There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to content marketing. Every content strategy is unique to the business that developed it – which makes creating one a complex task.
To help you break it down into easy, actionable steps, we’ve designed the content strategy guide found below. Use it to launch a highly-effective content plan.
Putting it on Paper
Just by reading this strategy guide, you’re already on the right track to success. Research from The Content Marketing Institute shows that when companies study and document their content plans – rather than just talking about them in vague terms – they are more effective, have better justification for the marketing budget, and see a measurable impact on the company bottom line.
One thing is for sure: Your competitors have gotten the message about content strategy. About 70% of B2B marketers created more content in 2017 than they did in 2016, and that percentage is projected to be even higher for 2018.
Understanding the Why of Content Strategy
Let’s start shaping your content strategy by defining exactly what a content strategy is. There are many similar terms floating around out there: content marketing, content strategy, content development, content plan.
Your content strategy is your big-picture mission – your why, in terms of customer engagement and audience growth. The “why” is answered by focusing on the customer with questions like:
- Why are we creating content?
- Who, precisely, are we helping?
- Why should we be their #1 source, above all others?
Try to answer these questions as specifically as possible. For example, with the “Why are we creating content?” question, the answer shouldn’t be “To build revenue.” That’s too general and not customer-focused. A better answer would be, “To help first-time home buyers understand the booming southern California real estate market.”
When your strategic questions are addressed thoroughly from the outset, your content strategy can effectively contribute to other successes for the company, like better lead generation, improved customer interactions, and stronger revenue.
Setting a Goal for Your Content Plan
Now it’s time to do some content planning. Start by setting an end goal for your efforts. Think about a goal that’s realistic and measurable, but currently beyond your company’s grasp. Here are some examples of good content development goals:
- Increased site traffic
- More requests for free trials and sample offers
- Increase in qualified leads
- Better customer service reviews
- More positive mentions on social media
Be careful not to set goals that are beyond what content marketing can realistically accomplish. Lead conversion provides a great example here. A good content strategy can get you more qualified leads, but not more closed deals. That’s the responsibility of your website, sales reps, and customer service specialists.
Defining Your Target Audience
This is a step many companies skip, but that’s a huge mistake. Carefully defining your target audience is absolutely crucial for effective content marketing.
Again, it’s best to be specific in your wording. Content marketing works hand-in-hand with concepts like search engine optimization (SEO) and keyword planning, where words are important. The more specific your words are, the more successful you’ll be.
Here are some idea generators for defining your audience.
Your target audience …
isn’t software buyers. It’s IT directors at small companies with old-fashioned systems.
isn’t homeowners. It’s new Milwaukee homeowners with major landscaping problems.
isn’t young women. It’s women under 35 with sensitive skin who prefer organic makeup.
By defining your audience in specific terms, you’re setting the stage for the next step: audience research, also called persona research.
Personas – detailed, fleshed-out audience descriptions – are a huge help in content creation. Or, to put it another way, it’s easier to create a blog post when you have a specific person in mind.
Your audience personas are generalized descriptions that represent real, actual people who make up your audience. Let’s say you’ve narrowed down your audience to “middle-class men age 25 to 50 who want to become BBQ experts.” Now you need to know more about these guys as a persona.
- Where do they shop?
- What do they read online?
- How do they view themselves? As BBQ amateurs? Experts?
- Where’s the first place they turn for BBQ advice?
- What role does BBQing play in their lifestyle and family?
- What are their assumptions about your product/service?
This kind of information can be gathered through usability studies, industry publications, surveys, responsible behavioral tracking, post-purchase interviews, social media, and many other methods. It can even involve keyword research, or investigating relevant words, to find out what’s important to your target audience.
During this step, you might notice that you come up with several types of personas. That’s normal, and something to keep in mind as you create content later. To continue the BBQ example: Some of your blog posts can focus on the persona of backyard BBQ novices, and some posts can target BBQ pros who want to open their own restaurants.
Developing a Content Map
Now that you have a deep understanding of your audience, you’ll need a content map that guides your long-term strategy. A content map combines audience personas with your customer experience, or what some marketers call the customer journey.
By putting yourself in the shoes of the customer and following their journey through your products/services, you’ll start to see gaps your company isn’t addressing. These are great topics to highlight in your content marketing.
Let’s circle back around to the BBQ example and assume the company in question manufactures expensive, high-end grills. As they follow their customer journey, they notice that new buyers consistently struggle to use the specialty skewers and roasters that come with a newly-purchased grill.
This is a perfect opportunity for content marketing. Perhaps every new customer could receive a follow-up email with a link to a quick demo video. Or the company could share more videos on social media that show BBQ experts using their specialty grill attachments.
Telling Your Brand Story
As you develop your content strategy, keep in mind that every piece of content should also reflect the company’s brand story – the deeper feelings and interpretations people hold about your brand.
Burt’s Bees, the natural skincare company, is great at using messages that stay connected to their brand story. The company’s motto since 1984 has been “What you put on your body should be made from the best nature has to offer,” and every message uses brand-connected words: bees, honey, natural, ethical, pure, planet, healthy. They even post silly YouTube videos showing their hero, Burt, chatting with bees.
What’s your brand story? No matter what it is, it should be a built-in part of your content marketing strategy.
Settling on Channels
Another aspect is deciding which channels to use in spreading your content messages. Small Business Trends maintains a list of 50 must-use channels, and many marketing experts say there are hundreds more to consider.
These channels – or platforms, or media, or whichever name you prefer – are outlets for publishing content related to your company. Facebook is a channel, as is YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Websites, email, direct mail, TV ads, billboards, and community events are also channels for sharing your messages.
Blogs are perhaps the channel most associated with content development lately. More than 1.5 million blog posts are made every day before 7 a.m., and research shows a company can maximize its content strategy by making at least 16 blog posts per month. But blogs are actually more of a content format than a channel, which leads to our next step in content strategy …
Choosing Formats and Topics
Blog posts, ebooks, videos, and podcasts are four very popular formats. There are also lots more: animated shorts, unboxing videos, whitepapers, infographics, Q&As, testimonials, case studies, reviews, checklists, memes, push notifications, press releases, microsites, and dozens of others.
But there’s a reason we didn’t put content formats right at the beginning of this strategy guide: They shouldn’t be the first thing you choose. Format selection comes after the important work of goal-setting, audience identification, content mapping, and so on. In fact, your format should be guided by all the things you’ve learned about your audience and all the gaps you’ve found in your customer journey.
Instead of assuming your audience wants to read more blogs, you might realize they prefer colorful infographics. Or maybe you’ll discover they hate all the short videos you’ve been producing, but would love to have more educational whitepapers.
Format choice also works hand-in-hand with topic selection. Your topics should build naturally from the early work you did in identifying what’s meaningful to your audience and what they need from your company.
Perhaps your target market is interested in eco-friendly methods, maximizing profit, viral videos, tax breaks, or hairstyle trends. Use these kinds of buzzwords and trends to develop intriguing content topics.
If you get stuck on topic selection, here are a few tools that might help:
- Hubspot’s Topic Generator, a blogging tool
- Buzzsumo, which tracks current popular topics
- Feedly, the RSS feed trend-tracker
- What to Write, a question-based brainstorming tool
Successful Content Strategy
At this point, you may be wondering: When will we know if we’re successful?
Companies with effective content strategies discover that their customers feel genuine friendships with them. One study found that 63% of people prefer brands that treat them like friends, and another revealed that 75% of people stayed loyal to brands because they reflected their own personal values.
Look at some of the world’s most successful brands. Apple customers call it friendly, fun, and cool – which Apple ascribes to its consistently on-brand content strategy. Amazon.com’s helpful “you might also like” messages made it one of the most trusted brands in history.
When your content strategy is on point, you’ll always spend your marketing budget wisely and hit your content strategy goals. Every message comes across to your target market as authentic, helpful, and relevant to their lives. Your customers will enjoy interacting with and buying from you.
Welcome to the promised land of content marketing success.