In 1885, Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Grover Cleveland was inaugurated as president of the United States. The Statue of Liberty arrived in New York City…
And content marketing was born.
John Deere released the first issue of its magazine, “The Furrow,” to position themselves as an authority in the agricultural space by providing information and advice to farmers. (A furrow, as I found out after looking it up, is a trench made by a plow for irrigation and planting seeds.)
Source: Contently, where you can read more about the history of The Furrow, and in which the magazine is referred to as “the agrarian version of Rolling Stone.”
Despite the changes in technology, advances in understanding human psychology, and growing consumer expectations, the cornerstone of content marketing remains the same: to provide valuable content without — or with only a touch of — a sales pitch in order to build authority, community, and trust.
Content marketing caught on fast and has stuck with us over the last 135 years because it works.
In fact, even The Furrow is still around! What has changed is that marketers have refined their processes, learned to become more strategic and focused, and improved ways to measure the value of their efforts.
Content marketing isn’t easy. But with stalwart commitment and a lot of elbow grease, it is more than possible. So let’s fast-forward 135 years to look at the state of content marketing in 2020 and how you can build a strategy engine that works for your business.
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing focuses on the creation and distribution of content to attract and retain customers. It’s one form of inbound marketing, which Hubspot defines as a strategy to “attract prospects and customers to your website.”
In other words, it brings users to you, instead of you going to them through direct marketing, social advertising, search engine marketing, and display advertising.
70% of your audience prefers to learn about products through content they seek out — not ads that are served to them.
Brands today are investing in content marketing more than ever before. 59% of respondents to a mid-2018 survey reported that they expected to increase their content marketing budgets between 2019-2020.
The goal of any content marketing effort should be to answer your audience’s questions where they’re looking for them — via a search engine, social media network, or other — in a way that’s tailored for each stage of the buyer’s journey.
Do that well, and it will build your brand, drive customers to your website, and generate more leads. It can also build customer trust in and affinity for your brand — which improves customer retention rates — and brings long-term benefits for search engine optimization (SEO).
“In today’s industry, meaningful content is a must. Your potential consumer wants and needs to feel in control of their shopping experience. Be genuine, because consumers know when you’re too commercial and pushing to sell. So it is very important to create a bond with customers, educate and share your beautiful story through landing pages, videos, tutorials, infographics and blogs. If you explain to your consumer you have what they need and they believe in it, you will have a lifelong loyal customer.”
— Elyse Smith, Project Manager, DigitlHaus Agency
Common Content Types in Content Marketing startegies
There’s more to content marketing than just blog articles and social media posts — much more. Here are 9 types of content you can consider if you’re doing content marketing in e-commerce. You don’t have to do it all; choose a few types that are right for your business, that align with your marketing goals, and that your marketing team can do well.
Blogs can be used to answer popular consumer questions, tell stories about your brand and customers, and provide updates on product features and launches. They are also one of the best ways to build SEO value, so at least part of the strategy is often built around keyword research.
“Your blog opens up your website to be found for thousands of keywords with considerably more search volume than your product pages alone — this is where you get people aware of your brand, collect backlinks (for SEO), capture email address (for email coupons and retargeting on ads), and so much more. It hurts my heart to see how many brands miss this critical piece to building their eCommerce empire.”
— William Harris, Founder & CEO, Elumynt
Organic social media marketing content is a great way to engage with customers, build brand awareness, and secure and nurture leads. You can also use social networks as a method of distribution for other types of content, like blog posts, videos, and infographics. Useful, high-quality content is likely to be shared among networks, expanding your reach even further.
“Trust in advertising and brands has declined so consumers are increasingly relying on recommendations from their friends and family to determine where to shop. Combined with ever-increasing CPCs on social platforms, and organic social sharing strategy is critical to cutting through the noise with trusted messaging from real, happy customers.”
— Steve Deckert, Co-Founder, Smile.io
One of the challenges of e-commerce versus an in-store experience is that customers aren’t able to ask real-time questions. Use buying guides to educate consumers on your product categories and help visitors make informed decisions without being too salesy.
Infographics communicate information in a visual way, either as a standalone piece of content or to promote blog articles, buying guides, and more. The advantage of infographics is that they are easily consumable and shareable.
Videos are one of the most popular forms of consumable content today and can be used at several stages of the funnel. At the top and middle of the funnel, aim to inform and entertain. At the middle of the funnel, give consumers a better view of your product in action.
“Video is a medium that enables you to tell that story on a completely different level than a blog or photography.”
— Alex Kubo, VP of Ecommerce and Digital Marketing, Burrow
Videos are also great for your SEO strategy. YouTube is the second-most popular search engine in the world, just behind Google.
Podcasts are relatively inexpensive to produce and can be a great addition to your marketing mix if your target audience aligns and if you have something of unique value to offer. They can help you establish brand authority and expand your reach.
Quizzes and tools.
Quizzes and tools can be used across B2B and B2C to help buyers make informed decisions (“Which riflescope is right for me?”) or even just to entertain.
BigCommerce merchant Bushnell wants to make sure visitors to their site have the resources to find what they need. Buyer’s guides and quizzes can help buyers new to the category learn what they’re looking for and help more experienced buyers more quickly zero in on exactly what they want.
Category descriptions refer to the content included on your product category pages. These pages are a great place to build SEO value, particularly for long-tail keywords. These long-tail keywords may have less search volume but they tend to have a higher purchase intent.
“Use semantic, human-readable language that isn’t overly specific to your brand. If you sell apparel, call your categories by what people would look for in a store — ‘T-Shirts, Jackets, and Pants’ work so much better than ‘Stylish Tops, Winter Warmer Uppers, and Leg Accessories.’”
— Brandon Jones, Business Unit Director, Salted Stone
Think of category pages as middle-of-the-funnel content — your user wants to buy a product like yours, they just need to get to know your brand story and view your available offerings.
Product descriptions are the copy on product-specific pages that convince your visitors to purchase. These descriptions need to provide all the information a user would get from shopping in-store — benefits and features, product specifications like size and weight, and descriptions of possible use cases.
BigCommerce merchant TrainingMask knows their customers want scientific proof that the product does what it says it does — so they provide it on their product pages. They have information about not just benefits, but the features that get you there.
What Are the Benefits of Content Marketing?
As competition for consumer attention increases, it’s getting more difficult to acquire and retain through traditional marketing methods like direct marketing and advertising. Content marketing provides consumers with extra value by educating or entertaining them. By providing information that is genuinely interesting to them, you’re more likely to draw them in and bring them back time and time again. Content marketing is widely used and highly successful across B2C businesses. According to a 2020 report from Content Marketing Institute, three out of four marketers report their organization’s content marketing is at least moderately successful.
“Videos, blogs, and social postings that show your products in action create opportunities for your customers to relate and identify a need in their own lives. It shows the type of person who uses your products and the context in which those products are valuable. Plus, it adds a certain amount of legitimacy to your brand, especially when your content has engagement from customers through blog comments, social media followers, and the like.”
— Ryan Garrow, Director of Partnerships & Client Solutions, Logical Position
Building SEO value.
Consistently publishing high quality content is one of the best ways to build brand and domain authority — with both your customers and with search engines. Just remember that this doesn’t happen overnight. It takes consistency, quality, and volume.
More posts mean more pages for Google to index, leading to more potentially ranking keywords. If you rank for more keywords, you’ll attract more inbound traffic.
“Invest in SEO as quickly as possible. With a new domain you may not see that organic traffic build for quite some time, but the faster you start the faster you can bring down that PPC budget.”
— Joe Chilson, Head Writer and Project Manager, 1Digital
Engaging prospects and customers without selling.
One of the keys to providing a smooth buyer’s journey is to begin by providing value and sparking engagement without a hard sell. Think of it as a service you’re providing that has the added benefit of keeping your brand top-of-mind.
“So many people are engaging with online influencers who are acting like brands. Brands need to begin acting like online influencers and building communities. The best way to do this is through content.”
— Steve Deckert, Co-Founder, Smile.io
If you’re providing content that is valuable to consumers, they’ll keep returning to your site even if they don’t plan to make a purchase — and that is the foundation of a long-term relationship.
“Your potential customers have already given you some indication that they want what you have, so by offering videos of your product in use, sizing charts, or an infographic on features, you are putting yourself ahead of your competition and giving your potential customer that much more of a reason to convert and make a purchase.”
— Tessa Wuertz, Director of Marketing, efelle creative
Establishing brand authority.
To build trust among your prospects and customers, you want to establish your brand as an authority in your vertical. If you’re selling outdoor products, for instance, your target audience will trust you more if they know you can answer their questions about those products or related activities.
“There are a lot of things that content marketing can accomplish, but at its core content marketing enables you to build trust with your consumers/customers. You’re the expert. Convey that to your customers and the ROI will come back in droves.”
— AJ Silber, Founder, The Guerrilla Agency
What is a Content Marketing Strategy (And Why Do You Need One)?
A content marketing strategy should be a high-level roadmap detailing your target audience, goals, and key performance indicators (KPIs) for your content, and how those goals align to the needs of the broader business. It should also provide a broad outline of the content creation process — how your organization plans to ideate, produce, manage, and measure your content analytics.
“Tons of e-commerce brands are making a killing with Facebook ads and Influencer marketing. The problem is once you stop the ads, the sales will stop too. This is why a long-term content strategy is so important. Not only can you get long-term traffic, but you can tell a better story through branded content. Powerful content can amplify your advertising effectiveness and also position you for long-term organic traffic.”
— Darren DeMatas, Founder, Ecommerce CEO
It’s important to take the time to document your content strategy. Having a documented strategy can make your organization’s efforts more successful, and it’s also a sign of a more sophisticated content organization. In the Content Marketing Institute’s B2C survey, only 33% of all respondents reported having a documented content strategy. But, of the respondents belonging to a mature content organization (you can read the full report for more information on how the institute defines “mature”), more than half had documented their strategy.