The term “content marketing” was first coined in 2001, but of course, the concept goes back for centuries.
(As a farm girl now living in the city, my favorite example is John Deere’s The Furrow, which was first published in 1895 and continues to grace farmers’ coffee tables today.)
Content marketing is hitting its prime in the Internet Age — but even though most consultants, speakers, entrepreneurs, and other small business owners know content marketing is a valuable way to promote their businesses, they’re not seeing even a fraction of the ROI they’ve been told to expect.
They’re thinking about content strategy horizontally rather than vertically. Let me explain.
The lure of horizontal content marketing
Many business owners who engage in content marketing start by thinking about the platform. They want to build a solid base of blog posts, podcast episodes, or YouTube videos to educate and entertain their audience. Or, they know they should have a gated course or other resources to generate leads and educate current customers.
But planning your content strategy is like building a house.
Imagine that the horizontal categories (the blog, the case studies, the resource library, the training materials) are each a floor in the house. Occasionally, a lone staircase or ladder will beckon the audience to the upper levels, where the more premium services live.
The problem is, most people end up building rooms (writing blog posts or creating case studies) that don’t have a direct link to the floor above. They may be interesting on their own, but if they’re not designed with the explicit goal of attracting and qualifying your core customers, they’re not actually part of your marketing funnel.
Time to think vertical
Instead of planning content marketing in broad horizontal categories, I recommend planning your content strategy in vertical categories as a series of interconnected ladders that directly connect with one another.
An example: If your business is sales training, your ultimate goal might be to sign on more clients for your signature service, a 12-week group coaching course for business owners. Start with your ultimate goal, then plan your content as a series of supplementary services you can offer on the way to top.
Here’s what that ladder might look like:
Billboard content (cost to your audience: free): Posts/podcasts/videos/articles that let your audience know you’re out there. Each would take a high-level overview of the problem your signature service solves, and end with a call to action to download a more in-depth lead magnet. Goal: get business owners to download your lead magnet and get on your email list.
Lead magnet (cost: your audience’s email address): A short but actionable ebook guide that helps business owners solve one part of the specific problem your 12-week group coaching course covers. Goal: Solve a problem and provide enough value that people look forward to being on your email list.
Email autoresponders (cost: a few minutes of your audience’s time): Expand on topics related to your small group coaching, and alert them to your upcoming free training. Goal: Build rapport and get people to sign up for your free webinar.
Targeted webinar (cost: a longer amount of time): A webinar aimed at business owners that expands on your ebook guide or shows a step-by-step demonstration of the principles there. Goal: Demonstrate the value of your coaching, give a taste of what it’s like to work with you, get people to sign up for your next 12-week group coaching course.
Webinar follow-up materials (cost: must have attended webinar): A checklist or guide to help your target audience solve the problem you went over in a webinar. Goal: Provide added value and proof of your system — after all, they’ve now tried it themselves and it works!
Ultimate goal: 12-week group coaching course (cost: $$): Sign 8-12 business owners up to your next group coaching course, where you lead them through your signature 12-week process to improving their sales strategy. Goal: Give clients a stellar experience and get them to recommend you to their friends.
This way, you’re starting with the ultimate value you add (your core service), and creating content that is an extension of — and creates a direct path to — that service.
Once you start thinking vertically rather than horizontally, you’ll notice ways to link your existing content together into other mini-ladders through clear calls to action. This will both improve the ROI of your existing content and ensure you’re making the most of the next content you create.