How to leverage content to take your brand to the moon
Growth hacking content is not rocket science.
You can just apply the following most common growth hacks to attract traffic to your content pages:
Identify the high-volume SEO keywords in your product domain.
Write 10 keyword-based articles per week. Use Skyscraper technique1 to outrank your competitors.
Respond to relevant queries on Quora and post blog snippets on other relevant communities to build backlinks.
Get your colleagues to upvote your posts (from multiple accounts) in forums and communities every time you publish a new blog.
Promote your blogs by scheduling social media posts on Sundays at 7 pm, Wednesdays at 9 am, and Thursdays between 12-2 pm — the most popular “me-time” for content consumers.
Repurpose your content for podcasts, YouTube, SlideShare, or other leading content syndication platforms.
Apply the “newsjacking” technique to earn explosive traffic to your blog site.
I have seen multiple content teams applying the above hacks to their content marketing strategy and succeed—albeit only in the short run.
But I'm not going to recommend these hacks because it’s a hamster treadmill that will tire you out soon and won’t lead you anywhere.
You are reading this blog because you are looking for ways to build a successful brand.
Among the other strategies, you might have already read elsewhere, creating content for your brand is a critical and sustainable strategy to achieve that goal.
But there’s no shortcut to creating great content that is going to be a smashing overnight hit.
Content reigns supreme in all stages of your business growth because it builds brand authority and can give you an indomitable competitive edge.
If your brand is a cathedral you are building, each piece of content you produce is the perfectly-chiseled stone that gives shape and foundation to your brand’s edifice.
The better the quality of your content, the stronger and taller your brand’s cathedral.
Growth hacking content limits the scope of your content to SEO writing and shallow readership. It flatlines your brand’s growth.
It’s not a great way to build a monumental cathedral that lives on for hundreds of years.
In this post, I offer suggestions to replace the flash-in-the-pan content growth hacks with a reliable growth marketing strategy to amplify your brand’s growth.
Let us start by shifting our perception about what exactly is content in the context of a brand.
Your content = Your product
You and I know that content is a marketing tool that brands use to promote their products to the world.
What we don’t seem to realize is—your brand’s content is also one of your products.
Anything that your business produces, packages, and presents to consumers are your product.
In that sense, content has to have the same ingredients that your primary products have.
You have to develop robust content that is viable for consumption and ship it to the right market.
It deserves as much commitment from your brand as your flagship products.
Content is no different than other products in your brand’s portfolio because it carries a value prop of its own, adds value to customers’ lives, and creates a customer experience.
The content your brand produces should be a brand in itself.
Think of HubSpot or Kissmetrics; the blogs and content that these businesses produce have a larger following than the actual products they sell.
Imagine how powerful is that!
By the way, content doesn’t steal the thunder from your core product; it functions as a superhero’s reliable sidekick.
Building a rock-solid content strategy
A good content strategy requires you to follow a religious ritual of putting out great content that will earn you multi-fold benefits such as brand awareness, lead conversions, and compounding growth.
Depending on where your brand is right now on its growth chart, you can apply the following tips to better strategize your content marketing:
1. Set hard goals
Most of the content that brands produce today are out there because:
They want to maintain their presence through blogs
They think Google ranks new content better
It’s what everybody else around them is doing
Look closer and you will see that it’s a very purposeless strategy to have.
If you are creating content for the sake of remaining an active brand, you will end up stacking an archive of lifeless content that will die a lonely death.
Set a high standard of what it means for your content strategy to be a hit.
Articulate clear, measurable goals and timeline.
It can also become to be a self-fulfilling prophecy for your brand if you articulate your goals in the most vivid details.
For a bootstrapping startup, for example, your goals can read something like this:
“We want our blogs to be read by 1,00,000 people by the end of 2022. We want 60 people to sign-up for our products each week from our blogs during the first two years, and 150+ people during the remaining two years.”
Your brand’s content should have a purpose. A meaning to live up to. A cause to rally for.
Set goals that will keep your content team accountable, such as, to:
Earn a respectable blog subscription following within a realistic timeline
Drive meaningful traffic to your blogs from relevant demographics
Hold your content team up against a variable lead quota every month
Don’t aim for vanity metrics such as overall monthly traffic and unique page views.
Attract niche audience you cater to. Identify resources that will help you achieve and exceed these goals.
It’s easier to set sail on a journey and pick between the right routes once you have clarity about the destination on the map.
2. Identify overarching themes
Every product represents a value or stands for some cause.
Slack is a team collaboration tool whose blogs extol the importance of workplace productivity.
General Electronics is a technology conglomerate; the GE Reports writes extensively on robotics, the global economy, and public policy.
Tom Bilyeu started Quest Nutrition in 2010; he now hosts the Impact Theory interview series where he invites the world’s greatest achievers every week to talk about living a fulfilled life.
Your content should be a reflection of the belief that your products propagate.
The content should inspire thought-provoking ideas that align with your offerings and communicate the vision you have for the world’s future.
Finding the overarching topics that you want to talk about on is more important than writing blogs based on high-volume search keywords.
There are many advantages to chalking out your content strategy with overarching themes.
First, it becomes easy for your content creators to build in-depth content around these topics because they have the curiosity and first-hand expertise to talk about them.
We will cover the process for hiring the right person for your content marketing team in the next section.
Since the topics ring closely with your brand value and offerings, it’s also a great way to interact with and invite direct feedback from your target market.
Finally, when you talk on topics closer to your brand’s heart, your content will become a de facto source for interesting analysis and discussions. It will also make it easier for your marketing team to get plenty of SEO juices flowing to your websites.
Identifying content themes also begs a unique brand voice and your unique narrative style.
Fiction is deemed great when readers can’t stop turning the pages of a book; non-fiction is great when it compels people to stop and think.
Since we are talking about content marketing in the context of business, I suggest you create content that falls in the latter category.
Create awe-inspiring prose that leads your readers to new epiphanies and shines a light on the dark spots of their brains.
Give them a controversy to ponder over, interview people from the opposite side of the spectrum, or present ideas that are so bewildering that it invites hot debate.
That’s how you create lasting experiences in your readers’ minds.
Similarly, write on topics that reinforce their positive worldview and lifts up their spirit.
Become a flagbearer of the cause that they believe in and lead their way in a meaningful way.
3. Hire the right copywriters people
Producing marketable content requires hiring the best people in your content team.
You definitely need great copywriters in your team to churn out great content.
However, copywriters are generalists at best. You need domain specialists who can be your brand ambassadors.
To deliver world-class content in today’s attention economy, you need to build a content team that lives and breathes your product—or the lifestyle it promises—and eloquently communicates its value to the world.
Hire passionate storytellers in your content team instead of grammar gurus and punctuation pundits.
I’m a proud language nerd in my own right, so take it from me when I say this—focus on telling powerful stories instead of perfecting your language hygiene or waxing eloquence on how great your product is.
Recruit curious copywriters who are serious about developing a specialization in the domain your product operates.
Groom them to be your product evangelists and give them carte blanche ownership to succeed in their goals.
But what if you are bootstrapping and don’t have money lying around to hire a stellar content personality?
You can either identify internal champions, such as one of the co-founders or the product managers for the job.
When you involve internal stakeholders in your content marketing process, your stories become ultra-authentic and truly represent your brand voice.
They don’t necessarily have to bust their backs to “write” content full-time; they can verbally dictate great ideas that trained copywriters can spin into marketable tales.
I’ve seen this many times over in my 10+ years of content marketing profession: the best storytellers in an organization are not necessarily the writers; they are the unsuspecting people in your organization who understand the product ecosystem much better than others.
They are diamonds in the rough who have strong opinions that can be delicious fodder for your marketing team.
You just need to poke them at the right places, record their ideas, and weave them beautifully into marketable content.
Similarly, you can partner with emerging experts in your field who can represent your ideas and give them the bully pulpit via your content platform to speak on topics closer to your brand. It’s a mutual win for both parties.
4. Stick to your niche
A common trap most businesses fall for on their path to growth is the temptation to be the next Procter & Gamble.
But unlike sundry consumer goods, your content should cater specifically to the audience that you are selling to.
Build your buyer persona and stick to content that they want to read.
Resist the temptation to make love to the entire world.
When you try to offer something to everyone, your content becomes more of a reference book than a reliable source of knowledge.
That’s a poor strategy to create a brand recall.
Here’s a simple example.
There are around 7,200 magazines published in the US.
These publications cater to more than 36 different demographics.
Thousands of them compete for the same crowds while hundreds of others have overlapping interests.
Most of these magazines are already running on profits and are expanding their digital influence to maximize revenue.
It’s possible for all players to share the profits even in such a competitive space because they have all identified respective niches within a larger profitable market and they specialize in writing for that particular audience who is willing to pay money for the content that’s relevant to them.
The editors of Elle are better off nurturing their readers for a three-year magazine subscription rather than trying to convert The Chronicle readers because of how alien their interests are.
You can apply the same principle to your content strategy and ensure a steep growth in readership and traffic within the first few months of your strategizing.
Make your content special for one demography; don’t make it an assorted library of miscellaneous for everyone in the street.
Aim to become the next household name like P&G when your revenue and growth quadruple steadily for the first ten years of your operation.
5. Set an infallible cadence
Your content is your brand’s mouthpiece.
Once you pick the proverbial bullhorn and start speaking to your audience, you have to live up to that responsibility.
It’s a promise you make to your customers. And it’s a great opportunity to forge trust with your community.
You can’t build that trust without consistency. You have to deliver on your promise.
Being erratic in your publication schedule breaches that unspoken trust and makes your brand look frivolous.
Create a realistic content calendar and stay true to your schedule without fail.
Don’t fall for the myth that says you have to publish 30 content pieces per month.
Do what is within your means and give it depth.
It is a standard you have to set for your content frequency as well as quality.
Let me reason this with another analogy.
People consuming content from your brand is like them coming to eat in your restaurant. There are three possible outcomes when they visit your restaurant.
If they don’t like the experience, they will never come back and will most likely caution other people from going there.
If their experience is okay, they will soon forget all about it.
But if the food tastes great, the ambiance is appetizing, and the service is outstanding—it's an experience that they will wish to live over and over again and tell the whole world about it.
But even if it's the greatest restaurant in the world, people can't afford to dine there every day.
They will, however, be tempted to visit again or sign-up with your restaurant’s guest book to stay in touch.
And the next time they do come back, the experience better be as great as their previous visit, if not superior.
If you deliver a consistently better experience every time people consume your content, you don’t have to invest a lot of time marketing your content.
Your core consumers will act as your word-of-mouth advertisers and help you grow your readership.
Here’s another way to look at consistency.
Every content out there in the online world is vying for an average person’s attention, like Tinder matches.
Most of your audience have a 4X3 mobile screen and a few fleeting seconds to decide what content to skip and what to consume.
In essence, your content is competing against the high-flying suitors like The New Yorker, Harvard Business Review, or Huffington Post.
If your content is irrelevant to them or not up to the mark, they will left-swipe your content to oblivion, so to speak.
To avoid this from happening, produce the most riveting, evergreen content in the industry and do so as a brand ritual.
Evergreen, long-form content for your brand can withstand the test of time.
Even Google rewards longer-form content over short, keyword-stuffed blogs.
Meanwhile, If you want to be more contemporary as a brand, you can still do that on social media platforms.
Create content that’s hip and trendy to engage with your social media following.
Realize that unless your content is consistently as good and as frequent as your biggest rival, your readers will treat your content as intellectual fast food that they will soon forget about.
Don’t produce disposable content that doesn’t add any value to your audience’s lives.
Setting a cadence to your content creation and distribution helps fight this because it lets them anchor on to your brand stories amidst the overwhelming content noise around them.
If it magically appears in their inbox every time you put out a new blog or a podcast episode, that’s even better.
6. Build a content pipeline
A big question that your brand and content creators should ask is—how is the content going to help your business grow?
The simple answer is, once you have the above-mentioned parts in place, it’s actually pretty easy to attract leads and convert sales.
Tactically speaking, you need to create a content funnel to convert leads.
Content is like guided selling of your products to prospects who are window-shopping your brand; you have to keep at it until you convince the customers to buy from you.
Therefore, write meaningful content that strikes a chord with customers who are at different sequences of their buying journey.
This is where you need help from SEO experts; they can break down the long-tail search keywords that consumers are looking for so that you can answer their search intent in your content.
You can funnel your content pieces separately for your audience to discover content relevant to them.
HubSpot does it wonderfully for almost every major topic related to marketing.
Just type any marketing-related keyword in Google and you will most likely find a HubSpot blog written on it.
Here’s an example:
It’s no accident that all of these top-of-the-funnel pages have a lead magnet content somewhere in the post.
This content offers a deeper-level, middle-of-the-funnel, content that’s relevant to what you just read earlier.
When I clicked on the Hubspot's blog on the topic and finished reading the piece, here’s what I saw placed very strategically at the tail-end of the post.
The content is super relevant to my search, so I naturally click on the download banner and land on this page.
Therein begins my journey of being a HubSpot customer.
Since they now have my email address, they will send me the promised content and nurture me with more relevant, bottom-of-the-funnel content to try and convert me as a customer—given I’m the right buyer persona.
This is a longer but proven strategy that encapsulates the entire buyer journey by dovetailing different content pieces in progression.
But in one of my recent interviews with Tim Soulo, the erstwhile Chief Marketing Officer for Ahrefs.com, shared with me a quicker way to create a content pipeline.
Here’s a slightly paraphrased quote from him when I asked him the importance of creating content for customers at different stages of their buying cycle:
“Honestly speaking, I’m not a big advocate of creating customer journey. I believe that when someone searches for a solution to problem and lands on your page, you have the opportunity to make a person go through the entire journey right on that page. You don’t need to send them to different pieces of content. You can explain about the problem, where it comes from, and what are different options to remedy it. Then, on that same page, you can say that a particular solution is not reliable because it works for some people but doesn’t work for others.”
I love his idea for the simplicity it carries.
It’s an immensely underlooked strategy that I think is a masterstroke in content marketing if you can pull it off.
Your content needs depth to be able to cater to all customer needs, but it’s a worthy endeavor that offers many advantages.
The value of creating specialized, long-form content becomes more pronounced here.
Don’t aim for producing viral content that doesn’t align with your overarching themes.
Having said that, go all out to cash in your content’s virality if and when a topic sits well with your core objectives.
Let’s look at a few tips that you can apply to taste virality in your content marketing.
Gamify your content with quizzes, personality tests, referral points, or other interactive forms of content.
If you are planning a guerilla marketing activity or pulling off a PR stunt, cover the entire story from planning to execution and impact.
Viral content works when it has four inherent ingredients:
iii) shareability, and
Repetition is what makes it a viral loop.
Another great way to achieve this is by riding on the coattails of a mega influencer in your domain.
For example, bestselling authors like Ryan Holiday have witnessed a supernova growth in their book sales because of a phenomenon called the Tim Ferriss Effect.
If you can identify and build a relationship with someone as big as Tim in your industry and get them to feature your blog, interview, product, or event in their distribution network—your brand will receive inundated attention while the virality lasts.
Time such content right, such as right before your biggest industry event, and you have leads flocking to your funnel.
7. Double down your content distribution
Brands often fail in their content marketing efforts not because they have bad content, but because they lack a good distribution strategy.
The contrary is true too, most marketing teams today spend more time marketing their content rather than creating it.
Great marketing can’t compensate for bad products. But a good promotion strategy is the greatest bedfellow for great quality content.
The best way to disseminate your content to your niche audience is to build an email list of subscribers and notify them every time you put out a new piece of content.
Don’t believe anyone who says email is dead.
It’s alive and kicking as the most effective way to grow your readership and retain your fan following.
Let’s look at a simple example to understand the power of email in content distribution.
With more than 200 million downloads out of just 350 episodes for The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, Tim undoubtedly deserves to be called the “Oprah of Audio.”
What started as a whim eventually grew so big that now his podcast has become his main business.
His blog, which precedes the podcast in origin, gets 1,000,000+ visitors every month.
For most individual brands, that’s a lucrative blogging empire.
But Tim doesn’t sit on his laurels.
He realizes that in today’s volatile economy if you are out of your readers’ sight, you are pretty soon going to be out of their minds.
His team has a subscription model for his blog to increase brand stickiness to the content he puts out.
On top of that, he heavily promotes 5-Bullet Friday, a weekly email newsletter that is exclusive only to email subscribers.
The content in the 5-Bullet Friday, in Tim’s own words, is a roundup of “the 5 things I’ve been loving, using, and reading: Books, gadgets, hacks, and more.”
Tim’s blog subscribers get notified about his latest podcast every time a new episode comes out. Similarly, the 5-Bullet Friday invariably highlights and links to the latest podcast episode in every edition.
This way, Tim not only attracts new readers to his blogs (and podcast), he retains them by relying solely on email.
There are different channels that work effectively for different brands. Social media is a great way to promote your content, but it’s not for everyone.
Tim Ferriss has more than 949K followers on Facebook and 1.59 million followers on Twitter.
And yet, his social media engagement is tepid compared to his high-octane content distribution through emails.
Identify what’s great for your brands and stick to that channel for heavily distributing your content.
Quora is great for making your content discoverable and getting more traffic to your blogs.
YouTube is very powerful when it comes to brand visibility.
LinkedIn is effective for personal brand building and sales growth, but not so much for content marketing.
When promoting your content on social channels, just be aware that third-party platforms control your content.
Their algorithms are subject to change based on what’s best for their business; hence, you will always be at their mercy.
This is yet another reason why email subscription trumps other means of content distribution.
Every great process ends with a monitoring and improvement mechanism.
Measure the performance of your content pieces with a tool such as Google Analytics to fix content gaps and refine your process.
Monitor where you are getting most of your audience from, which content pieces are doing well, what’s your average time on page, and so on.
Iterate your content production and distribution process based on these findings without getting too caught up in the vanity numbers.
Reach for the moon
Growth hacking is often a very misunderstood concept.
Marketers nowadays abuse it to game the system or get short spurts of supposed growth.
But there is no genuine value in carrying out such cheap thrills, especially in content.
Content is fundamentally a pillar of growth and you need to put in the required hard work to build the said cathedral.
The true spirit of growth hacking lies in coming up with ideas that go against the established norms but are more effective in nature.
In addition to the ideas outlined above, feel free to experiment with new ideas that you can think of.
Don’t go by the hacks and tricks that worked for others because their shoe size might not be right for you.
There is no one path to success; the world is your oyster to explore — chart your own course to success.
NOTE: This blog was originally published as a chapter in The Growth Hacking Book: Most Guarded Growth Marketing Secrets The Silicon Valley published in 2019. You can find out more about the book by clicking here.