What does good content marketing look like?

Sonja Sharon

Content marketing is powerful engine that drives inbound leads your way. Like any engine, it has a lot of moving parts. So what are they? What does it take to make content marketing succeed? Here’s a quick illustrated guide.

What does good content marketing look like

The business development challenge is as tough as it ever was – in some ways even tougher – but some companies are winning the game, even in competitive markets.

They’re winning a stream of good inbound leads from dream clients. Their networks are expanding and delivering warm referrals that are quick and easy to convert. And they’re doing all this without having to resort to tactics they hate. No soul-destroying cold calling, intrusive advertising or spam email blasts. The right clients are calling them, and it’s driving long-term, profitable sales results.

So how are they doing it?

Great content is the engine that drives this particular approach to business development – an inbound approach you’ll know as content marketing. All good you may say, but what does it take to get this content marketing thing up and running? Where do you need to focus on to make it work?

Like any powerful engine, content marketing has a lot of moving parts. So what are they? What are the elements that make content marketing succeed?

Under the bonnet of successful content marketing

Let’s put this approach under the spotlight. Here’s a quick, illustrated break down of what it takes to make content marketing work.

1. An investment in marketing online

“High growth firms are much more likely to focus on their websites than their average growth peers.” From Spiraling Up: How to Create a High Growth, High Value Professional Services Firm

Your website is at the heart of your digital marketing universe. Businesses that win with this approach invest time, money and effort in their website, in their content and in social media. They know it matters. It doesn’t mean they ignore offline channels, but they know the digital marketplace is is key to their success.

2. A customer-centred approach to business

“Nobody cares about your products and services (except you). What people care about are themselves and solving their problems.” David Meerman Scott

Content marketing winners take a ‘customer first’ approach to all communication, not the usual self-oriented tone. They see marketing as a way to help and connect with their customers first and foremost. They make the buyer the hero, always, and focus on the building the relationship over leading with a sales pitch.
Christian Tait customer focused website>> Try this quick test: How self-oriented is your website now?

3. Meaningful message, strong perspective

“Operate from a living message that sums up you, your company, and what you believe.” Chris Brogan

If you look at an effective content marketing website, it’s absolutely clear what the business stands for and the story stacks up. Winners understand that People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it‘. They’re clear on the purpose of the business – why it exists and why they’re behind it – not just the products and services it offers.
Hiut Denim start with the why>> Read Hiut Denim’s Do One Thing Well story here

Great content marketers have a strong point of view and they’re not afraid to share what they believe in. They know that their perspective is their strongest calling card, and the content they create that shares this perspective builds their reputation. It means they get asked to speak at events, contribute to industry discussion, write articles. It creates a buzz which helps spread the word about what they do, and who they want to work with.

>> The power of perspective

4. A very clear idea of who you’re selling to

Great content marketing sites are never vanilla. They don’t try and talk to everyone, and they use the website as a filter as well as a magnet. They know exactly who their audience is, so the message and tone of voice is spot on for their perfect clients. Who cares if it falls flat with the rest of the world; the right people love it!Velocity Partners customer profile>> Read: Not more clients but the right ones

5. A balance of useful, inspiring content to back up the story

Successful content marketers draw people in with helpful and inspiring content. Their websites are way more than just a brochure. We’re talking blogs, guides, videos, books, infographics – the whole caboodle.

Their winning websites house a library of content that helps, educates and inspires customers so that they know, like and trust the business, and remember it when the time is right to buy.

They get the balance right, with a blend of stock content (heavyweight, more detailed, longer read) and flow content (short blogs, videos, quick bites).
Hinge marketing library of content>> Stock and flow – the master metaphor for your content

6. Clear sales content

Newfangled positioning contentIt’s not all about blogs and guides and infographics. When we talk about the balance of content on a website, we recommend an 80/20 divide between this kind of valuable, marketing content and the sales content on the site.

So c. 80% of your site is filled with useful blogs, guides, videos etc that help your customers with their challenges, and 20% is sales content.

That balance of power might make it sound like the blogs etc deserve more attention, but that’s not true. You need both, and the 20% of sales content has to be spot on. Its job is to to describe what you actually do, and help the customer to buy from you. From a clear positioning statement through to service/product descriptions – it sets out very clearly and logically what it is you do for money and how to buy.

>> Read: The 80/20 rule of content

7. Sharing regular, helpful content with large niche networks

Good content marketers don’t just sit on their content, waiting for their inboxes to ping. They take the ‘marketing’ side of the content marketing coin seriously. They get out there and actively share what they’re creating with their network, via social media, via email, via talks/events, and on other media outlets (via guest posts, or in the press). They share their content directly too, using the ‘saw this and thought of you‘ approach with people they know and want to help.

All this outbound activity cements their reputation and ensures they become known as a helpful resource, the go to place for information and inspiration in their field – the visible experts.

8. Regular keep-in-touch communications for subscribers

Successful content marketers make subscription their aim. They do all they can to build a engaged list of subscribers who willingly receive their communications. They invite clients, prospects and website visitors to opt-in to receive their best content – by email and/or in print – and regularly send out information that they value.
Project One Real Change Club

>> Opt-in or opt-out? What’s the best approach to your email newsletter?

9. A congruent sales approach

It’s all got to add up. There’s no point investing in a library of helpful, customer-focused content, and then using it to indiscriminately spam people. Use valuable content to open doors. Shared judiciously it will help you connect and build relationships with the right people.

>> Content marketing and the forgotten salesperson

10. A more human tone

A tone of voice that connects – and echoes with the customer. Help don’t sell, show don’t tell, talk don’t yell is a good mantra to live by when it comes to tone of voice.
Clutton Cox human marketing

>> Try the ‘we-we’ customer-focus test to see whether your website copy is customer-orientated enough

Great content marketing in action

So those are the moving parts of the content marketing engine. As you can see, success with this approach comes as much from attitude as it does from ticking off a list of ‘to dos’. It’s about nurturing a generous, customer-focused state of mind right across your business, not employing tactics when it comes to sales.

Your website is the visible hub of your content strategy. Check out the websites we’ve used as examples if you want a more detailed look at great content marketing in action:

  • Creative Cadence – Bristol-based graphic design company
  • Velocity Partners – B2B content marketing superstars
  • Hinge Marketing – Research-based branding and marketing firm for professional services
  • Newfangled – US-based digital marketing firms for agencies
  • Project One – Change specialists, helping large, complex organisations to change, thrive and grow
  • Clutton Cox – Bristol’s online savvy conveyancing solicitors

Thanks to our case studies. You can steal more ideas from our other Valuable Content Award Winners.

The very best of luck with your content.

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  1. Avatar

    Do you think that there is such a thing as being content marketing ready Sonja and Sharon? In your experience, what has to be in place for a business to be able to successfully embrace content marketing? Many small businesses for example do not have dedicated marketing people and may struggle to create good quality content regularly and consistently.

  2. VC

    Hi Greg,

    That’s a big and very useful question! My short answer would be ‘yes’ – there is such a thing as content marketing ready – and that thing would be having a content strategy. But that thing consists of a few stages ( as you’ll be learning at Pub School!) So being ready means – you know what you want to achieve through content marketing, you’re clear on your own message, you understand your customers, you know your content sweet spot, you have a plan and you’re prepared to dedicate the time and resources to it.

    You don’t need a dedicated marketing team to make content marketing work – lots of small businesses do it brilliantly without – but you do need the understanding of how it works and the commitment to making it part of the way you run your business.

    Thanks for asking such a good question!


    • VC

      Agreed Sharon. That is the very best starting place. Great question Greg.

      To be ‘content marketing ready’ also requires the right mindset.

      The decision to focus your business development around sharing truly valuable content with a niche audience is a big shift in attitude for many businesses.

      It starts with the right intent: “We commit to putting our customers’ needs first, helping before selling, giving our knowledge away generously; we will write from the heart.” The businesses that are most successful with this approach are purpose-led (see: https://www.valuablecontent.co.uk/blog/businesses-with-purpose-create-better-content). They understand why they exist and their content is part of their drive to fulfil their mission.

      So it’s a combination of the smart thinking and the right attitude that puts the content marketing approach to doing business on the right footing. This takes thought and leadership.

      Hope that helps.



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