Updated April 21, 2022
No matter how far you’ve come in your content marketing career, you might wish you understood specific strategies, tactics, or skills more deeply. Or you might need a straightforward guide to explain content marketing basics to new team members.
I traveled from print journalism to public relations to digital publishing before landing in content marketing. When I needed to get up to speed on fundamentals that hadn’t factored into my previous roles, I turned to informational resources like CMI to power my journey of discovery.
Now I’m returning the favor by revisiting the fundamentals of successful content marketing from top to bottom. Use this post as a guide to CMI’s best resources on the topics where you (or your team) need a refresher course or an expanded view.
What is content marketing?
You can’t reach your full potential for content marketing success until you understand what it is – including its definition, the goals it can help you achieve, and how it complements and relates to other marketing disciplines and techniques.
Content marketing definition
You might find variations, but the content marketing definition CMI uses represents the consensus:
Content marketing is the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
Content marketing works by capturing the attention of your desired audience members and helping them address their informational and task-oriented needs. The aim is for that audience to grow to trust and rely on your guidance, recognize your company’s unique value proposition, and reward you with their business, loyalty, or evangelism.
Let’s dig into the definition’s three essential characteristics:
- Valuable: Content marketing is most likely to succeed when it serves an unmet need (eg, delivering critical information buyers are likely searching for, providing a tool or technique to make their lives easier, or guiding them through the steps of a complicated process).
- Relevant: Your content should appeal to audience interests and information needs – not just perspectives and priorities your business wants to further.
- Consistent: Viral success with a single content piece feels great in the short term. But you’ll only get those visitors back if you consistently offer something valuable. That means you produce and deliver valuable, relevant content on a reliable schedule.
Why build a content marketing practice?
Companies use content marketing to meet several different goals. Some of the most common include:
According to our latest research, most successful B2B and B2C marketers use content marketing to create brand awareness, build credibility, educate audiences, build loyalty, and generate demand or leads.
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Where content fits in your marketing plan
Content marketing isn’t a replacement for other promotional techniques. Instead, content works best when used to complement other marketing efforts that support your business goals.
For example, content marketing works well with:
Get executives and other teams on board
Now that you can clearly characterize content marketing’s value proposition, you can better communicate its benefits in terms that others – including your internal and external teams, the C-suite, and other key stakeholders – will understand and appreciate.
The value proposition is a must to secure buy-in and ongoing support: If your executive management doesn’t believe in the value of content marketing, you’ll struggle to get the budget, resources, and approvals to keep your content engine running at peak performance over the long term.
Every buy-in conversation is unique to the organization’s priorities and marketing goals. But you’re likely to encounter these common questions and objects:
- Why does the company need content marketing? Point out content’s integral role in remaining competitive online, acquiring first-party data, and the buyer’s journey.
- How does content help meet the marketing goals? For example, discuss content’s influence over brand perception and decision-making, its capacity to increase loyalty, reduce marketing and media expenses, or engage audiences that distrust and avoid traditional advertising.
- What budget and infrastructure will you need? To execute your strategy effectively, be ready to explain what you’ll need, including team members, tools, and technologies.
- What are the expectations for success? Detail the business results of your content efforts will help accomplish and an estimate of the time you expect it to take to achieve them.
Be prepared, too, for questions that focus less on “why do we need content,” and more on “why isn’t the content we’re already creating achieving any of these goals?” Robert Rose wrote a whole post to help when your organization is already creating content but lacks a strategic approach: How To Make a Better Case for Content Marketing.
Set the stage for success
With buy-in secured, you can get down to the business of planning, creating, and sharing quality content.
While no single technique for developing and managing content suits every organization, focus on these five core elements to run a successful, scalable, and highly strategic content marketing operation:
- Purpose and goals: The foundation of your content marketing strategy – why you are creating content and the value it will provide for your business
- Audience: A well-defined explanation of who your content can help the most and the benefits your program will provide them
- Brand story: The specific and compelling ideas that will flow through your content and how they will reflect your organization’s values and brand voice
- Processes and teams: The details of how you will structure, plan, execute, and manage the tasks involved in activating your content marketing strategy
- Measurement plan: The way you will monitor the performance of your content, evaluate its impact, and implement processes for ongoing optimization
Spend some time diving into each of these building blocks. You may be surprised by how much you and your team know – or how much you still have to learn.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute