What is Content Marketing? [Definition + Examples]
Content marketing is a strategy that uses blog articles, videos, guides, and more to attract buyers, build trust in your company, shorten your sales cycles, and ultimately help people buy your products and services. .
As IMPACT's Content Manager, she works closely with the Director of SEO to identify targeted content and organic search opportunities. On a day-to-day basis, she is writing lots of new content and revamping old, making sure all evergreen content aligns with IMPACT's core philosophies (especially those outlined in Marcus Sheridan's They Ask, You Answer).
Learn how to drive traffic, leads, and sales — with content marketing
Since search engines have made a wealth of information available with the click of a mouse, there has been a shift in the way buyers research and purchase products and services. Not only are buyers researching their purchases online, but they’re tired of traditional outbound marketing avenues that are interruptive of their day-to-day life, such as paid ads, billboards, and cold calls.
In fact, roughly 50% use ad-blocking technology to ignore your messaging in the first place, and 80% of buyers prefer to weigh their options themselves instead of speaking with a sales team during the awareness stages of the buyer’s journey.
What are you supposed to do when most of your buyers go to great lengths to ignore you and prefer to make educated purchase decisions on their own?
Enter content marketing, which is now one of the most effective ways to establish your business as the premier voice in your industry and build trust with your buyers. As you create content for your business, it helps you show up where your buyers are searching for their information.
Maybe you’ve tried to publish content before, but it’s not giving you the results you were expecting. Content marketing, while it might seem like a simple concept, can be difficult to pull off well. It should help you build a strong relationship with buyers and foster a genuine connection. These results take a lot of time and effort — and they don’t always work overnight.
These resources will help your business make its content marketing strategy far more effective and actually worth all the time and effort you’re putting into it.
Content marketing done right — think high-value, customer-centric blog posts, white papers, video, etc. — can prove to be an effective way to generate exponential growth in your traffic, leads, and sales.
Content marketing is a strategy that uses blog articles, videos, guides, and more to attract buyers, build trust in your company, shorten your sales cycles, and ultimately help people buy your products and services.
Especially when it comes to creating content that builds strong business-customer relationships — where your buyers feel so satisfied that they not only buy from you repeatedly, but also become an advocate of your brand.
This can only happen by fostering a genuine connection, which our content marketing framework, They Ask, You Answer, can help you achieve.
While content marketing sometimes takes a lot of work across myriad platforms to be successful (think blog articles, videos, guidebooks, ebooks, podcasts, case studies, and more), it is certainly worth the effort.
Better search engine ranking and more organic traffic
Content marketing can help your website rank higher in search engines for the keywords and phrases buyers use during their research process, especially when you’re able to tap into the questions your buyers are asking. This in turn generates more organic traffic and better-qualified leads to your website.
As explained in Marcus Sheridan’s book They Ask, You Answer, the best content marketing strategies obsess over answering every question your buyers ask — especially the difficult ones. We recommend starting with articles we call The Big 5, and then refining your content around specific keyword research (from Semrush, Surfer, or other keyword tools).
Better conversions (more leads)
When you create high-quality, ungated content such as articles and pillar pages that answer your reader’s questions and help them solve their problems, you build trust with your readers and nudge them closer to becoming customers.
This is because consumers will see your business as a helpful resource rather than just a brand out to get their money. This helps more people feel comfortable filling out forms on your site (which means more conversions).
Effective content marketing not only earns more clicks and views, but also keeps visitors scrolling and clicking through to view more pages. In other words, better content keeps prospects on your site and engaged with your brand longer.
Not only does great content help build stronger customer relationships, but search engines take notice and weigh this in your rank.
Shortened sales cycles
Great content marketing can also help shorten sales cycles. It helps leads become more qualified and educated (and more likely to close faster). But you can also create sales enablement content that is specifically designed to help close more deals for your sales team.
Using a content marketing strategy we call assignment selling, sales reps intentionally use educational content about your products and services to resolve concerns and answer the questions of prospects before a sales conversation.
Lower overall cost and higher ROI
Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing methods, such as paid advertising, banner ads, billboards, and commercials, according to reporting from Demand Metric.
This is because content marketing takes advantage of low- or no-cost tools, such as blogging, SEO, and social media. While paying a seasoned, skilled professional to own your content strategy can come at a significant cost, the work builds upon itself and generates a greater ROI over time.
Builds trust with audiences
When your business focuses on educating (rather than selling to) your prospects, you have the ability to showcase your expertise and humanize your brand.
This helps build trust with your target audience — and trust is the key to significant growth.
For more information about the benefits of content marketing and to get the most out of your strategy, check out these eye-opening content marketing statistics.
The content marketing funnel is a customer-centered campaign that uses targeted educational content at all points of the buyer’s journey to attract your ideal prospective customers and move them along toward making a purchase.
The content marketing funnel helps your marketing team understand which pieces of content are the most important to create and why. This helps them focus their content marketing efforts so that they are not only narrower in scope, but also more effective.
The three content marketing funnel stages are:
1. Discovery phase
Content that is created to educate buyers who are first searching for information about how to solve their pain points are at the top of the funnel (TOFU). At this point in the buyer’s journey, your prospects might not know the solutions to their problems just yet.
They are likely searching for content that describes their pain points and explains the possible solutions. For example, a buyer during this phase of the content marketing funnel might be searching for answers to questions such as “Why is there mold in my basement?”, “Why am I getting headaches all the time?”, or “Where are the best places to go on vacation with my family?”
2. Consideration phase
Consideration phase or middle-of-the-funnel (MOFU) content helps prospects choose which solution is the best for their problem as they consider all the options. At this point, they are more aware of the possible solutions to their problems, but they are learning more about those solutions and need help choosing which works best.
Here’s where you want to answer questions such as “What’s the difference between…?” It could be a comparison between products and services you offer, or even explaining the similarities and differences between your offerings and your competitors’.
3. Purchase phase
This is where content, such as customer journeys or testimonials, helps prospects decide which company to purchase from. Purchase phase — or bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU) — content that helps in this phase includes anything that will explain what it looks and feels like to be a customer of that business.
Let’s look at which types of content make sense at each of these phases.
As you build out your content marketing strategy and your website, here are some of the most effective types of content marketing your business can use to gather and convert more leads and build better relationships with your buyers.
We’ve broken them out according to where your prospects are in the buyer’s journey:
Discovery (TOFU) content that helps educate your prospects and explain the possible solutions to their problems:
Blog articles — Businesses that blog typically get 67% more leads per month and generate 13 times the ROI. When developed properly, blog posts help digitally driven consumers find your website and learn about your products and services through organic search. As we mentioned prior, start with The Big 5 and then explore the other revenue-generating business blog topics that educate prospects.
Video tutorials — People watch an average of 19 hours of video online per week, and when it comes to learning about products and services, 69% revealed that video was their go-to. This is because video is a quick and easy way to digest a wealth of information, and is a powerful way to connect with potential customers who might otherwise skip reading your blog.
Email — With an average ROI of 4,200%, ($42 for every $1 spent!), email remains an effective way to keep your customer engaged with your business. Keep your outreach succinct and educational rather than salesy (pushing people to buy). Inboxes fill up quickly, and if you want to get through to your buyer, you need to be clear about the value you’re providing so your email will be opened, read, and enjoyed.
Consideration (MOFU) content that helps your prospects compare all the possible solutions:
Comparison articles and guides — Use comparison articles and guides to further educate prospects on the steps they can take to solve their biggest pain points. These might include a comparison between your products and services, pros and cons of all the different options, or comparisons between your offerings and your competitors’. This content may offer lower organic search volume, but the audience is much more engaged with the topic at hand.
Webinars — Consider hosting a webinar to educate and draw in more prospects. You can also create cross-branded content by inviting someone from the industry to join you, thereby boosting your brand awareness. Record these events and upload them to your website or YouTube channel so they continue to bring value.
Purchase (BOFU) content that helps your prospects make that final choice:
Case studies — Case studies, which can serve as a client testimonial or customer journey, can be some of the most powerful pieces of content you can publish on your site. Being able to show that a company or client achieved amazing results by working with your business helps prospects see how they can be helped by you too. It helps people feel more comfortable taking that leap of faith in choosing your company over all others.
Live trials and demos — If your business offers a membership or subscription service where customers engage in a long-term commitment, the BOFU content your prospects are interested in includes trial offers so they can test the products before they buy. Demos can also be useful in helping them learn how to properly use and get the most out of your products and services.
Free consultation offers — When someone is ready to buy, provide access to someone who can walk them through the process, whether virtually or in-person. Offer to meet with them and discuss their options, free of charge. Aim to help, not to sell, so your prospects feel comfortable disclosing their problems and exploring solutions with you.
Now that you know which types of content work well for each phase of the buyer’s journey, here are some examples to inspire your content marketing efforts.
We keep saying this, but it’s so important that it bears repeating: Your main goal when building an effective content-based marketing strategy is to build authority and trust with prospects through education.
In fact, two-thirds of adults in the United States say trust has a substantial influence on their decision when making a big purchase. To establish this trust, you need to create high-quality content that is useful, whether someone decides to purchase what you have to offer or not.
This awareness-phase video by IMPACT client Mazzella answers one of the first questions buyers will ask about your products: What is [your product] and what does it do?
After answering the initial question, they also go into the different parts of the crane and how they work. These types of explainer videos help your prospects understand more about what your products and services can do for them.
In this comprehensive blog article, IMPACT client West Roofing Systems grabs buyers before they even know the solution to their problems. It goes over all the signs and symptoms prospects may be facing and what to do to minimize the damage.
This problems article is an example taken from The Big 5 playbook. Written and published by Marcus Sheridan’s company, River Pools, the article shows you how to build trust with your content by explaining all the things that could go wrong with a product you sell.
And it doesn’t stop there — it also offers solutions to consider, such as how to fix spider cracks and avoid color fading.
When homebuyers are comparing options, they often look up questions starting with “What’s the difference between…” In this case, lender Rocket Mortgage answers this question for buyers who want to learn more about the difference between short sales and foreclosures.
They also offer a chance for buyers to go a bit deeper into the mortgage application process by offering to help them see what they qualify for with a loan generator.
When your buyers narrow down their options, they begin to ask BOFU questions, such as how much do your products and services cost? This example by IMPACT client Berry Insurance shows how to do it right.
Notice how specific the article is (How Much Does Commercial Flood Insurance Cost in MA?). This works well because Berry Insurance only covers a local area.
Ok, so your prospects are ready to buy, but they want to know one final thing: How have others found working with your business? Customer journey videos are great for helping buyers get over this last purchasing hurdle and learn to trust that you’ll be able to help them solve their problems.
We love this example from Zoom talking about how HubSpot is using Slack and Zoom to improve their communication abilities — especially while working remotely. It shares a customer experience while also showing how these technologies can help.
Now it’s time to build your actual content marketing strategy. Here, we’re going to share with you the best ways to set your business up for success:
Get organizational buy-in
The first step to creating a successful content marketing strategy is to get buy-in from your business’s leadership. There are a couple reasons this is important:
Your content marketing efforts will be stymied unless you have the foundational support of your leadership and stakeholders. Unless they’re all on board, your content marketing will always fall to the wayside and be seen as an unimportant endeavor.
Creating content is a cultural shift, and everyone in the company needs to understand its importance and ability to drive revenue if you want everyone to contribute (hint: you do!).
Host a workshop where the benefits of content marketing are covered, or get everyone on board by explaining how content marketing can solve for shared values (such as the fact that buyer behavior has changed and trust is the foundation of strong businesses). Seek out input from relevant departments when you create content, either by interviewing them as subject matter experts or asking them for their thoughts, as this can help accelerate buy-in and help identify industry trends.
Bring content ownership in-house
The companies we’ve worked with that get the most inbound marketing wins the fastest do one very simple thing: They hire a full-time content manager. This person is ultimately the backbone of your inbound marketing efforts and will help you bring content creation in-house.
This way, you have more control over the content creation process and can capture the voice of your business best, because at the end of the day, no one knows your business more than the people who work there. No freelancer or agency will ever be able to capture that for you, and outsourcing is one of the content marketing mistakes many businesses make.
Encourage cross-department alignment
To get the most out of your content marketing efforts, you need sales and marketing to be extremely aligned — and this is difficult to do without buy-in. This makes creating customer-driven, high-quality content for assignment selling far easier because you will have your sales team involved.
We also suggest you create a revenue team with all the strongest players from your sales and marketing teams. They should meet twice a month to go over which content the sales team needs to close more deals and evaluate how the content already created is working.
Set clear goals (with wiggle room for unforeseen changes)
What marketing goals do you want to achieve? Depending on your industry, this is a key area to consider, including how world events may affect your plans. While your purpose shouldn’t change due to external factors, your annual goals — and outcomes — could fluctuate greatly.
In our article, How To Set Marketing Goals, IMPACT CEO Bob Ruffolo explains how to set these goals within the revenue targets of your business.
Define your audience and user pathways
Customers need different content at different stages of their buyer’s journey. Early on, they might be more focused on their problems than on the possible solutions. This “awareness stage” buyer is asking different questions than someone who is in the final stages, deciding between two options.
The perfect content strategy provides engaging content across the entire customer lifecycle, so keep track of the questions your buyers ask at each phase and use their questions to create your buyer personas and content.
There’s nothing more satisfying than building a repository of content marketing tools that help us do our jobs better each day. They smooth out our processes, automate our repetitive tasks, and make us more effective and efficient.
Here are the tools that every content marketer should consider, as they can greatly help improve the way you’re able to reach prospects and turn them into paying customers.
HubSpot is an incredible CMS for digital marketers. The content ROI reporting that’s possible when you have both the marketing and sales hubs is unbeatable, and it helps you identify which content marketing tactics are working and which ones aren’t bringing in new customers.
It’s one thing to be able to show traffic and lead growth to the rest of the company, but it’s quite another when you can actually show how specific pieces of content helped a deal close.
Sure, a lot of other platforms offer similar options (either under one roof or as disparate pieces), but HubSpot just does it better than anyone else.
The primary use of Semrush is as a keyword research tool, as it provides crucial insight into how many keywords a website is ranking for and how popular those keywords are.
But Semrush also offers analysis far beyond just keywords, including technical SEO, backlinking, competitive research, brand monitoring, and content gaps. It’s an invaluable tool that helps you build a strategy for organic search success.
Surfer SEO is an analysis and planning tool that lets you quickly create an SEO-centric content strategy with pillar pages, supporting content, and more.
With SERP analysis, content planning, and auditing functions, you can quickly get an understanding of the competitive landscape around each topic. Additionally, Surfer has a plugin that allows you to send recommendations directly through Google Docs to your writing team so they can see in-depth recommendations for each page’s primary and secondary keywords as well as the supporting language they should use to achieve search success.
We’ve been a remote organization for a while now. But no matter how long you have been remote, things can still get lost in translation when you rely solely on text to communicate with anyone.
That is why Vidyard is such a staple here at IMPACT. Being able to attach a personal video to a proposal, follow up after meetings, respond to a customer, or just the ability to show up with a smile dramatically improves your ability to create better relationships with your coworkers and customers.
To top it off, after you send a video, you get a notification when someone viewed it and can see how much they’ve watched.
We’ve narrowed down our list to seven KPIs that will help your business track what’s working and what isn’t so you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
Here’s what to track:
1. Number of content marketing pieces published per week
The most important metric to track — especially when you’re first starting out — is publishing at least three pieces of high-quality content (articles, video, etc.) each week.
When you publish valuable and transparent content on a regular basis that is properly optimized, search engines will recognize that your website provides lots of useful information, and you will rank higher and faster in SERPs.
2. Organic website traffic
Organic traffic is one of the best ways to measure how well your company is educating people (more traffic means more people are finding you). It’s also a leading indicator that you’ll be getting more leads and sales. The more people who are on your site, the more opportunities you have to convert leads.
3. Session-to-contact rate
After publishing lots of content, it’s exciting to see the organic traffic pouring in; however, you want to be sure it’s not just any traffic — but the right traffic.
Measuring your contact conversion rate can help you gauge this.
To calculate your contact conversion rate, divide new contacts by the number of total website sessions. A strong contact conversion rate means your website visitors are clicking on your calls-to-action (CTAs) and filling out forms, exchanging their personal information for content they find valuable.
4. Sales opportunities generated (SQLs)
You want to know the content you’re creating is not only driving more organic traffic to your site, but that it’s also increasing sales opportunities.
By applying the principles of The Big 5, you’ll attract real potential customers who have problems that your company can help them solve. This creates more (and better) opportunities for your sales team and shortens the sales cycle.
5. Average length of sales cycle
Speaking of shortening the sales cycle, one of the biggest lessons we teach at IMPACT is the importance of aligning marketing and sales.
The revenue team is in charge of developing and executing a content strategy that can be used to increase closing rates and close deals faster — and we do this with the process of assignment selling. When your content is working as it should, your sales cycle will be shorter, so tracking this is a strong indication of how well you’re creating content and using it in the sales process.
6. Ranking for important keywords
When your website starts ranking for the top keywords in your industry, it shows that your dedication to providing valuable content and being the No. 1 teacher in your space is paying off.
This creates a snowball effect, because as your content ranks well, your overall SEO success improves — which means more visibility on those search SERPs. In turn, the speed at which your content produces results increases.
7. New sales attributed to content marketing
When your sales are increasing as a direct result of the content you’re creating, it’s no surprise this indicates a content marketing win. Again, content-tracking tools such as HubSpot can tell you exactly where — specific articles or videos — a prospect entered your site, and how many pieces of content they touched before making a purchase.
This means you will never second guess whether the time and energy you’re putting into your content marketing initiative are actually worth it — you will have the numbers to back you up.
Since the costs of content marketing can vary so widely, we’re going to provide average prices based on the assumption that you want the highest quality work.
You can go to Fiverr and get someone to write a $10 blog post for you, but it likely won’t be the quality content you need to win over readers or rank in search engines — and the same goes for almost every content marketing task.
With that in mind, the estimates here focus on how much you should expect to pay if you want to see real results:
Written content. According to PayScale, a content manager has a salary of about $60,000. If you opt to outsource, you might work with freelancers or writing services like Verblio. On average, you can expect to pay $75 to $150 per post for quality content.
Search engine optimization. If you want to hire a full-time SEO specialist, you can expect to pay a salary around $46,000, but you may just opt for an external expert to audit your site once a year or so.
You will also have software costs to think about. While you can get a basic HubSpot CRM subscription for free, the industry-standard Salesforce ranges from $25 per user per month to $300 per user per month.
If you want to kick your content marketing strategy off in the fastest and most effective way possible, here’s what to do:
Build your team
If you’re ready to commit to content marketing, you first need to make sure you have the right people in the right seats. IMPACT recommends having both a content manager and a videographer on staff to handle the increased content production load.
This is a crucial early step, and it’s nearly impossible to get started with content marketing before you’ve at least got a content manager on your team.
An internally educated team of content marketers will create content — such as blog articles, videos, and email campaigns — that represents your company’s subject-matter expertise, core values, and voice. They’re invested in your company’s success in a way that no freelancer or marketing firm can be.
Develop your strategy and start publishing
Once your content manager is in place, begin to develop your content strategy. You can start by answering this one question: What questions are your sales reps hearing from buyers?
Your goal with content production should be to publish three articles per week, so develop a content calendar and populate it with topics that answer your buyers’ questions.
Next, meet with your sales team and brainstorm a list of 15–20 topics your buyers want you to answer. We recommend starting with the articles that drive the most traffic and convert the most leads, such as The Big 5.
When meeting with the sales team, work with the content manager to determine which buyer questions would best be answered in video. In many cases, a single topic can yield both a video and an article. As such, it’s important for the videographer and content writer to plan content production together. We recommend starting with The Selling 7, which are videos that drive the most revenue.
Set up regular meetings with sales and marketing
At IMPACT, our content team meets with our sales team (the revenue team) every other week to brainstorm. Once we make a list of topics and questions, we use an upvoting system to determine priority.
These meetings serve to:
Develop content ideas that your sales team needs to attract qualified buyers.
Brainstorm which pieces of content your sales team can use in their selling process to close deals faster.
Understand what content isn’t useful in the sales process so that marketing won’t waste time creating it.
When an article gets published, make sure the sales team knows about it. If it’s not meeting their needs, revise it.
Also, as you begin to build a library of content, keep in mind that you may need to update older articles if certain details change.
Evaluate your progress and adjust
Once you’ve published a good number of articles, dive into the data to evaluate how they’ve performed. Use the tools at your disposal to track their traffic, position in search, connection to closed deals, and more.
Use Google Analytics, Google Search Console, keyword growth tools like Semrush or Ahrefs, and CMS tools like HubSpot to monitor the success of your content thus far.
Then, decide how you’ll use that data to tweak underperforming content and celebrate the content wins you have.
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, you can reach out to our mastery team for guidance. They can walk you through what our coaching or hands-on training program entails and lead you along the way toward content marketing success.