The beginning of a content marketing project is exciting. Your expectations are at the peak and you haven’t considered the possibility of impending doom. Content marketing can be a wonderful asset to your business or it can suck your time and resources and leave nothing in return. There is a way to fast-forward and avoid the churn, but it’s going to take time and effort.
Don’t worry; I’ll show you how. It’s easier than you may think.
Before you start producing content you’ll want to consider what you can do to guarantee success. This is especially true if you have to convince sceptics in your organisation that content marketing works. You have a responsibility to your business, your management team and mostly to yourself to formulate a strategy.
3 good reasons to document your content marketing strategy
It will take four to six weeks to develop a utopian view for what you want to achieve and how you’re going to do it. You’ll want to document your findings to share with everyone in your organisation. There are three good reasons for creating a documented content marketing strategy:
- Everyone knows the plan and can work towards common goals even if you’re not there. That’s a good thing, especially if you ever want to take a holiday.
- It’s your opportunity to define what success looks like and how you’re going to measure it. You don’t want to try to prove your content marketing is working once the returns are in. Get consensus before you start so you can track and report as you go along.
- Research from the Content Marketing Institute shows a) the most successful content marketers have a documented strategy, and b) they follow the strategy. It seems simple – and it is – but there’s not widespread adoption of the combination. People who have a documented content marketing strategy (around 40% of us) report higher levels of overall success than those with a verbal strategy or none at all.
Trap: Being in a rush to get started; don’t let your enthusiasm rob you of a critical step to success.
Quick list for a content marketing strategy
If utopia isn’t your bag, or you’re more of a TLDR type of person, you can skip to the bottom and get a summary of the necessary things needed for a content marketing strategy.
Define your business goals
Marketers are very good at setting goals – marketing goals. And, let’s be honest here, when you’re setting marketing goals for yourself, you’re probably thinking about what you can achieve without a lot of difficulty or what you’re confident you can pull off or what you already know how to do. But the best content marketing strategies don’t focus on marketing goals – they’re tackling business goals.
Consider why your company is investing in marketing at all. Do you have all the business you can handle? What area of the business are you trying to improve? Common business goals include:
- Brand awareness
- Sales data
- New customers
- Increased attendance at events
- Upselling and cross-selling to increase the value of existing customers
- Lowering the cost of customer acquisition
- Customer loyalty/retention
- Lead generation
Indicators of potential success
Marketing indicators may drive business goals, but they’re not proof your strategy is working. Too many marketers report on the success of amplification or distribution and try to attribute it to the success of the content. If you’re reporting on activity metrics like page impressions, reach, views, sessions and engagements, you’re off in the weeds. Leading indicators you may want to keep your eye on include:
- Increasing subscribers
- Google Analytics goal attainment
- Open rates on newsletter
- Click-through rates (CTR) from newsletters and calls to action
- Time spent on your content
- Invitations to contribute at in-person events or publishing
- Results from custom research and surveys
When you’re setting goals, it’s also important to define how you’re going to measure success. The time to do it is at the beginning of your strategy as part of your goal-setting exercise. This helps you do three things:
- Set expectations about what your content initiative should do and what it won’t do
- Report on progress
- Determine return on investment
It sounds simple but if you don’t measure, you can’t report. If you can’t report, it’s hard to get buy-in from the business for future investment. If you haven’t identified reporting metrics with your management team before starting your content marketing, you’re already in trouble.
Trap: Developing a strategy for marketing, not for the broader business.
Get your house in order
While resisting the urge to dive straight into tactics, also resist the temptation to start digging into research. A critical step many marketers try to skip over is getting internal buy-in. There’s nothing more disheartening than to launch a project – or try to launch one – and find out you don’t have the support within the organisation to achieve what you want when you go to market.
Internal support for content marketing
Matt Allison, Head of Global Content Strategy at Bupa, spoke candidly at Content Marketing World in Sydney about delaying the launch of The Blue Room, Bupa’s brand newsroom, to help customers lead a longer, healthier life. He realised people within Bupa didn’t understand what he was trying to achieve, or why, or why it was important to the business. He made the difficult decision to take a step back and garner support internally, resulting in a 9-month delay in launching. When talking with seasoned content marketers, lack of internal buy-in is often identified as an area that delayed progress and success.
Sort out your messaging
One of the most critical mistakes content marketers make is they focus on their brand – usually products and services – and not on the audience. True content marketing is designed to be useful enough that it drives profitable customer action. Going into broadcast/advertising mode is the antithesis of content marketing. People don’t care about you or your company; they only care about how you can help them.
[tweet]People don’t care about you or your company; they only care about how you can help them, says @SarahMitchellOz.[/tweet]
Tip: Involve key stakeholders and management to develop your messaging and get early buy-in for your content marketing.
Get in touch with Sarah to get your messaging on track.
What does a content marketing strategy look like?
It would be lovely if I could give you a template to complete and you’d be able to implement a successful content marketing initiative for your business. But here’s the thing – no two content marketing strategies are the same because the true key to success is to set yourself apart. A utopian strategy needs to differentiate itself in a number of ways:
- From your competitors – If you’re going to market with the same product offering and the same messaging, the only way to win is by lowering your price.
- In the view of your target audience – If your target audience finds nothing intrinsically different in your content, you might as well start a ‘we too’ or ‘me too’ campaign and go home early.
- In the content you produce – If you’re cranking out the same generic content to meet publishing schedules, nothing you do is going to garner much attention in the era of too much information.
Keeping ‘on mission’
One good way to ensure you’re hitting all the right notes with your content marketing strategy is to develop an editorial mission statement. This guides everything you do, saying who you’re going to help, what content you’re going to provide to help them, and the outcome your audience should experience as a result of your content. An editorial mission statement is something every publication in traditional media is guided by and there’s no reason why every brand – large and small – shouldn’t be guided the same way.
Four components of a content marketing utopia
Ultimately, a content marketing strategy needs to make recommendations about four specific areas:
- Original content – what are the topics and themes of most interest to your target audience?
- Distribution – what content types are going to be the most effective and where are you going to publish? This includes email, social media and PR.
- Amplification – how are you going to reach people who don’t know about you, especially if you don’t know who they are? It includes search marketing, syndication and PR.
- Implementation Plan – calendar-based plan to say what kind of content, how often it’s going to be produced and where you are going to publish it.
Before you dive straight into tactics, you need to find out what is going to impress your audience and motivate them to consume you content and, ultimately, move along the path to purchase.
Trap: It’s essential for long-term success to work through all the steps of a strategy instead of rushing straight to tactics.
Do your research
If you’re looking for content marketing utopia, you have to abandon any pre-conceived notion about the best way to go to market. Once you have established your messaging, it’s time to find out where your target audience is spending time, what kinds of content they’re consuming, what questions they’re asking, and what opinions they hold about similar companies to yours.
Unfortunately, there’s no standard answer for how to conduct research. It’s a lengthy process and takes persistence, but it can also be the most interesting part of developing a strategy. You get to put your sleuthing hat on and dig around the internet for clues as to what kind of content best resonates with the people you’re trying to influence.
Good places to study audience behaviour include:
- Facebook groups
- LinkedIn Discussion groups
- Following hashtags on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn
- Association/peak bodies for your industry
- In-person networking events
By spending time lurking around forums, social media and networking events, you get the best insight into the information people want to know, the concerns they might have and any pre-conceived information you can correct with your content marketing strategy. If you want to find out exactly what kind of questions people are asking about your area of expertise, try out the following online gadgets to gain more insight:
Soovle – Shows real-time searches across different search engines, based on a single keyword or phrase. Using ‘window washing’ as an example, Soovle returns the exact phrases people are searching on a variety of popular websites and search engines. That can go a long way to helping you select topics, titles and content types.
Ubersuggest – Is a great tool to help you come up with topics for your content. You can download them into a spreadsheet, which is super handy. You can also see the volume of searches by month to give you guidance on editorial planning and scheduling.
SerpStat – More than a gadget, SerpStat is a full-blown tool giving you massive amounts of data about how a specific keyword is used in search. It includes questions asked and additional words used in searches with your keywords to help you zero in on hot topics. You also get comprehensive competitor analysis and much more. SerpStat gives you a fair bit of information for free, but a paid subscription is immeasurably helpful when researching audience search habits.
Research is a good place to spend money on your strategy. You can often get high-quality data from syndicated research that gives you a rich source of information and cuts the time spent researching. It’s worth subscribing to newsletters at market research companies like Roy Morgan to keep abreast of the latest findings on any number of topics. Make sure if you pay for research, it’s relevant to your location.
If you have the budget, why not invest in your own research? State of Original Research for Marketing 2018, a new study by Mantis Research and Buzzsumo of 698 marketers, shows custom research is a fantastic source of high-quality content and editorial ideas. And, honestly, isn’t that what we’re all trying to achieve?
See the results of the whole survey here:
Tip: Check out Carla Young’s post on research tools to find out what the strategy pros use for research.
Finding the most effective kinds of content
Once you’ve done your research, you’ll have a much better idea about what topics and themes you need to pursue. You should also begin to understand the appetite your audience has for content and the specific types of content of most interest to them. You should also know where they hang out and when they’re most receptive to hearing from you.
To assist with your recommendations, make sure you crosscheck what you’ve learned about your audience habits and preferences with industry data. New platforms pop up all the time and old ones fade. In 2008 your content marketing strategy could have very well included Myspace. In 2018, you’re likely going to have to answer questions about why you’re not recommending channels like Facebook or Instagram.
Here are my favourite research reports:
Content Marketing Institute – 2018 marked the release of the Eighth Annual Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends reports. There are different flavours of these reports including B2B, B2C, Australia, North America, UK, Technology and Manufacturing, so chances are you can find extremely relevant information about what’s working in companies similar to yours.
Social Media Examiner – Social Media Marketing Industry Report is in its 10th year providing content marketers with the best insight into current practices for the fast-paced world of social media.
Edelman – The annual Edelman TRUST BAROMETER is invaluable in guiding content choices and targeting specific audiences. Edelman has supplemented the research with a special report on brands and social media and specific reports on:
- TRUST IN THE UK
- TRUST IN ASIA PACIFICA, MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
- TRUST IN CALIFORNIA
- TRUST IN CANADA
- THE STATE OF BUSINESS
- SXSW FLASH POLL
- TRUST IN FINANCIAL SERVICES
- EXPECTATIONS FOR CEOS
- TRUST IN HEALTHCARE
The Economist Group – If you want to learn more about executive and C-Suite content habits, check out Thought Leadership Disrupted: New rules for the content age. Another good report on executive’s views of content marketing – but older – and only available on SlideShare is: Missing the Mark: Global Content Survey of Brand Marketers and their B2B Audiences.
Pew Research Center – The Internet and Technology section of the Pew site contains a wealth of information, fact sheets, graphs and detailed information about the digital habits of consumers.
Trap: Preconceived notions are the enemy of a good strategy. Keep an open mind during research; strategy is often more about what you’re not going to do regardless of what you thought in the beginning.
Distribution and amplification
In 2018, if your content marketing strategy does not include a plan and a budget for search marketing, you’re either being naïve about the powers of organic reach or you haven’t finished the job. Long gone are the days you could post an article or video on your website and expect people to see it.
The same is true for social media. Social media channels are all ‘pay to play’ or quickly headed that way. You should be including keywords and phrases to include in your content, a paid search plan and the amplification tactics you plan on using. Your SEO expert should provide you with a plan for what is achievable within your budget. Areas to consider are:
- Google Ads including display ads, retargeting
- Social media advertising – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.
- Syndication networks (check out this comprehensive post on paid and free syndication)
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Tip: Rely on SEO and SEM experts to help you formulate a plan for your strategy. Algorithms change quickly, and Google has become complex – you’ll need someone who lives and breathes amplification services.
The implementation plan
Only when all of this is complete should you plot out how you’re going to implement your strategy. You may have assumed at the outset a weekly blog was in order but discovered there’s no appetite for another blog in your industry.
I’ve never developed a strategy when there weren’t surprises along the way, often in the form of epiphanies about what’s possible. Keep in mind content doesn’t have to be something to read, view or listen to. Interactive content is incredibly popular, so think about what’s going to bring you word-of-mouth recommendations, too. One of our favourite suggestions in a content marketing strategy was a therapy garden. It was a perfect way to attract a younger audience for a client who wanted to add a new market segment to a business normally focused on geriatric patients.
Present your strategy
Once your content marketing strategy is formulated, it’s essential you circle back to key stakeholders and present your findings and recommendations. It’s a great time to get your business excited about the possibilities available. It’s also a good time to establish budgets and get the green light to move forward with your initiative. Make sure everyone in your presentation comes away with:
- A printed copy of your strategy
- The key messages you’re putting out in your content
- An understanding of your editorial mission statement
Handover to production
The implementation plan doesn’t have to be long and can usually be done in a matrix. All you need to do is outline what content you’re going to produce and at what intervals.
Try to plan your recommendations for a year in advance and begin populating an editorial calendar. This little step goes a long way to getting your production teams on board. It’s vital to brief your production team as a final step in your strategy activity. Put your key points in a presentation format and explain the highlights. They’ll need to know where to find detailed information, but it’s unrealistic to expect everyone involved in production will read an entire strategy.
And don’t forget, the biggest predictor for success in content marketing is having a documented content marketing strategy and following it closely. Even the most thoughtful strategy serves no purpose if it’s never implemented.
[tweet]Even the most thoughtful #contentmarketing strategy serves no purpose if it’s never implemented, says @SarahMitchellOz [/tweet]
Trap: Doing the hard work of creating a strategy then chucking it in a drawer and never following it.
Final thoughts on content marketing strategy
If you’ve hung in there all this way, thank you for reading to the end. We’re nearly there, which is the furthest you can ever get with a content marketing strategy. In all honesty, you’re never completely done.
Once you start producing content, you’ll want to review your results against your strategy and refine where necessary. You should do this once a quarter, even if it’s only to take a checkpoint. At least once a year, or whenever there’s a change in your business, you’ll want to do a thorough strategy review. It’s an opportunity for you to reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and where improvements can be made. It’s also a good time to benchmark results and report back to your budget holders.
If you’re familiar with my post on the content marketing swindle, you’ll know about the 25 points to tell whether your content marketing strategy is insufficient. This companion checklist gives insight into whether you’ll achieve content marketing utopia. You’ll know you’re on track:
- If you’ve defined your business goals
- If you’ve determined how you’re going to measure achievement of those goals
- If your focus is on your business and not the marketing department
- If you’ve acquired internal support throughout your organisation for content marketing
- If you’ve worked out your messaging before starting your strategy
- If your strategy differentiates you from your competition
- If your strategy differentiates your content in the eyes of your target audience
- If your strategy recommends something different from the masses of content currently available in your industry
- If your strategy has an editorial mission statement
- If you’ve done your research
- If you’ve determined the most effective content type for your target audience
- If your strategy makes original content recommendations
- If you’ve developed suggested themes for your content
- If you’ve developed specific topics and titles for your content
- If your strategy defines the best places to distribute your content
- If you’ve outlined search engine optimisation (SEO) recommendations
- If you’ve identified search engine marketing (SEM) methods and budgets
- If you’ve considered syndication opportunities for your content
- If your strategy has a clearly defined implementation plan
- If you’ve determined the ideal frequency to produce and publish each type of content
- If you’ve populated an editorial calendar with content topics and titles
- If you’ve held a handover meeting with your production team
- If you’ve put everything in a single document and made it widely available
- If you’ve set up a schedule for regular strategy reviews
- If you’ve presented your strategy to key stakeholders in your organisation and set expectations for implementation
Before you venture down the content marketing path, I urge you to take time to consider what you want to achieve. Actually, I want more. Before you commission content, hire staff, engage freelancers or set up your editorial calendar, I want you to take six weeks and develop a documented content marketing strategy for your project. Once you know how to define utopia, you’ll be well on your way to content marketing success.
If you would like more information or help developing a content marketing strategy, call me. I would love to help.