On Building a Sustainable Content Marketing Program

Content marketing is naturally attractive.

Sustainability isn’t just about how our choices affect the natural environment. It’s about how the systems we build keep working for a long time. Sustainable marketing practices ensure that your business thrives in a healthy marketing ecosystem.

No business has an unlimited budget to dump into marketing activities that return negative ROI. I don’t care how big you are. Whether you’re afforded millions of dollars or limited to your own efforts, all marketing costs your business something. Thinking about your marketing like an ecosystem ensures that every choice directly or indirectly contributes to the conditions that support your business goals.

Useful content, unlike advertising and sales copy, has cumulative, compounding effects for your brand. Content is it’s own product. It’s valuable to your target audience, and it provides evidence of your brand’s authenticity. That’s why 70% of consumers would rather learn about a business through content, as opposed to ads. And 80% of business decision makers prefer to get company information through a series of articles versus an advertisement. The jury is in on content marketing, the stats prove it.

First, Know Your Niche

Would you plant a coconut in an Idaho potato field and expect it to grow? I wouldn’t think so.

Your content has an ideal environment. It’s suited to a specific audience with specific needs, and you can find them in specific places. For all intents and purposes, your content doesn’t exist unless it’s being seen by the people who matter to your business. Go where they are, not just on your own blog. Find influencers, use the social networks they use, and engage in the discussions they want to have.

Content marketing is organic; it’s not a brute force tactic. That’s why it works so well, but only when it actually serves the needs of the target audience in your niche. Don ‘t be a coconut in a potato field.

Help Others Thrive

Fundamentally, it’s not just about content. It’s about identity, relationships and content.

–Amit Singhal, Google Fellow

Ecosystems are built on symbiotic relationships between organisms. Flowers provide nectar for bees; bees polinate flowers to help them reproduce. Great content is just like nectar. Other players in your niche need it, they go looking for it, and they eagerly consume it. They even tell their friends about it.

Great content this way!

OMG you guys! It was awesome, let me tell you about it.

Design your content so that it helps others in your niche do their jobs and get their needs met. It could be that the role you envision for your content is not what your niche needs most, so pay close attention.

Promotional content that serves your needs first won’t create brand advocates out of your readers. That’s not how an ecosystem works, and that’s why so much advertising is becoming less and less of an effective marketing tactic. It doesn’t contribute to the ecosystem.

Experiment and Adapt

Until you’re publishing content out in the wild, it’s difficult to know what kinds of topics will survive and thrive in which environments. Take the time to observe how others in your niche are addressing similar topics to figure out what’s working, then begin experimenting yourself.

Remember, just because others are marketing a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s ideal. In fact, some trends become popular and seem like a really good idea, until everyone realizes they didn’t actually work. Article directories are a perfect example of a dead branch on the content marketing family tree. Other tactics, like press releases or guest blogging, are highly dependent on your industry, the nature of your topic and how it serves your audience. Content isn’t always the right choice to market a business, but assuming it is, everything can be tested and improved. Everything.

Many small improvements yield huge adaptive changes over time. Among the aspects of your content you could test are

  • topics
  • titles
  • tone
  • keywords
  • content type
  • delivery methods
  • social networks
  • time of day and week
  • guest blog hosts
  • sponsored blog hosts
  • content discovery tools

The list goes on, and includes about every content decision you could make. Mailchimp, for example, allows you to A/B test email subject lines, while Optimizely lets you compare on-page content performance. Topsy helps you research which keywords are popular and how they’re being used, and Twitonomy will show you what’s actually working for you on Twitter, and what isn’t.

There’s no such thing as an ideal content marketing plan– finding “product-market fit” within your niche is an evolutionary process. It takes months to develop. And then, once you feel like you’ve got it right, things will have changed, requiring you to adapt your plans again.

If you’re committed to adding value to the ecosystem in which your content lives, doing more of what your audience wants and less of what they don’t, it will always trend toward a sustainable future.

Mike is Co-founder and CMO of Content BLVD, a marketplace where product companies and YouTubers meet to get more products into more videos. He's written for, been quoted in, and kicked out of many fine establishments.

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Posted in Content Marketing, Creating Content, Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Writing Better Content

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