We have been talking about the rise of content marketing as a 21st century marketing tool over the past couple of months. The idea behind content marketing is to use different forms of content to engage with prospects in a non-sales capacity, as well as provide value-added resources to customers to help build long-term loyalty.
Despite all the current buzz, content marketing isn’t really all that new. The concept goes back at least to the 1980s when I worked for the nation’s largest financial newsletter publisher, cranking out four-page newsletters with soft-sell articles about personal and business finances and banking.
With the Internet, though, content marketing has exploded. Having changed the way most things are bought and sold, the Internet has also changed marketing — and in the process, opened up many new avenues for the delivery of content “assets” or “inventory,” as they’re often called.
Types of Content and Delivery Channels
Content assets can take many different forms, and they can be delivered in many different ways. Think of the different content delivery vehicles in terms of “pushing vs. pulling.”
Email would be a push strategy because you are pushing your content out to your audience. For example, that’s what I’m doing with this e-newsletter. Posting content online is a pull strategy because you need to attract your audience to your website, YouTube channel or social media page in order for them to view it. (Twitter is the exception — it’s really more of a push strategy since you are pushing tweets out to your followers.)
The best content marketing strategy, I believe, both pushes and pulls. It uses email or Twitter to push notifications out to your audience of content that resides online. For example, I’m pushing this article out to my audience via email, but I’ve also posted it to the blog page on my website where it can pull potential readers who visit my site or come across the blog via a Google search.
I’ve talked about the benefits of e-newsletters and how to create them in detail in past articles like this one (c’mon, click the link — I’m pulling you!). Here, I want to talk in more detail about the types of content assets that you can post online, and different strategies for how to post and grant access to this content.
Gated or Ungated Content?
Content assets posted online can be either “gated” or “ungated.” In other words, your audience can view it free of charge (ungated) or you can require them to provide you with something — usually contact info and other details like their title, industry, size of company, etc. — in order to access it (gated).
So should your content assets be gated or ungated? This depends on what type of prospect you’re trying to lure. For first-time visitors who are just kicking tires, make the content ungated. Your goal is to give them something of value that will encourage them to take the next step in the sales process. Ungated content assets usually include:
1. Articles and blogs — These are becoming the backbone of content marketing for many companies today. There are lots of benefits to publishing well-written articles and blogs on a consistent basis: They are a value-add on your website beyond just brochure-ware, they position your company and/or executives as industry thought leaders, and they can help boost your SEO rankings.
2. Social media content — Your LinkedIn profile, company Facebook page and Twitter feed can be used to alert your followers that new content has been posted (e.g., on your website or YouTube channel) and include links to it.
3. Tip sheets — These are one- or two-page downloadable PDFs that offer quick tips prospects can implement right away to solve a pressing need or problem. Lists, like the Top 5 Direct Mail Copywriting Tips, also make great tip sheets.
Set the Hook
Once you’ve gotten a nibble from a prospect, you want to set the hook by getting them to bite on more substantial gated content. These assets often include:
1. Whitepapers and e-books — These take a simple article or blog several steps further, digging into an industry-specific topic or issue in more depth and detail. They are similar in format, usually ranging from 6-10 pages (or longer for an e-book), and should be downloadable as a PDF.
2. Case studies and success stories — These have long been popular as marketing tools, since they provide opportunities for companies to demonstrate how their products and services helped customers solve real-life problems and issues.
3. Webinars and videos — These mini-seminars are a great way to show off your company’s expertise in a particular area. Tap one of your company’s executives to lead the webinar, or have the executive do an interview with a well-recognized industry expert. Videos, meanwhile, can be housed behind a gate on your website and posted on a corporate YouTube channel.