Katherine Kotaw, CEO of KOTAW Content Marketing, said it best: “The essential benefit of content marketing is simply … survival.”
A business blog is an essential part of your content marketing strategy and greater IDM strategy. However, before your brand begins any new initiative, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate the reasoning behind it. So, why produce a business blog? The rationale for having a business blog is quite similar to that of content marketing as a whole: to form connections with those who have affinity for your brand.
We form connections with people, places, or things based on two things: content and context. When we encounter content – which can be any form of written, auditory, or visual media – we immediately begin to evaluate it, whether consciously or unconsciously, in terms of our lives. We ask ourselves “what is this thing’s relevance and meaning to me and my life? Do I care about this?” When we ask these questions, we are essentially forming context. Once we’re able to assign internal relevance (context) to external content, we’re able to form a connection with it.
Here’s the important part: connection is a necessary precondition to affinity. If I find your brand’s content relevant and useful, if I “connect” with it, I am more likely to feel affinity for (be positively inclined toward) your brand.
Over time, connection and affinity can have a measurable impact on sales conversion and brand loyalty. In other words, along with other forms of content marketing, business blogging can help brands survive the Digital Tsunami and thrive in the digital economy.
Beyond such philosophical underpinnings, consider these facts and figures:
- The 2013 Hubspot ROI report found that blogging replaced SEO as the number one method for increasing traffic.
- According to the Custom Content Council, because 61% of consumers say they like when a brand produces custom content, they are also more likely to buy from that company.
- Content Plus found that 70% of consumers prefer getting to know a company through articles rather than ads.
Align Your Business Blog with Your Organizational Goals
Given this intimate relationship between content, connection, and brand affinity, it is vital that you align your blogging strategy with your organizational goals.
If your blogging efforts are not helping you achieve your business’ greater aims, then you are ultimately wasting your time and resources.
Aligning your blogging strategy with your organizational goals means writing content that is valuable to your target audience. Sounds great in theory; but in practice, what types of content will add relevance to their lives and ultimately lead them to form a connection with your brand?
Generating Content Ideas
Be Consumer-Focused, Not Search Engine-Focused
Any discussion of blog or other content formation should factor in search engine optimization (SEO) considerations. For years, digital marketers have been optimizing web-based content for keyword-initiated search queries (e.g. the words the user places in the search bar) and then carefully tracking the results of their efforts. Indeed, SEO has been an indispensable tool for driving web traffic, leads, and sales. However, in October of 2011 this began to change, as Google first announced it would start implementing HTTPS/SSL encryption on all searches of logged in Google users; in September of 2013, the company announced it would expand HTTPS/SSL search encryption to all users of its search engine.
HTTPS-encrypted search has made individual keyword tracking impossible, effectively rendering traditional keyword analysis ineffective.
HTTPS encryption did not kill organic (unpaid) search itself, but rather the ability of website owners to track the results of organic search queries to their site.
Here’s the point. The move to HTTPS, along with various organic-content-friendly algorithm updates initiated by Google and other leading search engines, suggests the search engine providers all agree on one thing: brands should be producing blog and other web-based content that resolves the wants and needs of their consumers – not search engines – as part of an integrated, consumer-centric marketing approach.
Build Buyer Personas
Ideally, your content serves as a bridge between your organization’s values and goals and the needs and wants of your prospects and consumers. To form connections that matter, you need a clear understanding of your target audience. For this, you need to build buyer personas.
Buyer personas should include standard demographic information as well as insights into buyer behavior. Consider these questions when developing your personas:
- Demographic Profile – Age, gender, income level, education level, marital status, children, etc.
- Employment Information – What industry do they work in? What is their role in the company? What is their seniority level?
- Pain Points – It’s hard to provide a solution if you don’t understand your buyer’s problems and challenges. Go into detail. How do they feel about their pain points? How they are trying to resolve them?
- Values/Goals – What does your buyer value? What will get them excited to work with you? What are they trying to accomplish with this relationship? Consider values as the flip side of pain points.
- Information Consumption – Where does the buyer turn to for information? Friends, family, online search, social networks, books, newspapers? What keywords or phrases are they using when searching online?
- Anticipated Experience – What features and benefits is the buyer looking for? What type of experience is he/she expecting when buying your product or service?
- Objections – Know what you’re up against. Why would the potential buyer not purchase your product? To the extent that you can expose buyer objections, you can tailor your IDM strategy to resolve them early on in the buying cycle.
Once you’ve built up these personas, look at their potential wants and needs in relation to what your brand provides. What kind of content might they find useful, entertaining, or in some way valuable? Why would they consume your content, and ultimately your product or service, over others? Your prospects and consumers should always inspire your business blog content, so it’s essential that you have an intimate understanding of their needs and wants.
Clarify Your Service Areas
To build off of your buyer personas, you must clarify your service areas (i.e. I’m selling this product/service to these people/companies in this area). Note, clarifying your services areas may be as easy as consulting your previously defined value proposition.
Perhaps your company only serves a certain city or community. This narrows the scope of your service area, and allows you to create more geographically focused content. Geographically focused content may be content that is influenced by local events, such as political, cultural, and environmental happenings. Clarifying your service areas helps you to hone in and focus on what’s going on with (i.e. what’s relevant and meaningful to) the people you are serving.
Look Through the Social Window
With your buyer personas and service areas in mind, the next place to turn to for content ideas is your organization’s social channels. Social platforms are unique sources of content ideas, as they offer an authentic, unfiltered view into the thoughts and experiences of your prospects and customers.
The most relevant channels to search for content ideas, of course, will be the ones your prospects and customers are using (and the ones your brand has established a presence on).
After identifying the most relevant social channels, look for useful product/service keywords and phrases. What are people asking? What are people talking about? By exploring what people are saying about your area of expertise, you uncover organic keywords and phrases which you can use to shape your content.
Ask Your Customers
Another great source of content ideas is your existing customers (DUH). While it seems obvious, it’s worth repeating, as this is an area missed by many marketers. Make it a point to always listen to what your customers are saying, and ask them questions whenever you get the chance. On a mom-and-pop level, this may be a face-to-face conversation with customers in your store or when you’re out in the community at a local event. On a more corporate level, this may mean reviewing consumer comments on your own site and on third party sites and speaking with your sales team about what they’ve heard from customers.
While it’s important to look “out” when it comes to generating content ideas (e.g. to your customers), sometimes it’s beneficial to look “in” at your own team as well. Your organization is constantly trying and learning from new processes and techniques that may be of value to your consumers. While your blog should not place undue focus on your organization, sharing some of your company’s experiences may prove useful to your audience.
Did your brand recently find a new tool to do their job better? Did you have a personal experience that you can connect to your industry? Was there a mistake that you recently made, learned from, and could share with consumers to help them avoid your experience? Topics such as these are relevant blog ideas that serve the double purpose of humanizing your brand and providing value to consumers.
Read, Read, Read
Reading is just as important as writing when it comes to blogging. Reading different authors from various industry sources presents you with a variety of opinions and perspectives that help to shape your own informed thoughts. Keeping up with what industry thought leaders have to say often provides the valuable insight needed to write better content.
Get Ready, Set, NEWSJACK!
While it should not be a primary source of content inspiration, newsjacking, when done correctly, can generate a lot of buzz for your brand. Newsjacking is simply “hijacking” a popular news story and using it as content for your brand. Think of brands’ responses on social platforms to the birth of the #RoyalBaby in July 2013 or the power outage during Super Bowl XLVII.
Newsjacking is an integrated content effort that likely starts with a GIF or video shared on your social channels.
The key to successful newsjacking is timeliness. The quicker you act on this viral content, the more relevant it is to your audience.
Generating quality content for your blog can come from a variety of sources, and that’s a good thing: doing so provides a diverse mix of interesting and relevant content for your intended audience. Notice, too, that none of these content ideas are strictly sales-oriented. Rather, they are primarily consumer-focused.