Most business owners know what marketing is. But what exactly is content? What isn’t content? Before answering how content marketing drives sales, let’s talk terms.
Content can be defined as any kind of writing, image, video, or other digital production that is shared on a public platform. It’s a broad concept that’s relatively new since the internet has only really been a popular, widespread platform for around 20 years. Yes, radio segments in the 1950s or mail-away Jell-O recipe books were content marketing, but, well, your grandmother’s content marketing.
Today’s content marketing is a modern digital strategy focused on lead generation and conversion rates, which are measured to determine effective return on investment. That sentence contains a lot of marketing terms. They’ll be clear once you learn the best practices and tips to find success in connecting your business with prospective customers and strengthening your relationship with existing ones.
While every business should include content marketing in their marketing strategy, chances are you may not even have such a document as a marketing plan. Many small- and medium-sized business owners try some marketing initiatives, like a round of digital banner advertising or focused social media posts. To be effective, marketing must be strategic and forward-thinking. You need a plan.
Once you’ve learned how content marketing drives sales, you’ll know how important it is to include it in a comprehensive marketing plan. To create this document, schedule a time to meet with your leadership team or marketing executives. Consider your goals and the size of your budget so you can invest in increasing your brand awareness and sales over the long term.
Next, you’ll need to gain a clear picture of your target audience. What are the persona, demographics, and pain points of your ideal customer? You may wonder, “Does content marketing lead to sales?” If you don’t have a clear buyer persona for your marketing strategy, the answer will certainly be no. The more refined and focused your audience, the better your success.
What Is Content Marketing?
There are many formats that qualify as content marketing examples. Content can include:
But you can’t just write anything and expect it to drive sales. Content must be high quality — otherwise, your business risks presenting an unprofessional and off-brand approach to customers. Your content must also be published on a regular schedule. Create an editorial calendar so you know what topics and who will be responsible for writing and posting.
While it’s possible to delegate writing to your employees or have top executives take on the task, it isn't always that simple. Often, content marketing work gets left to the last minute. Many companies hire agencies for content writing services to ensure crises don’t push content creation past deadlines.
Does Content Marketing Lead to Sales?
Does content directly increase sales? Yes, and that’s because content marketing doesn’t stand alone in a marketing strategy. Creating engaging, educational, or entertaining content can be a tool for many other marketing methods. For example:
- Social media marketing requires content to post to fans and followers.
- Search engine optimization, or SEO, uses keywords that are integrated into content.
- Inbound marketing uses content to attract traffic and leads.
- Pay-per-click, or PPC, campaigns require great content to be effective,
- Public relations puts the interests of the customer first, which is the goal of good content, too.
Every major brand uses content marketing in some fashion to attract leads and convert these leads into paying customers. To effectively accomplish this, everything you produce must be focused on what your target audience wants or needs.
Successful content marketing can help your business:
- Position as an expert within your industry
- Build trust with your current and potential customers
- Attract people to your website
- Help your website organically rank high in online searches
- Improve customer service
- Be critical parts of sales funnels
- Offer customers an opportunity to provide valuable feedback
Any business owner knows that sales are all about relationships — and this strategy provides an avenue to create a conversation with your customers that is meaningful and lucrative. That’s how content marketing drives sales.
Content Marketing and Sales: ROI Tips
Just like any business initiative, your marketing strategies should be periodically analyzed for their return on investment, or ROI. You must take into account the big picture when determining where sales originate. Then you’ll need to crunch some numbers.
Not every customer clearly states where exactly they became aware of a business, so don’t be afraid to ask. Create a survey somewhere in the sales journey that asks your customer how they heard of your business. It could be a question in the online sales form, sent to your customer email list, or by a trained salesperson over the phone or in person. Track your metrics.
When it comes to content marketing and sales, you can track your customer’s journey to see if your blogs and other forms of content as part of their research. There are a few free tools you can add to your website, like Google Analytics and Facebook Page Insights, that you can use to see traffic patterns behind the scenes.
For example, if your content marketing strategy includes submitting press releases to local or national media, you should set up a Google Alert with your business name. You’ll get an email every time your business name appears on the internet. Keep this information as you determine your ROI.
What are important metrics to track when determining how content marketing drives sales? It depends on your goals. Some qualitative trends you can measure include:
- Average time on website page
- Number of new and returning visitors to a web page
- Bounce rate, or when someone pops on your website and quickly leaves
- Number of pages viewed per visit
- Geographic trends
- Percentage of people who visit your website through their mobile device
- The source for the click-through to your website
- Conversion rates
- Number of backlinks, or other blogs that link to your blogs
- Organic search engine ranking
- Number of new leads
- Number of followers or fans on social media pages
- Return on engagement, or how frequently someone interacts on social media
- Post reach
- Number of impressions of a digital ad
- Downloads of eBooks, white papers, or other sales funnel offerings
- Number of subscribers to your e-newsletter
- Open rate of your emails
- Overall cost per new customer
Don’t feel like you must cover every possible metric. Instead, identify which measurements work with your business. It helps to remember that a comprehensive marketing plan should be dynamic and individual to each company. Get inspired by your competition, but don’t copy their playbook.
6 of the Best Content Marketing Strategies
Wondering specifically how to use content to increase sales? Here are six habits and practices used by marketing professionals for the best content marketing strategies and excellent ROI.
1. Create Realistic Goals
If you expect instant viral sales explosions as a result of a content marketing strategy, you’re in for a lesson on how long it takes for someone to make a purchase. While some industries benefit from spontaneous buys or necessities by crisis, most businesses have to consciously cultivate their customer base to create loyalty and overcome risk aversion. Content is an excellent tool for this.
Break down your goals
When determining goals for your marketing work, start by breaking down the work into campaigns with specific timelines and themes. This provides the opportunity to have longer- and shorter-term goals. This way, you can identify if an initiative is actually working — and do something about it if it’s not.
Weigh effort with expectations
Consider the effort and/or budget your business and your team is placing on content marketing. For example, if you can only post a new social media status, article, link, or image once a month, don’t expect big changes in your followers in just one quarter.
Compare previous marketing initiatives
Look at the ROI for past outreach and marketing work you’ve done. Even if you don’t have a lot of experience with digital marketing, you have likely tried to spread the word of your good work in other ways.
For example, if you have a brick-and-mortar store, you’ll discover that signage has an excellent ROI. Online, you must track metrics to compare. Often, there is overlap. Your customers may have visited your website or read your blog before reaching out for your products or services. Track every way that you use content to see if the work is achieving your goals.
2. Reconnect with Current Customers
If you’re not sure if your customers are reading your blog, you don’t necessarily need to download expensive tracking software. You can ask them. One of the most effective tools for customer retention is a simple survey. You may be surprised by what you learn from the people who have already connected with you and appreciate your services.
Part of any content marketing strategy is to deepen your relationship with your customers, and that needs to start with your current ones. This is the foundation of how content marketing drives sales. Happy customers bring more happy customers. Use your blog to answer common questions they have. Share with them what you always wish you could tell them about your industry. Make them smile.
Then, encourage them to share your content with their friends and family members. Don’t forget to include a call to action, or a CTA, with everything you do. Don’t presume they’ll read an informational blog and know they can explore the topic further on your website. By asking for a click — or creating incentives for forwarding to a friend through a loyalty program, for example — you can generate more leads and sales.
3. Refine Target Audience
As you learn more about your current customers, you should be able to refine your concept of your ideal customer. Collect as much information as you can to analyze similarities and differences among your current customers. This will allow you to form future content and marketing strategies for your target audience more effectively.
Look beyond the obvious to identify:
- Demographics, including their education level and marital status
- Psychographics, like values, attitudes, and lifestyle choices
- Behavior patterns, especially in terms of purchases
- Geography, so you can meet their specific regional needs
Lots of business owners say they want “everyone” to be their customers, but in reality, this is far from the truth. Focus on what sets your customers apart from those of your competition. Then, you’ll start to see how presenting an authentic and expert approach to outreach through content can deliver results.
4. Pick your Platform(s) Wisely
Sharing content through social media platforms especially requires a strong understanding of your target audience, because certain generations and demographics tend to lean toward certain platforms. Also, some industries, such as fashion, beauty, tech, and gaming make more sense on some platforms than others do.
Don’t try to do everything at once — remember that the best goals are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. If you try to post everything on every platform, you’ll burn through your energy and resources without necessarily making the impact you wanted. Start by focusing on one platform, then move on to the next.
When you’ve determined your platform — B2B should consider LinkedIn, for example, while makeup brands can find success on Instagram or YouTube — make a publication schedule to promote your blog. Include professionally shot images (steer clear of stock photography if your budget allows), and schedule the posts in advance using services like HootSuite or Sendible.
But most importantly, you must publish content on a regular basis. This might mean dropping new blogs once a week, twice a week, or maybe once every two weeks. Stay realistic and use your editorial calendar to maximize both your social media marketing reach as well as your sales.
5. Start Producing Quality Content
How content marketing drives sales can be summed up in a single word: quality. If you don’t produce the kind of content that customers want, chances are search engines like Google won’t be interested in it either. So, how do you define quality content? Look for:
- Value, in that the article benefits the reader in some way
- Credibility, which earns trust and loyalty to a brand
- Specificity, so that the reader knows that you know their situation and can help solve whatever problem they have
- Good user experience, so readers can easily find answers and information
For blogs, a good user experience means that the article is well-researched, written grammatically correct, and clear. Blogs should be at least 1,000 words long, so it’s a good idea to break up the information using bullet points, numbered lists, and sub-headings. Make it easy for the reader, who could be your customer in the near future.
6. Work with Professionals
Content marketing can feel intimidating since writing is a skill that requires focus and practice. For those who don't write often, they may take too long to complete an educational, entertaining, or engaging blog article. Think back to your ROI — oftentimes it’s worth your time and money to outsource some work to the professionals.
Agencies that provide content writing services can include other services, such as SEO research and editing so you’ll be confident you’re presenting a professional and attractive brand identity to the public.
Content Marketing Examples
To get inspired, read as many content marketing examples as you can. Look at what your competition is doing and figure out ways you can improve in an authentic, unique way. Think in terms of what marketing professionals call “evergreen content.” Like a pine tree that stays green throughout the year, this content can be effective for driving sales no matter when a potential customer finds it in a search.
Here are some examples of evergreen content:
Everyone wants to “hack” their way to a better life. It doesn’t matter the industry; you and your team probably know some tips to share to show your current and future customers the tricks they can use to get ahead.
If your business sells products, you can offer blogs that go into great detail explaining the qualities of each one. If your business offers a service, you can explain it — or discuss products you may use and why you have chosen them for your professional use. People love to read services and reviews. It’s the new water cooler.
“How To” Blogs
If your customers ask the same questions, they’re probably not the only ones wondering the same thing. Teach someone something they didn’t know, and they won’t forget you.
Content Marketing: Be Strategic for Success
The answer to how content marketing drives sales is first to understand the big picture. Content marketing is an integrated part of the marketing and outreach initiatives that your business uses to attract and convert customers. Spend time planning and brainstorming before you launch your first blog. By having a content marketing plan with realistic goals, a budget, and a timeline, you’ll set yourself up for long-term success.