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Social media has transformed marketing from one-way monologues to a conversational model. The term of “content marketing” has been buzzing for a while, but what does it really entail? Creating blogs, videos, e-books, infographic and white papers with thought-leadership content is only part of the equation. You also need to make sure the content supply chain and distribution channels are running smoothly, ready for market feedback. Do it right and you will be able to measure the ROI of content marketing because it should convert leads into sales.

This article is about why content marketing is important, how businesses large and small need to understand it, and how to link your marketing activities to actual sales results and user acquisition.

Startups Need Content Marketing

Over the years I’ve met lots of startup founders who have done a great job developing their products, services and customers. They are either closing the first round of funding, or have just done so. They usually have technical or design background.

Now for the first time entrepreneurs wonder, “what about marketing? How do I grow my numbers 10,000 times at every front without a significant marketing budget?”

Corporate America Needs Content Marketing

I’ve also met lots of marketers who work at different marketing departments in huge corporations, specializing in fields including (but not limited to): product marketing, solution marketing, branding, PR, or digital marketing. It’s easy to work in silos and lose touch with market demand and the company’s ultimate goal: to drive sales.

Now, marketers wonder how everything should piece together, and how they are contributing to the company’s sales goals?

The answer to both scenarios is content marketing.

Step 1: Define Your Engaging Content Strategy and Keywords

Since your company is creating the content, it should be all about you, right? Wrong. The truth is no one cares unless you are solving their pain points, educating or entertaining them. Creating content only about yourself is like throwing a rock into the lake; the rock will sink, be buried and forgotten. Creating content about your customers is like fishing; you want to use what piques the interest of the fish as bait.

Tip: Want to know what people are searching online? Use Google’s Keyword Tool Box and Wordtracker to help identify the trends and keywords, and use them in your copy to improve your SEO rankings so customers can find you. Remember to tell an engaging story people will retweet, share and comment on: the launch of Google Panda in 2011 punishes keyword stuffing.

Step 2: Target and Focus

This is especially important when you only have limited budget, because non-target and broadcast pitches are spam and resources wasted. Who are your target audience or prospects? Visualize customer “personas” and virtual profiles by giving them names and job titles; ask questions such as:

  • Why would Peter download the app, or
  • How would my solution help Stephanie, and when?
  • Will Peter and Stephanie come back for more?

Identify these scenarios and create use cases, stories, and useful information that would actually help them with their pain points.

Step 3: Plan to Repurpose Content

To maximize the value of your marketing dollars, plan to repurpose your content beforehand. Plan for one set of marketing content each month, and repurpose it for different materials. The advantage of doing so, besides saving money, is that you end up with an integrated and cohesive campaign.


  • Email drip campaign about product launch corresponded to a press release
  • Make a blog post about the same product launch
  • Consolidate all email and blog content into a brochure for trade shows
  • Reformat all the content to craft newsletters

Step 4: Identify Internal and External Thought Leaders

To run an effective content engine, you need to have a production plan. Set content calendar and weekly content quota. To ensure a steady stream of content supply, internal bloggers have to be held accountable for keeping up with the editorial calendar. Therefore, content creation should be part of their KPIs.

Tip: Good content is not cheap. If you have enough budget like American Express to hire Guy Kawasaki to blog on Open Forum, great. If not, do what OKCupid does: they have a huge amount of data of users, and they turn these data into interesting stories people would talk about and share online, and long-tail content. Share your industry expertise without hard-selling.

Step 5:  Be a Good Listener, and Really Listen

Are you tuning in to your customers, on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and... Quora? Do you know what they say about you and your competitors? Marketers and business owners need to actually be quiet for a moment here. In the conversations online lie the key insights and information we need in order to understand customers and serve them well, and respond appropriately (preferably real-time!).

Tip: Use social listening tools to move out of marketing monologs, and engage with influencers. Influencers have the power of amplify opinions and messages like wildfire. The best influencer identification software I’ve had my hands on is Traackr. It is a one-stop shop: Traackr provides detailed profile of influencers, how relevant they are to your campaigns and projects, how often do they talk about the key topics, and how influential they are online – all you have to do is to conduct a target keyword search.

Step 6: “Socially Charge” Your Content And Get in the Conversations

Besides scheduled publication and syndication of your content throughout social channels, always make your content (including landing pages) shareable in social media by adding social sharing buttons to encourage people to share and talk about your content in different channels and emails.

Tip: Adding social sharing buttons to your blog is as simple inserting a piece of code to your page. Use AddThis, ShareThis to quickly boost your page views and visits. Is your content designed for mobile consumption? Check out Socialize, a ShareThis company.

Step 7: Convert Web Traffic to Leads with Calls to Action

  • First, insert a call to action: typically, for smaller purchase or B2C products, you can solicit sales directly. Since the sales funnel is much longer in B2B marketing, try encouraging signups by providing valuable-add content such as whitepapers or newsletters so the email addresses are collected.
  • Second, take a hard look at your signup form and landing page – does it convert? Do you provide the benefits you promise? Could you guarantee no spam? Did you tell people that you respect their privacy?
  • Third, lead nurturing. Follow up with emails that contain more premium content or offer, and calls to action. Personalize the email content if you can. Some companies, such as HubSpot, even follow up with phone calls.

Step 8: Measure Impacts

Decide what key metrics you should be tracking to impact the bottom line, and set improvement goals. Here are some examples:

  • How well is your app or brand ranked - on Google, in app stores and in social channels
  • How many followers do you have?
  • How many comments, views, retweets, shares does the piece of content have?
  • What is the engagement rate?
  • Which piece of content enjoys the most “shares” or “views”, and why?
  • Where was this content shared? If it was on Facebook, would it still be as popular on Linkedin?

Step 9: Build a Database to Personalize Offer

Once we have enough insight into who the visitors are and what they download and subscribe to, we can personalize offers. Allowing customers to choose what they want to receive will also help you gain insights on your customers, and decreases the chance of your offer being marked as spam. Here at SAP Community Network, we always ask new members what kind of newsletters would interest them when they sign up as a new member. Is it Business Intelligence, Cloud Computing or Technology News, or all of it? Let your customers decide. Personalization allows deeper engagement, which increases of chance of conversion.

Step 10: Drive Email Marketing Home in the Last Mile

Two things you can do with the email addresses you’ve collected: send your customers newsletters for loyalty formation or email campaigns for “flash sale”. Don’t underestimate the power of email marketing: it is the most personal intimate medium. This study from Optify has shown that good email campaigns converts more than twice than social media. 

Because emails are so intimate, the most important thing is not to be marked as spam by your customers. Once you are marked spam, you can never return to inbox. Avoid being marked as spam by:

  • Decreasing of the number of links in the email
  • Sending out as many “safe” emails as possible (explained below in tip)
  • Use different IP addresses and monitor. If the emails sent from one IP address is reaching spam limit, stop. Send emails from another IP address

Tip: What are “safe” emails? Use human curiosity as your advantage. Provide community updates (Quora), network updates (Linkedin and Twitter) because people are curious about what their friends did or shared. Or, send out questions such as “want to find out the secret to successful email campaings?” and provide two buttons: “yes” and “no”. Even if your customers don’t want this information, they are more likely to click “no” than marketing it as spam.

Last but not least test out different mediums, offers and channels, and always tie them back to your metrics to discover key areas for improvement. Break the silos. Keep everyone on your sales and marketing teams on the same page and make sure they are contributing to achieving the goals.

CMOs - join the discussion at SAPPHIRE NOW, or check out live streaming of the key presentation sessions.