The cornerstone of an effective inbound marketing strategy is a comprehensive content strategy aligned with every stage of the inbound sales funnel. Wait a minute, some of you might be saying, aren’t content marketing and inbound marketing the same thing? Not quite.
Most marketing professionals consider content marketing to be a subset of inbound marketing. In other words, you cannot have an effective inbound marketing strategy without an equally effective content strategy. Think of it this way: inbound marketing is the engine that drives customer acquisition, the content strategy provides the fuel that makes the engine go.
Perhaps the Content Marketing Institute defines it best:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience and, ultimately, drive a profitable customer action.
The right content strategy delivers appropriate, compelling, and personalized content that will:
- Increase the visibility of your brand
- Position your business as an industry expert
- Improve brand awareness, recognition, and value
- Generate website traffic to improve lead generation – especially if the content strategy defines topic clusters around important problems that causes your ideal buyer to invest in your solution
- Generate engagement and dialog with your audience
- Help build credibility and trust with current customers and prospects
- Help prospects move through the sales funnel to a purchase decision more quickly
- Develop lasting relationships with your customers
Inbound marketing needs content to work, so inbound marketing and content marketing must work together as closely-integrated components of an over-arching strategy. Inbound marketing can’t be properly executed or fully implemented without a content strategy that outlines and generates the content needed to engage prospects and guide them on their journey through the sales funnel. Content tools such as web pages, blog articles, short videos, social media messages and long-form content such as executive guides, eBooks, and webinars are all fuel for the inbound engine.
To be clear, you can do content marketing without inbound marketing, but you can’t do inbound marketing without a content strategy. From a purely content marketing standpoint, your content strategy can consist of writing some articles, eBooks, blog posts, or white papers, putting them up on your website, and hoping that search inquiries will lead some visitors to find them, but that’s just a marketing shot in the dark.
Inbound marketing is where the magic happens because it’s a metrics- and result-driven methodology. It uses content strategically and methodically to drive specific results at specific stages in the marketing and sales process. Your content strategy needs to be tightly integrated with your conversion strategy. Inbound marketing produces results by using content to attract leads, turn leads into prospects, and prospects into customers, so the focus is on optimizing that content and that conversion experience.
The key to compelling content: value
This key point cannot be hammered home enough: content strategy influences every other online strategy. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that every piece of content you produce has value for the reader.
For some marketers, that may mean abandoning the traditional advertising and marketing approach of creating self-serving, sales-oriented, promotional material. Instead, self-promotion needs to take a back seat to content which enlightens the prospect and helps them solve a problem or address an issue that concerns them.
By developing content that shows prospects you understand the challenges facing them and can offer some solutions to address them, you gain their attention and begin to build trust and interest. Content that has real value is known as “evergreen” content because audiences are always interested in the topics it covers. For example, people are always interested in how to do whatever they’re focused on better, faster, less expensively, more efficiently. There may be new elements to some of these features as new technologies develop, but you can always revisit old posts and tweak them as needed. This provides a remarkable ROI. Because content can theoretically last forever, it never loses value, making it a perfect long-term investment and a crucial element to all your other marketing efforts.
As new technologies, new trends, and new ways to communicate evolve and transform the marketing landscape, the form and function of content will evolve, too. Video is overtaking written content as a preferred way to receive information and just a few years ago, semantic, long-tail search terms overtook their keyword-focused counterparts in importance. No matter what happens, a solid, up-to-date content strategy will always be a crucial element of any online marketing program. The only thing that will change is the way content is produced and accessed.
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