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The ins and outs of content marketingContent marketing involves creating valuable content to engage with your target audience without actually selling to them. Adviser-Hub’s digital communications executive Sophie Burke explains how to create and implement a content marketing plan

Marketing is impossible without great content. No, this is not Adviser-Hub’s official motto – though perhaps it should be – but an idea that is gaining a huge amount of currency in digital media circles. If you doubt this, type the phrase into your search engine and you will generate a surprising number of hits, the vast majority of which relate to the idea of content marketing.

According to a recent report by digital marketing, media and commerce specialist eMarketer, the proportion of US companies with formal content marketing strategies in place jumped from 28% in 2012 to 49% this year. Hooray for them, you may say, but what on earth is content marketing? That is a good question although, as it happens, you may very well be doing it without realising you are.

Searching online for resources and information on content marketing, it became clear the internet is full of articles and opinions with different takes on what content marketing is and how to implement it. Indeed, things got so confusing I was left asking two key questions – which opinion should I believe and, if I owned a business, should I even try to implement it? Let’s try and answer them both.

Content marketing is a technique of creating valuable content to attract and engage with your target audience without actually selling to them. The aim of content marketing is always to drive profitable consumer action – not by pitching services or products but by delivering information that makes the client or buyer more knowledgeable.

Many marketing experts and thought leaders have now concluded content marketing is not just the future, it is the present, arguing it should be an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy. So how do you go about creating and implementing a content marketing plan? Look to address the following points.

* Understand what content strategy is

Content strategy is the delivery of stories that will attract and retain the attention of your target audience. You cannot hope to start promoting your business without preparation – even if that is precisely what many try when it comes to social media.

Social media and an online presence form the heart of distributing content, in turn enabling readers to share with others anything they think is compelling. However, the internet is a huge ‘forum’ and the extraordinary number of ongoing ‘conversations’ contribute to a distracting environment and short intention spans. Remember – once you move online, you are not just competing with your business rivals but with every person, brand, company and organisation with anything interesting to say. 

* Create your own content strategy

Brainstorming is a great way to create your own content strategy. Ask these questions:

  • What do we want to be known for? Example: Investment, tax planning, retirement
  • What are our clients looking for? Example: Advice, assistance, assurance
  • What kind of content do they view? Example: Articles, case studies, testimonials
  • How can we create consistent content that will attract and retain interest? See ‘Types of content’ box below
  • What results do we want to see afterwards? Example: More new clients, more returning clients
  • How can we tell if this work is paying off? Example: By periodically measuring how many new clients you see and how they found you. 

* Be realistic about – and measure – your objectives

You have to be realistic about what you are doing so, while ‘more clients’ is a perfectly natural and commendable ambition, aim to define your content strategy objectives beyond that. In addition to client and prospect engagement, brand awareness, client loyalty, increased leads, increased revenues and thought leadership are all worthwhile potential consequence of content marketing. Don’t forget to track your results and, where necessary, adjust your strategy.

* Avoid common content strategy mistakes

Common mistakes many businesses make with regard to content strategy include:

Misjudging their intended audience: Failing to understand your target audience will undermine all your content efforts and yield minimal results. If you know your audience, it will soon become obvious which content topics you should address. 
Valueless messaging: You need to provide value in what you are telling your audience rather than simply giving a marketing message. Failure to do so will again diminish your strategy’s effectiveness.
Lack of consistency: No-one can watch over you to make sure you keep up with your strategy but if you are not consistent – every day, every week, every month – your strategy will fall apart. Make sure you clearly define your content frequency and quantity in your initial plan and stick to that. 
Lack of management: It is vital you have some type of management tool to enable you to track and schedule the content you have available.

"The aim of content marketing is to drive profitable consumer action – not by pitching services but by delivering information that makes the client more knowledgeable."

* Pick your channels

It is now time to start working out the channels you will use to reach your audience. Think about where your potential clients are located online. Is it forums? Twitter? A LinkedIn group? Blogs? Consider how you will connect through them – for example by creating your own LinkedIn profile or Twitter account. Help answer these questions by using your database to run surveys on the type of media your clients use. 

Although you can achieve content marketing without social media – and indeed there are plenty in financial services who contend the sector does not need or use it – it can bring a number of benefits, including search engine optimisation (SEO), which can help raise your content up through all-powerful search engines such as Google.

Social media marketing is also capable of distributing your content much faster and to a much larger audience than just your website. Put simply, it is a simple plan that can run alongside your website. Whichever avenues you chose to implement, however, do make sure you keep up with your strategy. It may initially prove time-consuming but it will become second nature and you will start to see results.

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