This is a special guest contributor post by Jonathan Chan from Foundr Magazine.
At its core, Instagram is primarily a content platform.
That can sound obvious, but it means the core of your Instagram marketing strategy has to be about quality content.
Before showcasing products. Before influencer campaigns. Before ads and shoppable feeds. Before anything ecommerce related, your content is what draws people in and gets you Instagram followers in the first place.
In other words, service comes before sales.
Whether that means helping your audience solve a problem or just entertaining them, quality content is the difference between just having a presence online and making a real impact on your audience. Unless you’re consistently providing value they’re not going to be interested in your funnel.
Here, we're going to take a look at less than a handful of rules for creating exactly that kind of quality content on Instagram … and a host of real examples to guide you.
Rule #1: Know What Your Audience Wants
To be sure, the one thing all audiences crave is value.
The problem is that everyone has a different interpretation of what’s considered valuable.
To discover your audience’s answer, start by creating a buyer persona, which you can learn more about here. As the article points out, go beyond standard metrics like age and gender and dig into the psychology of your Instagram audience.
One of the easiest ways to provide value is through educational content.
Tastemade knows that their target audience are people who are looking to cook, so the majority of their content on their Instagram are recipes or food hacks.
Notice how there is a strong CTA in the caption encouraging viewers to download their app from the link in their bio, further driving people through their sales funnel.
By consistently providing educational content that they know their audience finds valuable, not only is Tastemade building a strong and loyal following. But they’re also nurturing their audience and pushing them naturally into their sales funnel.
Another way to provide valuable content to your audience — while also promoting your product or service — is by posting aspirational or inspirational content.
You can see how Tattly uses their Instagram account to not only show off their products and how they can be used but also uses gorgeous imagery to show their audience the possibilities of their product.
MVMT does something similar by using their Instagram account to show off the human side of their brand and reflecting the stylishness of their watches.
Likewise, Headspace knows exactly who their target audience is, and creates content specifically geared towards helping people passionate about well-being. They’ll often post inspirational quotes that resonate on an emotional level and reflects their followers’ wants and desires.
Lastly, never forget that value can simply be entertainment.
No one has mastered this more with their Instagram account than Red Bull. Red Bull frequently posts content featuring epic videos of skateboarding, snow sports, car rallies, and other topics that they know their target audience enjoys.
Image via Red Bull
To sell effectively on Instagram, it is crucial to understand what it is your customer wants out of life and how your brand can connect itself with those wants.
Perhaps the greatest “cheat sheet” for doing this is to carefully follow the influencers in your industry. While it's crucial to create a personal style, there's no harm in finding inspiration from people who have already been successful in your niche.
Rule #2: Maintain the 80/20 Ratio of Value
The reason why it’s so important to constantly give value through your posts is simple: people hate being sold to.
Trust is crucial in today’s social-first business world. Dozens of other companies, if not hundreds or even thousands, are competing for the same customers as you. This demands building loyalty and trust from your audience in order to set yourself apart.
Sure, you want to drive people through your posts and into your funnel, but you also don't want to send them running for the hills because you publish way too many promotional posts.
How do you strike a balance between serving and selling?
Stick to is the 80/20 rule of value and promotion: 80% of your content should be dead centered on providing value, only 20% should be overtly promoting your brand.
For instance, while So Worth Loving subtly promotes their brand and products, if you take a close look at their feed, only two of their 18 most-recent posts contain a strong call-to-action.
Image via So Worth Loving
Almost ten years ago, Seth Godin developed the idea of permission marketing:
“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”
On Instagram, this means that you earn your audience’s permission to post promotional content only by giving them a regular experience of constant high-value content first.
It's about building a schedule for posting that your customers become familiar, comfortable, and delighted with.
With Foundr’s Instagram account, we use lead magnets every ten or so posts. This way our audience experiences a constant stream of value making them far more likely to take action and enter our sales funnel when we ask.
Image via Foundr
Even our lead magnets aren’t heavy “Buy Now” updates. Instead, they’re extensions of the entrepreneurial value contained in the rest of our quotes and stats. In fact, once the lead magnet has done its work, we actually delete it from our account so they don’t clutter the rest of our posts.
Image via Foundr
We’re not just asking someone to click through to our link, or visit our website, for nothing in return. Instead, we're telling them exactly what they can accomplish by continuing to interact with us.
This simple content strategy is the reason why we have such a strong ROI with our promotional posts and why we’ve managed to build our email list to over 250,000 subscribers. Going for the sale too soon or trying to sell too often on Instagram can destroy your ROI.
Rule #3: Build and Maintain a Strong Aesthetic Theme
To succeed on Instagram, your posts have to be more than stunning. They also have to be visually consistent.
An aesthetic theme might not feel like much of a big deal when you’re first getting started on Instagram. You’re probably keen to play around with different filters and images to help you find your niche.
However, the theme you choose not only helps to create a consistent experience for your audience — i.e., establishing professionalism and trust — it can also define your brand.
You can see below how Bali Body highlights the same tones and colours within all their Instagram posts. Despite collecting content from different users, they do this by applying the same filter throughout.
Image via Bali Body
Take advantage of colour psychology when you’re coming up with your aesthetic theme so you can subtly generate the right emotional response from your audience.
For example, if you choose an aesthetic theme that’s all about bright colours and bold images, then your customers will instinctively know that you’re all about fun.
BioLite, for instance, uses filters that emphasize the bright reds, blues, and whites in all their posts, giving their feed a sense of freshness and vibrancy.
Image via BioLite
On the other hand, Master & Dynamic primarily employs black and silver colour scheme for a modern, professional feel. By using minimalist imagery within their posts, you get a sense of style and elegance, exactly the kind of emotional reaction the brand wants you to have when you encounter their feed.
Image via Master & Dynamic
The great thing is that you don’t need to be a professional designer or have a full graphic design suite to achieve this. While the easiest method would be to use Instagram’s native filters, there are plenty of apps out there that you can use to adjust the filter or theme of your posts to follow a particular trend.
Consistency doesn’t stop at filters and colours. You can employ the use of patterns, too.
Death Wish Coffee creates a “checkerboard” pattern with their posts. Utilizing a mixture of quotes, images, and photos to create their visual aesthetic.
Image via Death Wish Coffee
No matter what kind of aesthetic theme you choose, the rule is to maintain consistency. The look and feel of your posts should be instantly recognizable.
Rule #4: Understand the Appeal of Video
Finally, you need to know the rules around creating video content for Instagram.
When used correctly, video has the highest ROI of any content type:
- Ecommerce providers have found that using product videos can increase product purchases by 144%.
- 74% of users who watched an explainer video to learn more about products or services subsequently made a purchase.
- 77% of customers say they've been convinced to buy a product because they watched a video.
- 59% of executives would rather watch a video than read text and four times as many customers prefer it.
So how do you use video on Instagram?
First, all videos autoplay when you scroll past them. This is something you can take advantage of by tapping into how the human brain operates. No matter how subtle or small, we’re all wired to notice movement. By making sure your video immediately begins with movement — instead of a static logo or title — you can leverage this innate proclivity.
Black Milk Clothing immediately draws the viewer’s attention through the use of big dynamic movement with a short three-second video.
Alongside big, dynamic movements, you can use cinemagraphs as a way to introduce that subtle bit of movement into your images, causing your audience to do a double-take and look closer.
One other thing to remember is that Instagram allows you to post videos between 3 to 60 seconds long.
Depending on what kind of content you’re looking to post, you can take advantage of full, 60-second advertorial videos (like how Oreo has done with their perfect-pitch #oreodunkchallenge competition):
Alternatively, the 60-second run time is perfect for short films like Barkbox’s videos, often submitted by other users, guaranteed to entertain and strike an emotional connection.
Keep in mind that the longer the video, the less likely someone is going to pay attention all the way to the end. In promotional posts, it’s important to get your message out quickly or use a strong CTA in the caption if you want your followers to take action.
Other ways you can benefit from using videos is to show people “behind-the-scenes” of your company — which builds a human connection — or use explainer videos to move followers along in the earlier part of your funnel.
Easily, the most helpful videos are “How-to” tutorials and customer testimonials. The more you can show off the details of your product in action, the more likely your customers are to trust whatever you have to offer.
Quality Content on Instagram is Crucial
Just like in any other digital marketing strategy today, the content you share on Instagram is key to determining whether you're going to have the kind of impact that you want on your chosen audience.
It can’t be said enough: content needs to be valuable, relevant, and engaging.
Sales-driving content lives or dies by valuable, non-sales content.
About The Author
Jonathan Chan is the Content Crafter and Marketer for Foundr. You can often find him happily writing about anything to do with entrepreneurship and the startup scene. Or spending way too much time pretending to be the next MMA star at the gym.