Maps

“As the landscape becomes more saturated, new media will be the way to break through. We've already seen mediums like interactive infographics and dynamic landing pages pick up steam over the past few years.” – Denise Chan, Senior Content and Community Manager at Bitly

Shifting gears

As the saying goes, if you can’t change your situation, change your perspective. Marketers need to shift their thinking on how content is created — and by who. Otherwise, we’re doomed to join the 90 percent of companies experiencing a creative talent gap.

“We need to prepare ourselves to work with at least three types of colleagues who don’t exist yet in many companies: content strategists, content engineers, and data scientists.” – Marcia Riefer Johnston, Managing Editor of Content Strategy at Content Marketing Institute

“Right now, many companies are struggling with how to plan, invest in, implement and document the outcomes of their content marketing campaigns. More and more content strategists are being hired, but those roles are evolving.” – Megan James, Content Strategist at MGID

Keeping customers consistently engaged

By 2020, researchers predict that customers will care more about customer experience than price or product. Exciting? Of course. Challenging? Most definitely. In fact, 87 percent of customers think brands should dedicate more effort to creating a consistent experience.

“Social media and chat bots – and, in the not so distant future, VR/AR – these can all send mixed messages to the buyer. Marketing teams need to rethink how they can create the most effective content possible, keeping in mind the various ways it could be accessed.” – David Keane, Chief Executive Officer at Bigtincan

“It's not enough to simply write something. You'll then need to repurpose that content for Instagram, Snapchat, a podcast, an infographic, VR, and any other number of mediums in order to reach your audience and grab attention.” – Justin Hussong, SEO Content Editor at Ranker

“Younger generations will be won over by brands with the largest and most relevant online presence. This can be achieved by both the most established brands and the newest ones alike. Brands with a more passive approach to content marketing, regardless of their pre-internet reputation, will struggle to survive in an increasingly digital world.” – Chris Leone, Chief Operating Officer and President at WebStrategies, Inc.

Adapting to new technology

One glance at Gartner’s latest Hype Cycle tells us all we need to know about the rapid evolution of martech. Trends change like the wind, and it’s on us to ride it out.

According to eMarketer, 33 percent of senior executives worldwide struggle to adopt new technologies.

"Currently, there are only a handful of Skills available for Amazon Alexa that feel well-considered and designed specifically for the platform. I bet that more and more companies will jump on the Alexa Skill bandwagon and focus their audio content creation towards these channels, because marketers haven’t ruined them yet." – Shana Haynie, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Vulpine Interactive

“The biggest single issue, from my perspective, is a lack of integration of content marketing technology into other systems, such as project management, social media management and CMS management. It's very much a hodgepodge and badly in need of signification rationalization.” – Scott Baradell, President and Founder at Idea Grove

“Google is designing algorithms that understand the heart, body, and soul of a customer. So, we need to create content for the customer, not for search results." – Anna Crowe, Marketing Manager at Firesnap, Inc.

Content marketing for the future

How can we expect content marketing to change over the next 3-5 years? We posed this same question to content marketing experts, influencers and practitioners.

They had some interesting things to say...

We’ll rethink the role of content marketing

Recent studies show that the majority of content marketing teams are less than five years old. And of those, more than a third “have recently switched which team they report to.” This trend is indicative of a transformation in our industry, during which we’ll redefine the requirements and scope of this role.

“Content teams will be comprised of not just writers but developers, designers, artificial intelligence engineers, SEOs, and videographers as well. These content teams will have access to more resources to create more innovative content types far beyond writing.” – Maja Stevanovich, Executive Vice President at Mungo Creative Group

“In the next three to five years, each major social media platform will begin to shift toward selling space for brands to sell products. For marketers, it will be a perfect blend of ‘editorial’ and 'advertising.’ It’s the next logical progression where branded content is available automatically for consumption or purchase straight from within the social media.” – Jake Messier, CEO and Partner at HEARD Strategy & Storytelling

“You’ll see technologies like chatbots and account-based marketing platforms rise to prominence alongside more tried and true marketing automation, as marketers are getting creative in their customer engagement and no longer relying solely on “inbound marketing.” – Chris Lang, President at Bynder USA

Content creation will get smarter

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Valuable content delivers. Content can only be “king” so long as it offers something worth consuming. But we can’t — or rather, we shouldn’t — presuppose what our customers consider “worthy” content. More marketers will soon come to understand that the best content is born from science and sincerity.

“The content marketing industry will see new technological revolutions by leveraging AI to analyze content and suggest formats, distribution channels, and content sequences so that users are presented with the exact piece of content that is most likely to move them forward in the buying cycle at the exact right time.” – Wes Marsh, Director of Digital Marketing at Solodev

“The intersection of social media and AI will present many new opportunities for content marketers. AI will be used to collect and sift through customer history, user-generated content, and data from social media channels to generate more relevant content.” – Albizu Garcia, Chief Executive Officer at GAIN

“Marketers will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to discover market trends, consumer needs and micro-moments for different persona types. Content that is self aware and self-adjusting to improve critical factors, like content discovery and engagement, will be one such solution I expect to emerge.” – Kevin Bobowski, Senior Vice President of Marketing at BrightEdge

More data will increase personalization

Targeted and personalized content is by far the most effective form of content marketing, according to eMarketer. And though only 6 percent of senior marketers consider their personalization strategy to be “advanced,” 84 percent have some base strategy in place.

Personalization pays off, though. More than 75 percent of US internet users said personally relevant content increases their purchase intent to some degree.

“In the next 3-5 years, my prediction for content marketing, and all forms of marketing, is that it will become more data-driven. The idea that certain content appeals to some people more than it appeals to others is not a new construct. However, given the accelerating pace of cookie collection, those people will see targeted content like never before.” – Vincent DeCastro, Chief Executive Officer at SEO my Business

“The ability to personalize content is only going to improve in the next 3-5 years. It's easier to run personalization when you're a huge company with trillions of data points, like Amazon. But the smaller players, and other industries, are only going to evolve to get better, as well.” – Alexander Kesler, Founder and President at INFUSE Media

“With advances in chatbots and artificially intelligent applications, marketers will be able to more readily match the nuances of every micro-moment and touchpoint with an audience – to the point where their content will become atmospheric.” – Justin McKinley, Director of Content Marketing at ClearVoice

Video will steal the crown

More than 60 percent of US digital marketers deemed visual content “absolutely necessary” to their marketing strategy. In addition, both US agencies and brand ad buyers plan to invest the majority of their digital spending in video.

“Currently, we notice a huge demand for video, the demand that is not going to exhaust any time soon. Video will become an ultimate way for companies to communicate with their customers since it allows for a more human connection.” – Olga Bedrina, Content Marketing Manager at Animatron

“We are already seeing media publications like newspapers and TV stations push their anchors and writers to add video onto their stories. The same will hold true for content marketers. Video will be king in the next 3-5 years.” – Jason Parks, President at The Media Captain

“VR/AR allows customers to interact with a brand in a more personal and memorable way. Whether it is experiencing a new place to live or better understanding a company’s mission, virtual reality and augmented reality are technologies that give marketers new ways of making a lasting impression.” – Kimberly Toole, Marketing Manager at Media Frenzy Global

Why brands love content marketing

More than 70 percent of marketers increased content creation and spending in 2017. And that’s no fluke.

Wondering why so many marketers bet big on content marketing? And how they justify the massive effort it takes to do it well? Keep reading for some of the many benefits of content marketing.

Ideal for penny-pinchers

Content marketing proves its cost efficiency time and time again. Not only is the initial investment low, but the potential to repurpose content gives content marketing an impressive ROI. According to KO Marketing, both on-site and off-site content marketing score higher returns than PPC, email marketing and social media marketing.

“Many e-commerce retailers have also found that low-budget videos on YouTube can drive higher engagement levels than overly refined high-quality studio produced content. Authenticity is a critical factor, so create video content that is a benefit to them – it will pay off in the long run.” – Wes Marsh, Director of Digital Marketing at Solodev

SEO-to-go

According to Content Marketing Institute, the top-performing content marketers see 7.8 times more site traffic than their underperforming counterparts. And it’s not only original content giving these sites a boost — More than 50 percent of marketers who use curated content say it also improves their SEO.

“In recent years, we have seen content marketing and SEO shift towards a human-centric approach. Keyword stuffing is (thankfully!) a thing of the past. Along with readers, search engines, too, value relevant, informational, well-written content. In a nutshell: content that offers actual value to its readers.” – Adriana Tica, Chief Executive Officer at Idunn

“Where content marketing on search engines can be most helpful is when it puts you in front of customers before they are comparing potential suppliers. Establishing contact with a potential customer at this point gives you a chance to illustrate your credibility and generate leads earlier in the buyer journey. This type of helpful thought-leadership content is also one of the easier types to promote, so it can help you build links that can naturally improve your rankings on those coveted commercial terms.” – Marcus Miller, Managing Director at Bowler Hat

Inevitably credible

Both credibility and content value are primary drivers for B2B customers. According to eMarketer, 84 percent of B2B decision-makers engage with thought leadership content that’s sent to them by someone they respect. 78 percent of the same group said they engage with thought leadership content that proposes new ideas.

“Over the next 3-5 years, content marketing will be refined, with an emphasis on quality over quantity. We've seen a trend where Google is providing less and less information on the updates they make changes to their algorithms, but we do know that their end goal to is to serve what they think is the end user's intent, and that's what content marketing will need to focus on.” – RaShea Drake, Content Strategist at Verizon

“As that company's brand recognition increases, so too will their market share. There is a company no one has heard of right now that is developing a content marketing strategy that will make them the darling of their industry in 5 years, and it is the obligation of CEO's and CMO's to make sure that this company is them.”– Anthony Curren, Sales and Marketing Manager at Rick Curren Auto Sales

Reuse, relate, retarget

Many of the most effective forms of content marketing double as great remarketing tools — Free trials, downloads and registrations, to name a few. These data-gathering tools, also known as lead magnets or gated content, provide your marketing department with an endless stream of valuable customer data.

Content marketers use this data to launch retargeting campaigns tailored to specific audience segments. And the more data collected from your content marketing efforts, the larger your potential retargeting audience. According to PPC Mode, the ROI of retargeting is double that of standard display ads.

“Consumers love a VIP experience, and brands are always looking for ways to track and measure their marketing campaigns. The combination of the two will culminate in content that is unique to the consumer’s location and interests. In this way, the dynamic aspect of technology will create new and easy functions to target and retarget consumers with short or long-form pieces of content.” – Tracy Julien, Vice President of Marketing at GuidedChoice

Final thoughts

Let’s be honest, content marketers — our job is tough. We strive to create omnipresent brands within a labyrinth of media channels that grows more complex by the day.

But the advent of marketing tools and technologies, like remarketing, VR and AI, opens up a whole new world of possibilities that enables us to be known, be found and be chosen.

Rest assured, though, that this trifecta is far from unattainable. Given the right map, the right messaging and the right medium, our content marketing efforts can reach their maximum potential.