This is the first in a series of forthcoming blog posts on the different business goals that can be supported by content marketing.
In this post, I look at content marketing for brand awareness.
It’s a long one, so if you need to jump sections, here’s the breakdown:
- What is content marketing for awareness?
- Why is it useful to your business?
- How do you use content marketing to drive awareness?
- How can you measure the effectiveness of your awareness content marketing
- Examples of content marketing for awareness
How do you define awareness?
Awareness can also be known as top-of-funnel, share of mind, and the discovery phase amongst other terms.
Although they’re all distinct from one another, the common ground here is that content marketing can help your business get noticed – a job previously assigned to things like advertising.
Why is it useful to your business?
Awareness is typically the first step in your marketing funnel, as potential customers go from awareness, to becoming leads, and eventually customers. It’s very hard for them to become a customer or even a lead with having a general awareness that your business exists in the first place!
In some cases it may even help them realise their need for your product in the first place, which overlaps with demand generation as a goal.
And where they do know they need a solution to their problem, having a robust awareness campaign will help you win out in your market.
By making an impression in your customers’ mind and getting them to notice (and like) your brand above others, you’re much more likely to be chosen when they come to purchase the product or solution you offer.
How can content marketing drive awareness?
As one of the most common content marketing goals, there are a lot of different ways it can help build share of mind for your company. Here are just a few of them.
Winning on Google and in organic search discovery
With over 11 billion searches a month, Google is still one of the most dominant forces online. It still remains just about the monopoly on where people go to search for answers to their needs, wants and general questions.
To help answer those questions, and remain the top dog in search, Google loves good content, and ruthlessly updates its algorithms to match the content most likely to answer a user’s query.
What that translates to is Google loves frequent, relevant, high quality and human-readable content.
If your business starts creating a frequent pipeline of well regarded blog posts, videos or help centre articles – anything that is useful or entertaining for your prospective customers – then you will be rewarded with higher organic search placements as you naturally create the signals that Google looks for, including organic backlinks, readership and social endorsements.
As you get bumped up the listings, you’ll receive more, and more relevant, traffic to your company pages, introducing more people to you in direct response to the queries they’re making. It’s a powerful combination of events, ultimately putting you on your customers’ radar, and content marketing can help achieve this.
Winning on social media and through word of mouth
Great content marketing can, on occasion, break out from the teeming mass on other distractions online, and achieve the coveted status of ‘going viral’ where it (sometimes unexpectedly) creates a ripple effect across the web as more and more people share it, becoming a cultural phenomenon that can last days or even weeks.
Even if your content never quite achieves Harlem Shake / Gangnam Style levels of popularity, a blog that is consistently shared by fans and influencers can have a significant positive impact on your brand awareness. Together, the shares, mentions, retweets, likes, pins and other social actions people make, can easily amount to thousands (or millions) of impressions a day and result in plenty of traffic being driven to your brand’s site.
Even if you can’t directly measure the entire impact of your social content marketing channels, it could be creating positive momentum for your company. Think about when you’ve copied and pasted a link and shared it with a friend via email or event just told them to Google it when they get home. This kind of word of mouth is tough to measure accurately, but it all helps build awareness, and it’s driven by good content.
Winning in traditional, new and niche media.
If your content does go viral, it’s very likely to get picked up by the press, including mainstream national TV & newspapers.
However if you don’t manage to hit that giant home run (very few do), a well positioned piece of content can still attract the attention of journalists who specialise in the area you’re covering. You just have to work a little harder to identify them; or even better, start with a few targets in mind and create content you know will appeal.
It’s also a frequent outcome that by writing authoritative content on a regular basis, you become a go-to source for journalists looking for knowledgeable ‘thought leaders’ to comment on a particular industry trend, or trade events will invite you to speak at their conference.
Newer (i.e. digital first) media channels and popular blogs – particularly sites like Reddit, Stumbleupon and Product Hunt (to name just three) – are fantastic ways to get in front of a large audience. Even if your content doesn’t make it to mainstream national press, if it gets to the front page of popular sites like those named above, it could potentially land you even greater awareness anyway.
From there, mainstream media will often pick up on the most popular trends, so you end up with the best of both worlds.
Finally, niche, special interest and trade media are all great places to try and have your content marketing featured. Assuming it’s quality, fresh, adds value in some way and is relevant to their audience, you should have a decent chance of getting your content mentioned in this kind of media.
Depending on what you’re selling, these more targeted media outlets may well prove more valuable than a 2-inch corner column on page 48 of a national print newspaper anyway.
Winning a regular audience
One of the ultimate goals in content marketing – as in business – is not just to achieve fleeting awareness (a glimpse of your brand name, an unread article shared because someone thinks it makes them look smart), it’s to build a significant, on-going relationship with your customers and potential customers.
This goes deeper than the ‘first impression’ kind of awareness we’ve talked about above, and there’ll be more on it in customer retention and brand positioning.
This is about winning a regular audience that tunes into your content like it would to regular media, trusting you to provide a consistent source of value (whether that’s entertainment, education or some other outcome that meets their goals).
To effectively build an audience that likes your brand enough to repeatedly engage with it, you’ll need to communicate with them about issues and topics beyond your core product/service. This is where content marketing can be so powerful.
How can I measure the awareness I’m getting from content marketing?
There are a whole lot of metrics you can use to track awareness for your business.
Here I’ll run through a few the most popular:
What are impressions? Impressions are basically how many times your content is seen.
Why measure impressions? At a very high level, it simply shows the reach of your content. By itself it isn’t particularly useful, but if you look at impressions and traffic together, for example, you can start to see if there’s a correlation (or not) that will tell you if your distribution strategy is working (or not).
How do I measure impressions? If you’re paying for digital ads or any other SEM campaigns, or using the major social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, these will all provide an impressions metric in your account dashboard.
Press hits / readership:
What are press hits and readership? This is traditionally a PR term. Readership is used to calculate how many people are likely to have a seen a story (this can sometimes mean the distribution reach of a magazine or newspaper, or it may also include their calculation on how many times it will be passed on, shared and read by others).
Press hits are quite literally the number of times a press target (newspaper, magazine, online blog etc.) picks up a specific story about you or your company and write about you. In content marketing terms, you may include figures such as visitors to a third party website if you’re guest blogging, or how often a post or other piece of content marketing is quoted in other media.
Why measure readership and press hits? This metric gives you a sense of a) how much coverage 3rd media are giving your content marketing – and your brand – with 3rd party media (particularly traditional national newspapers and well established brand magazines) offering additional legitimacy as impartial journalists; and b) just how many people are likely to see your brand in any given day/week/month by multiplying the number of press hits you get in a given timeframe, with their readership numbers.
How do I measure press hits and readership? Readership is slightly easier, in that most media sites have press kits and therefore easily accessible numbers on their readership, although be aware not everyone will measure these things the same (some will count page views, others unique visitors, others sessions; and others may count immeasurable stats like number of times a magazine is passed around, beyond the original owner) so some of these numbers can get very large and fluffy, very quickly.
For press hits, a lot of PR practitioners will use proprietary software that scans the internet for any mentions of your brand or other keywords you want to track. A free way to do this is using something like Google Alerts, but it isn’t going to be as comprehensive as a paid tool. One paid tools making a lot of headway recently is Mention.
What are social mentions? Social mentions are quite literally every time your brand – or keyword(s) that you care about – are mentioned online. This is quite similar to press hits above, but in this case the context has changed from media channels to social ones. These can include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Youtube and Quora to name just a handful of the most popular social networks where you brand is likely to pop up.
Why measure social mentions? Social mentions can give you a good indication of two things: brand relevance and brand sentiment. The first measures how relevant your brand is in a given social context (i.e. are people actually talking about you, and in the social circles you care about?)
This ought to help you understand if you need to push your awareness campaigns harder, or whether your particular content marketing campaigns are picking up the attention who had hoped.
The second – brand sentiment – helps you understand whether people are talking about your brand (or content marketing) in a negative or positive light. You could have a whole load of social mentions, but if they’re all negative, you might want to consider if your campaign is actually having the desired effect.
How do I measure social mentions? The most straightforward way is when someone uses your brand’s specific keyword hashtag, twitter handle or similar natively recognised convention on the different social networks. However as you can imagine, most people are too lazy to use the official conventions, or they misspell your name etc. so it can be more difficult than that. Luckily, there are hundreds of social listening tools, so there is bound to be the right one for you. Three free services that immediately spring to mind (which I use) are Hootsuite, Social Mention and Topsy.
What are social shares? Distinct from social mentions, social shares measure how many people have directly seen and shared your content. You may measure this with both your content found on other sites and content on your site, or just content on your site. You would typically break this down into the different social channels that people have shared it on, and in some cases you can get as granular as seeing who has shared it.
Why measure social shares? Social shares give a reasonable indication for how popular your content is on different social channels, which helps direct you as to which social networks the majority of your audience use; or which pieces resonate more with different audiences on different channels, helping you fine-tune the way you speak with your customers in different contexts, and what content to create for the different social networks.
One note of caution here, is that just because your content is being shared, doesn’t mean it’s being read, as reported here by The Verge from a study undertaken by Chartbeat.
How do I measure social shares? Most sites (particularly those based on WordPress) use social sharing plugins like ShareThis and AddThis which will automatically track how many times each social button you display is clicked. However, this has the limitation that it only tracks if someone shares your content using the buttons you’ve provided.
A lot of people will have their own preferred social media management tool (and associated Chrome plugin) which won’t be captured by these tools. So to get a more complete picture, try using tools like SharedCount (designed to do just this and a wonderful tool I use on a consistent basis), or BuzzSumo which, with the paid options, gives you an even deeper level of insight into your social shares by letting you see who exactly shared it! (Top tip: This is a great way to discover who your real social supporter are, reach out to engage with them, or find online influencers that are already fans of your content marketing who you could collaborate with further.)
Traffic, Page views, Sessions, Users etc.:
What are traffic, page views, sessions and uniques? These can be confusing terms, and slightly differing definitions exist for each, but for a basic understanding:
- Traffic is a general term for how many people visit your site, but could in theory mean any of the other terms, depending on how a site determines their traffic numbers.
- Page views are how often any page is visited or refreshed on your site, even if the same person views multiple pages or even refreshes the same page (that would then be counted as two views) during their visit. For this reason it is almost always a larger number than Sessions or Users in Google Analytics.
- A session (previously known as a visit) in Google Analytics is counted when someone visits your site. No matter how many pages they view or what actions they take, this is counted as a single session. Only once they become inactive or navigate away from your site for over 30 minutes does their session stop – so if they returned an hour later it would then be counted as a new session.
- A user (previously known as a unique visitors) will be counted when a person visits your site within any given time frame. So long as they’ve been cookied, they won’t be recounted. It isn’t perfect though, as the same user who deletes their cookies, uses a different browser or a mobile phone will then be counted multiple times. This is typically the smallest number of the three in your GA dashboard.
Why measure traffic? There are many hundreds of blog posts and debates out there about which is the right measure of traffic for a website. For those selling advertising on a CPM basis, you can imagine that the highest number – page views – is the best metric for them.
However for a content marketer looking to generate awareness, sessions or users might be a more accurate metric. In this case, because we care about building a new audience, you probably want to track users, to see how effective your content marketing is at increasing unique visits to your site.
How do I measure traffic? These stats are found under on the default ‘Audience’ > ‘Overview’ dashboard in Google Analytics. You can drill down further into each of them, add secondary dimensions for deeper insights and custom templates to get the analytics you’re after – but that is a post (or several) in itself.
What are organic referrals? This is a measure of how many people are finding your site through organic Google search.
Why measure organic referrals? Essentially this tells you how well you’re doing on Google, and therefore whether your content marketing is having the desired positive effect you want it to have when a user searches for the terms you want to rank for.
If you are not performing as well as you’d expect, this could prompt you to ask how well your content is optimised for SEO, or whether you’re picking the best keywords/terms. By referencing it against other data (such as average session duration, average time on page, bounce rates etc.) it will also tell you different stories, such as whether people finding your content through Google are having their questions answered by your content (or being entertained by it) – or not.
If you find that people are leaving quickly after arriving, you may find yourself penalised by Google, so you should prioritise fixing whatever the problem is that leads to people leaving.
How do I measure organic referrals? This is found under ‘Acquisition’ and then you can get various information on it, depending on what you want to know, from ‘Overview,’ and ‘Channels’. It might also be useful to add it is a secondary dimension to other GA reports, such as individual pages (under ‘Behaviour’ > ‘Site Content’ > ‘All Pages’) as this will tell you how many views to a particularly page (or piece of content) were driven by organic search.
What other metrics can I measure? There are a ton of other metrics you may want to measure for awareness, from average session duration and average time on page, to returning visits, to Facebook ‘Likes’, ‘Pins’, Youtube views… Deciding on using additional metrics will clearly depend on your particular use-case and goals.
Why measure other metrics? These additional metrics will provide additional insight and granularity to your reporting, or be more suited to specific use cases. It’s up to you to decide what is most appropriate.
How do I measure these other metrics? Google it!
Some examples of awareness content marketing
Winning on Google
A great example of using consistent, high quality and educational content marketing are the companies co-founded by Neil Patel: Kissmetrics and Crazy Egg. Neil even shares the data (more here and here and here) on their success, and attributes it directly to the content marketing he does, from prolific guest blogging to dominating for long-tail keywords.
Buffer tells a similar story, growing their blog to over a million page views through content marketing – and creating a multi-million dollar company in the process. Contently shows how content marketing has also underpinned the success of both Hubspot and Unbounce too.
So if you’re a B2B SaaS company, a blog definitely seems to be the way to go.
But what about other types of industries?
Well it seems to work for (an admittedly unnamed) B2C ecommerce company, which according to Top Rank, used content marketing to boost their SEO ranking, increasing unique visitors by 214%. Birchbox is another often quoted example of a company successfully using content marketing successfully, and Mashable throw four more into the mix in this review.
There’s a good case study from eConsultancy on City Index creating some standout content marketing which led to a long list of impressive results, and Digital Figaro shows that even not-for-profits can see results and improve their search rankings too.
Winning on social
So for this section, I was going to go with examples like Old Spice and Starbucks, but then I thought about this great post from Joe Pulizzi at Content Marketing Institute, and I thought again. Basically, his argument is that they’re simply clever marketing campaigns – and I tend to agree.
So, are there any good examples of brands winning on social media who do content marketing, as distinct from clever advertising?
Buffer definitely deserves a second mention here, with an average of 1900 shares per post, and some of their best getting upwards of 10,000 (one even broke 30,000 shares).
On the consumer side, OkCupid’s OkTrends is/was a standout success (it stopped for a couple of years, but now it’s back). According to Contently, “From August 2010 to April 2011, OkTrends posts averaged a staggering 32,500 Facebook likes and 4,222 tweets.”
Moving away from Twitter, Random House seems to be achieving sustained success with it’s content curation strategy on Pinterest, where they’ve accumulated 1.5 million followers. They also seem to do pretty well on Facebook too, with a few of their top books generating 20k+ Facebook likes each.
The same list that brought Random House to my attention, also uncovered another gem. New Belgium is a craft beer brewer based in Fort Collins, Colorado. Clearvoice has a better and more in-depth review of their brilliant content marketing strategy, but with half a million Facebook likes and 220,000 twitter followers I would say they’re doing a pretty good job of winning on social media – dwarfing their larger rival Sam Adams on Twitter (although beaten by it on Facebook) and also trumping another larder rival, Sierra Nevada, on both.
Winning in traditional, new and niche media
Again, I thought I had this section sewn up with examples like Dollar Shave Club, but being strict about this, that was a one-off (staggeringly successful) campaign, rather than a consistent content marketing strategy. However, seen as I’ve mentioned them, it’s worth noting their launch video has been watched over 18 million times, and a search for ‘Dollar Shave Club’ returns almost a million hits – so plenty of people have written about them in traditional, new and niche media thanks largely to that video.
A stand out success that is generally considered content marketing, because it is part of a wider content video strategy, is Volvo’s ‘The Epic Slit’ featuring Van Damme. According to this Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM) case study, the one video alone generated over 20,000 editorials with an incredible earned media value of €126m.
The Dove ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ – going since 2004 – is definitely a ‘must include’ case study on using content marketing for winning at PR. According to Business Insider, it has achieved “4 billion PR and blogger media impressions and counting”, while Wikipedia states “The series received significant media coverage from talk shows, women’s magazines, and mainstream news broadcasts and publications, generating media exposure which Unilever has estimated to be worth more than 30 times the paid-for media space.”
Winning a regular audience
One of the most oft-cited examples of original and fun content marketing is Belndec’s ‘Will it Blend’. Many of it’s videos have viewing figures into the millions and tens of millions, while it’s channel has 770k subscribers. Not bad for a premium-priced blender!
Another great example I’ve come across is Luxy Hair, which Shopify highlighted: “Their YouTube channel was created in 2010 and since then has amassed 1,474,246 subscribers and 173,657,125 total video views.” So an even bigger success than the more well-known Blendec.
But has it resulted in sales? This is what the founders says:
“Our business was entirely grown through our YouTube channel, the YouTube community and word-of-mouth. We only recently started experimenting with paid marketing – up until then it was all organic.”
Copyblogger is a great example if the B2B online space. Since launching in 2006 they’ve used content marketing to amass a regular audience (via their excellent blog, podcast, newsletter and free content offers) of 207,000 people.
The result? Straight from their ‘About’ page:
Today, Copyblogger Media is a software and training organization with more than 160,000 unique customers — and it’s all done with useful content, smart copywriting, and exceptional products and services.
No advertising. No venture capital. No outbound sales team.
Awareness as a goal can often get a bad rap. Sure, a lot of the metrics like Youtube views, Facebook likes and Twitter shares can scream ‘vanity metric!,’ and taken alone, they probably are.
However, I defy anyone to sell a product or service to someone who doesn’t know you exist.
That’s the importance of awareness.
It’s the crucial first-step in the journey towards a sale.
So long as brands a) have a strategy for moving people from pure-play awareness towards a sale; and b) have evidence that it works, then content marketing for awareness should really be at the front of every businesses’ playbook.
What are your thoughts?