While you can find a lot of marketing strategies on the web, you can't learn everything online. We have found that the right industry-focused events offer the insights unavailable elsewhere. If you want to know how the experts succeed, discover the best performing tactics, and get career-building opportunities, you need to participate in masterclasses, conferences, and networking events.
Our team at SEMrush is continually gaining knowledge from several different conferences that offer educational experiences for content marketers worldwide. The experts presenting at these events share their best content marketing techniques and insights.
In this article, we are excited to present the most valuable insights we have gained from a range of significant events in the industry, including Content Marketing Conference 2019 and ContentTECH Summit 2019.
Branding First, Marketing After
Many businesses focus on short-term goals and expect immediate sales results through marketing. To achieve a better outcome, businesses should instead think strategy. They should concentrate on long-term goals and first work out the basics — like a brand personality.
When you know who you are and what you want to accomplish, it is much easier to decide how to market your business the right way and plan your strategy accordingly. Veronica Romney presented this idea at CMC 2019, where she encouraged companies to work on branding before proceeding to marketing activities.
Branding should go before marketing!
There is so much marketing noise, and even your own brand’s noise could make you invisible to the audience if you don’t stand out. The only way to get the audience’s attention is to make your brand personality unique by developing an individual voice.
Defining Brand Voice
Sometimes a brand focuses entirely on its corporate culture and goals when developing a brand voice, but if you do this, you may completely forget about the customer. Good branding isn’t about you — it is about your customer.
You will never be the hero of your customer’s story.
Don’t try to put a customer into your brand. Instead, dive into your customer’s world and immerse your brand into it. Your branding should start with researching your audience from A to Z. You should continue with defining your core brand values and eventually succeed with finding the best way to connect your personality with your customer’s world.
A brand voice allows you to find the place your brand can take in the customer’s world.
To learn more about defining and implementing a tone of voice for your brand, head to our Tone of Voice guide to see some examples of distinctive brand voices as illustrated by 404 customized pages.
Building Message Architecture
While brand voice is how you communicate with your audience, a message architecture is what you say.
A message architecture allows you to deliver consistent messages across all content you produce —it summarizes and prioritizes your communication goals in a short document that should be distributed to your entire content team.
A message architecture ensures the delivery of consistent messages.
Cathy McKnight defines a message architecture as:
A consistent and uniform way to communicate.
Not only words but also design.
Clear and drive decisions.
There are different ideas regarding how a message architecture should look and how it should be composed. Focus on making it helpful and clear.
Here is Cathy's example of what a message architecture of A-team may look like:
Once you have established your brand personality, start planning your content around what engages your audience and what they care about.
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Content as a Tool for Creating Experience
Most of our marketing is directed at driving purchase. But most of the time, our buyers are not buying. They are reviewing, using, replacing, advocating, asking for help…
When creating content, we often focus too much on the marketing funnel. Without a doubt, generating leads is important as content marketing serves your business goals. However, your business won’t make progress in the modern competitive world if your brand doesn’t offer a unique experience to your audience.
Your consumers not only buy your products; they also buy an experience.
Creating an experience is one of the crucial challenges for content marketers, especially when you want to build it around your entire buyer's journey.
Great content experiences are an art and science. They are formed by creativity and informed by data.
One of the most insightful speeches we heard about creating an experience for your audience was held by Andrew Davis, who offered a distinctive approach to the consumer journey.
Create Moments of Inspiration
Instead of focusing on your ROI only, you need to think about how your content inspires your customers and create moments of inspiration — MOIs.
A moment of inspiration is an instant in time that sends your consumer on a journey they didn’t expect. These moments actually happen quite frequently to all of us, and you should use them to build a loyalty loop for your audience.
Invite your audience on a journey they never expected.
Create moments of inspiration for your audience to win their commitment to your brand.
To explain his approach, Andrew gave an example from his life when he opened a letter from Nissan informing him that his lease was going to expire in 30 days. Here is what transpired next:
Moment of inspiration happens (Andrew realizes that his lease is coming up and he is going to need another car).
A trigger question pops in his head — where a user asks themselves what they want to buy/visit/subscribe to, etc. (Andrew asks himself “What car am I going to buy?”).
Prime brand comes up to answer the trigger question — this happens immediately and subconsciously (Andrew remembers a car he likes).
Active evaluation starts — a user evaluates this brand or several of them (Andrew looks around at all the other cars on the road, searches car reviews, etc.).
Moment of commitment happens — a user trades money for products/services (Andrew buys a car that is not a Nissan, as the brand failed to trigger a moment of inspiration for him).
Another moment of inspiration happens…
This is how the loyalty loop is created. Your content strategy should be aimed at creating these moments of inspiration so that a user constantly stays in this loop.
You don’t have to offer the best products or services. You do have to deliver the best experiences.
To unlock moments of inspiration, ask your client questions such as “What inspired you to…?” (e.g., come into the store, buy your subscription, etc.) Use this knowledge to think about how and when you can send your client on their next journey.
Art of Storytelling
Storytelling is one of the best ways to create an experience, allowing us to develop a deeper connection with the audience. Stories make us remember, and stories make us care — which is what all brands are looking for with their marketing activities. Content marketing works because our brains simply enjoy stories.
We are programmed for stories.
Stories trigger the release of a neurochemical called oxytocin, which promotes prosocial, empathic behavior — and this oxytocin is what enables us to identify with the hero/protagonist in a story.
Tom Shapiro shared that we are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it is wrapped in a story (Source: Jerome Bruner, Cognitive Psychologist). You can benefit from this natural chemistry, but make sure to consider each step your customer takes when creating a storyline, so when they see your brand, a positive memory remains.
Create great stories throughout your entire customer journey in order to engage the audience.
There are four elements of immersive storytelling, according to Joe Lazauskas that you can implement into your content creation and strategy to evoke emotions in your audience.
When composing stories, ensure your content strategy aligns with what engages the audience and what they really care about. If you fail to do so and instead deliver a message that is out of your customer’s world — you are going to fail. Joe illustrates this idea with Poliakov’s Pyramid of Engagement.
To focus on what your customer is likely to engage with, Joe invites you to ask yourself the following questions:
For B2C: How can I help my audience enjoy their passions more?
For B2B: How can I help my target buyer do their job better? How can I solve their biggest challenges at work?
High-Tech in Content Marketing
AI, VR, and Internet of Things — the latest trends in content marketing — also allow you to create an experience for your audience and provides great opportunities to take your storytelling to the next level.
Use the latest technologies like AI to create a unique customer experience.
According to Ron Jacobs, AI-driven MarTech allows you to implement customization and personalization at scale to create a unique and useful customer experience. The Internet of Things can help you create a conversational interface and virtual assistance as well as much more.
With the increasing amount of information available online, you have to adapt to filter and handle data fast. The modern world requires modern solutions — use machine learning and automation to leverage your content marketing.
Either you will manage the machines, or the machines will manage you.
Christopher S. Penn demonstrates that you can use AI through your entire content marketing process — from content audit to building relationships with opinion leaders.
Combine customer data with artificial intelligence to forge insights that can be used to create improved content that will connect and engage your audience.
Use the latest technologies to power your content strategy with data.
To think through an experience you want to create for your audience, you need to have a well-defined content marketing strategy.
The Importance of Strategy
Many marketers still don’t use a strategic approach to content marketing — statistics show that in 2018, 62% of businesses didn’t have a documented content strategy. This idea is widely discussed by many experts on content marketing events. Cathy McKnight is one such expert. Here are some of the key takeaways from her speech on this subject.
Content strategy serves as a business strategy as much as to content marketing itself.
The planning aspects of managing content through its lifecycle, and includes aligning content to business goals, analysis, modelling, and influences to development, production, presentation, measurement of content.
Content marketing must evolve from being just a marketing tactic into a business model.
Content Strategy as a Business Function
Cathy shows a few interesting statistics proving the idea that strategic content is “stuck in average” and requires evolution.
The problem today is that collateral content teams barely introduce strategic initiatives — 10% of their time is spent on such initiatives. They spend up to 60% of their time on campaign support, while the ideal scenario would be that 60% of content were strategic instead:
We need to stop creating disconnected content assets and instead create strategic initiatives that demand an audience.
The owned media value curve shows us that the evolution of content marketing is inevitable. It has evolved from a marketing tactic in 1995 to a business strategy today — and strives to become a business model by 2025.
Now is your chance to be ahead of the curve and work with a content strategy as a business function. To dive into how to develop a great content strategy for your business step by step, see our Ultimate Guide to Content Strategy in 2019.
The first stage of any content marketing strategy is to perform an audit on your content. A content Audit is a much more global and powerful tool than just measuring results.
A content audit also allows you to perform content modeling. Content modeling is developing a classification system that identifies content based on your business needs.
The content model documents all the different types of content you will have for a given project. Detailed definitions of each content type’s elements and relationships to each other.
This high-level model by Rachel Lovinger breaks down common content types of a music website and shows how they are related to each other:
Items in the sales chart link to pages with the relevant songs, artists, and albums.
The album, artist, and song pages are interlinked.
You can use this model to validate the concept of your content assets relationship and think over the flow of your website with your UX team.
Content modeling allows you to connect marketers and UX with content strategists, balancing automation, and the human approach.
To perform content modeling, do the following:
Find all of the existing content that your website has.
Analyze each type of content you have.
Define how these types relate to each other.
Lay out your content assets into a plan or taxonomy driven by your users’ needs.
Learn how to perform a website content audit to guide your content marketing strategy with SEMrush.
Content As a Product
Joe Lazauskas states that 5% of content gets 90% of the attention, which proves that we should create less content and focus on quality instead. It is time to start thinking of your content as a product.
The key difference with content as a real product is that you don’t simply trade your content for money. You get something even more valuable, which is clients’ loyalty and audience growth, directly contributing to your long-term goals and ROI.
A benefit of this approach is that the projects are limited in time, but the products are continuous and iterative.
If you compare this concept to the traditional idea of creating content, you will see that the old approach lacks these benefits as well as presents significant challenges:
Complexity and risks of project work in silos are self-contained.
Consolidated sites have different visitor types and internal stakeholders, which causes tension or conflicts.
Bureaucracy within internal working processes.
Don’t treat your content as a temporary project turning it into a disconnected pile of assets. Create content as a product and have it be continuous and iterative.
Today owned media is a separate product for your audience — not just a marketing channel. Some brands like Red Bull, for example, have managed to monetize their content channels.
Here are a few success stories Andrew Davis shared during his keynote, highlighting brands that treat their content as a product.
A Fish Tale
Bart Van Olphen sells fish, and in the very beginning, he had trouble. In 2011, he decided to write a book, but unfortunately, it wasn’t as successful as he expected.
Bart didn’t give up — in 2013 he created his “Fish Tales” account on Instagram, where he started to upload the “world’s shortest cooking show” in videos. Each episode was about 15 seconds long — just enough time to share quick tips and tricks about selecting and cooking fish.
Thanks to all of his hard work, people started buying his fish and Fish Tales even branded products. Now his company has become a business valued at $20 million.
Missouri Star Quilt Company
Jenny Doan is a quilter, and she decided one day to turn her hometown of Hamilton, Missouri, into the capital of quilting. In 2008, Jenny and her family founded the Missouri Star Quilt Company and started uploading quick quilting tutorials on YouTube. It turned out to be a huge success. Today she releases a tutorial a week and has more than 164 million viewers.
By 2018 her company was bringing in revenue of $148 million a year. Jenny is the biggest employer in her county and built an entire community around quilting.
If you want to build your content as a product, read on to get some insights about how to create content and what tactics to use from the best experts.
Science of Content Creation
Today content writing is truly a scientific process when you experiment with content formats, test various tones of voice, and choose ingredients for each of your content pieces. There are different scientific and tactical approaches to content creation we would like to share with you.
Using Neuroscience in Content Creation
Your audience’s actions are driven by the subconscious. Using core neuroscientific principles, you can craft better content that connects directly with your audience, engages them more deeply, and eventually drives better conversions.
Deviate from a pattern that the brain has learnt to expect.
According to Carmen Simon, people forget your content quickly and easily for a few reasons: if you don’t know where your audience is looking, if your content looks like someone else’s, and overuses abstracts. People also tend to forget because they don’t pay attention.
Content Marketers already use neuroscience in their everyday work. To be good at it, you have to have an understanding of how people pay attention and what attracts them the most.
People like to generalize information, but they understand concrete points better. Therefore, combining abstract ideas with concrete content is one of the best ways to grab people’s attention and make them remember.
Combine abstract and concrete content to get people’s attention.
Carmen suggested using these three new habits when creating content:
Use direct focus, clarify the reward for your audience, and control their working memory.
Allow some similarity and then deviate from the pattern.
Balance abstract and concrete content.
There are so many content formats, but unfortunately, many companies are limited to using traditional types of content like blog posts and videos. Ideally, content marketing should be a part of every piece of content you produce for your website, external platforms, apps, and social media.
As surprising as it may seem, it also includes all of your brand communication — sales, marketing, and customer support. Conversational content is part of content marketing:
Conversational сontent expands on that idea by making it possible to bring a more human connection into every interaction.
Content that you use in your brand communication is also a part of your strategy.
Meet your customers in their preferred channel and start implementing conversational content by learning these five quickstart tips from Chris Buehler:
Create thoughtful content, use live QAs, and open-ended questions in social media.
Allow the audience to personalize the experience with custom filters and suggested content.
Embed a contact center right into your content or other sales and marketing touchpoints.
Be accessible at all times.
Ensure conversation continuity with integration — find and onboard teams onto integrated platforms.
Try to create the best possible relationships with your audience by combining the power of the sales and marketing forces working together instead of as separate entities.
Build Content Like a Lego Figure
The funny yet practical idea shared by Noz Urbina is to think of your content as a Lego figure and build it in a similar way.
Noz compared a traditional style content with a clay pot — freeform, messy, hard to reuse, and collaborate. In contrast, content should be built like legos — structured, infinitely reusable, easy to experiment with and mix.
A Lego-like content is composed of different blocks with different functions that can be spotted easily both by a writer to update, and a reader to navigate through the article.
When you create content like Legos, it is easier for you to update it, and easier for the user to navigate.
Snap, Crackle, and Pop
To end this article, we want to share some tips for content creation by Byron White — create content that snaps, crackles, and pops.
Snap - Content snaps when readers can quickly understand the value proposition and why it matters.
Crackle - Content crackles when readers form an emotional reaction to the content in a personal way that inspires engagement and continued reading.
Pop - Content pops when it motivates action, conversion or purchase, or if it continues to inspire after it is passed by the reader.
Create content that snaps, crackles, and pops.
We hope that some of these insights will help you boost your content strategy! Which one do you like the most? Have you already implemented any of these strategies? Share your thoughts in the comments section!