You may have encountered the phrase “content marketing” before. It’s highly recommended by marketing and social media consultants, and it’s frequently touted as the most effective way to market small and solo businesses.
But what the heck is it? And why is it so awesome for solo business owners and freelancers?
Defining Content Marketing
Content marketing is defined in its Wikipedia entry as:
… an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation or sharing of content for the purpose of engaging current and potential consumer bases. Content marketing subscribes to the notion that delivering high-quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable consumer action.
That’s a pretty fair description.
Here’s how another site, Junta42, puts it:
Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent.
Both of these descriptions are good ones, although neither of them really tell you much about what content marketing looks like for a small/solo business or freelancer.
How Content Marketing Works
Here’s what it looks like in the context of a solo lawyer, as an example:
- Sally is a lawyer who specializes in divorce law. If Sally adopts a content marketing strategy, she creates first a target website — this site will serve as the destination or target channel for all her other efforts, including social media.
- Then she’ll create supporting channels — typically LinkedIn, Facebook, and/or Twitter, all branded to her solo practice and all with profiles that direct interested people to her website.
- She’ll put up a blog on her website, and there she’ll share content with her targeted potential clients in the form of short, informative articles carefully targeted towards her potential clients . That content will answer the questions those clients typically have and search the internet to find the answers for. One blog post = one question answered.
- When she writes and publishes a new blog post, she’ll use her other channels to drive traffic to that content.
- She’ll also use those other channels to reach out to and form relationships with other people: targeted potential clients, other divorce lawyers, other lawyers in her jurisdiction, other referral sources.
- Once the traffic arrives on her site, she’ll have (ideally) several capture and conversion tools there to encourage the potential clients to become actual clients.
In a nutshell, and in a very simplified format, that’s content marketing. She provides content that fills a need for her potential clients, and then uses other channels (tools, websites) to drive traffic to that content. Once the potential client gets to Sally’s site, the prospective client is persuaded to convert to a paying client by what she finds there.
Conversion doesn’t typically happen instantaneously with content marketing, and that’s OK because content marketing is a process that builds authority and trust over time. It’s that sense of your expertise and authority that converts the reader to a client.
It’s permission-based marketing that delivers valuable content to potential clients, and by that process convinces those potentials to become “actuals.”
The Channels in Content Marketing
Besides a blog (and possibly other content on your website), you’ll need other channels to act as a funnel, shepherding users and searchers to your target site/blog.
Usually these channels will involve social media. Choosing the right channels is important. What works for one industry and one set of potential clients won’t necessarily work as well for another. You have to know those potential clients well — who they are, where they hang out on the web, what they’re interested in — in order to choose wisely.
That said, I recommend most clients, especially those who are selling their professional services and/or are freelancing, to start with Twitter and either Facebook or LinkedIn. (A different kind of crowd gathers on each of those latter two sites. Generic wisdom will tell you if you’re selling to sophisticated professionals, use LinkedIn, and Facebook for everybody else. That’s not always true but it’s a fair place to start.)
If you’re a local business with a bricks and mortar location, you may also want to engage FourSquare as a channel.
Your Next Steps
I’ll write more on content marketing the day after tomorrow (June 9, 2011), so bookmark this page and check back then for an overview of how to implement a content marketing strategy in your business.