I talk a lot on this blog about the importance of integrating content into your overall marketing program, and the various media outlets available for your corporate content. In this post, I’d like to focus not on why a content marketing focus is important, but how to implement one step-by-step.
Many businesses, especially small businesses, may not have the financial resources to create a glossy custom magazine program, but all companies can initiate a low-cost, effective online content marketing program today.
Here are initial 3 steps to creating an effective online content marketing program. This will cover the start-up phase. We’ll cover execution in another post.
1. Determine which organizational goals will be affected by the content program.
An effective online content marketing program must directly tie to the overall objectives of your organization in order to be successful. Don’t get into creating content because it’s in style. Do it because it truly helps your customer and, in turn, your business. Here are some answers that I have actually heard before from marketing professionals that want to launch custom publishing programs:
- “We want to drive more traffic to the Web site”.
- “Our competitors are doing it, so we need to do it as well”.
- “We’d really like to win an award for this”.
- “We have tons of great information in this company. We need to tell the world about all the wonderful things we are doing”.
Some of the above may sound reasonable to you. The problem with each of them is that they are not measurable and don’t consider the customer for a second. How does driving more traffic to your Web site accomplish your organizational goals? Just because your company has lots of “great” information, does that mean that telling the story will bring you more revenue? Not in and of itself.
Most of the key problems with a content program result in a clear misunderstanding of organizational goals. So, let’s start there. Organizational goals must be two things, specific and customer-focused. Here are a few examples of organizational goals:
- Increase our number of domestic widget-line software customers by 20%.
- Generate an average of 10% revenue growth in the top 20% of customers in Latin America.
- Sell 10 consulting packages to new customers in 2008.
The above may seem simple, but it’s amazing how many marketing organizations don’t bring these types of goals to the table when creating a content program. So, before you launch any content program, be sure to list out your key organizational goals. Once that is complete, understand which ones your are trying to affect with the online content program.
2. Determine the informational needs of the buyer.
Most people want to move directly into creating the goals for the content program. Makes sense for it to be that way, right? Now that you understand the organizational goals, and have chosen which one or ones will be affected by the content program, we can come up with some clear and measurable content marketing tactics. Right? Wrong.
Let me give you an example that is more personal. Let’s say that you have a daughter who you want to shape into the next Tiger Woods. So, a reasonable goal for you (Earl Woods) would be for your daughter to win the junior nationals. Since that is your goal, you create a plan-of-action that includes finding a personal golf coach for your daughter, signing her up for the junior league program, as well as buying her the latest in golf equipment. Sound reasonable?
Unfortunately, when you created the plan, you didn’t consult the customer on what you want them to be, or what THEY need for THEIR success model. What if your daughter doesn’t like golf? What if she likes golf, but doesn’t want to be in competitive sports? What if she’s built for basketball, or engineering? Worse yet, you were so busy planning the strategy, you didn’t realize she was left-handed.
This may seem like a terrible example, but this exact issue comes up in organizations all the time. Businesses create specific content so that customers react in very specific ways. Without a clear understanding of the customer’s information needs, any reaction that is close to the end goal is pure dumb luck.
Successful businesses already have a pretty good understanding of their core buyer. In order to create an effective content program, you need to take it a step further. Businesses with content marketing programs create content that is supposed to do very specific things. Just think how pointless this would be if you didn’t know what information the customer needs to make a better buying decision…a buying decision that ultimately leads back to the organization’s overall goals.
Understand your customer by doing comprehensive research. Comprehensive research does not necessarily mean expensive. Think of your research as including the following:
- Phone calls and in-person meetings with customers. Also include those people that you think should be customers (what I call “shutouts”).
- Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey email surveys to customers and prospects.
- Discussions with your customer service and sales department.
By doing the above, you’ll be able to create a buyer persona for your target customer, and a true understanding of what information they NEED that will effectively get you to your goals.
3. Determine what you want your customer to do and why this helps the business.
Have you ever asked someone who owns a company what their Web site is for? Most answers are scary and revolve around the ultimate response that is “because everyone needs a Web site”. Even those companies that believe their Web site drives revenues for their business can rarely define exactly how.
Content marketing programs are no different. Organizations create custom magazines, newsletters, microsites, podcast series, etc. for all kinds of reasons. Many know exactly what they do and are supposed to do. Unfortunately, many others do not.
Before you initiate and create the content for your online content plan, make sure of the following:
- The content plan specifically drives the organizations’ goals.
- The action(s) you want the customer to take are in some way measurable.
- The content is based on your buyer research about their informational needs.
If you have each of these components, then you can create very specific goals for your content program. Some of these goals will be easy to link to your overall goals, such as a business transaction. Others will be just a piece of the overall pie (that keep you going in the right direction). Examples of these may be:
- Downloading a white paper to extract more customer information.
- Signing up for an enewsletter or ezine to begin creating a relationship with a prospect.
- Trial offer or demo.
Today, most organizations call these instances a conversion. Whatever you call them, make them specific and measurable in some way. Even print programs can measure conversions through group A/B benchmarking studies, or specific calls to action that drive customers to web landing pages.
Before launching a content program for your organization (business, association, non-profit, foundation, etc.), follow these three steps first:
- Have a clear understanding of the organizational goals first.
- Understand the informational needs of the buyer.
- Create a content plan that is specific and measurable…one that directly speaks to the organization’s goals and an understanding of the customer.
By doing this, you’ll be ready for the next phase of the plan, the step-by-step guide to executing an online content marketing plan. I’ll be reviewing this over the next week or so.
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