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Inbound Marketing

The 8 Best Practices of Stellar Content Marketing Teams

Content marketing has officially gone mainstream.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates employment for marketing managers will grow by 13 percent between 2012 and 2022. And the majority of these marketers endorse an inbound approach.

Industries across the board are beginning to take notice of the results being experienced by those practicing "this new kind of marketing." From law firms to coffee companies to plastic manufacturers, we're seeing an increasing amount of industries experiencing unbelievable gains in leads and sales. Compared to traditional methods, inbound leads cost 61 percent less on average, while producing 54 percent more leads, according to a recent infographic researched by Invest.

Unfortunately, looking at someone's success from the outside in often generates a false perception. Admiring onlookers routinely underestimate the amount of work that was required to generate significant results. And this is especially true when it comes to content marketing. For the remainder of this article, we'll discuss what's really going on behind the scenes of those content marketing success stories.

1. REALLY Knowing Their Audience

A lot of businesses think they know their target audiences, but what they really know are their ideas about their audiences. Relying on past assumptions is rarely enough. If you don’t get this part right, the rest of the of the advice in this article won’t make much of a difference. The key to really knowing your audience is quality research and quality conversations.

There is simply no substitute for hearing directly from your prospects about their likes, dislikes, concerns, hobbies, and questions. In addition to focus groups and past customer surveys, you can participate in social forums like Reddit, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The key to gleaning meaningful information is becoming a part of the conversation and REALLY seeking to solve problems—not sell.

2. Documenting Their Content Marketing Plan

Though it may seem obvious, it isn't. Not all marketers document their strategies. But the ones who do report bigger gains than those who don't, according to Hubspot's 2015 State of Inbound Report. A documented plan should include Buyer Persona perspectives, keyword targeting, agreed upon KPI benchmarks, and an editorial calendar. Re-evaluate your plan every quarter to determine what's working and what isn't and adjust accordingly.

3. Building Relationships with Advocates

Not many people will tell you this, but rarely do online audiences "blow up overnight" without any help. Call them advocates, influencers or brand ambassadors, these people help you tell the world about your brand. They could be top bloggers, businesses in related fields, or enthusiastic past customers.

Regardless, they can generate ideas, participate in content creation, provide feedback, and share your content with their social networks on your behalf. The key is creating win-win scenarios that make advocates want to partner with you. For example, say you're a doggy daycare owner trying to build your list. You'll want to think of other businesses, bloggers, and loyal customers who would somehow benefit by sharing your content. Sometimes you have to get creative—and it takes time to build those relationships—but it's worth it.

4. Creating for Every Stage of The Buyer's Journey

Content marketing newbies almost solely focus on top-of-the-funnel engagement. Creating blog articles, or maybe a piece of gated content, that gets prospects interested. But what about the rest of the Buyer's Journey? What are you doing to guide someone from awareness all the way to action?

Pros create specific content for each stage: Top, middle, and bottom. Collaborate with your sales and customer service teams to determine which types of content would best help educates customers and close deals.

5. Telling More Stories

Let's not forget that blogging originated as a form of storytelling. People go online to be entertained. Thus, even if you sell a solution to a completely mundane problem, you want to tell stories.

  • Tell customer success stories that are thanks to your products and/or services.
  • Use "The Seinfeld Method" to share life stories in an applicable way.
  • Combine your words with photos, graphics, and visual elements.
  • Publish interviews with persons of interest to your target audience.
  • Paint a picture with action-oriented language.

6. Using Metrics to Improve Content

Tracking metrics like unique visitors, bounce rate, and conversion are all important. But how do you use those metrics to determine which types of content are working for you and which aren't? Commit to evaluating your chosen KPIs every month.

Maintain an ongoing record of which content authors, subject matters, and headlines received the most traction. Do this consistently and you will begin to see patterns. Then, create more of what works and stop doing what doesn't.

7. Using Collaborative Software

If you're still using email and Microsoft Outlook to keep track of your content itineraries, what are you doing? Basecamp, Trello, and Liquid Planner are just a few software options that offer versatile project planning. There is no substitute for being able to look at what has been completed, what still needs to be done, and who is responsible for it at a glance.

Additionally, collaborative software allows you to break down large projects into bite-sized tasks. Since content marketing campaigns contain many moving parts—from researching to writing, to designing to publishing—such organization is invaluable.

8. Highlighting Internal Experts

One of the most challenging parts of our job is often securing time from busy executives. Many companies mistakenly think upper management shouldn't need to be involved in content curation. I mean, isn't that why you hired those marketing people? To create the content for you?

Yes, it is. But no one will ever know your business as well as YOU do. What's going to separate your content from that of your competitor's is that personal touch. It's the inside knowledge, information, and stories that are held in the minds of organizational leaders. Unfortunately, many companies skip this step, assuming leadership is just "too busy to be bothered."

But what executive wouldn't want thought-leadership recognition, better-nurtured leads, and increased sales? Work around busy schedules by creating a streamlined Q&A process to get the information you need on a monthly or quarterly basis.

It Doesn't Happen Overnight

As you can see, those sales results your competitor achieved after his new blog went up didn't just happen. They were the result of a carefully, fine-tuned machine. Creating a great content marketing plan is a lot like creating a great movie. There are a lot of benchmarks, key players, and stakeholders that must be managed throughout the process. The vision comes to life as the result of persistence, patience, and teamwork.

Commit to consistently implementing these tips over the next 6 months and it would be hard NOT to see significant improvement.

Free Ebook: Climbing the Inbound Marketing Mountain

Written by Ashley Gwilliam / July 18, 2016

Ashley is a content writer and brand developer. After graduating with a degree in print-journalism, Ashley’s storytelling skills took her from the bizarre world of on-camera acting to the practice courts of NBA basketball players to the virtual meetings of inbound marketers. Today she specializes in building memorable brand voices online, with a focus on the travel & tourism, e-commerce and tech industries.

Articles by Ashley Gwilliam