6 Content Marketing Lessons From The Trenches

With the right content, brands can build trust and loyalty through authenticity.

By Kelly Wrather

Content Marketing

Content marketing is all about delivering the right content, with the right message, to the right consumer, at the right time. A brand's content can help consumers at every stage of the purchase funnel, which will help build trust and loyalty – with the ultimate goal of increasing revenue. People respond to things they can relate to. So if you bring a bit of humanity into your practice, might you just win the content war?

Marketers have always been creating content, but it was really only the past few years that organizations started carving out dedicated content marketing practices, making it a strategic capability in the marketing arsenal. Here are six lessons I’ve learned from the content marketing trenches.

1. Storytelling Not Selling

Before you create any more content, step back and realize that content marketing is not about the hard sell. It’s about connecting with real people who have real challenges, needs, and desires.

In the words of Jay Baer, “the difference between helping and selling is just two letters.” Understanding this concept of Youtility grounds content creation in reality and helps connects marketers with the needs of consumers and their potential clients and customers. This approach will also help you build trust and loyalty through authenticity.

A great B2C example of this is the city guides that AirBnB has created. By providing basic resources like transportation options, neighborhood descriptions, and local tips, AirBnB is helping create an all-encompassing city experience for its customers, elevating its service beyond just a place to crash.

On the B2B front, HubSpot provides a wealth of free resources – from free templates to stock photos. While these assets correlate directly to its sales mission and value prop, for the marketers downloading them, they are just helpful tools that also happen to position the brand as a great resource and subject matter expert on inbound marketing.

2. Don’t Go In Blind

Only 44 percent of marketers survey reported having a documented content strategy, according to this year’s B2B Content Marketing Benchmark report from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs.

While it’s tempting to just start cranking out content, particularly if your team is small and needs to start producing outputs, there’s value in mapping out your plan and writing some guidelines.

A few tips:

  • Know your objectives upfront and make sure they align to organization’s overarching goals.
  • Create processes that will improve workflow by developing checkpoints along the way and work-back plans to delegate responsibilities.
  • Map out strategies at both a high-level view and a tactical line-item list. Content calendars are helpful if you actually use them, so make sure you’re happy with the set up and are committed to leveraging it.
  • Write style guidelines and iterate as you go. This will pay off as you scale your practices and enlist outside contributors.

3. Align With The Buyer Journey

As your content marketing practice matures, understand how you can better tailor your content to align with your customers and prospects and where people are along the buyer’s journey. This alignment will provide structure and a framework in which to develop your programs.

A content audit can seem intimidating but by taking stock of what you have and assigning a categorization of where it falls in the funnel, you’ll be able to see where there are gaps and opportunities. Don’t forget to talk to the folks in the field, too. Forge alliances with sales and demand generation teams to get honest, actionable feedback.

Of course, don’t ignore other ways to tailor your content too. Layer on themes that coincide with seasonality, world events, geographies, and your internal products and services to really make your content sing.

4. Focus On Quality And Pace Yourself

During a recent webinar, Ann Hadley of MarketingProfs commented: “We don’t need more content. We need better content.”

Yes. A thousand times yes!

We spend so much time creating these pieces so we should spend just as much, if not more time, getting the word out about them. At the end of the day, about 20 percent of your time should be spent on creating content while the other 80 percent is spent on distribution and promotion.

Don’t burn yourself (and your audience) out by holding on to this notion that you constantly have to be publishing something “new” in order to be fresh.

5. Invest In Resources

As you build out your practice, be sure to invest in the tools that will help you grow and get you where you need to be – this includes both software and human capital.

On the software side, take advantage of free templates and tools to help you stay organized but realize that, as you scale, you may need to up your investment in this area.

When it comes to your team, identify your biggest needs and find people with the skills that matter most to you. Above all, look to hire not just writers, but storytellers – brand journalists.

If headcount is limited, focus on people who can be flexible and can complement the skills you have. For me, that meant finding someone who had more analytical focus.

Don’t forget that you can (and should) leverage clients and partners to help contribute to efforts. Give people the opportunity to guest post on your blog, for example; this generates more content for you without adding more manpower and allows each individual to flex his or her thought leadership muscles.

6. Don’t Be Afraid To Take Risks And Have Fun

Last, but not least, remember to try new things and have fun while you’re doing it. Even if you’re in a seemingly mundane industry, you can still make really cool content. Use your brand positioning as your guide to make sure you’re not too far outside the bounds of what feels natural for your brand.

Some good examples of this include:

GE’s Pinterest Account Who said Pinterest was only for clothes and recipes?

Zen Desk’s use of videos. Customer support software doesn’t seem that exciting, but the story created in the video below begs to differ. Their bit on “Sh*t Support Agents Say” shouldn’t be missed either.

At Kenshoo, we work hard, but we try not to take ourselves too seriously, proven by this “Clueless”-inspired infographic.

What lessons have you learned about content marketing?  become a better storyteller? Share your insights in the comments!