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Building a content marketing plan

To use content marketing effectively, you’ll need to develop a plan. But before you do, you’ll need to understand what content marketing is and how it can help your business.

The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience, with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

The CMI could use some help with its content, which is loaded with marketing clichés, so allow me to translate.

CMI’s definition never defines content, which includes blog posts, articles, press releases, white papers, newsletters, photos, videos, case studies, graphics and any other information that’s shared to educate or influence the reader or viewer.

The “clearly defined audience” that content marketing seeks to “attract and acquire” may include prospects, customers, employees, potential sources of referrals and others.

As for “driving profitable customer action,” the CMI presumably means profit for you, not for your customer, and the “action” it has in mind is selling your products or services, but the term “selling” is too vulgar for content marketers.

So, “content marketing” is a sales tool that uses information, rather than a direct sales pitch, to communicate with clients and prospects. You may think that sounds like public relations.

Bingo! You may be using content marketing and not even know it.

Instead of pitching a story to media, though, content marketers often create content, post it on a blog, then “amplify” their message by tweeting it, and posting it on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere.

Content marketing has grown in recent years, in part because most companies have rebuilt their websites into content management systems that practically anyone can use to update content. If your website doesn’t have a content management system, it’s time for a redesign.

Creating a content marketing plan

CMI offers seven “building blocks” to achieve success with content marketing. They include plan, audience, story, channels, process, conversations and measurement. Missing from the mix is research, which is necessary when developing a plan and identifying the needs of the audience; that is, potential customers. Here’s how the other five blocks work:

Your story is your marketing message, told through a variety of “channels” that distribute the message using a process that should change as social media and other media evolve.

Thanks to the Internet, we can also have conversations. Let’s say your blog post is so compelling that someone takes the time to post a comment. You comment back. The person is so impressed that he or she phones you, continues the conversation and places a large order.

Finally, there’s measurement, which justifies the time and money spent on content marketing. You can measure traffic to your blog or to specific landing pages, but ideally you’re also tracking how much of your traffic turns into sales.

Before you market content, of course, you have to create it. Any content marketing plan should focus as much on creating content as it does on distributing it. Content that’s loaded with keywords may attract more traffic, but if it’s repetitive and poorly written, it will drive potential customers away.

If content marketing matters to you, it should be written by a professional who can make it compelling enough to attract customers.

David P. Kowal is president of Kowal Communications Inc. in Northborough. Contact him at kowal@kowal.com.

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