Evelyn Hoover is senior content director at MSP‑C. Here, she explores the the parallels between content marketing and growing up on a small family farm.
Long before I was a content marketer, I was a farmer’s daughter. The soil on our 160-acre farm in southwestern Minnesota bore corn, soybeans, oats and (once) pinto beans. Considered small then, the farm is tiny by today’s standards.
As I was mulling over topics for this post, it occurred to me how much growing up on a small farm taught me about content marketing. Don’t laugh. I’m serious here. The cycles of the seasons are much like the cycles of content marketing.
Planning is Vital for Content Marketing
Each winter afternoon, I remember my father sitting, with the sleeves of his green Dickie’s work shirt rolled up, a cup of coffee close at hand, poring over the catalogs and brochures that were spread out on our white Formica kitchen table.
In the days before the internet, Dad relied on the printed material, visits with the seed dealer and chats with neighbors or other farmers at local grain elevators to make informed decisions about what to plant in the various sections of land.
He understood that planning was just as important as planting.
In content marketing, planning is also vital to success, and it’s a part of the process that many organizations don’t place enough focus on. Companies sometimes try a little of this and a little of that and forego this important part of the process. But this scattershot approach doesn’t yield good results.
Start with a content strategy that details what you’re trying to communicate, who you’re communicating it to and why.
Next comes the content marketing calendar. This is an important step that some companies overlook as they delve into content development. The calendar maps out what to cover and when. Events and product launches are the foundation of the calendar. Campaigns and other marketing messages can be layered on top.
It’s also important to plan content types. Think about short-form, long-form, video, infographics and other content. Start with the story itself and think about what form it should take and how that form can produce the best results. Include as much detail around the content and content types as you can on the calendar.
Content Marketing Execution
As spring came and the snow finally melted, Dad put his plan to action. He’d plow as soon as the weather allowed. Next, he used the disc to break up the soil and prepare it to receive the seeds. Once the soil was ready, he would start planting. Hitching up the four-row planter and climbing aboard his Allis-Chalmers tractor always brought a smile to his face. I’d watch him pull into the field making straight and tidy rows. He’d get smaller and smaller as he worked toward the far end of the field, until he became an orange dot on the black earth.
Content marketing execution is similar to this planting phase. Using your content marketing calendar as a guide, begin developing content. Take your time here as the wrong message at the wrong time can fall flat and do serious harm. Don’t lead with company-first messaging. Think about your audience. They have business challenges they are trying to solve. Your content should help them do that. It’s not about you and your company, it’s about your audience—your customer or prospect.
Put yourself in their shoes. When you are trying to solve a problem or have a need, you don’t Google Acme Company’s XYZ product. More likely, you ask a question like what’s the best way to write a headline? Think about the types of questions your readers are asking and develop content that answers those queries. Of course, you want to include a call to action, but that should come farther in, once you’ve gained their trust and provided a relevant, authoritative answer to their question.
Content Marketing Tone of Voice is Key
Once the mosquitos came out in full force and the sweltering days of summer were in full swing, Dad turned his attention to managing the weeds that grew in abundance. That meant a trip through the neat rows of small soybean and corn plants with the weed sprayer that Dad and a neighbor co-owned. It was also a time when we closely watched the weather reports in hopes that rain, but not too much, would fall to keep the crops irrigated.
With content development, it’s important to look at the tone of your neat rows of content. Be sure to adopt a tone that resonates with your audience. Developing that tone is the subject of many content marketing resources. But in general, ask yourself how you want your company to be perceived. Are you friendly or formal? Approachable or direct? Your tone should reflect that.
Keep in mind that your content tone of voice and your website visual design should complement one another. It’s a disconnect for a reader to visit a website with playful visuals and an authoritative tone.
Measuring Content Marketing Yields
As the crops matured and turned golden brown, Dad fired up the Case combine, putting on the bean head to harvest the soybeans and, later, the corn head to bring in the corn. That’s when he discovered the fruits of his labor. At that point, the harvest was measured in bushels per acre. The yield meant the difference between a good year and a bad one. I remember experiencing both.
This is also the case in content marketing. As your plan is in full swing, it’s vital to look at the analytics to see how each piece of content is performing. SEO, insights and audience research are key here to make sure the content is aligned with what readers are searching for and, just as importantly, who is doing the searching.
As you head into the budgeting season, knowing how each piece of content and content type performed in the past, can help you determine where to spend money on development in the future.
Using this data to adjust your approach to future content is also important. Maybe you need to optimize your content better for SEO or maybe you need to try a different approach to a topic so that it better resonates with your audience. Don’t just create the content and forget it. Content marketing needs to be honed regularly to yield the best results.
Content Marketing Success
When I was still in elementary school, my parents sold the family farm and retired. After working the land for years as a small crop farmer, Dad decided a central Minnesota lake was a suitable place to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Like farming, content marketing is hard work. If it were simple, everyone would be successful, and no one would need help.
To help plan, execute and sow content marketing success, MSP‑C usually recommends that new clients participate in our Catalyst process. It’s an extensive, and sometimes exhaustive, examination of not only a company’s current content marketing efforts, but also those of top competitors. At the end of the six- to eight-week process, clients get a two-year content marketing strategy and plan. If you want to learn more, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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