Content marketing can attract thousands of potential customers. One of the best examples may be the Dollar Shave Club’s 2012 viral video. It helped the business grow and may have contributed to its $1 billion purchase price from Unilever in 2016.
Unfortunately, content marketing projects can be expensive and sometimes unproductive.
The problem is that even a simple video may cost several thousand dollars to produce — with no guarantee of success. An interactive app might take a few months to develop. It, too, has no guarantee.
You could take that risk, toss thousands of dollars at a video or similar content project, and hope for the best. Or you could cultivate big marketing projects — planting content seeds and paying attention to which ones grow.
What I’m describing is not for content marketing generally, but rather for how to choose which content ideas merit the investment.
If your business uses content marketing, it should produce planned content for distribution across several channels. This could include, for example, posting an article each week.
Then perhaps once a year, the business can invest in long-form written content, a content-driven mobile app, or a major video project.
Here is an example. A farm supply retailer in the Northwest sells a lot of fencing materials. But it found that customers often had to come back to its store to complete a fencing project or return unused materials. The problem was that customers would under-or-over estimate the number of posts and length of fence required.
The retailer thought it could produce an app that used GPS and product information to help. Customers could install the app, select the fencing materials, and then walk the fence line while holding their mobile device or mark the fence line on a map.
Developing an app would be a major project that required research, content collection and creation, and software development. If the business decided to do it, it would also come with an opportunity cost, since this retailer could only do one or two large projects each year.
In the end, instead of moving forward with the app, the business decided to test the idea, first producing a small brochure that explained how to estimate fencing projects. The company then began measuring how the brochure affected product returns.
The brochure was a content seed that might someday grow into an app.
Cultivating crops starts before seeds are planted. For example, farmers and gardeners might test the soil for its pH level (which describes how acidic or alkaline it is) and how much lime or phosphorus is present. They may add compost and other materials.
Similarly, to grow big content marketing projects, test simple, inexpensive ideas. Consider three testing grounds.
- Business blog. Consistently publishing content on a blog lets your business build an audience.
- Social media profiles. Interacting with followers and fans of your company’s social media profiles help you understand your customers. You could also use social media audiences to vet content ideas.
- Online groups and communities. Reddit and Facebook Groups give your business the opportunity to interact with an audience around topics. You could become an active contributor, sharing ideas, commenting, and generally making the group better.
To harvest content ideas for big projects, we will need to know which ones actually grew. To do this, we should track how well our content performs. Here are several possible performance indicators.
- Email subscriptions.
- Lead conversions.
- Sales conversions.
- Comments, likes, and shares (engagement).
- Search engine performance.
Planting starts with planning. A farmer decides which crops will be placed in a particular field. When everything is ready, he plants the seeds.
In the context of cultivating big content marketing projects, marketers should plan, too.
Then start planting. Publish blog posts. Contribute to Facebook Groups and Subreddits. Each piece of published content is a seed — planted and growing.
Watering and weeding are important to the growing process. Farmers often use massive sprinkler systems to encourage seeds to grow. They will typically spray for weeds and pests, ensuring that their seeds have the best opportunity for growth.
When it comes to promoting and distributing content, think of editing as watering and improving content as weeding.
For example, publish an article on your blog and then promote it on Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit. Mention it in a Facebook Group. You could even include it in an email newsletter. In each case, you’re giving your content the opportunity to grow.
If you receive a suggestion on how to improve it, amend the article. A blog post doesn’t have to be a static document.
Finally, farmers and gardeners harvest the plants when they have grown.
For your company, harvest the most productive content ideas and use them for big marketing projects.
This final step starts with knowing what a project is meant to accomplish. Should it reduce product returns? Increase conversions? Boost sales? Have a clear and measurable goal.
For example, if your big project is meant to increase sales, look for content ideas that have contributed the most to sales. If the goal is to increase email subscribers, find those pieces of content that generate the most signups.