“Content is King.” Never has that phrase been truer than in today’s business landscape. Faced with seemingly endless outlets and opportunities to share and promote content, many business owners and marketers are overwhelmed by the idea of content marketing. But once they understand that content is among the most effective marketing tools for generating leads, marketers perk up.

In fact, firms that generate 60% or more of leads online — using educational content to attract new prospects — are likely to be twice as profitable as firms that produce less than 20% of their new business online.

Understand Your Target Audience

Before starting on any content marketing campaign, you must have a clear understanding of your target audience, which generally involves some research. This will be time well spent. One way to get a better handle on your audience is to create personas. Personas are mini profiles of your different types of buyers. In them you will answer a number of questions:

  • What are their titles?
  • Industries?
  • How do they consume content (mobile, video or both)?
  • Where do they get their content (LinkedIn, industry blogs or print publications)?
  • What kind of content will they consider to be relevant and compelling?

You can learn even more about your buyers by conducting surveys or phone interviews with clients and prospects to learn how they make buying decisions, what they look for in a service provider, and what challenges they are facing in the marketplace. While you can conduct this research yourself, you will get better, more honest responses if a third party does it for you.

Once you understand whom you are targeting and how you will target them, you will have laid a foundation for a successful content marketing campaign.

Develop Content Aimed at Generating Leads

Content marketing should take two key factors into consideration – 1) the kind of content your target audiences will find useful, and 2) how your business services can meet your clients’ and prospects’ needs.

To set the pace and keep your firm on a regular schedule, you’ll need to put together a plan of attack to produce fresh, relevant content:

  • Plan the types of content you will offer. Common formats include blog posts, white papers, ebooks, webinars, videos and research reports. Make sure you plan a mix of shorter, free-access materials, such as blog posts, and higher-value materials, such as guides and ebooks. (I’ll explain why in a moment.)
  • Develop topics that lie at the intersection of your clients’ needs and your service offerings (notice how “your clients needs’” is listed first – keep your content focused on them, not you).
  • Create an editorial calendar and content distribution plan, keeping in mind ways to share each piece of content across all mediums – from email to LinkedIn to Twitter.
  • Maintain SEO best practices when developing your content. Research keywords that your audience is using.

Use Content to Create and Nurture Leads

Content marketing is a commitment — your readers expect you to provide useful, educational content on a regular basis. And most of this content will be freely available on your website (blog posts are the most common example).

This is the point where you can turn anonymous readers into real leads. Develop a few pieces of long-format content (such as guides, ebooks, or webinars) that can only be accessed by filling out a registration form. Many of your readers — now that they’ve sampled your free content and found it valuable — will be more than willing to exchange a small amount of personal information for long-format content that has significant perceived value.

Be strategic about how much information you require in your registration forms, however. The more fields in your form, the fewer people will it. And the fewer leads you will receive. The only essential piece of information you need to collect is a person’s email address. Everything beyond that (person’s name, job title, industry, company name, company size, etc.) only helps if you have a plan to use it.

Once you have developed an email list of prospects, you can reach out to prospects with hard offers, such as a free consultation or audit. Be sure not to overwhelm your prospects with these offers. Determine an appropriate frequency to send them. And once someone responds to such an offer, be sure to follow up quickly. These are hot leads!

Improve Your Performance Over Time

Analytics go hand in hand with content marketing. How many downloads or clicks is your content getting? Are some types of content getting more engagement than others? Do certain topics attract more views? Your analytics hold the answers.

What do you do with this data? It gives you the tools to refine your strategy and gives your readers more of what they like. That keeps them engaged and builds their trust over time. A certain percentage of these readers will be potential buyers, and by earning their trust you become their preferred choice when they are ready to purchase services.

Hinge’s research has shown that 77% of professional services firm generate new business leads online. What’s more, almost 15% of firms are getting at least 40% of new business leads from content marketing. In today’s digital marketing environment, content is shared and read at increasing rates. As a result, marketers can’t ignore the impact that a well-planned, regularly monitored content marketing strategy can have on lead generation.