How Content Strategy Plays a Major Role in Your Branding Efforts?

content marketing

Does your business have a content strategy yet?

If it doesn’t, you are losing out on a wonderful opportunity to improve brand awareness, reputation and authority. It is important not to confuse content strategy with content marketing although both are connected.

While content marketing is the process of placing quality content in front of your target audience to build deeper relationships, content strategy is a ‘mindset’ that according to Kristina Halvorson, the founder of Brain Traffic includes “planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content”.

Without a content strategy in place, there is very little chance your content marketing efforts will succeed. Your content strategy helps your business create a framework wherein your business and the needs of its customers are constantly evaluated to improve content production and the content processes that help produce this content.

The whole idea behind drawing up a content strategy is to ensure that the content is able to drive your brand‘s engagement with its target audience and takes your brand interaction to the next level.

Content Strategy and Your Brand

84 percent of marketers who aren’t finding success with their content marketing efforts say they do not have a documented content strategy in place.

Learning – Content strategy is of critical importance to brands if they are serious about their content marketing efforts.

Think about content strategy as something that helps you maximize the potential of your content. There are businesses/marketers, who think just writing content (high quality content) will help you rank in search engines, enhance the reputation of your business and help people identify your brand.

They are wrong.

You need a content strategy in place to leverage the immense potential of this content. A well-defined content strategy gives your content a sense of purpose and its own personality and identity. You must know who your target audience is and the kind of content they are looking for. A strategy is also needed to ensure your content is aligned with your business, its products and services and still caters to the needs of your target audience.

Content strategy also determines your writing style, choice of content format and how you will market this content to ensure your audience finds it when they are looking for it.

Not Just Content Strategy but an Effective Content Strategy

Not Just Content Strategy but an Effective Content Strategy

A content strategy is as good as its comprehensiveness. The components of an effective content strategy include the following:

  • Defining the Objectives

What are your objectives with respect to your content? Are you using it to build your brand’s niche authority or as a means of boosting your search engine rankings or something else? Also, what is the content format you want to use; will it be videos, blog content, online magazines, tutorials or pod casts amongst other formats?

You need to pick a format that your target audience can easily access and consume.

  • Defining Content Creators

Who will create the content? Will you have an in-house content writing team or outsource your requirements. If you do choose to outsource content creation, you will need to ensure you zero in on the right writer/team of writers.

  • Who is your audience?

Identify your audience, but don’t just identify the audience, you also need to understand them and what they expect from your content. You must also make sure your audience doesn’t receive content that overlaps with your existing marketing communication.

  • Distribution Strategy

How are you going to bring your content in front of your customers?

There are plenty of channels you can choose from, but more often than not, it is the content format that determines the channel you use. Explore the various channels available; make sure you know the strengths and costs of each and also ensure that your customers are active users of these channels. This will help you make an informed decision with respect to the content channel you choose and guarantee you make the most of it.

  • Identify Content Performance Metrics

How do you know your content strategy is working or not? This is where content metrics enter the equation. You need to zero in on the performance metrics of your content that will allow you to measure your success or failure. You must know whether your content is helping satisfy the needs of your customers and if you’ll need to refine your strategy.

At the end of the day you also need to take strategic inputs from every important stakeholder in your business to come up with a content strategy that delivers on your expectations.

Benefits to your Brand

  • Brand Reputation

Your customers are looking for high quality content. The kind of content that is useful, relevant and actionable. They want information that helps solve a problem and if your brand can provide a solution that enables them to take informed decisions, they’ll become loyal followers of your content. What you are also doing is using content as a means to trigger personal interactions with your brand. If they’ve come across a content piece they like and feel strongly about, they’ll comment on it, which can give rise to interesting discussions on your comment feed.

Your content acts as a bridge between your brand and its customers. Your brand comes to be identified with its content and if you consistently produce and publish content that adds value to the lives of your customers, it will be reflected in the enhanced reputation of your brand. Your content will be the ‘go-to content’ for a target audience looking for specific information.

  • Taming Search Engines

Google’s incessant efforts in improving search quality for users have meant it is not business as usual for webmasters and SEOs. They cannot get away with everything that they could get away with, a few years ago. Quality is the name of the game now.

Gone are the days when they could just fill up content with keywords and build links from just about any source and get away with it. What’s more, there was every chance their website would be rewarded with high rankings on SERPs.

Things have changed.

The focus is now on quality and earning natural links from authority online sources. And the one thing that helps make this possible is great content. The more high quality content you publish, the more backlinks you can attract from reputed websites/blogs. And this results in higher search engine rankings, which in turn means more website traffic thus improving your website’s chances of conversions.

And all this because of content!

  • Content for an Active Social Media Presence

sm

Social media marketing is the buzz word these days and why not. Just about every brand is using social media to boost its branding efforts and it is shareworthy content that lies at the very root of every successful social media campaign. When readers like your content, they want to share it with the people they know so that even their friends and family can benefit from this content. This means your content is shared, re-shared and then shared some more. Your content represents your brand, which means it’s not your content but your brand that is essentially going viral.

It’s all about compelling content

Your content strategy will go nowhere if you don’t have a sub-strategy to create compelling content in place. Compelling content is the kind that readers love going through. It’s not about creative excellence but about content excellence.

You need a certain kind of mindset to produce such content. You need to say to yourself that you want to be the leading provider of niche related information to your target customers. If you aim to play a leadership role as an information provider, you will make the necessary effort to satisfy the needs of your customers.

Think of your content like a product and judge its usefulness.  It needs to be high up on the utility scale if you want it to succeed. For this to happen, you’ll need to understand the kind of information your customers are searching for. You need to listen to the conversations happening around your domain (social media networks are great listening posts) and create content that revolves around these conversations.

To create compelling content you must be in sync with what your customers want. So make sure you know everything about them.

Tips to Keep in Mind While Implementing a Content Strategy

When you work out a content strategy for your brand, the next step is to implement it. But before you do, you need to keep a few tips in mind:

  • Content strategy requires different sections of your business to work as a team. Whether it’s your web design team, copywriting team, web development team, the public relations team or your marketing team – every single one of them should work together to make a decisive impact.
  • Understand that you are in it for the long haul and immediate results might not be forthcoming.
  • Make sure your writing matches the understanding of your target audience. The literacy levels of different people that belong to the same target audience group are different. So choose a writing style that can address the least common denominator in your audience. Writing not only includes the way you write but also the ideas you come up with and the research you do.
  • Make sure you stick to your strategy and not veer away from it during implementation. Otherwise it makes your job more difficult.
  • Your style must be your own. The tone and voice you adopt to make your point must reflect your brand personality. Do not ape somebody else’s writing tone or style. Create one of your own and work towards refining it every step of the way.
  • Mix up your formats but make sure you focus on your strengths. If you do not have the expertise to come up with some solid video content, don’t.  On the other hand, if your forte is topical white papers make sure you get one out on a regular basis. The idea is to not make any half-baked efforts with respect to the content you publish. Your customers are looking for the best information available and which makes good use of its content format; you need to be able to deliver the goods all the time. So don’t take chances.

To Conclude

Content strategy and your branding efforts need to keep pace with each other. In fact, for many brands it is content that is acting as the main fuel of their marketing efforts. It is a purely content driven marketing strategy and more often than not it is delivering the results they are looking for. Content helps your brand come out looking like an expert and somebody who has the ability to deliver on the expectations of its customers. This in a nutshell is why content strategy needs to be a part of your branding efforts.

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How to use images to improve customer engagement

Hand pointing at online streaming of imagesThe use of visual imagery is becoming an increasingly important part of online communication. The meteoritic growth  in social networking sites like Pinterest and Instagram illustrates just how significant images have become in increasing engagement and interaction amongst consumers.

Indeed, research shows that articles containing an image have, on average, 94% more total views  than articles without an image, indicating the power of a good image.

Psychologically, consumers love imagery, and seeing visually appealing things creates positive emotions. Most people — between 65 and 85 percent — also describe themselves as ‘visual learners,’ forming meaning and organizing thoughts based on what they see more so than what they read.” Trend Reports

According to Forbes, image-centric marketing will be one of the top online marketing trends for 2014. Therefore, understanding the potential benefits of images and using them effectively on your website and in your marketing can increase engagement and interaction amongst your customers. Images can help:

  • Grab people’s attention
  • Convey meaning quickly
  • evoke emotions
  • Illustrate a point
  • Make text-based articles more visually appealing by breaking up reams of text
  • Convey complex information in an easily digestible format (think infographics)
  • Showcase a product effectively online.

How to make the most of images online

Your website

The use of visual imagery on your website is essential. Not only are images valuable in terms of SEO, they are central in terms of engaging customers. Nobody is going to find a solely text-based website enticing. Using photos, illustrations, graphics, icons, infographics and videos are all great ways to improve the content of your website and as a result, increase its appeal to customers.

Your product pages are a key area to focus on, since images are one of the most important elements in a customer’s decision-making process. So, ensure you are using high-definition images and spend time thinking about how to showcase your products to their full advantage. Research shows:

  •  67% of consumers say that the quality of the image is very important when they are purchasing a product.
  • 63% of consumers  saying a good image is even more important than product specific information.

social media like imageSocial Media

Social media and images go hand-in hand, just look at the phenomenal success of Pinterest in recent years. Think about how you can use images to enhance your presence on all your social media sites.  For example,  when you are posting an update on Facebook, always  include an appropriate image, be it an update about a new product, service, staff change, industry news, special promotion or competition. Including an image will make it far more likely for your update to capture people’s attention and in turn generate more likes and comments.

Blogs

Putting an image right at the beginning of your blog post is a great way to pull readers in. A relevant  image can help readers understand what your post is about, help illustrate a point and stir-up an emotional response. Images are also a great way to break up text if you have a long blog. And don’t forget, images can also be used when you promote your blog post on your social media sites and in your email newsletters.

Infographics also work really well in blog posts. They’ve grown in popularity over recent years as they present statistics and research in an interesting, relevant and engaging way.

Email and Online Press Releases

People tend to skim through emails and online press releases, picking out the salient points. Therefore, using images is a great way to help you get your message across quickly, break up text and create engagement at the same time.

You Tube on ipadVideo marketing

And finally, don’t forget the moving image. Using video  is a great way to boost your search engine rankings (search engines love video).  It’s format is engaging and it is a great tool to use  if you need to educate or explain something to your customers – think product demonstrations and video tutorials. Just remember to put it up on YouTube as well as on your website.

What makes for a good image

Where possible try to avoid using staged business photos as you are more likely to capture people’s attention and get an emotional response by using real people, real-life situations, humour, interesting visuals or stunning photography. Take a look at which boards get the most re-pins on  Pinterest  and you’ll get a real feel for the type of images that really work.

Make sure you  add Alt Text to your images. This is essentially a concise and accurate description of the image and is used as alternative text when the image can not be displayed. This is important as:

  1.  it makes the image accessible to all users, including those that are visually impaired as screen readers can read the alternative text provided
  2.  it one of the factors that can help improve your SEO performance.

Sourcing images

There are plenty of low-cost  and free images available on the web, but if you are not using your own photos or images then you must be careful about copyright and get permission from the author. Look for royalty free stock images that are for commercial use. I’ve listed a few of the low-cost and free websites we use for images and they’ll  tell you whether an image requires an author credit or not.

FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stock.XCHNG

Dreamstime

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment

Image streaming image courtesy of  nokhoog_buchacon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

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YouTube on Tablet image courtesy of Winnond at Freedigitalphotos.net

Small business guide to marketing planning part 3: Objectives and strategy

world map and compassTo give your business direction and enable it to move forward, you need to have a clear idea of your goals, objectives and strategy . You may have a general idea of where you’d like your business to be in one, two or five years time, but without setting specific targets you may find you lose track of where you’re going and have no way to measure the success of what you are doing.

So, welcome to part 3 of our small business guide to marketing planning. In Part 1, we  looked at the importance of marketing planning and how using a framework such as SOSTAC can help you build your small business marketing plan. Part 2 discussed the first step in marketing planning – situational analysis and examined the question ‘Where are you now?’ This post looks at the importance of  setting objectives and how to formulate your strategy by thinking about ‘Where do you want to be?’ and ‘How do you want to you get there?’

Where do you want to be?

Having undertaken your situational analysis you should have a pretty solid idea about where your business currently stands. You’ll have a good understanding of your customers, the marketplace and your competitors.  You’ll also be aware of  your business’ strengths and weaknesses, alongside any opportunities or threats that may be on the horizon. All this analysis will help you mould your goals and objectives. These may include wider, long-term goals such as your business mission and vision as well as more specific short to medium term objectives.

So for example; say your situational analysis has identified that one of your weaknesses is that you have only a small database of prospective clients,  one of your goals over the year is likely to be to grow your database. Put into a specific short-term objective that you can focus your strategy and tactics around, your objective could be something along the lines of:

  • To increase ‘prospects database’ contacts by 25% by 30th June 2014.

SMART objectives

To make you your objectives both useful and relevant, you need to make them SMART. This way it is clear to everybody what the target you are progressing towards is.

  • Specific – objectives should be detailed and specific to a particular area – not vague or wishy-washy as that will make them impossible to measure.
  • Measurable – the objective should be able to be quantified.
  • Achievable – is the objective likely to be achieved or have you overestimated targets?
  • Realistic – do you have the resources, time, budget to make the objective happen?
  • Timely – you need to have a specific target time frame to work to.

How do you get there?

Now you know ‘where you want to be’ through setting clear goals and objectives, you need to think about how you’re going to get there. Strategy is driven by your situational analysis and is essentially about how you intend to go about meeting the objectives you’ve set.  So in our example our objective was to increase the number of contacts on our database. Therefore we are likely to want to drive more traffic to our website, which may well mean improving our search engine visibility and ranking. Our strategy will be thinking about the best ways to do this. This may include looking at:

  • Customer segmentation and target marketing strategy. Probably the key element when formulating your strategy is your customers and segmenting them into clearly defined customer groups by identifying the different behaviour and needs of each group. You will have looked at segmenting your customers as part of your situational analysis, so your strategy should then focus on how you intend to target your marketing to each customer segment.
  • Your positioning and OVP ( Online Value proposition): Where is your business positioned within the market and what is it that makes your e-commerce offering stand out from your competitors? How can you exploit this to your advantage?
  • Content strategy:  So if your strategy is to drive traffic to your website,  you will want to improve your search engine ranking and therefore you will need to look at SEO (search engine optimisation) . Content is absolutely central to SEO And so you will need to think about ways to improve your online content.

Your strategy is all about what actions are you going to undertake to ensure you achieve you objectives.  Your next step will be defining the tactics you are going to use (the tactics element of the SOSTAC framework will be part 4 of our marketing planning guide).

So, how does all this fit into the SOSTAC framework?

Going back to our earlier example objective of growing our prospective database, lets look at it in the context of the SOSTAC  framework :

Situational Analysis

1. Where are you now?

SWOT analysis  identified that the current prospects database was poor

Objectives

2. Where do you want to be?

SMART objective: To increase ‘prospects database’ contacts by 25% by 30th June 2014

Strategy

3. How do we get there?

 Strategy: To drive traffic to our website in order to data capture new names and achieve our objective of growing our prospects database by 25%.

Tactics

4. How exactly do we get there?

What marketing tactics will we use in order to drive traffic to our website and data capture new names for our database?

Actions

5. What is our plan – who is going to do what and when?

Who is taking responsibility for our tactics. What is the schedule and timeframe required in order to meet our objective’s deadline? What is the budget? What resources do we have?

Control

6. How are we going to measure our success?

We need to be able to measure our performance through analysis such as, KPI, web analytics, conversion rates in order to be able clearly measure whether we have met our objectives.

Part 4 of our Small Business Guide to Marketing Planning will be looking at marketing tactics.

Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment

Content is still King

Content ImageEngaging, high quality content is central to successful marketing and key to attracting and retaining customers. The phrase ‘content is king’ has been heralded in digital marketing circles for a good few years now. But what exactly does it mean and why is it so important for online businesses?

Content and content marketing

From an online perspective, content is essentially all the information you communicate to your customers and prospects. For example in terms of a web page content is the text, design and images used to convey information. If your content is interesting and engaging you are more likely to attract and retain customers, hopefully achieving repeat visits.

“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audiencewith the objective of driving profitable customer action.” Content Marketing Institute

In the past marketing messages were primarily ‘pushed‘ out to customers through traditional media channels such as print, TV, radio and direct mail . The onset of new media has enabled businesses to interact directly with their customers, creating what is essentially a two-way dialogue. It is now primarily customers who are in control, since they actively seek out information on the web and are often the first to initiate contact. Visibility and interaction are key as online businesses need to find ways to ‘pull-in’ customers to their web presence. Content is an integral element of any online marketing. Whatever marketing tactic you are using, be it SEO (search engine optimisation), branding, PR, social media, inbound marketing or email, content is central to its effectiveness.

Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed Google Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide

How to improve content –  where do you start?

A good place to begin is to spend some time looking at your current offering. This would mean evaluating all the elements that make up your content – from web text and graphics to sales, product and marketing copy.  Is your content:

  • Useful and informative to your customers?
  • Up-to-date, relevant and accurate?
  • Professional, with no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors?
  • Interacting  and engaging with your customers?

Since content is central to pretty much everything you do online, it is worth looking at your content as a whole rather than as lots of separate bits and pieces of information. That way you have a complete picture and can formulate a strategy for your content. And remember, content needs to be reviewed and managed on a regular, on-going basis.

What makes good quality content

Although link building and keyword optimisation still important for SEO purposes, the days of keyword stuffing your content have well and truly passed.  It is quality content that determines how a website is ranked by the likes of Google.

 interesting sites will increase their recognition on their own” Google Search Engine Optimisation Guide

When creating content always keep your existing and prospective customers in mind. If you are generating content for them you are likely to be ticking the ranking criteria for search engines. Good content is essentially about engaging your customers and encouraging them to share. You can do this through keeping your content informative, engaging, easy to digest,  fresh, interesting, interactive, relevant, original and useful. There is a great infographic from Skyword that summarises the essentials of good content as the ‘Three S’s of successful content: Searchable, Snackable and Shareable’. Essentially this means content should be optimised for relevant keywords and phrases (again, this does not mean keyword stuffing!), it should be catchy and bite sized so it meets the demand for ‘on-the-go’ information and compelling enough for readers to want to share.

Ideas for creating quality, engaging content

There are lots of  ways  you can generate quality content for your customers. SmartInsights have created a ‘Content Marketing Matrix’ that is packed full of content ideas to help “Entertain, Inspire, Convince and Educate” customers. It has lots of excellent ideas so is well worth a look. Outlined below are a few ideas to get you thinking about how your business can create fresh, engaging and interesting content that is relevant to your customers and prospects.

  • Engaging in interactive social media such as Facebook or  Google+
  • Creating a blog that contains interesting, digestible information that is appropriate  to your market
  • Publishing market research findings such as trend reports and providing downloadable whitepapers 
  • Regular, informative email newsletters informing customers of your latest news, offers, products or services
  • Entertain customers by running competitions or quizzes
  • Online press-releases  to keep your customers, potential customers and industry contacts informed of developments within your business
  • Creating interesting infographics and visuals
  • Producing online videos such as useful tutorials or demonstrations
  • Introducing an online community discussion forum

Content looks set to remain a key factor for any business looking to succeed online, so spending  time making it as engaging as you possibly can, is time very well spent.

 

We’d really love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment.