The 5 Basic Ingredients of Content Marketing
Content marketing has a lot in common with recipe development. When we create a recipe for something, let’s say pasta, we’re thinking about who we’re cooking for, what ingredients we have on hand — and what we’ll need to go out and buy. One dish might be coated in a thick marinara, rich with wine, tomato sauce, and beef; another might be full of fresh herbs and veggies.
Like recipes, strong content plans bring together a mix of tactics that will, as a whole, not only attract new followers but keep them engaged over the long term. And as content marketers, there are a handful of basic ingredients that we keep in our pantry of tools, the staples of all our plans and calendars:
Of course, the content mix — how much or how little of each of these ingredients we use — is different for every client and every business, depending on their goals, their audience, and their budget.
One of the cost efficient ways to beef up your content mix is to curate and repost content that is published by a third-party brand, news source, or individual that in some way relates to or reflects your brand — topically, ethically, or even tangentially.
Benefits: Curated content is a great way to communicate your brand’s topics and values — without having to invest time and money in writing about them. It’s also an opportunity to shift away from your brand and talk about the interests you share with your audience. After all, no one likes a friend who only talks about themself.
Along the way, curated highlights your expertise in your industry by demonstrating that you’re paying attention and that you’re a part of the community and the conversation.
Limitations: This content is often topical and reactive, and since it’s only posted in your social feeds, people are going to move on quickly — which is to say, it has a short lifespan. It scores low on brandability, and it’s not going to drive organic traffic to your own site.
Channels: Curated works the hardest for you on Facebook and Twitter, but we wouldn’t put any paid behind it. It can also be great supporting content in email.
Examples of curated content that we’ve used for our client Lunds & Byerlys: (Left) An article from Taste Cooking on the history of the Midwest Supper Club, which resonates deeply with folks who grew up in the area. (Right) An article from NYT Cooking showcasing a collection of pantry-based recipes — so handy during Covid-19, when folks were stockpiling beans, tomatoes, and rice.
User-Generated Content (UGC)
This is the content your customers (read: greatest fans) post about your products or services — and their positive experiences with them.
Benefits: Obviously, reposting a customer’s unsolicited testimonial is the best advertising around. But it’s also fantastic customer care: you’re solidifying their connection and loyalty to your brand by showing them that you’re listening and that you care. It’s a high five.
From a budgetary perspective, UGC is super low-effort. It can be no-cost if you use hashtags and mentions to find it. But paying for tools like Sprout Social or partnering with a company like Knit (formerly PurPics) for a specific campaign, can be really helpful in finding strong UGC. Similarly, giveaways and sweepstakes can drive great UGC, but you do have to pay for the prizes.
Limitations: UGC is not durable content because, ideally, it reposts shortly after the original post publishes, and it’s not something you’d use more than once. Brandability here is middling: there will be a tie to your brand, but you can’t control the message. And it won’t drive organic traffic as much as it does engagement and loyalty.
Channels: We’d leverage UGC on all platforms, but typically wouldn’t put paid media behind it.
Examples of UGC in action: (Top) For their 82nd anniversary, REI asked customers to tag photos or videos of their favorite outdoor memories with #REImember, and then the company shared 82 of those stories with their community. (Bottom) Through the power of the Pixlee platform, Michaels showcases social media images tagged with #MakeItWithMichaels on their website.
The marketing content and tools your partners create for their own channels can be repurposed to introduce new products, talk about the partnership — and express excitement, support, and enthusiasm for the brand.
Benefits: Your partnerships reflect your values, and if the partner is garnering a lot of attention, you absorb some of their buzz, customer loyalty, and cool factor. You’re in the game with them. Posting their stuff and supporting their success is also just good business — and again, it’s a nice way to turn the lens away from you, you, you.
Plus, partner content is a great, low-cost option. It does require some time investment on the partnership side of things, including setting posting dates, style guides, image and copy approvals, etc. It’s worth it for potentially durable copy and images that you can use throughout the year and that can drive back to your website, products, and services.
Limitations: Your partner scores most of the brandability here, since they’re creating and funding the assets — and use of them is often non-exclusive.
Channels: Partner content can live on all your platforms — except your own website. To amplify the partner brand and your partnership, we would put paid behind it.
Examples of strong partner-created content: (Top) Gelson’s Market promoted their in-store exclusive with Impossible Beef using assets Impossible Foods had created. (Middle) Freak Flag Foods created these BOGO assets specifically for Lunds & Byerlys, and they were posted to Freak Flag’s social channels too. (Bottom) And Bachman’s Floral created this asset to announce that the bouquet was available at Lunds & Byerlys.
Influencer content is written and photographed on a made-to-order basis by a person who shares your values, or is an expert in your industry, and has a large following in the audience you’re trying to reach.
Benefits: This is like UGC, but with the added bonus of an audience that knows the influencer and will trust their endorsement of your products and services. The influencer will not only broaden your reach, but give your brand lifestyle context and relevance by showing it in the real world.
Although someone else is creating it, influencer content is still a medium-effort adventure: you’ll need someone to manage contracts and approvals. And since you (always, always) pay influencers, durability is the goal — you should get repeated, long-term use out of the content.
Limitations: Influencer content can be more expensive, but keep in mind that you’re paying not only for the work but for their audience. It’s also not very brandable, since the influencer will be using their own voice and style to create it. Traffic depends on where the content lives: if it’s on your website, it will definitely drive traffic; if it’s only on the influencer’s social media, traffic may be low unless they’re linking out to your website.
Channels: All, and yes, we would definitely put paid behind it.
(Top) We engage Edina food blogger greens & chocolate for our client Lunds & Byerlys. We identify the type of content we need, e.g. slow cooker, dessert, or grilling, and she comes back with ideas. Her blogs are some of our top performing content on Facebook and Instagram. (Bottom) We created a campaign to highlight Lunds & Byerlys’ meal kits, featuring three Minneapolis/St. Paul food influencers and a product giveaway.
Bespoke content is created solely for you, using your products, messaging, and brand.
Benefits: Bespoke gives you full control over every aspect of the content, so it’s the strongest expression of your brand — reflecting your messaging, voice, design standards, and ultimately, character. It works harder for you than other content because you can tie it to your specific brand strategies and KPIs. It’s almost infinitely durable, since you own it and can repurpose it, again and again. And more than any other option here, it’s going to drive organic traffic.
Limitations: Bespoke is higher in cost and effort because it takes a team to plan, develop, and create the assets.
Channels: Bespoke can live on all your channels, and you better believe we’d put paid behind it.
Ingredient developed, shot, wrote, and designed all of this bespoke content for either our clients or ourselves. It can be used again and again — with fresh messaging depending on the channel, promotion, or season.
A Single Ingredient Does Not a Recipe Make …
Even if a client came to us with an unlimited budget, we’d never recommend rolling out a 100% bespoke content calendar. That would be like making a bowl of pasta with nothing on it but canned tomatoes — pretty one-note and boring. It would also be ineffective.
In order to keep your audience engaged and interested, in order to stay relevant, your content needs to be in a constant and lively conversation with your audience — so curated, UGC, partner, and influencer content are all just as critical as bespoke.
That said, there’s a lot of flex in how you mix it up, and you can choose your own content adventure, based on your goals and your budget. Some of our smaller clients will lean into free curated, UGC, and partner content to bulk up their calendar and build a strong rapport with their community, and slowly add in more influencer and bespoke content as their budget allows. Larger clients will use bespoke as their base, and sprinkle a mix of the other content ingredients through it to connect with their audience and add depth, lifestyle, and meaning to their story.
So, what’s the right mix for you? The best approach is to try things, and see how they work, knowing that you can remix at any time. In fact, you should: However you approach it, whatever the size of your company, the mix you put together today shouldn’t be the one you’re using a couple years from now. The best content plans are living, breathing things that change with your products, budget, and goals — and, most importantly, your audience and the world we all live in.
Interested in learning more about how to create the right mix of content? Give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org — we’d love to have a virtual cup of coffee with you.