Creating a Content Strategy? Don’t Forget These 5 Essentials
It’s a buzzword, and a coveted marketing tool for any business. It’s perhaps one of the most feared phrases in recent years – Content Marketing. The tool has surged in popularity over the past five years, giving us all more reasons to write things that offer value and better serve the customers who expect more – and they rightfully should.
Technology has allowed us to become expert researchers in our own right, tracking down business reputation information, product reviews, and just about anything you can think of information-wise before making a purchase. We have more options. We actively seek word of mouth recommendations in person and on social media. We look for content that gives us a reason to say “yes”.
But content marketing isn’t something new. Advertisers have always sought out new ways to send the right message to the right people at the right time. Content marketing has only created more opportunities for the intended audience to seek you out first. Like any good media plan or advertising campaign, strategy planning is an essential yet often overlooked element of being able to keep up with what people look for – and want – when it comes to messaging.
To develop a content marketing strategy, you need to have a strong foundation of information, insight, and understanding. Once you have that, you can execute on all of the fun stuff you’ve been dying to dive into (you know, those viral videos, technicolor infographics, and link bait articles you can’t get enough of!).
1.) SWOT ANALYSIS
It’s the management 101 exercise you may have come to love or hate, but like it or not, some of the best strategies in marketing (period) start with an analysis of (S)trengths, (W)eaknesses, (O)pportunities, and (T)hreats.
Take a clear-headed and honest look at your business. What do you do well? What don’t you do well? Who are your biggest competitors? What aspects of your business do you see changing or growing in the future?
- Opportunities to address key audiences or stakeholders
- Areas of difficulty that may arise in content development (e.g. timing, resources, etc.)
- Points of focus for improvements, both internally and externally
- Competitive pressures that may influence content types, topics, timing, etc.
In this part of your content strategy, you’ll want to also spend time identifying the resources you have available to actually develop, execute, and evaluate your plan. Whether you have a staff of one (that beautiful brain of yours being put to work!) or 10 (go team!), determine who owns content marketing on behalf of your business and what resources they possess. Are there gaps? How can you fill them in?
2.) PERSONAS & AUDIENCE RESEARCH
Know who the heck you want to see/read/listen to/fall in love with your content? Too often, organizations will start developing content in such a way that they try to be “all things to all people”. Don’t do that. Your time is too valuable to try to please everyone. Instead, spend time getting to know your audience.
Getting audience data can be a complex endeavor, but it’s worth it. The key is to use multiple sources of information to create a more complete picture of who your targeted customer base is. Everything from Nielsen stats and customer feedback surveys to focus groups and Google Analytics reports can tell you more about the people who are looking for – and finding – you. Listen. Observe. Chart common trends or characteristics. Ask questions that get your customers talking.
Think of several different customer types and how you might help them. Are you informing them of something important? Solving a problem for them? Entertaining them? Whatever it is, understand where your products and services fit into their lives. Then, create personas to match those types.
Personas are powerful content creation tools in that they can help you target the right kind of person by giving you guidelines on things like:
- What types of content work best for audience groupings?
- Where content can be distributed to best reach that audience?
- What does that audience value or need most from you?
Not sure of where to begin on personas? Try the Beginners Guide to Creating Marketing Personas.
3.) GOALS & OBJECTIVES
Every marketing strategy starts with a goal. The final destination, once defined, keeps your strategy focused while allowing room for change and development. After all, we’ve seen how fast users and technology can change – but the goal can still remain steadfast in the face of SERP redesigns, social feed algorithmic updates, and other challenges.
I’ve always been a fan of SMART goal setting, in that you ensure that your goals are (S)pecific, (M)easureable, (A)ttainable, (R)elevant, and (T)imebound.
For example, a SMART goal might look something like:
- Increase blog referral traffic from social media channels by 10 percent in six months.
To achieve this goal, you might start by:
- Identifying the current rates of traffic from social media, including the number of referrals from certain channels, to your blog using Google Analytics data.
- Auditing and evaluating your current content distribution and engagement strategies on the social media channels where you see referrals.
- Investigate if there are additional social media channels you need to be active on.
- Determine if there are user experience changes you can make to your blog to boost its engagement with social referrers (e.g. adding social sharing buttons, sizing and use of imagery, etc.)
- Creating a timeline over the next six months on how you’ll distribute and amplify your content to achieve your goal.
There isn’t only one right way to approach a goal; use this step to flex your strategic problem solving muscles. How can content marketing support your goal? Use these goal-setting tips if you’re stuck on goal setting.
4.) INVENTORY & EXECUTION LIST
Taking stock of what you have currently as an organization should be a key step before you start creating an editorial calendar or schedule. Sit down internally with your staff or on your own and list out all of the content assets you have currently. The website, social media tools, blog, internal documentation, photos, videos, podcasts – if you have any materials that share information or entertain, list them.
Creating an inventory keeps your content marketing strategy efficient and also makes it easier to identify gaps or opportunities. That five-year-old blog post? Outdated training manual? The photos you took of your location when you remodeled last year? Post it notes with customer FAQs? It’s all fair game for use in your execution. Look for ways to improve upon what you already have or fill in the gaps where you know your audience needs information.
As for the execution side of things, examine the resources you have available and start planning out a list of content you’ll create as well as the corresponding schedule for when and how it’ll be distributed. Note any tools you’ll use or need for support. Don’t forget to also include notes on how you’ll plan to promote and amplify your content once it’s out there.
Amplification is the step that’s most forgotten in content marketing. It’s not enough to create and publish.
Finally, ensure that your content marketing strategy has appropriate metrics and tools for measurement. Having analytics associated with your content allows for you to observe, evaluate, and react to your content marketing pieces you’ve created. Plus, you need this to see if you’re meeting your goals and objectives along the way.
Measurement and optimization tools for content marketing vary widely from organization to organization. If you’re a small business, you may rely more on one-on-one conversations with your customers. If you’re a larger business, you may use layers of information from multiple analytics tools.
The key is to have at least some kind of method of measurement that connects to the goals you’re trying to achieve to actionable metrics. As for the types of tools out there that can support that, here’s a list of resources to get you started.
Creating a Content Strategy – Concluding Thoughts
I know this all seems like a TON of work and you’re right – it is. But it’s essential.
- According to Aberdeen, year-over-year growth in unique site traffic is more than seven times higher for content marketing leaders compared to followers.
- Aberdeen also reports that conversion rates are nearly six times higher for content marketing adopters than non-adopters.
- Content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads, says DemandMetric.
Developing a content marketing strategy doesn’t have to be the most challenging thing you do this year – but it may be the most worthwhile.
Mandy (Boyle) Pennington is the Director of Internet Marketing at Net Driven. She is also a published freelance writer, lady SEO-er, and co-founder of NEPA BlogCon, a blogging and social media conference.
She enjoys acting in regional theater productions (shout out to her home ensemble, The New Vintage Ensemble!), good food, and not taking herself seriously. Follow her @mandyboyle.