How to make content marketing work - practical tips for success

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher April 15, 2019
Some guidance on effective content marketing from a long-time practitioner.

Sarah Bottorff understands how content marketing can help build a brand. She should do as she’s done it for several SaaS companies, including her current company, FastSpring where she is VP for Marketing.

For example, Bottorff was previously brought in to build out a marketing team at AppFolio for a new legal product offering. AppFolio had built their company through a strong focus on content marketing. Bottorff took those learnings and applied them to their new legal practice management solution, MyCase, making it the number two legal practice management software at the time.

That was just the start. Bottorff took her content marketing skills to Smokeball, another company offering cloud-based legal practice management software. When she joined them, Smokeball was a sales-driven company. It didn’t do content marketing, opting instead to send a monthly email to its database.

Bottorff was able to show execs how content marketing that provided thought leadership would add real value around using their software better. It helped the firm's customers to  focus their efforts on being great attorneys, not great business software people.

With FastSpring, she has brought that same mindset of using content marketing to help customers be even better at what they do. In this case, FastSpring provides SaaS-based digital commerce solutions to small to mid-sized companies selling digital software (e.g., subscription software, payment, and billing, back office capabilities, etc.). Through content marketing, FastSpring helps customers improve how their customers sell their software.

A few examples from the FastSpring blog: 7 Ways to Use Video to Increase Conversion Rates, How To Write Great Product Descriptions That Convert, and Subscription Finance: What is Monthly Recurring Revenue? These blog posts are not about FastSpring’s products; they instead provide guidance and best practices on how to increase sales and understand the sales management part of their business better.

It’s fair to say that Bottorff understands the value that content marketing can bring to a company - if you make your customers successful, you will be successful.

So what is the advice she gives?

Tips for great content marketing

The first thing is to build a strong team with dedicated roles and responsibilities, saya Bottorff. Content marketing is a shared responsibility, but without clearly defined roles and responsibilities, a content marketing program will not thrive.

The most important role  is the owner of the content program. The owner identifies drivers and pain points. They do this by working with the product team to understand what they are developing and why, as well as talking to customers to understand pain points and gaps. Interviews are a huge component of any content marketing program. With all this information in hand, the content owner develops a comprehensive program.

Another important element of a solid content program is SEO. As Bottorff points out, it’s fine to create content, but you need the right people to find it. Then there’s design, and by design, Bottorff doesn’t just mean how the content looks, but how easily digestible it is and how it’s displayed. Then, of course, there’s the quality writing and the topics that lend great thought leadership that people want to consume.

As to where content marketing fits within the company, Bottorff argues that it should be integrated and work across the company -  in product planning and the roadmap, customer success and the sales team. Every team has a role to play in what content to develop. The key to building successful relationships across these teams is reciprocity. For example, Bottorff says the product team works with the content marketing team because the new features they develop will get exposure. For sales, it is about ensuring they get the resources and assets they need.

Building a content library

When it comes to building the content library, Bottorff takes a slightly different perspective. Yes, you need to define the customer journey and build content to support that journey. But for Bottorff’s company, which is a pay-per-performance business, employees are incentivised to help their customers optimize their websites and their businesses.

What her team does is develop content that enables companies to get to the next level of their business. So they offer advice on optimizing their websites, including improving their content, and how to leverage different content assets, like webinars or videos.

Bottorff says FastSpring has similar challenges to their customers, so they have a good handle on the concepts and can put more resources into developing thought leadership content that their customers need.

For example, FastSpring  sends prospects personalized videos where a Sales/Support person speaks to the prospect on screen, shows them their website and makes suggestions to improve it. They then show how if you plugged in FastSpring APIs, you could improve the experience in different ways. These are just informative enough to make the prospect see the value and want to know more.

Bottorff likens the videos to a cooking show where you can see the final product to help you understand the value of the effort you need to put into making it.

My take

Bottorff makes the point that content marketing is all about the experience and that you need to provide content in an easily digestible manner. Content must be useful and that requires you to understand your market well, not only in terms of what content to provide,  but also how to provide it and where.

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