The A to Z guide to content marketing

The practice, also known as brand journalism, is taking hold as a major trend in the PR industry. Here’s a rundown of the fundamentals.

Regardless of your knowledge of content marketing—beginner, intermediate, or advanced—it’s important to know (and master) the fundamentals.

Content marketing, also known as brand journalism, is the practice of companies forming their own media outlets. Companies such as Dell, Coca-Cola, and IBM are creating what looks like—and in many ways is—a journalistic product.

Here is an A to Z guide to content marketing:

Action. Your content should inspire your audience to take action. When you boil down your content, your message should compel your audience to do something. (Read Proven formulas of call to actions.)

Budget. To grow your content marketing efforts, you will need to grow your budget. While you can still execute a number of innovative content marketing tactics on a shoestring budget, it always helps to have money to add staff and create more original content.

Commitment. There are a lot of C’s when it comes to content marketing: content, creation, curation, choice, and conversion, to name a few. But the biggest C that content marketers should have is commitment. Content marketing requires taking a commitment mindset, not a campaign mindset. Your audience (and the search engines) expects your brand to produce content—lots of it.

Different. Your content should be different than that which you can find anywhere else. Are your perspectives on a topic or topics different than others? Does your content stand out compared to your competitors? To be successful in content marketing, you should be different.

Earned. Content marketing requires that you take the earned media approach. (Read Defining earned, owned and paid media.) Of course, hard work is necessary to build trust from your audience. Through a consistent effort over time, you will earn a reputation as a “go to” place to get useful and relevant content.

Format. It is important to remember that content can take many different forms, such as blog posts, videos, images, presentations, and slideshows. Make sure your content is presented in several formats because your audience wants variety. Plus, these different formats will attract a larger audience.

Gathering. Get your audience coming back for more—inspire them to gather at your site. Every piece of content you create should help your audience solve problems, entertain, inform, and provoke new ideas.

Helpful. Your content should be helpful, not promotional. Don’t talk about yourself too much. It’s similar to a networking event—you don’t want to get stuck in a conversation with someone who only talks about himself or herself. (Read Creating talkable and useful content.)

Imagery. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” fits here. Your story or content should tell stories through infographics, photos, slideshows, and videos. (Read 15 reasons to make your content marketing more visual.)

Journalism. Content marketing is sometimes referred to as “brand journalism” for a reason. Like journalists, you need to tell compelling and relevant stories. Learn from professional journalists and what they do well. Implement their best practices. (Read 6 things content marketers can take from professional journalists.)

Karaoke. Get your audience to participate with tactics such as encouraging guest blogging, inspiring them to comment on articles, and developing case studies about them. Just like Karaoke encourages you to sing along, your content should encourage your audience to join in.

Lists. People love to read lists. We live in a world where we now scan content. Lists are easy to digest and easy to understand. (Read 3 reasons why list stories work.)

Measure. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” says the measurement adage. If you fail to measure how well your content performs with your audience, you won’t know how well you are doing—or not doing. If you don’t have the budget for professional measurement services, you can use a free tool like Google Analytics to determine a variety of metrics.

Numbers. People love facts and numbers. And the best content—like the best résumés—include numbers. For example, 91 percent of business-to-business marketers are using content marketing and 86 percent of business-to-consumer marketers are using content marketing.

Objective. Before you start anything, it’s vital that you set goals and develop a plan to know where you want to go. Even though content marketing is becoming a bigger part of the marketing mix, only 38 percent have a content marketing strategy.

Print is not dead. Even though the world is going digital, there is still a tremendous opportunity to connect with your audience via print. (Read 7 reasons to rethink print.)

Quality. With content marketing, quality trumps quantity any day. (Read Zen and the art of content marketing.)

Recycle. Since we are all doing more with less, it is important to recycle content and put a new angle on it or freshen it up. (Read 56 ways to reuse content marketing.)

Story. What is your content trying to communicate? Effective content marketing is all about mastering the art of storytelling. For more, watch this video interview with PR Daily publisher Mark Ragan and former Microsoft speechwriter Justina Chen on the importance of storytelling:

RELATED: See Justina Chen and other top names in the PR and marketing profession at the 6th annual Social Media for PR and Corporate Communications Conference

Team. You can’t create or curate content without a good team. Throughout the content marketing process, make sure your roles are identified and defined. (Read creating a content marketing team and workflow plan.)

Utility. Mitch Joel, the author of “Six Pixels of Separation,” advises the practice of utility marketing—that is, giving your audience something useful and valuable. It is similar to what PR Daily publisher Mark Ragan calls refrigerator journalism. It is creating content so compelling and so relevant that you want to cut it out and stick it on your fridge.

Vision. Content marketing may require a mind shift at your company. The key is to paint a picture for your team and senior leaders of how your content marketing efforts will affect the bottom line and help your company grow.

Writing. Write, write and write some more. As Copyblogger says, the only way to become a good writer is practice, practice, practice. (Read 10 steps to becoming a better writer.)

X-ray. Just like an x-ray examines a person, it is important to examine your content. Assess and audit your content so you know what stories you should produce more or less of, and in what format.

Year-end. Do you summarize your best content at the end of the year? What better way to close out the year than by giving your audience an easy snapshot of your best work. If you’re so inclined, you can do it on a monthly or weekly basis.

Zeal. Are you passionate about creating or curating content? How enthusiastic are you? Only those who are have a strong interest and desire for content will be successful.

What words would you suggest as alternatives in this A to Z guide?

RELATED: The essential components of brand journalism

A version of this story first appeared on the author’s blog, The Knowledge Enthusiast.

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