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An Introduction to Content Marketing

Without a strategy you'll just have to rely on luck.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “content marketing” being used widely but never actually understood what it is and how it can be of use to you.

Essentially “content marketing” is the strategic publishing of relevant and engaging articles which has a defined objective. These objectives may be to increase sales directly, increase social shares, increase newsletter shares, or any other quantifiable metric.

For many large scale businesses they would have well-staffed departments working on “content marketing” with robust timelines and fat budgets, but for small companies “content marketing” is often an opportunistic activity - and there is nothing wrong with this. All you need are methods, realistic resources and objectives.

The first stage is to get a good overview of works for your industry. For many this will simply entail traversing your competitors’ websites and taking a note of the articles that have the most social shares - this is a good proxy for what will drive sales. Of course you will never know exactly which pages drive the most sales, but it is a good start.

If you wanted to be a touch more scientific you could use a tool such as to identify which are the most socially shared pages on a competitor’s site.

On the most basic of levels, articles that turn conventional wisdom on its head  or looks at a topic from an unusual direction are generally shared the most. You may work in the footwear industry and the generally accepted view may be that cushioned soles are the best for walking long distances, for example, but you could research the field and provide an alternative view.

As you can see above, almost half of the top most socially shared pages on this website are blog posts in one form or another. Any competitor good get a good idea of what sort of content to replicate.

Another type of article that works well is when you pit one community against another. Newspapers are expert at this. If you sell vinyl records you may provide evidence that most customers live in more desirable locations compared to CD or download.

Topical articles can also be highly successful if you’re able to quickly respond to news events. An example may be that the industry is widely reporting on a topic related to your business and they’re giving an incomplete or partial view of it and you can provide a more comprehensive and thorough analysis of the news.

One risky approach is to comment on the death of people in your industry. This may be a sports person if you retail this equipment, a product designer if you sell homewares, a musician if you sell musical equipment etc. If you’re very keen you could have these obituaries ready - as newspapers do.

Regular book or media reviews can work well if you have a very engaged following. If you sell travel-related equipment then books reviewing Pennine trails would work well. Remember that people like to share content that makes them more knowledgable. So play on this ego-effect to your advantage.

You could also open up the workings of your organisation and show how different functions of your company work. One easy way of doing this is to review products you’re considering for retail and blogging your thoughts. This not only shows that you understand the market, but also that there is a process that takes place to select products. Often it can also attract links from small manufacturers that would be glad of the exposure.

Other articles that work well are “how to” guides. If you have a piece of equipment such as a GoPro camera you could show how to fit it safely and to get the most out of their purchase.

Lists are often very simple to produce. You could create a list of the top 50 people in your industry to follow on Twitter or the 50 best trails in the UK to use that GoPro camera the customer has just learned to fit.

A quick an easy method of gaining attention is to interview your suppliers via email and publish the results. All you would need to do is figure out 20 or so questions that will give your visitors an insight into the retailer they wouldn’t have found anywhere else and publish it.

Video can be exceptionally productive at driving sales - especially if you integrate it into the other form of content mentioned above, not least product reviews and behind-the-scenes views.

There are several important points to remember, however. The first is that don’t expect your content marketing strategy to be an overnight success. Winning in this space takes time with content article layered on the previous. It’s about building a story - which often needs more than one page.

You should also measure the success of those articles. You can not only do this by using the tool mentioned above to check social shares, but you should also use it (and other tools) to check how many links they have acquired. You should also check to see how many visits they bought and, more importantly, check how many sales or sign-ups they have delivered.

When you get a feel for what works in your industry you should build and evolve your strategy and make it even more successful.

Another version of this article can be found here.
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