How the content marketing process works
Content marketing aims to attract a target audience with stories and information that resonate with that audience. The content must be seen as valuable and relevant to the people who receive it.
It's important to understand your audience to create the right type of content for them. Based on their buyer journey, they will require different information at different times. A classic way to achieve this is to use a marketing funnel as part of your content marketing strategy.
Let's have a look at the three stages of a content marketing funnel.
1. Awareness stage
This is the initial stage when you first approach your audience at the top of the funnel (ToFU). They may be aware of a problem they have, but they aren't sure how to solve it. Or they may not be fully aware of the problem they have until it's revealed to them.
Content at this stage should be focused on helping the audience more fully understand the problem they are facing. This can be achieved by talking about pain points, desired outcomes, and providing answers to the common questions about the problem.
Buyers are seeking information to be informed before making a purchasing decision. In fact, 51% of B2B buyers use content to research their buying decisions, with a preference for shorter, interactive content that educates rather than sells (Demand Gen Report).
It's also the right time to be building awareness of your brand. In particular, how your products and services can solve the exact problem they're facing. It's important not to focus on promotion to the detriment of providing valuable information. Your audience should start to associate your brand with the solutions you provide. But this should be achieved in a subtle and organic way without any direct sales talk.
Depending on your market, there may be a lot of businesses attempting to gain people's attention. It's therefore important to make each piece of content stand out by being hyper relevant to your target audience and providing content that informs, educates and entertains.
Social media posts and your website's blog content are great channels to employ at this stage of the buyer journey. The reach of social media is massive, with users spending nearly two and a half hours per day across an average of seven different social media platforms (Hootsuite). Impressively, businesses with blog posts get 67% more leads than companies without them (DemandMetric).
Infographics, short-form videos and podcasts are great types of content to increase awareness of your brand while sharing your knowledge. Depending on the complexity of the problem, longer form content such as ebooks and webinars can also be great choices.
Paid advertisements on social media and search engines can help you identify and attract your ideal audience. Investing in search engine optimization (SEO) is also an important way to build an audience for your website organically.
2. Engagement stage
The audience has moved into the middle of the funnel (MoFU) once they have shown interest in your company, products or services. They may have visited your website and read your blog articles, commented on your social media posts, or provided their email address in exchange for a newsletter or other resource such as an ebook.
They are usually aware of their problem at this stage and actively looking for a solution. It's best to have an educational focus with more specific details of how your solution is the best option for them. It's also useful to demonstrate how your option is better than others as they will be comparing solutions.
It may take time for prospective customers to decide whether your solution is the one they're looking for. So it's best to focus on building trust and authority with them. Providing a ton of value and answering all their questions works wonders at this stage.
Your website and social media platforms continue to be important channels to connect with your audience and share your content. Formats like detailed guides, reports, white papers, and interactive media can be used to provide more depth on the topics that matter to your audience.
Being active on business-oriented forums like LinkedIn can nurture relationships further and provide more tailored information to potential customers.
Email is also a great channel if you've obtained your audience's addresses, such as when they download a resource from you. Making consistent contact with your audience allows you to build a relationship with them and provide a ton of value via a newsletter or campaign.
If you think email is a redundant form of communication for your customers, think again! Consider that 61% of consumers prefer brands contact them via email and 99% of email users check their email everyday (OptinMonster). Astoundingly, email is nearly 40x more effective at acquiring new customers than Twitter and Facebook combined (McKinsey & Company).
3. Decision stage
The bottom of the funnel (BoFU) stage is all about converting your audience into paying customers. They are actively thinking about making a purchase decision and weighing up final considerations.
Content at the consideration stage should address any objections and provide reassurance they are making the correct decision by choosing your product or service. You should be encouraging purchases with strategic use of copy including calls to action (CTAs) on your website, social media and emails. The purchasing process should also be as easy as possible once they decide to proceed.
Investing in your website via conversion rate optimization (CRO) can help you meet these objectives. Small changes to your copy or the layout of your website can result in big increases in conversion.
Product reviews, case studies, testimonials, user-generated content, comparisons, alternatives, listicles, pricing website page, product or service website page, and webinars are great formats to provide your audience with the information and reassurance they are seeking at this stage. Depending on the product or service, offering in-person demonstrations or consultations may also be useful.
Why is content marketing important for your business?
Investing in content marketing is a smart move for any business owner. It's a cost effective and sustainable way to attract and build trust with their ideal customers. This results in an increase in leads, improves conversions and ultimately more sales for the business.
Let's have a look in more detail at five key benefits of implementing content marketing for your business.
1. Own valuable assets
Every piece of content created is an asset for your business. Whether it's building awareness of your company, answering your ideal customers' questions or providing confirmation why your product or service is the best choice, it's working constantly to grow your business. This benefit compounds over time as more people have the opportunity to see your content marketing efforts.
It's not just the content itself, but also the distribution channels that build value for your business. While distributing your content on social media channels is beneficial, ultimately you don't own or control what you post on there. Recent upheaval at Twitter and declining organic reach on Meta platforms (Facebook and Instagram) are two examples of the risk you take when relying solely on social media to distribute your content and build communities.
Creating a website provides a way to own and control all the content that you produce. It can act as your content hub, storing everything you produce in a blog and resource library. It can also host tools and interactive media to help your audience and drive conversions. By directing your audience to a website, you gain greater control and insight via analytics than interacting with them solely via other platforms.
An email list also ensures that you own the contact details of your audience and are able to engage with them as you like. A newsletter can become a valuable asset in its own right, as can email campaigns set up to drive specific results with segmented audience members.
2. Develops a sense of community and loyalty
Content marketing by its very nature aims to establish and build relationships with an audience. This can be incredibly powerful in forming a sense of community with like-minded people who have the same needs, interests, desires and problems. Building such a community can help to attract even more people to your business.
By constantly engaging with existing customers with empathy and value, you will turn them into your loyal fans. This will improve your customer retention and make it more likely they will recommend you to your friends and family.
3. Your competitors are using content marketing
All of the benefits outlined above are more than likely being enjoyed by your competitors. 73% of marketers surveyed confirmed their business has a content marketing strategy (Content Marketing Institute).
Competitors are building their brand awareness, trust and authority with your potential customers. They are increasing their leads, conversions, sales and customer loyalty as a result. If you're not creating and distributing valuable and relevant content, you are handing your competitors a massive advantage.
4. Generates trust and authority
Most people don't like being sold to. They are instead looking for answers to their questions, weighing up solutions, and trying to decide who can provide the best results.
Content should be created to genuinely help people at each stage of their buying journey. By addressing their pain points and demonstrating empathy for their situation, you will be more likely to gain their trust.
Your content should also demonstrate how your company is uniquely positioned to solve their problems. Providing the information they're looking for when they need it and evidence of how your solutions have helped others is a great way to build authority with your audience.
Research has shown the positive effect that helpful content has on consumer perception of a company. 64% of respondents in one study trusted a brand was an expert in their industry immediately after reading their educational content and remarkably, this increased to 73% one week later (Conductor).
5. Costs less with a better return on investment (ROI)
Other forms of marketing often rely on advertising to achieve their goals. On top of the cost to create the assets for the advertising, you must pay the owner of the platform that you're advertising on. Once the advertisement has finished its run, your assets will no longer be working for your business as it's removed.
In comparison, the cost to create the assets will be largely borne up front with content marketing. It can be made available on the channels you own (e.g, your website, social media and email) without additional cost. It will be working for your business long into the future, especially when you also invest in search engine optimization (SEO) for your website and organic tactics for your other owned channels.
These strengths of content marketing also help to make a better ROI than traditional forms of marketing. Businesses that have a blog on their website receive 55% more visitors, 97% more inbound links and 434% more indexed pages than those who don't have a blog (HubSpot).
This success tends to snowball over time as the content is indexed, distributed and shared, resulting in more people seeing it, which increases leads, conversions and sales. This also saves money compared to the constant investment required to keep advertising running.
Types of content marketing
We've touched on the different types of content marketing that you can use for your business in the sections above. Let's dive into each type in more detail and introduce some new ones for you to consider when putting together your content marketing plan. We'll also provide an example of how each content type is being used by leading businesses.
A blog on your website gives you the flexibility to create different content and store it all in the one central location that you own. Popular content formats include articles, listicles, guides, and ebooks, with modern blogs including more visual imagery such as photos, graphics and videos to grab and maintain attention.
By adding internal and external links to relevant information and resources on your website, your blog can provide comprehensive and valuable content to meet the needs of your audience.
A content management system (CMS) on the website makes it easier to manage a blog. We recommend businesses build their websites with Webflow, which comes with a powerful CMS to make blogging a breeze.
Search engine optimization (SEO) should play an important role in how your website and blog posts are found via Google or other search engines. You may have great content, but it needs to be found. Using SEO tactics such as identifying keywords, cluster topics, and commonly asked questions to use in your blog posts will ensure you're creating relevant and high-quality content.
Example of a website blog
Almost every industry nowadays has great examples of organisations that have built blogs to serve their audiences with valuable content. Canva's blog reflects a company dedicated to providing educational content to its audience. It's actually named its blog 'Learn' to make that intent clear.
Canva has organised the blog based on their main content pillars and some key audience segments with unique use cases. There are sections for design, marketing and branding. As an online graphic design tool, these are the core topics that would interest Canva's target audience. There are also sections for non-profit organisations, teachers and students, who benefit from non-commercial focused topics.
The blog covers many ways to use Canva itself. This is an ideal way of both helping their audience and introducing its different benefits. The blog educates its audience and helps Canva achieve their stated mission of 'empowering everyone in the world to design anything'.
Social media posts
The breadth and usage of social media platforms provides the opportunity to share content wherever your ideal audience are hanging out. Over 75% of the world's population aged 13+ use social media, with over 93% of all internet users being social media users (Hootsuite). Depending on the audience you're trying to reach and the type of content you're producing, there is at least one social media platform that is ideal.
LinkedIn can work great for business-to-business (B2B) audiences, while TikTok and Snapchat attract younger audiences. Meta has been dominant with their various platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp) and has recently introduced Threads as a Twitter competitor. Pinterest meanwhile has retained a more female audience that uses the platform as a visual search engine.
Your content should align to best practices for each platform that you choose to create and share content on. By making the algorithms happy, you can increase your organic reach and identify more of your ideal audience to engage with.
Social media can help with maintaining brand awareness for a relatively small budget. Studies have shown that 55% of people learn about brands from social media (Sprout Social). It also provides an avenue to respond to feedback and answer questions to build trust and authority with your audience.
Example of social media posts
Red Bull is a great example of a brand sharing content that connects with its audience's interests. Although primarily an energy drink maker, it also owns or partners with sporting teams and athletes globally.
They focus on action sports and death-defying stunts, not obvious marketing. Red Bull runs dedicated accounts for sports teams it owns (e.g., Aston Martin Red Bull Racing) and to showcase their partner athletes in sports such as skateboarding, cliff diving, BMX and surfing.
While you may see the odd can of Red Bull in its content, its social media accounts never focuses on actually selling it. They instead rely on its distinctive brand imagery and connecting with its followers' passions for sport and adrenaline with a heavy focus on video content.
Email newsletters and drip campaigns
Email has been around for about 50 years, while browser-browsed email like Gmail has been with us for about 20 years (Google Blog). Despite the recent popularity of social media and chat apps, email remains a powerful way for businesses to communicate with their customers.
Building an email list ensures you are in control of your audience's contact details. Newsletters can be used to deliver consistent content to their inboxes. This is a perfect way to nurture relationships and convert people to customers and then to super fans.
It's not just newsletters though. A 'drip campaign', can be used to segment and communicate with a specific audience who have provided their email address. Such a campaign uses a pre-designed series of emails sent out automatically based on a person's actions to ensure they receive the right information at the right time.
Example of an email drip campaign
Calendly provides online scheduling software. We're a big fan of Calendly due to how easy it is to use and the flexibility it provides. Once you sign up for a free trial, you'll receive a drip campaign that works hard to ensure you complete the trial. They do this with personalized prompts and making sure you're able to use their service.
The first email begins with a statistic that drives home the value of using Calendly. This statistic has been personalized, based on the day-to-day role you select when you sign up for the free trial. Saving four hours scheduling meetings every week with Calendly is a great incentive to continue with the trial.
It then lists clear steps on how to get started using Calendly. This includes using a pre-built Event Type that acts as template to set up the first meeting. It finishes with a clear call-to-action (CTA) button to start scheduling straight away.
A second email is sent out the next day. It provides detailed instructions on how to create your own Event Type. Again personalized to the role you selected at sign-up, they also provide a link to an instructional video and contact details for their support team in case you require further assistance. A clear CTA button is used to prompt the reader to create an Event Type now.
The final email in this drip campaign is sent the day before the free trial ends. Although you can remain on their free plan, it lists the value you would receive from signing up to one of their paid plans. A CTA button encourages the reader to upgrade their plan now. There is also support provided for the reader if needed, with links to FAQs and a video at the bottom of the email.
Infographics are a media format that uses graphics to convey information to an audience. They are particularly effective when the information is complex or educational. But they are also great to provide visual flair on any topic.
They are easy to publish on different platforms, such as within an article on your website blog or posting to a social media channel. They also tend to be highly shareable and great for raising awareness of your brand.
Example of an infographic
IvyPanda is an academic assistance service. They have produced a visually striking infographic on their blog with bright colours and graphics that are appealing to their target audience. The topic is also perfect for their audience, detailing how students can avoid burn-out or boredom when studying.
A recent study has revealed nearly 91% of consumers want to see more video content from brands (Wyzowl).
Video can be used on website landing pages to capture your visitors' attention and encourage them to stay. Long-form video content on platforms like YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn can also be used to build an audience and direct traffic to your website.
Short-form video has been growing in popularity, particularly on social media. Instagram responded to first Snapchat and then TikTok by adding Stories and Reels respectively to capture short-form video content. YouTube has also recently launched their own version with Shorts.
These platforms provide the opportunity to raise brand awareness, reveal behind the scenes of your business, showcase your latest products and services, and present satisfied customers with user-generated content.
Example of video content
Dove has been campaigning to make the concept of beauty a source of confidence, not anxiety. In a video released on YouTube and their websites titled 'Dove Real Beauty Sketches', they hired an FBI-trained forensic artist to sketch a number of women.
First he sketches them based on a description they provide. The artist could not see the women while he sketched their portraits. He then sketched the women for a second time, but this time based on a description provided by someone else who had seen them.
The women were then shown the two portraits side-by-side. This process revealed the distorted views that many of the participants had of themselves and their real beauty as seen by strangers.
More than 50 million people viewed the video within twelve days of its release. It's now been viewed more than 70 million times. It's a great example of using video to make an emotional connection with its audience and associating a brand with positive messaging.
Utilising paid advertisements gives you the opportunity to access an audience immediately. This allows you to share content with your ideal customers more quickly and often at greater scale than other inbound marketing methods can provide.
Social media platforms, search engines and other websites (e.g., sponsored blog posts) can all be used to access an audience for a price. With the rise of influencer marketing and user-generated content (UGC), there are even more promotion avenues. When used strategically, paid advertising can be a valuable addition to your strategy.
Example of paid content
Spotify is a streaming service that runs an annual 'Wrapped' campaign. Subscribers receive data on their listening habits in the past year, such as most listened-to artists and songs.
Users are encouraged to share the results of their data on social media via the Spotify app. This leveraging of UGC also included the artists themselves who are encouraged to share their streaming success with their social media followers.
Combined with digital advertising across their social media, website and app, Spotify also use colorful and engaging outdoor billboards as part of their campaign. According to Spotify, the use of billboards further amplifies their reach on social as the featured artists love to promote the way people have loved their music during the year (Muse by Clio).
How to create a content marketing strategy
Now that we have a content marketing definition and provided examples of the different types available for your business, it's time to pull it all together to create your own strategy. Let's have a look at the steps required below.
1. Define your target audience
Before getting started, you need to have a good grasp of who you're targeting. By understanding their needs, wants, desires, and problems, you'll be able to tailor your messaging to ensure your content is relevant and valuable to your audience. If you know where they spend their time, you'll be able to make sure to reach them.
A common tactic is to create a buyer persona that represents an imaginary person from this ideal audience. For business-to-business (B2B) companies, creating an ideal customer profile (ICP) that represents an imaginary company is also helpful.
2. Set your goals and metrics
It's important to set goals for your strategy that are aligned to your wider marketing and company goals. They should be specific to your business and what you're hoping to achieve.
You should then set the metrics to measure your success with each goal. For example, if you are aiming for a certain number of leads every month for your business, consider tracking the number of visitors to your website and the number of those visitors who then perform the desired action such as booking an information session or subscribing to a newsletter.
3. Determine what kind of content
Assess the kind of content that your target audience will respond to best. Look at what is already resonating with your customers and your competitors' customers. This can be achieved by researching engagement on social media, the amount of traffic blog posts are receiving and the type of paid advertisements campaigns being run.
Review your existing content to identify any gaps or opportunities for improvement. Ensure you don't have outdated or incorrect information published anywhere. Check out this content audit checklist for guidance.
You should also consider what resources you have available. Do you or your team members have certain skill sets that will enable your company to excel at a certain type or format of content?
4. Select channels and platforms
This step is closely related to the previous one. Once you have determined what kind of content you will create, you need to plan which platforms and channels they will be distributed on.
Some will be self-explanatory, like blog posts and other assets being published and stored on your website. But others will require more consideration.
If you've decided to focus on video, post long-form ones on YouTube, LinkedIn and potentially your website. You may cut them up into short-form videos for distribution on other social media such as TikTok, Instagram and also as YouTube Shorts.
Other formats like ebooks and infographics can be published on your website and then shared across social media platforms. Use your email list to share your content with your existing audience.
Target the platforms and channels that you know your ideal audience are hanging out based on your research. Balance this against your allocated budget. You may want to invest more heavily into one or two options at a time and then progress onto others once you've gained good traction.
5. Create a publishing and distribution schedule
One you know what you will be creating and where it will be distributed, you need to ensure your content is being published consistently. To help with this, it's beneficial to create a schedule so everyone is on the same page.
It should detail what will be published, which goals it's aligned with, when it will be published, and where it will be published. It's good to set your strategy for the whole year. But breaking down the schedule to every quarter lets you adjust the content as needed more easily.
It may be broken down further to allow more detail and flexibility for each channel. For example, you may use a social media calendar that allows you to schedule and auto-publish content ahead of time.
6. Create, distribute and promote for visibility
Create high-quality content that your target audience will find valuable and relevant based on your research. Follow your content schedule, but allow flexibility based on news, market changes and audience feedback.
Strive to continually improve you and your team's skills in content creation. Optimize the content by using SEO on your website, following the unique requirements for each social media platform, and best practices for your emails.
Work on promoting your content across your website, social media and email. Be active in relevant online forums, such as Facebook groups, Quora and Reddit. Consider partnering with complementary businesses to share marketing efforts. Use paid advertisements on search and social media to amplify your best performing content.
7. Measure and adjust
Ensure you're measuring and analyzing the outcomes of your content marketing efforts. Refer back to your goals and their assigned metrics to measure their success.
There are various tools available to help you with this. Google Search Console is a great free tool to understand traffic to your website. You can also use Google Analytics or alternatives (our preference is Fathom Analytics) to track conversions and other events. Social media platforms have their own analytics, and various third-party tools can be used for even more detail.
Based on your analysis, identify opportunities to improve existing content further or create new content to achieve your goals. You may also need to amend your goals or how you're tracking them.
Content marketing is a dynamic strategy that focuses on helping people and building relationships. It helps you build a valuable website and other assets. It's a sustainable and cost effective way to grow your business with more leads, conversions and sales.