How can you create a successful content marketing strategy? Katy French from creative agency @columnfive shares her insights.
A documented content strategy is crucial for successful content marketing. Yet only 37% of marketers have one, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2018 B2B Benchmarks report.
We know crafting a content strategy can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t know what to include. But doing it is worthwhile, because it makes everything afterwards a whole lot easier: coming up with great ideas, measuring success, planning for your budget and team, and more. It just takes a little bit of elbow grease up front.
So, what should your content strategy look like?
We’ve helped many brands devise their strategy, and while each is unique, brands’ strategies tend to include some common core elements. No matter what your goals are, a comprehensive content strategy should cover every part of the marketing process.
To help guide you, we’re outlining the twelve most important elements to include in your content strategy. You might not need every single one, but they are important to consider to make sure you’ve covered your bases.
Note: Whether you’re refining your current strategy or starting from scratch, make sure you are working with the appropriate stakeholders—and that everything is approved before you distribute the official strategy to your team.
Goals and definitions
Your entire content strategy is crafted around what you are trying to achieve. Naturally, you need to identify what that is—and make sure everyone on the team understands what that means. Questions to ask:
- What are we trying to accomplish?
- Why are we creating this content?
- How will we know our content is on track to achieve our goals?
- Which goals take priority?
- How will we define vital elements, such as a lead?
You can’t proceed until you have this foundation articulated and agreed upon.
Your content strategy is worthless without a way to measure your success, test, tweak, and readjust your approach. As such, knowing your success metrics is crucial. Identify specific KPIs and how they map to each goal. We keep a quick guide handy that aligns KPIs to each stage of the funnel. Ours includes the following metrics:
- Publication pickup
- Social content metrics
- Organic traffic (SEO)
- Brand indexes/surveys
- Social sentiment
- Time on site
- Lead gen rate
- Leads (not yet qualified)
- Satisfaction and advocacy:
- Product usage
- Customer review scores
- Product registrations
- Account renewals
- Product return rate
- Social fans/follows
These may not all apply, but they might steer you in the right direction.
Journey or lead mapping
Content programs can end up getting pretty complex, so we recommend mapping out the customer journey as granularly as possible. From awareness and consideration to decision and beyond, what are the indicators that someone is in one stage in the journey or another? How will you move them along to the next stage of the journey?
Start the process on a whiteboard so you have ample space, but eventually migrate it to a digital diagram so you can include it in your strategy, share with all relevant parties, and even print copies for easy reference. The journey map will be critical for planning everything from your marketing automation system to editorial scheduling, and it will influence everyday tactical discussions.
To create compelling content, you need to make sure your ideas resonate with the people you’re trying to reach. But first, you need to know who those people are. The most relevant questions you’ll want to ask in your research are:
- Who are we trying to reach?
- Why are we trying to reach them?
- Where are they located?
- How will we reach them?
- When will we reach them?
- How do they speak (e.g., technically or conversationally)?
- What do they care about?
- What motivates them? Scares them?
- What problems do they need solved?
- What would make their lives easier?
- What are their demographics (job, goals, etc.)?
These types of granular questions will help you hone in on how to best engage people. To document these insights, create marketing personas that clearly define your targets. An added bonus: You can use these personas to vet your ideas going forward.
Hopefully, if you’re at the point where you’re exploring content creation, you already have your brand identity, voice, and messaging in place. But if it needs refining, now is the time to do it. Does the specific content program you’re rolling out need to interpret or extend the larger brand messaging in some way? Make sure everything is up to date, such as your value proposition, mission and vision statements, positioning, tagline, messaging hierarchy, etc.
(That said, your content shouldn’t be a regurgitation of this messaging. Remember that it’s content marketing, not sales material.)
You know who you’re trying to reach. Now how do you reach them? Start by examining the channels you currently use, then consider how you might target your personas. Some questions to ask:
- Where are we going to reach people?
- How are we going to reach them (owned, earned, paid)?
- Where are their communities?
- What do they read?
- When are the best times to reach them?
Based on the information you have, you can start to outline content recommendations. This doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with blog topics or infographic ideas. It’s a high-level look at the storytelling opportunities you see. These are big ideas, general topics, content pillars, and proof points for filling out your strategy. A basic way to think about this is: What are the overlaps between what people care about and what your company stands for? This is basically fusing your audience insights with your messaging platform.
This is especially helpful if you’re working with an outside agency or other stakeholders who need to understand the voice and stories you plan to put into the market. This can be a time-intensive practice, but the goal is to start to crystallize your content approach.
Your editorial calendar is the key to publishing content consistently. Decide both the volume of content you’ll publish, as well as the cadence. You can start to map out your storytelling opportunities here along a general timeline, especially if you plan to pursue monthly themes or quarterly campaigns. (If you need a helpful content calendar platform, we’re big fans of CoSchedule.) Ask yourself:
- How often do we want to dialogue with our customer?
- What’s happening throughout the year in our customers’ calendars?
- Who’s creating the content?
- What type of content is it?
- Are we covering all channels?
- Are we covering the right stages of the funnel (and supporting our KPIs)?
- When is it due?
- When is it being published?
Good SEO starts with a good keyword strategy. Do your research and identify the most applicable terms, then make sure your content is tailored for those keywords. (We can’t tell you how many content creators forget to optimize appropriately.)
SEO is an ever-evolving practice. But from where we stand, search engines will always be working to reward content that achieves two things:
- Relevance : Search engines love content that’s considered highly relevant to an audience, meaning it receives clicks and high engagement rates (e.g., time on site, low bounce rate, etc.).
- Quality : Good content is not formulaic. To deliver high value (and get high engagement), you need a strong narrative.
And don’t forget the distribution part of your keyword strategy. By promoting your content to journalists at high-value domains, your brand site will be recognized by search engines as an expert in your published topics.
In addition to your channel distribution strategy, consider how your content will hit the market. Certainly, each project will require different distribution, but it helps to identify the high-level media buys you might need to make. It’s smart to think about this while crafting strategy, as you have the attention of major stakeholders.
Consider all three bases of media: owned, earned, and paid.
One of the greatest benefits of a content strategy is the ability to budget time, money, and resources appropriately. You may need to hire a content agency or outside vendors.
Conversely, you may need to build in time or ask for extra budget so that your in-house team can handle it. This is also a good time to look at ways to get more value from the content you create.
Depending on the content you plan to create, publish, and distribute, you may need particular capabilities that you don’t already have. Things like interactives or dynamic visualizations can require tech infrastructure and put demands on compatibility, so plan ahead.
Make sure you dig into the details in the following areas to ensure your technologies—and the relationships between them—align with your content planning:
- Content Management System
- Proprietary data collection and storage
- Design and charting tools
- Content platforms
- Marketing automation
- Customer relationship management software
- Paid media software
Don’t forget your team
No matter how good your content strategy, you need the right people to help make it happen. Find out how to build a successful content marketing team (even if you only have two people) and, above all, make sure you’re all on the same page at every stage, from content strategy and planning to design and distribution.
This article originally appeared in Column Five. This article was written by Katy French fromBusiness2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.