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Content Marketing is one of the primary jigsaw pieces in your Inbound Marketing puzzle. But how and where does content marketing fit throughout the inbound marketing lifecycle? In this article we bare all.
The distinction between content marketing and inbound marketing can sometimes feel blurry. As a marketer, when you’re developing a content marketing strategy as part of you inbound marketing efforts, you’d be forgiven for not seeing where one ends and the other begins.
Content marketing is a subset of inbound marketing, yet inbound marketing cannot exist without content.
Content is the the lifeblood for inbound marketing. Inbound marketing however, also includes a broader range of methods and techniques to attract, engage and delight prospects. At the same time, those different methods will also often leverage on content to be able to function.
If you think of your marketing strategy as a human, Inbound is the brains and the skeleton — it’s the structure and the thinking, reacting, processing part. Content is the muscle and the flesh, it’s the part that people can see, but it’s also what enables and empowers you to act.
With that in mind, let’s first dig deeper into what inbound marketing is.
Then we’ll take a look at what defines content marketing, and how content marketing strategy works to support your inbound marketing strategy.
Finally, we’ll shine a spotlight on one strategy of content marketing which works best for inbound, at each stage of the process.
Sound good? Let’s go!
What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is a methodology: a set of tools and processes to attract, engage and delight prospects along the buyer’s journey.
Where outbound marketing strategies attempt to impose a brand or product on an audience, inbound marketing is about creating educational content that potential customers will find organically, while trying to solve a specific need.
When they search for an answer or solution, they find your business because you have created and published content that is of genuine value to them.
If done right, inbound marketing helps turn prospects into customers, by positioning your brand, product or service as the very solution or answer to their needs.
Once a prospect has transitioned into a customer, you can continue to leverage that relationship, so that they become advocates of your business — and a source of new customer generation themselves.
This makes inbound marketing cyclical and rejuvenatory in nature, with your efforts to attract, engage and delight customers continually fuelling your business growth.
This cycle plays out over three distinct phases: attract, engage and delight. Let’s break each of those down into more detail…
The Attract Phase
This is where your content marketing strategy and inbound marketing almost feel most like one. Attracting is all about bringing prospects to your business by publishing helpful content that answers or helps define the prospect’s problem.
The Engage Phase
Engagement starts once you have managed to attract a prospect and have started a dialogue. Using marketing automation tools or sales calls, you begin to engage on a more informational level, to help a prospect understand your solution. Content continues to be used to build trust and deepen the relationship towards purchase.
The Delight Phase
The delight phase of inbound marketing is about ensuring your new customer becomes not only a source of revenue, but a fan. You want them to tell their colleagues, friends and business network about your company, and this is done by ensuring you have added significant value with your content.
Okay, that’s inbound marketing in a nutshell. So what about content marketing — how and where does that fit in?
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is broad in scope. It can include everything from blogs to webinars, ebooks to Facebook Live broadcasts, Instagram captions and white papers. The common thread that runs through content marketing is that it doesn’t directly sell — it drives awareness, educates and entertains. It builds a positive brand image, shares a company story and can exhibit thought leadership.
And, with the right strategy, content marketing can work for any business.
General Electric saw unprecedented success when it launched its Instagram content campaign, using engaging techniques like crowdsourcing and hashtag storytelling, to gain 175k new followers!
Another great content marketing example can be seen in Benetton’s ‘Colors’ Magazine, which focuses entirely on positive, colourful views of the world (subtly increasing Benetton brand awareness at the same time).
How Does Contenting Marketing Fit in to Inbound Marketing?
Now that we can clearly see how inbound marketing is a functional process of moving prospects through the buyer’s journey, and that content and content marketing is the creation and distribution of materials building brand awareness and perception, let’s bring these two together.
What type of content works best at each phase of the inbound marketing cycle?
A Key Strategy of Content Marketing for the Attract Phase
Your blog is a really beneficial content marketing tool during the attract phase of the buyer journey.
Ultimately, your blog’s primary function is to help potential customers find you organically.
But, for Google, or any other search engine, to direct visitors to your website, your content needs to be relevant and authoritative on a given topic.
Thing is, gaining relevance and authority is a long process, but it’s worth it.
So how do you create relevance and authority?
For one, Google needs to be able to scan your website, assess what it contains, evaluate how people rate it and understand if you are credible.
This means that your business needs to create and host quality, readable, relevant blog posts that are organised and structured in a way that Google can judge in fractions of a second.
The strategy of content marketing best suited to do this, is a ‘pillar and cluster’ content strategy.
A pillar and cluster content methodology helps you organise your content around topic themes, also known as clusters. These clusters contain several posts around a high level topic that’s relevant to your business. That cluster then links back to a central ‘pillar’, which is a longform piece of content targeting a broad keyword term or phrase specific to your business and customers.
Here’s an example...
If you are a property agent, a relevant topic cluster that matches a likely search term might be ‘pricing my apartment’.
Within this topic, you could do posts titles ‘5 Things To Avoid When Pricing Your Apartment’, ‘8 Websites That Can Help With Pricing Your Apartment’ and ‘How To Increase Value When Pricing Your Apartment’.
You may also choose to focus a cluster around the legal exchange of documents, or how to best search for new property, or best ways to prepare your property for sale.
In the pillar and cluster approach, you’d kick things off with a central piece of longform pillar content, for example ‘The Ultimate Guide To Selling Your Home’. This guide would share everything that a reader needs to know, from beginning to end.
Within the guide, you’d also make sure that you’ve targeted 1-2 broad singular keyword terms for your industry. In this case, it might be ‘estate agent’ or ‘property market’.
Your topic clusters then link to that central pillar, and search engines will - over time - begin to assess your breadth, depth and organisation of content to be highly relevant and authoritative.
A strong pillar and cluster approach doesn’t happen by accident. So before you do anything, you will need to research keyword terms — this helps you see what people are asking, and at what volume.
From there, you can start to develop strategic and engaging blog titles.
If this sounds like a long process, then you’re understanding it right! Content creation requires strategic planning and a commitment to long term goals. But the rewards are substantial!
A Key Strategy of Content Marketing for the Engage Phase
During the engage phase of inbound marketing methodology, you can now be understood to be in a conversation with your prospect.
That conversation can take many forms. It can be in the form of an email newsletter, tweets, posts on Instagram, chatbots or sales calls. What links all of these things together, is that your prospect is already aware of you, to some extent.
The role of your content is now to help deepen the trust that your prospect has with your business.
You’ll want to demonstrate that you are an educated thought leader and a valuable source of knowledge around the problem they need solving.
Email marketing is a great example of a content marketing strategy for the engage phase — especially if you pair this with marketing automation software.
These programs can help you deliver a piece of content to a prospect that is related to when and where they signed up to your newsletter. You email them a blog post, or guide, or video tutorial, that leads on naturally from whatever content of yours they have seen so far. This then progresses them along the buyer’s journey, at just the right time.
To help illustrate, let’s take an example.
Joe has a problem: he doesn’t know how to analyse the traffic to his webshop. He doesn’t even know where to begin. So Joe does a search, and finds a blog post that tells him about setting up a Google Analytics account. It tells him not just how, but why, and it gets him going with understanding the traffic to his site — great, so useful! “Maybe this company can help me with something else”, Joe thinks. So he signs up to their newsletter at the end of the blog (which has been neatly packaged in an enticing call to action).
Now, the business can see that Joe has signed up to their newsletter, as a result of reading a post on web analytics.
What will Joe find relevant next?
Perhaps he’d benefit from reading an ebook on how to use heatmaps, or ways to increase traffic, or how to use social media effectively for ecommerce. What’s more, if this new content can be delivered 24 hours after he signed up, the trust that Joe has in this company, and the extent to which he views them as an information source, is going to soar — priming him to make a purchase.
This is just one example. Truth is, there are loads of other ways to engage your audience with content. It just depends on what is appropriate for you, your business, product or service and your audience.
You could host livestream Q&As, record podcasts, film video tutorials or set up a newsletter that gives the latest trends and updates from your industry.
When it comes to creating your own ‘engage’ strategy of content marketing, ask yourself: what will build trust with prospective buyers? How can you build trust or show thought leadership on a topic?
Make these decisions wisely, and your content will eventually get readers over the line to purchase.
A Key Strategy of Content Marketing for the Delight Phase
At this stage, your content has done the job of attracting and engaging your prospects to the point of purchase. Hoorah!
Your efforts are now focusing on the satisfaction of that customer, so that they are not just a customer, but a loyal fan and advocate.
If you think about the last time you were ‘delighted’ with something, it wasn’t actually just because something met your expectations. Being ‘delighted’ means going above and beyond expectations. Delivering not what you thought you would get, but something even more.
So what role can content play, in helping to make sure that your customers are delighted?
To be sure, there are some things content can’t do. We’re all humans, and sometimes we just want to hear the voice at the end of the line that is interested in hearing about our success with their product. A big part of delighting your customers is going to come from that type of engagement, so please don’t assume a free eBook can replace a follow up call from your sales team.
Indeed, many successful delight strategies are not what we would consider to be content based initiatives, such as loyalty or customer care programmes or rewards.
However that doesn’t mean that you cannot consider using access to certain pieces or types of content as an offer in exchange for their custom.
For example, you could have a separate newsletter for existing customers that contained premium content that only customers received. Dependent on the contents, this could definitely delight a buyer.
Be careful to properly assess the value of content at this stage, to ensure you are going beyond expectations.