Okay, so you want to get into content marketing. I can't blame you. Content marketing has been one of the most talked-about and buzzworthy strategies of the past decade, thanks to its practicality, high potential ROI, and relationship with other online marketing campaigns. Content can serve as the foundation for any number of different strategies, such as SEO, social media, email marketing, and even customer service--but because of its multifaceted, interdisciplinary nature, it's also difficult to pin down any single set of tactics that can make a content campaign successful.
Still, I want to attempt this feat. If you're new to the content marketing game, or if you're trying to wrap your head around the most important fundamentals of the strategy, these are the seven basic principles that dictate content marketing success:
First, your content needs to be original. On a basic level, this means not plagiarizing your competitors, but on a higher, more conceptual level, this means distinguishing yourself in the content field in some way. If you're writing on topics that have already been done, people won't be interested in reading yours--and you probably won't stand out in any news feeds. There are many possible ways to develop more original content; for example, you can target a new niche, provide a unique angle on older topics, or push your way into new kinds of research. Just make sure you're offering something new.
This should go without saying, but your content must also offer some kind of value to your users. The term "value" is intentionally ambiguous, because there are many ways to offer value to your readers. For example, you could give them practical tips, tutorials, and how-to guides that help them do things they otherwise wouldn't be able to do. But on the other hand, you could offer them some level of entertainment, making them laugh or otherwise emotionally connecting with them. This value is less tangible, but every bit as real. Every reader should walk away with something more than they came in with.
If you want your readers to become more passionate and your customers to become more loyal, you need to be consistent in how you present your brand and how you publish and syndicate your content. That means maintaining a consistent brand voice that fits in with your ideals and brand personality, and publishing at regular, consistent intervals. If you break this consistency, people won't know what to expect from you, and they may lose interest in your brand (or fail to develop a recurring interest in your brand in the first place).
There's a common misconception that if you develop high-quality content, people will naturally gravitate toward it. While there is a grain of truth to this (especially at higher levels of search optimization), the starker reality is that you need to work to make your content visible before you can start reaping the benefits of having "good" content. If you simply post it to your blog, people won't have a reason to seek it out, so you need to find syndication channels that will allow you to push those posts to a wider, more attentive audience. For help with visibility, see Content Unleashed: The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Published Content.
A few years ago, you could get away with producing one-sided content that simply existed to inform audiences in a one-sided monologue. Today, with the prominence of Wikipedia, the Google Knowledge Graph, and other easy-to-access platforms of information provision, these types of articles are essentially unnecessary. What users crave more is content they can engage and interact with; opt for debatable topics, quizzes, and other forms that naturally encourage some form of user participation.
Your material also needs to offer some meaningful depth to it--and again, I'm using depth as an ambiguous term, because the type of depth you pursue will depend on your content. A research article will need to explore a topic from multiple angles and with ample sources of secondary research backing it up, whereas a how-to guide will simply need more images and more detailed instructions. Surface-level, fluff pieces aren't going to cut it in today's hyper-competitive content market.
I'm consistently surprised at the pace at which our online marketing ideas develop. We're constantly faced with new technologies, changing demographic trends and patterns, and a fierce competitive landscape bearing down on us. If your content marketing strategy is going to survive that level of volatility, it needs to be equipped to evolve alongside those changes. Picking a strategy and sticking to it indefinitely is a sure way to dig yourself into a hole; instead, it's better to experiment with new tactics, weed out the ones that don't work, and integrate the successful ones into your core strategy. It's always a work in progress.
Keep in mind these principles are only the basics. As you gain more experience, you'll find other factors and variables that creep their way into the process. But more importantly, these principles are a recipe for success that demand modification to your own personal tastes. Depending on your competition, your specific audience, and your specific goals in content marketing, you may favor some of these principles more than others, or ignore some entirely. Treat this list as a kind of starter kit, and adjust it as you see fit when you develop more expertise. For help kickstarting your content marketing campaign, see The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.