How to develop a content marketing strategy

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I am often asked, “Should I do X or Y for my content marketing?” The problem with this question is the people asking it don’t have strategy in place for their content marketing. They recognized that they needed to produce content, so they just jumped in and started creating content. Not surprisingly, their content is not delivering the leads they hoped it would. The reason of course, is their content marketing is haphazard and incomplete. They need a strategy. Here’s how to develop a content marketing strategy for your organization.

First, recognize what a strategy is—a strategy is like a roadmap, in that it shows you where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there. It would be silly to start on a cross-country road trip without looking at a map, but that is what content marketing is like without a strategy. The content you produce and how you share it—those are tactics. A strategy consists of goals and a series of implementable steps that will lead you to your end goals. Tactics flow from and support strategy, not the other way around.

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. Don’t just say “Acme Engineering is our customer;” instead, say “mid-size companies in the die and manufacturing industry like Acme Engineering are our customers. They’re pain points are X, Y, and Z. We design our products for their engineers, but we must sell the CFOs on the products or else the Acme Corporations of the world will never buy it.” There’s a world of difference between these two customer descriptions. Identify your customers 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.

What investments is your organization willing to make? 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 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 any 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 bricks-and-mortar stores. If they’re omnichannel shoppers, then they’ll be everywhere—and expect you to be to. Find our where your customers are and them 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).

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