I’ve written many times about how you need to have ‘’a plan’’ when it comes to your content marketing strategy. Everyone knows that this is true…but doing it is a bit harder than saying it. So I’m going to break down and itemize each step to help you turn your content marketing strategy into a real strategy, and hopefully save you time and money in the process.
1 – Plan
I don’t mean “spend some time thinking about this in the shower”. I mean spend some time in front of a whiteboard with your team. Your plan should lay out all of the key points of your strategy at the startup/beginning, the one-month, and one-year points.
To build your strategy, let’s go to journalism school for a minute: lesson one in any journalism class is the 5 W’s (and an H): Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Answer these questions and you’ll have a comprehensive strategy and a chance at succeeding in content marketing.
Who are you trying to reach? Have you identified who your customers are? Research your customers and find out every bit of data you possibly can. Identify your customers, what their pain points are and segment them so you can target your messages. That will help you speak your customers’ language.
What is your purpose in content marketing? Are you trying to generate new leads, cultivate existing relationships, or perhaps something totally different? Your content marketing must have a goal of some sort or else it is wasted energy.
Content marketing is not free. Even if you’re not spending money on creating content, you’re still spending your time and unless you think your time is worthless, then you are spending money on creating content. Evaluate what your organization is willing to invest in content marketing and plan accordingly.
When do you need to have content? Think about your organization— are there certain times of the year that things are going on in your industry that you need to have content for? What about your customers’ buying cycles—are they synced to seasons? (For example, in higher education, the fiscal year typically begins July 1, and big purchases are made right before then to finish off old budgets and right after that date when departments have fresh budgets). An editorial calendar is a useful tool for determining when to create and share content.
Where are your customers? Where will you be? When you find out who your customers are, you should have a good idea of where they are and how you can reach them. They may be on social media or the mobile space. Or, they might connect best with more traditional methods, like brick-and-mortar stores. If they’re omnichannel shoppers, then they’ll be everywhere—and expect you to be as well. Find out where your customers are and then meet them there.
Why are you using content marketing? This is really the most important question you can ask in developing a strategy. You will need to have a satisfactory answer if you want to get internal buy-in for your strategy. Beyond that, the answer to this question is going to inform the answers to all your other questions.
How will you develop content? Content takes many forms—blogs, ebooks, whitepapers, infographics, videos, etc. The resources available to you combined with your customers’ desires will tell you where you should invest your time and money in terms of creating content. (If you don’t know what your customers want, then you should ask them, and listen to them on social media).
2 – Create
Once you’ve delegated or hired someone to handle your content marketing, be sure that that person or team has a strict publishing schedule to help them create content. It is simply not enough to ask someone to “publish a blog post or two when you can”. That’s a recipe for a ghost town blog and wasted resources. You should determine ahead of time how often you will create and publish, and adjust as appropriate.
Whether you are writing a blog post, shooting a video, recording a podcast, or updating a social media feed, you need to keep your sales or branding goals at the forefront at all times. Gathering likes and shares for the sake of gathering likes and shares won’t budge your bottom line an inch. If you can’t plan for, measure, and demonstrate how your content is providing a return on your investment, then you should assume that it isn’t.
3 – Publish
It is always a good idea to be familiar with the ins and outs of the platform you are using for your content marketing strategy before you try to publish. This might mean hiring someone with expertise in the platform or running some test publications set to private. This prevents potentially embarrassing or costly mistakes. (I’m looking at you, Sean Spicer.)
You should also do some research on optimal times to publish to reach the largest segment of your audience possible. For example, many companies tweet and publish blog posts between 8 and 10 am to coincide with people’s commute schedules, when they are more likely to be checking their phones. Many companies also neglect to repost their own content at regular intervals. Some suggest sharing a blog post link to Twitter, for example, three times: the day it is published, one day after, and one week after. Many platforms run on algorithms, Facebook most notably, that prevent your posts from showing up in the newsfeed of all of your followers. Re-sharing helps mitigate those losses without having to pay to boost or spotlight your posts.
4 – Measure
As I said before, if you cannot demonstrate exactly how your content marketing efforts are affecting your bottom line, they probably aren’t. Use the benchmarks and goals established in your content marketing strategy to measure your plan’s success and shortcomings. Once again, shares and likes mean nothing if your plan doesn’t specifically call for shares and likes, and detail how they will bring in more business. It’s not a bad idea to create a monthly report detailing your content marketing benchmarks, your progress from previous months, and your return on investment.
5 – Repeat
To create an effective content marketing strategy, it is necessary to plan, create, publish, measure, and repeat your efforts. You need to evaluate your success–and modify accordingly. However you define success–Key promoter score, leads, conversions, sales, market share, or a combination of several of these KPIs–you modify as you see what is and what is not working.