Leading a marketing team is a complicated job in the digital age. Add content creation to the mix of things you’re trying to accomplish, and it gets messy awfully fast. There are so many moving pieces in content marketing. Like a master chess player, you always need to think several steps ahead.
Did that blog post get written and approved? Is the email newsletter ready to send? Are you posting enough on social media or too much? How many views does your latest video have on YouTube? Is anyone downloading your e-book?
When it’s all said and done, you’ll probably be asked to prove content marketing efforts are actually making a difference and not a waste of time and money. That means gathering analytics and reporting data from a growing number of platforms.
If your marketing department is running around in different directions with no sense of purpose, it’s a sign your content creation efforts lack strategy. Developing a content marketing strategy gives your team a plan of attack by laying out a roadmap for success.
Here’s how to start in eight steps:
1. Define Your Editorial Mission
Before you write a single headline, make sure you know what your organization hopes to achieve with content marketing. Outlining an “editorial mission” at the beginning will help keep you focused as you put together the strategy.
Portions of this editorial mission will inform the selection of goals and key performance indicators (KPIs), which determine the effectiveness of your content marketing strategy.
Here are some questions to ask:
- What do we want to change through content marketing?
- What specific marketing goals will content help us reach?
- Improved brand awareness
- Building and educating an audience
- Establishing trust and expertise
- What specific business goals will content help us reach?
- Generating qualified leads
- Increasing sales
- Improving customer service and retention
- How do we want the audience to respond to our content?
- What will make our content better or different than the competition’s efforts?
Let’s imagine you own a large greenhouse and plant nursery, and you want to reach home gardeners with your content marketing. The editorial mission statement might sound something like this:
“Our editorial mission is to educate local homeowners and amateur gardeners on how to enrich their lives with plants, flowers, and vegetable gardens. By doing so, we will establish trust and expertise within the community, while attracting new customers, encouraging online sharing, and outranking our competitors in search engine results, ultimately increasing sales and building a loyal audience.”
2. Evaluate Your Competitors
You’re not the only organization in your industry that sees opportunities in content marketing. There is a lot of noise in the digital world, and you need to figure out ways to create content that cuts through the clutter.
This part of the strategy involves some covert research. Visit competitor websites to see how they’re using content and check out social media to see what they’re promoting. Are your competitors’ followers engaged? Are competitors getting coverage in key trade publications? After you visit competitor websites, are you retargeted with online ads?
Gather as much information as you can. You can even sign up for your competitors’ email newsletters or download e-books and white papers they’ve released. The point is … you need to know what you’re up against.
Look beyond your closest competitors to companies that are larger or smaller than yours, and consider extending your research beyond your industry. Review websites that show up in search results for important keywords and questions your prospects will ask. The competitive evaluation is not only about who you’re competing with for business, it’s about who you’re competing with for the target audience’s attention.
3. Audit Your Current Efforts and Capabilities
In addition to knowing the competition, you must know thyself. Assess what content-related efforts are already underway. Are they working, and what other marketing assets do you have at your disposal that can be incorporated into your strategy?
Here are some questions to ask:
- Where are we ranking in search engines for important industry keywords?
- Are our customers engaging with us on social media, or is it only employees?
- Are we getting positive coverage in the media?
- Are we using our blog to create value, or is it random company news?
- What resources do we have that could be reused in content marketing?
- Presentations can be repurposed into e-books
- Videos can be shared on social media or embedded in blog content
- Original research can be used to create infographics
- Who should we utilize as subject matter experts?
- Do we have experts who are willing to write?
- Who is willing to be interviewed and featured in content?
- Who are the right people to go on camera as public faces of our company?
- What creative/marketing talent do we have in-house and what skills do we lack?
Filling the digital marketing talent gap is a challenge in many organizations. This is an area in which an agency partnership can be very beneficial. Your team focuses on what it does best and a full-service marketing agency complements that talent with expertise in things like web and application development, design, video production, and marketing automation.
If you have analytics and reporting in place for current marketing efforts, use them to help you with this audit. These metrics will also serve as benchmarks to show growth and success after you launch your content marketing strategy.
4. Conduct Audience Research
Understanding who you want to reach and the best way to reach them might be the most critical part of your content marketing strategy. You need to know who you’re creating content for, what kind of content they need, and how they’ll use it on a buyer’s journey.
You can start looking for information about your target market online. There are many different studies about all types of consumers and B2B customers that will provide fact-based insights you can use to support your strategy. Your organization may even have existing research, such as customer surveys, but you should also take the time to talk to real people. You’ll be amazed at the ideas that come from a few enlightening conversations.
Buyer personas are a popular tool for defining your target audiences. These are snapshots of ideal customers that go beyond basic demographics and dive into the minds of your potential customers. What motivates, scares, disgusts, influences, and inspires them?
Element always maps out a path-to-purchase or buyer’s journey for each of the personas we develop for our clients. This paints a picture of how an individual might use different types of content as they move from Needs Awareness through Research, Comparison, and Purchase.
5. Find Your Content Brand Voice
Your organization may already have a brand voice that’s used for ads and copywriting. It may be necessary, however, to tweak that brand voice for content creation. The way you want to sound in blog posts and social media could be different than how you present the brand on a standard web page or brochure.
The tone of your content brand voice should be adjusted depending on several factors:
- Who is the target audience/persona?
- Where is the content appearing? (Example: Writing for LinkedIn vs Facebook)
- At what stage of a buyer’s journey is the audience?
- What’s the topic of the content? (A lighthearted list post will sound different than an in-depth article explaining a technical problem)
A helpful exercise when determining the right voice is to select brand character archetypes. These are stereotypical characters that we’re all familiar with from various stories. The Hartford lists 12 common brand character archetypes, including The Regular Guy, The Hero, The Outlaw, and The Caretaker.
Of course, you can create your own content brand voice characters, too. Maybe your brand is The Mad Scientist, The Helpful Handyman, or The Relatable Parent.
6. Identify Integrated Tactics
Those first five steps are all about the research you’ll use to build your content marketing plan. Now, you’ll need to dig in and lay out the strategy itself. Make sure you take an integrated approach, considering Owned, Earned, Shared, and Paid Media tactics.
The way those individual tactics combine and support each other is your content marketing strategy at work. Everything you create should align with your target audience’s journey, pain points, and ultimately present ways you can solve their problems or improve their lives.
The insights you gathered during competitive and audience research should inform what types of content you create and how you should amplify it. For example, you may learn that there are a lot of architects using Instagram because it’s such a visual social platform, but a TikTok marketing strategy probably isn’t right for that audience.
Think of article headlines that will resonate with your personas. Identify the publications your audience reads, events they regularly attend, where they hang out online, and who might influence their decisions.
Some organizations, and even many agencies, have tunnel vision when it comes to content marketing. They only focus on specific owned content efforts. A solid content marketing strategy is much more than occasionally blogging and posting links to Facebook. Integrated content marketing happens when everything aligns into a cohesive plan, and it’s the hardest part of putting together your strategy.
That’s why Element’s content marketing team is made up of digital marketers, public relations specialists, content writers, designers, programmers, and brand strategists. All of these areas need to come together to achieve the editorial mission. And, that’s why it’s unrealistic to assume you can hire one or two people to meet all your digital marketing needs.
7. Create a Content Marketing Calendar
Once you’ve come up with a list of content marketing tactics and connected them in a holistic strategy, it’s time to get organized. Whether you use an Excel spreadsheet or one of the many digital project management tools, an editorial calendar that outlines your content marketing efforts through the year is a must-have.
A calendar with deadlines for different projects will help you stay on track and ensure all the people involved in a campaign are meeting expectations. Besides descriptions and due dates, your editorial calendar should be used to track progress as pieces of content move through the organization, from writing and design to review and approval to programming, publishing, and promotion.
You don’t need every article, digital ad, and social media post planned out for the entire year. But, you should have a basic schedule based on the amount of content your team is capable of creating. Then, hold editorial meetings to brainstorm and decide on the focus of your content.
If you do have most of your content planned out months ahead of time, you should still be flexible about what’s produced. You’ll get better ideas as time goes by, people in your organization may have special request, and industry news or current events may prompt you to pursue different topics. Plus, as you gain insights on the success (or shortcomings) of your efforts, there will be times when your content marketing strategy may need to pivot.
8. Measure Results Against Business Goals
How do you know whether your content marketing strategy is working or not? Analytics that measure marketing efforts provide you with the data you need to make decisions.
You must have someone who understands Google Analytics or another program like it, but you could also have social media and email marketing metrics as well other sources of data. To get the most out of your measurement, you should connect it to sales through your customer relationship management (CRM) solution. It’s a lot of information to compile and interpret, which is why digital marketing dashboards are often used to collect data from different sources in one spot.
Use the goals you established in your editorial mission and select metrics as KPIs showing progress towards meeting those goals. Keep in mind that while just about every type of digital content is measurable, you need to pay the closest attention to the metrics that directly relate to your mission. You may not be able to track all your sales back to specific blog posts, but there are many ways of examining how online user behavior is related to business outcomes.
The most important thing you can do with analytics is turn marketing data into insights. Don’t just report the numbers. Determine what story the numbers tell about your content marketing strategy.
Why a Documented Content Strategy Gives You an Edge
The Content Marketing Institute’s 2019 B2B Benchmark Report found a well-thought-out strategy is a key indicator of success. 81 percent of organizations with a documented strategy had teams that were aligned and found it was easier to decide what kind of content to create.
Yet, the report also shows more than 60 percent of B2B marketers haven’t documented their strategy or simply don’t have one at all. Prioritizing a strategic approach gives your content marketing efforts a leg up over the competition. The problem is, developing the strategy takes a lot of time and effort, and you may already be drowning in your day-to-day marketing duties.
That’s where a partnership with a full-service marketing agency like Element can be a huge benefit. Our integrated marketing strategists follow the same eight steps that we’ve outlined in this article, but we also add even more. At the end of the process, clients receive a comprehensive binder and PDF that is used as a guiding light by both their internal sales and marketing departments as well as the team at Element.
If you need people to share ideas with and help you hone a strategy, you can trust Element to be thorough, thoughtful, and creative. Contact us to find out if we’re a good fit! You can also read more about creating a B2B marketing strategy here on our blog.