Content production is like building a portfolio.
It’s a long-term investment in developing your brand, forming a community, increasing awareness, reducing the friction of longer sales cycles.
It’s frequently neglected by entrepreneurs or new market players seeking for the next quick win. It takes a while before you start reaping the benefits of your labor.
Let’s review content marketing first.
What Is Content Marketing?
According to the Content Marketing Institute:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
There are various flavors of marketing — and the same rule applies for content.
Recording a home made video of your cat tearing a box apart or a baby crawling is not content marketing, unless you’re in the business of 9gag and BoredPanda.
Nor is blogging about your trip to the post office, for that matter. Because blogging is the first thing that comes to mind, but with a twist.
The difference between scribbling a post and crafting an engaging piece that converts is the marketing intent.
- Content marketing serves an audience (we refer to as “buyer personas”).
- It complies with certain rules — such as SEO for content or video, user experience, conversion rate statistics.
- It aims for a particular segment of the marketing funnel.
- Performance is measured and evaluated against the content, with certain KPIs in place or directly measuring the ROI of campaigns.
Different Forms of Content
Content marketing entails a broad set of activities, including:
- Video production
- Freebies and infographics
- Email newsletters
- Social media
Some content formats work better in given industries or verticals. Delivering textual content to YouTube aficionados converts worse than video.
Finding the right format, length, structure, and tone is also a matter of knowing your audience well enough.
Same goes for your competitors. Upon starting a newsletter in a crowded place, think about your strategy. Should you clone the format and ensure you blend well enough into the crowd or experiment with a different format (assumingly) in demand?
How To Start With Content Marketing
Assuming that you’ve done your homework by defining your personas and researching your competitors, here’s what you need to do next.
1. Understand The Buying Stages
Content marketing supports your entire marketing strategy.
And prospects may stumble upon your copy throughout different stage.
The buyer’s journey can be refined into separate phases, but here’s HubSpot’s definition and the breakdown of the main cycles a buyer goes through.
Ideally, your content would move across the funnel top-to-bottom and help buyers familiarize themselves with the core business problem, the alternative options, and how you can help them.
A couple common problems I see with content development are:
- Producing only content that doesn’t convert. This is a safe option that won’t proclaim you as a spammer or a traditional car salesman. That said, content marketing is designed to close customers, and the corresponding final stages (bottom of the funnel) should be tailored carefully.
- A disconnect between the different stages. A buyer’s journey may take a while. Thus, retaining people and educating them continuously early on is a great way to build trust and get them closer to a conversion.
Oftentimes, this entails different forms of content.
2. Pick Your Content Mix
Defining your toolkit is important.
At first, you can’t build a team of 30 people who organize webinars, manage multiple email newsletters, design surveys and prepare stat sheets, blog, run retargeting campaigns and cover each and every social network.
While researching your competitors, one of the key goals is establishing what works while exploring unique ways to position yourself.
This usually means two or three channels you can start with.
- The effective one that everyone uses.
- A second source that isn’t saturated and could be used as a unique twist,
or adifferent form of building content (shorter, longer, visual vs. textual).
- And, possibly, one that you’re uniquely suited to cover. Even if
video isn’t massivelysuccessful in your field, if you’re a great speaker, this may be agreat way to shine and make a breakthrough.
Regularity is paramount — whatever you pick, make sure you follow some cadence.
3. Conduct a Content Research
This is an upgrade of doing your competitor research — and can focus on the same audience plus some more.
Browse through their blogs, social posts, email campaigns. See what works and what doesn’t.
Use BuzzSumo to study what works in your field. For instance, if you want to tap into the market of building communities, you can browse the type of content that works extremely well:
BuzzSumo aggregates the most popular articles out there with their corresponding social shares.
- Find popular and established outlets within your field
- Come up with some content topics that work
- Find out which social networks get the most reactions
- Even discover Twitter users who have shared/retweeted this type of content
Ideally, you want to end up with a content map that covers the main topics your audience cares about, the right format (medium), and tailor them according to the separate stages of the buyer’s journey.
4. Draft A Long List of Headlines
Once you have a rough plan in place, create a rough content schedule.
This works best if you can write down a list of 20 (or more) headlines for starters (this works for blog posts, email newsletters, guest posts, other series of freebies, podcasts, videos).
At DevriX, we used to compile over a hundred title suggestions a month, trimming them down to ~40 and planning the production over time. When I started my podcast, I jotted down 20 topic ideas and took it from there.
With videos, I prepared a spreadsheet with my Quora answers and picked a list of video ideas to work on. I’ll get to this in a bit.
Having the topic clusters in the third step will let you define some evergreen topics for every group, and ideally, for every stage of the buyer’s journey.
Combining the background research of your competitors with BuzzSumo and some help from SEMrush/Ahrefs can help. AnswerThePublic is another handy tool that you can use (it’s free), and here’s a sneak peek of title suggestions that come up for folks who want to market themselves for topics relevant to “logo design”:
I know, this is a time-consuming initiative. Content pays off over time, but the investment is worth it.
A great, handy alternative combining some of the top features of SEMrush/Ahrefs and Google Trends is Ubersuggest by Neil Patel. You can generate some keyword ideas (similar to Google Search’s suggest feature), see the average CPCs of popular keywords, and come up with relevant headline ideas, too.
Once you are satisfied with the initial list (the longer, the better), allocate some regular time on producing content and try to follow the corresponding cadence.
5. Schedule Carefully
Most content sources report different performance results depending on when you publish and distribute them.
That’s especially valid for social media, but often matters for other channels — including YouTube, outreach campaigns, even newsletters. And when you publish a new piece, you want to bootstrap its exposure as soon as possible.
According to TrackMaven, here’s what works across the main social channels:
Aside from sharing, the same rule applies for publishing unique content. For instance, articles published on LinkedIn perform a lot better if you get a bunch of comments over the first hour.
Quora’s algorithm is also calibrated based on the views-to-upvotes ratio during the initial hours.
Some networks allow for re-posting content. Same goes for distributing across groups or forums for maximum impact.
Finding the right algorithm will help you multiply the impact of each content piece and keep scaling quickly over time.
I’ve already implied that above, but this is a key.
A popular content marketing principle expands upon Pareto’s 80/20 rule:
20% of the time goes into writing a great piece, and 80% is allocated on promoting it.
The “pray and hope” approach doesn’t work. It’s about continuously promoting your content, building a network of fans and followers, compiling groups that react well to your content (without being spammy, mind you), figuring out ways to re-post and distribute shorter snippets, and repurposing your content over time.
Given the sensitive timing of some pieces, it often makes sense boosting posts and scheduling paid campaigns along the organic distribution. Try it out with $20 – $50 per post for a while and see if it makes any impact for your audience.
7. Iterate & Repurpose
Building new content, promoting recent pieces and repurposing older posts go hand-by-hand.
It’s a balanced act and not a waterfall-based process.
And repurposing content could really maximize the effectiveness of your content marketing platform. I’ll share some nuggets from my own experience.
Use Storytelling In Content Writing
What is the reason storytelling is so important in crafting content?
Because a product or a service without a story is just a list of features.
Nobody needs features. People need solutions to problems in their specific industry.
Storytelling allows for putting those features to work by defining practical scenarios. Each business is unique in a way:
- The company mission and business goals
- The company culture
- A backstory to starting the business
- An ideal subset of problems that are uniquely solved by a solution
Building a startup or a small business falls into one of the following two categories:
- A completely new, unique, extravagant solution that’s one of a kind.
- A competitor of an existing service provider or a shop selling a similar product.
The first case is rare – there are plenty of businesses out there innovating in all popular niches.
Storytelling For New Brand Categories
Still, if you happen to invent something that doesn’t exist, you need to create a brand new category. Since there’s no practical market need that people are aware of, a story would put a problem into perspective and relate to your prospects.
It could be a set of scenarios that prospects face on a regular basis and your solution can help with them. Or a personal story leading to the inception of the product where prospects can identify (themselves) with it.
If you are entering a saturated market, the question is: what makes you different? And how to align your content production?
There are tons of supermarkets, design agencies, dentist offices. Yet, each one of them profiles in something unique or has some vibe attuned to the energy of their ideal audience.
Businesses operate in different manners and follow various processes. Some focus on quality, others – on price. Some are friendlier while others are conservative and to the point.
In order to build the bond between your business and your market, your sales and marketing copy needs a story that serves as the bridge between you and your customers.
That’s where storytelling comes into play.
My Content Development Workflow
I’ve shared my content repurposing strategy a few months back and it’s available here:
To sum it up, Quora is my leading title generator. I try to spend several hours a week browsing for topic ideas, answering questions, and building upon relevant topics of areas I’ve already discussed previously.
While this helped me rank as a Top Writer for 2018, the story doesn’t end there.
I maintain a spreadsheet with my Quora answers and other places I repurpose my content at. Here’s what it looks like in a nutshell:
Some of my friends use different ways to source content ideas and headlines.
Quora works for me as an agency owner and a digital consultant due to the vast range of topics I talk about. A niche blog or a channel can benefit from a niche community, so it’s totally up to you.
- Having produced a lot of Quora content already, I take a couple hours a week in answering Quora questions. The process is already streamlined and I can get through approximately ten questions (unless I lack relevant topics in my feed.)
- Some of those answers go straight to a category on my blog called “Answers”. I schedule one or two a week which is pretty much copy-paste.
- Some are consolidated as long-form pieces. That works well for relevant topics within the same topic cluster, and only take 10-15min to bridge the separate pieces.
- I record a couple videos a week for LinkedIn. It takes 30-40min a week on producing them, given that I’ve already drafter the answer anyway.
- LinkedIn videos are scheduled for YouTube. I use the outlines as a YouTube description for SEO purposes.
- I try to publish a weekly episode for my podcast. It’s quite niche so finding great topics is tough, but I’ve already published nearly 40 episodes and keep pushing. It takes under 30min to record one and push it to Anchor.fm. Plus, I can extract the audio from a video I’ve recorded on a relevant topic!
- I write the weekly series here on LinkedIn. While this is unique content, I have some images ready and content ideas I can use as an inspiration, cutting down on research time.
- I write one or two guest posts a week. This takes a bit longer, but some turn into infographics I can reuse and repost elsewhere.
- Answering questions on HARO or pitches from bloggers is doable given the content portfolio I have. I could quickly sift through my blog and Quora and find relevant research studies I’ve conducted or compiled over the past years.
- My presentations are often sourced from blog posts of mine, in-house documentation. previous slides. I had to put up the slides for a recent event under a couple of hours, and it worked out fine (for a 40min talk).
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for you if you want to steal my entire process:
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with video nuggets for Twitter and other outlets, pulling listicles and posting only one action item a day.
We do shuffle videos for other social channels, too.
I republish some of my posts on LinkedIn or Medium (though I haven’t invested a lot of time there lately).
Bottom line, spending most of my time/effort on Quora helps me build tons of content for different verticals and keep the cadence going (to the best of my time management abilities).
Content Marketing Frameworks Require Discipline
Once you discover an optimal workflow, make sure you follow it zealously, optimize, and keep an eye on other channels that may work even better.
Having your content production framework refined will speed things up for you. There are plenty of popular alternatives out there, and they solely depend on your writing style.
Are you still struggling with building content on a regular basis? Let me know in the comments!