Content marketing can best be defined by breaking the term down into its two component parts: content and marketing.
Content is information presented online that provides value to the reader. If it’s an advertisement it’s not content, and if it’s content it’s not an advertisement. Content can be textual, visual, audio, video or any combination thereof; it includes articles, blog posts, YouTube videos and podcasts, among other forms.
Marketing is…well, you probably already know the meaning of this word. It’s spreading a message across as much of a niche audience’s field of attention as possible.
The goal of any and every piece of content you market online is to go viral. When a piece of content goes viral that means it takes on a life of its own, being viewed and shared across cyberspace by hordes of people who find it worthwhile to do so: way more people than you could ever reach through your own direct marketing efforts. When a piece of content goes viral, you reap the benefits of crowdsourcing, wherein the people online who find value in your content end up becoming like your own organic marketing team, pushing your content to ever-widening circles of leads without you needing to take any further action.
What to Sell
There are two basic ways to make money online: sell something and advertise.
Placing ads with your content is only profitable however if you publish your content on your own site and even then only if you already have sizable and steady traffic coming to your site. So that rules advertising out for the vast majority of content marketers.
Which leaves selling something. So what do you sell? The answer is one or both of two things: your own products and service and/or other people’s products and services.
Selling your own products and services, of course, involves having products and services to sell. But lacking any obvious such good or services, there are still ways you can come up with something of your own to sell. If you have a blog, for example, and especially if that blog already has a subscriber list, you can come up with a membership plan offering VIP bonuses and benefits to those who choose to pay a periodic subscription fee (usually monthly). In many cases, those bonuses and benefits are…
…wait for it…
…content itself! That’s right. You can create content (articles, videos, presentations, etc.) to then provide exclusively to paid subscribers. In this way, you’ll have the content you use to market your subscription service and the content you provide to those subscribers. Of course the paid content must be of a higher standard (or at least greater substance) than the content you use to market it. To save you some time, you can even consider providing free samples of your paid content as the content your market. For example, offer the first few paragraphs of an article or pages of an ebook for free, or the first few minutes of a longer video or podcast.
The second type of products and services to sell – other people’s – may seem a bit easier. This is what’s known as “affiliate marketing” in which you become an affiliate of another company (or companies) marketing their products and services and earning a percentage of the sale price for every sale you make or refer.
Success in affiliate marketing starts by finding the right products and services to market. There are lots out there and perhaps the best way to identify those with the most potential profits for you is to look at your own unique skills and expertise, as well as the circles in which you already have influence. A top selling piece of accounting software, for example, would only sell well for you if you have knowledge and experience in accounting, so you can create ample original content on the subject with which to market that software or if you have an “in” with lots of people in accounting or needing that software. But if pets is your area of expertise, then forget about the top selling accounting software, because it probably won’t sell well for you; choose a pet related product or service instead.
The point is, you have to create the content you’re going to use to market these affiliate products (or your own products, for that matter). So do your research not just to find the best-selling new things on the market, but the best quality things that you are in a unique position – either through skills, knowledge, contacts or pure interest – to create endless quality content about.
Popular places to start searching for affiliate products and services to market are sites like Commission Junction and ClickBank. But really, almost any purveyor of anything online would be more than happy to pay you a commission for helping to bring them more business, so be bold. Know thyself. And do your homework. Find – or create – the right products or services for you to sell and your marketing efforts will be that much easier.
Content Marketing Methods
A recent study jointly conducted by BuzzFeed and StumbleUpon found that the content they published that went the most viral did so by being shared frequently among small clusters of friends (known as “cluster sharing”) rather than being broadcast by a few people (aka “key influencers) to their large network of contacts. With that discovery in mind, those sites then wanted to determine the best (that is: most effective) way to induce cluster sharing, and as it turns out, believe it or not, the answer is: email.
Perhaps it’s because email communications are still perceived as more intimate than the alternatives. Whatever the case, even after the advent of Facebook and Twitter and Del.icio.us and Pinterest, the BuzzFeed/StumbleUpon study as well as another study conducted by B2B Online and entitled “Email Marketing: A Legacy Channel Continues To Deliver” both verified that email is still far and away the most effective method of spreading content among both consumers and businesses, whatever the focus of those messages may be: lead generation, customer communiques or transactions.
Creating Viral Email Content
In order for a person to want to share a piece of content with their peers it must move them to do so; it must resonate with them on some level that triggers an emotional response: namely, the compulsion to share it.
Having said that, a free email marketing course is one of the easiest and most effective ways to market content via email. All a person has to do is give you their email address (a very low commitment to ask of people) and you have a “in” to their inbox, allowing you to send out daily emails for a period of a week, 10 days, a month or more, each one packed with two key components: content and a call-to-action.
The content is the most important part for maintaining your leads’ interest and keeping them from unsubscribing to your list. Therefore keep the content valuable and interesting. And don’t overload people’s inboxes. One email per day is really the most frequently anyone wants to receive an email from anyone other than their friends and colleagues (which you are not). Do not spam people with endless promotional messages and make sure the focus of each email is not your call-to-action (generally a prompt to click a link to go to your website and examine what you have to offer); it is your content.
That is: it’s not about getting them to do something for you; it’s about what you have to offer them. And the more value your content is perceived as providing, the more willing people will be to continue reading it, sharing it, and acting upon your calls to action.
Photo Credit: Flickr
About The Author:
Tim Wilson is content manager for HostPapa, a website hosting company serving over 100,000 customers around the world. Since launching in 2006, HostPapa has offered reliable, budget-friendly, easy-to-use web hosting solutions for small to medium-sized businesses.
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