By Alexandre Gravel

Imagine if you sent your direct marketing (DM) assets to a high-potential audience that already engages with and trusts the brand? You get magic. That’s what successful content marketing enables.

To understand how that magic happens let’s look at what content marketing is. Here is the definition by the Content Marketing Institute, the industry reference on the subject.

“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, to drive profitable customer action.”

The main element to remember about the definition of content marketing is the notion of value. What makes content marketing different from other forms of marketing is that what is produced and distributed creates value in the eyes of its target audience.

There are the three ways to create value with content:

1. Inform
2. Educate
3. Entertain

All the content a brand, media or organization produces falls into one or more of these three buckets.

The goal with these ways of creating value is not to directly influence the consumer to purchase or buy, but to create a meaningful relationship between the brand and the consumer. A relationship based on trust. “I have seen that in the past you, Mr. Brand, have helped me, let me now consider you for my next purchase.”

Content marketing, then, is not a sprint, but a marathon towards that transaction. That relationship is built over time, through multiple touchpoints and content assets, with the goal of being part of the equation once that customer needs to buy your service or product.

Editorial articles, how-tos, tutorials, product guides, videos, testimonials, all these can be considered part of your content marketing programme, as long as they bring value to your audience.

Meeting DM on the customer journey

Consider these companies and their consumer-facing content.
1. Lowe’s has hundreds of videos that explains how to install its products including hardwood flooring, drapes and toilets.
2. WeWork publishes a lifestyle magazine called Creator that tells the stories of entrepreneurs who use their facilities.
3. Mattress retailer Casper launched a web-based magazine (and a companion e-newsletter) devoted to all things sleep-related.

These are only three examples of the hundreds of brands that use content marketing to build and grow highly qualified audiences.

Tying content marketing with DM

Now how does that tie in with DM?

Content marketing helps a consumer through their customer journey. It accelerates some of the stages by making sure the brand is there as consumers define their needs, consider various options and debate functional elements. DM combines the need consumers have for personalization (but not too much, we don’t want it to get creepy!) with the capability to convert those individuals into customers.

Content marketing and DM then work hand-in-hand. A great DM campaign will combine content that creates value with high-impact messaging that drive the conversion.

An example of this is our work at Toast with footwear manufacturer Kamik. Our role as content marketers has been to build a content strategy that complements the more direct response messaging that lives on social media, magazines, e-mail and mailings.

The work was challenging. You do not buy rain boots every other week, so how do you maintain the relationships between the brand and the mothers that are the main customers of the brand? Through a content programme that promotes the notion of “outside free play,” that guides parents in how their children can develop their autonomy while playing outside and by deploying this on social media, through influencers, content partnerships with various media and on their owned platforms.

These photos (above) are from a content marketing programme created by Toast Studio for footwear manufacturer Kamik. Photo credit: Courtesy Toast Studio

Building a high-performance content strategy
Content marketing has to live up to its partnership with DM. The key is having a robust content strategy. We have developed a content strategy workbook in light of a large number of projects we have carried out in a variety of businesses, of different sizes and from different sectors of activity. It can be downloaded for free from our web site: www.gotoast.ca/en/workbook.

Built in the form of a questionnaire, the workbook allows marketing teams to ask themselves the right questions and thus be able to evaluate whether the key elements of a good content strategy are well documented and reflected in their own organization.

We have divided the guide into 11 steps, which are all components of a successful content strategy.

Step 1: Business goals. Clear goals are key to achieving meaningful results. They create a clarity that can be shared throughout the organization, ensuring that everyone is clearly aware of their effect on the results.

Step 2: Personas. In business it is essential to know your target. This exercise often requires executives to make choices, because “we want to sell to everyone” will not help you in content marketing. You must discover and understand the expectations and needs of your audience and its segments.

Step 3: Customer journey. Knowing your target is key. However, this person doesn’t have the same content needs throughout their buying process. Do you know the stages each of your customers goes through before and after making a transaction with you?

Step 4: Tone and manner. You know your goals, your audience and their decision process. It is now time to establish how you’re going to address your various target audiences and how your message will be developed. Will you be a brand with a humorous tone? A brand with a strong personality or more of an informational brand?

Step 5: Content pillars. Content pillars represent the expectations and needs of your personas. They establish what will be of interest to your audiences. By combining them with the organizational goals you set in Step 1 of your content strategy, you can ensure that all the content produced will be relevant to both your audience and your organization.

Step 6: Tactics and platforms. Where should your content be found? What tactics do you implement? Based on your knowledge of your personas and their expectations, will you move forward with inspirational content or educational content? Or a combination of the two? This step dives into the specifics of implementing your content strategy by establishing the platforms where your brand will be present and the tactics that you implement.

Step 7: Editorial calendar. Thanks to the previous steps in our process, it is now possible to put everything on a timeline. Good annual, quarterly and monthly planning ensures that you stay aligned with previously set goals, put all content into context and facilitate the work done by the creative and deployment teams.

Step 8: Responsibilities and organization. Implementing a successful content strategy requires a clear and well-managed organizational structure and division of responsibilities. The relationships among the various agencies and collaborators, as well as the steps of development, production and deployment, must be communicated and understood by the various stakeholders.

Step 9: Production. Content production cannot be effective unless all previous steps have been completed. This step is where the vast majority of the budget of a content strategy is spent, and it is essential that it is well planned and that reaching goals remains at the heart of the actions of every creator involved.

Step 10: Distribution and deployment. Content is entirely useless if it is not seen and appreciated by the audience for which it was produced. Distribution and deployment are often taken for granted in a content strategy, but there must be a concrete and complete reflection on how the content produced will be brought to your audiences and amplified if necessary.

Step 11: Performance. Having goals is good. Measuring results in order to reach them is even better. Your content strategy must provide the right ways to measure as well as processes to communicate results to everyone involved. Uncommunicated results cannot benefit the content strategy or its initiatives.

Content marketing can inform, educate and entertain your target audience, but it has to bring real value to the table in order to create a lasting and faithful relationship between the brand and a consumer. Going through these 11 steps will guide you in building a high-performing content programme that will directly increase your chances of your DM campaigns being successful. That’s how you will get true marketing magic.

Alexandre Gravel is co-president and strategist, Toast Studio (www.gotoast.ca).

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