To drive results with your content you need a content strategy: it helps you align your team, create content that resonates with your readers and gain an edge over your competitors. In this post, we’ll talk about how to develop a content strategy you can start executing on.
Content Strategy: what it is and why you need one.
If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably bought into content marketing already; you know you need it and want to get it right. In case you’re still on the fence, this article will give you enough reasons to jump onboard and get your content marketing action plan off the ground.
If you’re still reading this post, let’s go back to our main focus and start with the basics.
Definition: long story short, a content strategy is the document where you put everything in words about your content organization. Your goals, your audience, your content, your process. That’s as simple as it is.
Do you need one? According to the Content Marketing Institute, you do:
35% of marketers who have a documented content strategy are more effective in all aspects of content marketing than those who have not.
[You can check out the full CMI report here]
Why you need it: from the homepage tagline to your latest blog post, you need to send out a unique, coherent message that resonates with your audience, and walks each visitor through the path from reader to customer.
The keyword here is alignment, between you and your team, on content marketing goals, messaging, target audience and so on. That’s exactly what a content strategy is for, so keep reading to learn how to build yours.
Essential Elements of a Content Strategy
“a well executed plan today is better than an amazin strategy tomorrow”: you could use your conetent strategy do document virtually everything, but our goal here is to provide you with a framework to lay out a solid content strategy that will help you start off. As barry feldmans puts it
Above all, it will require a content marketing plan. You need to get one together. Not soon. Not next week. Now.
So lets keep it short and simple, you’ll then amend it once the first results start coming in.
1 – Goals: why are you producing content?
Never create content for the sake of creating content. You must understand what you want your content to solve.
Having clear goals is crucial to produce content that will generate business results.
You need to have clear goals in mind, since this will impact every aspect of your content production cycle. Are you trying to attract new visitors or hoping to move leads down the funnel? How about establishing brand awareness? Maybe you want to speed up the sales process or improve your customer support? You could have multiple goals, or just an overarching one. Content needs to be customized according to each of these goals and this will require testing various approaches and keeping track of different metrics.
For instance, infographics are great to reach a new audience: they’re visual, easily consumable and shareable. Ebooks, on the other hand, are best suited for turning readers into leads and moving them down the funnel. Based on the specific purpose of each content piece, you’ll also design call to actions (CTAs) and connections with other content pieces in your library.
Establish clear and tangible goals to measure your content performance and ROI.
You can use OKRs and KPIs (the popular goal setting methodology) to guide your content marketing efforts:
OKRs: A) attract more qualified leads / B) support sales cycle
KPIs A) 500 new visitors / 50 leave contact information / 5 convert to customers
KPIs B) shorten sales cycle by 25% / increase lead to customer conversion rate by 5%
Here, some stats from the CMI B2B content marketing report, about organizational goals for content marketing.
To learn more about content marketing KPIs, check out this great post from Sarah Goliger about translating content marketing goals into KPIs.
Need help defining your 2016 business goals? Check out How to set your one-year business goals so that you actually achieve them.
2 – Core Messages: what is your content about?
Right after setting your goals, you need to define your primary and secondary messages.
Why is it important? You and your team of course know what your company does and what the product is about, but if you ask around, each of your team members will probably have a (slightly) different perception of your company’s message, values and story. Diversity is sure a great thing, but when it comes to telling your brand story, it can cause inconsistency and confusion.
As a content manager, your goal is to let your writers/team members express their unique point of view while at the same time making sure everyone is aligned on core and secondary messages.
An effective way to do that is through all-hands or brainstorming sessions, where everyone has the chance to share his version of the company’s story. It will then be up to you to put everything into system under a single overarching message and a few secondary ones. This will help maintain alignment and consistency, while leaving room to individuals’ creativity and unique standpoints.
Your core message should be a unique statement that embeds the essence of your business and sets you apart from your competitors
Ideally, your core message should be a unique statement that embeds the essence of your business and sets you apart from your competitors. This is something that will have to find its way into every piece of content you push out–from your homepage tagline to the welcome email you send to a new client. The reason? There’s a lot of noise out there and the only way to get mindshare is delivering a clear and consistent message to your audience, no matter the channel, the subject and the type of content you are producing.
To be clear don’t throw your core message at your users’ faces. You need to embed the message in between the lines. Be subtle, yet strong, while adhering to a central theme that the reader is able to comprehend every time.
As for secondary messages, they represent the set of values, principles and ideas crucial to your company and product, that you want to convey to your readers.
For instance, if the “low carbon footprint” you generate during the making of your product is one of the main differentials of your brand, your messages need to convey this part of your story, and that’s where the art of storytelling comes in handy: while bragging about “how low your carbon footprint is” would in fact result obnoxious, writing in detail about how your products are made and how each step of the “product journey” is carefully designed to increase efficiency, reduce waste and maintain the quality high, will let your readers perceive the extra care you put into your products, which will in turn trigger emotions that over time will be directly associated to your brand.
Secondary messages represent the set of values, principles and ideas crucial to your company and product, that you want to convey to your readers.
Last but not leas, have clear in mind what’s your content differentiator. In other words: how will your content be different from what is already available?
Check out this great example by Dan Norris, founder of wpcurve and author of “Content Machine“
3 – Personas: who are you producing content for?
This can’t be stressed enough: content marketing is not bragging about your product, but about knowing your users and solving their problems.
Accordingly, once the company messaging is aligned, you need to clearly identify your audience. Your persona will define the way you communicate, including your tone and language (technical, professional, friendly, etc.), and will affect the distribution channels and content types you wind up using.
For this purpose, one of the most effective methods comes from the combination of personas and buyer’s journey framework.
“Buyer personas are fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers. They help us internalize the ideal customer we’re trying to attract, and relate to our customers as real humans. Having a deep understanding of your buyer persona(s) is critical to driving content creation, product development, sales follow up, and really anything that relates to customer acquisition and retention.” – Hubspot
Personas are not “static”: the same persona will have different needs and will be looking for different information depending on the stage of the “buying” journey she’s at. The buyer’s journey represents the steps prospects take during the purchase decision process, turning from visitors, into opportunities and finally into customers.
The journey varies from company to company, but it’s possible to identify 3 mains stages:
awareness: this is where the persona expresses signs of becoming a potential problem or opportunity
consideration: has clearly defined and given a name to their problem or opportunity
decision: has defined their solution strategy, method and approach.
Personas and journey are something you’ll always need to be updating and refining and being directly in touch with your customers, is the most effective way you can collect reliable information about them and their journey.
As a marketer you rarely have the chance to get directly in touch with your personas and may not have all the information you need to write accurate descriptions. That’s why it’s key to involve people from other departments in this activity, especially those who have daily interaction with prospects or users, such as sales and customer success reps, who can bring to the table key insights and perspectives other than the marketing one.
At Contentools, we’ve built a dedicated customer development team (1 Marketer + 1 Sales rep + 1 CX) that meets up on a monthly basis, with the specific goal of crafting and refining more updated and complete versions of our personas and their journey. The updates are then organized and shared with the rest of the team, which finds it very useful to improve their day-to-day interaction with out customers and prospects.
Check out this article to learn more about personas and how to build yours.
4 – Content Production: how are your producing content?
Based on the elements we’ve talked about above (Goals > Core message > Personas), you can decide what content you want to produce, and assign a specific goal to each content type.
Here are a few aspects of your content production that you’ll need to focus on:
1. Content Types: as mentioned, different content types serve different functions. Top of the funnel blog posts / infographics / checklists are a great way to generate new traffic, while ebooks are an effective way to collect your readers’ information and help them take one step ahead in the journey. You want to be very clear about the characteristics of each content type and what your aims are. How technical should the content be? What tone should be used? Are we reporting industry best practices or presenting new frameworks based on the way our company operates? How long should it be? All these questions will help your team members and freelancers better understand your content’s purpose and deliver better results.
2. Team: having your entire organization contributing to the content production would be ideal, but people are busy. No surprises there, right? and if left to his own, one will rarely prefer investing time writing content especially if they have other more “urgent” business to attend to. To make sure you hit your content production goals, you need to build your core content team, the members of which, will have to be aware of your calendar, production deadlines, and workflows. You can integrate it with freelancers if you can’t find all the players within your organization.
Make sure each player has defined functions and responsibilities, to avoid misunderstandings. Under this point of view, the RASCI is a great framework to adopt, since for any given project it helps you define who plays what role at each step. (More about this in the following articles).
3. Weekly / Monthly Schedule: Your calendar will define what you publish and on which day of the week. You’ll probably have multiple content rolling out at the same time; each one addressed to a specific audience. The publishing schedule will affect distribution and promotion and you don’t want to do this randomly. This is the first step in establishing your calendar and you’ll want to make sure everyone on the team is aware of it.
4. Workflows: to keep your content production going, you need to have specific workflows and deadlines for each step. Define the key steps of the workflow of each content type, from brainstorming and briefing, to approval and publishing. Here’s the basic workflow we use for our blog posts. Here, you can find more about content production workflows.
It’s important to:
Thoroughly describe what activities will be performed at each step and what roles are involved
Specify production deadlines: even when you’re working on content on your own, you want to make sure to have production deadlines, so you can keep the process on track.
The results you are expecting to obtain at the end of each phase.
5. Tools: Last but not least, include your tool set: describe what tools you’re going to use for each step of the content production process. Again, help your team (and yourself) produce content, keep everything organized and set up the right tools stack. For example, how do you want new ideas to be suggested? Via email or Slack? Maybe by using a shared Google document? What tools will you use to create content? Is there a folder where you’d like everyone to share what they write? What about a common dashboard for sharing and suggesting content ideas? You need to organize and specify all these aspects and let your team members know.
Here are a few ideas for you to use:
Shared folders on Google: create folders for everything under content marketing
Ideas Pipeline: one place to suggest new ideas.
Content map: a quick visual reference available to everyone
Content library: where all your content pieces reside so people can refer to them, link and read up.
Check Out The Idea Brainstorming Tool Here
5 – Distribution: how will you reach your audience?
“If you write it, they will come”: this couldn’t be less true.
Here, some stats from Buzzsumo analysis of 1 million posts’ shares and links:
50% of randomly selected posts received 8 shares or less
75% of these posts received 39 shares or less
full report here]
75% of these posts achieved zero referring domain links
Why is this happening?
- Content is not relevant: brands publish content that doesn’t resonate with their target audience, which results in partial or total lack of engagement.
- Content is not found: with more and more content being published every day, getting your content in front of your readers requires investing heavy in distribution.
Crafting detailed personas will help you create relevant content. But to make sure your content gets in front of your target audience you need a distribution plan.
That’s what the last section of your strategy should be about. Based on your target customers reading habits (the answer to the question “what media they consume”), define:
- The social channels you’ll use to distribute your content and how often you’ll post on each channel
- Which influencers you’ll get in touch with to get your content re-shared (you can read more about influencer marketing here)
- Which formats (slides, infographics, videos) you’ll use to repurpose your content (more on content repurposing here)
- Which paid channels will you use to drive traffic to your main pieces of content (such as ebook, guides, white papers and the likes)
Long story short, you need to sped as much time on amplification as on content creation, and having a clear distribution strategy will help you along the way.
Content production today is at an all time high and the only way to stand out from the crowd is by being strategic about it. It may sound like a lot of work but keep in mind that you don’t need to do it all the same time. You can build and perfect your strategy over time: start producing and creating processes and frameworks that work for you along the way.
Next week, we’ll dive deep into workflows: how to put your content production on autopilot.
What do you use to keep everything aligned and organized? Let us know how you do it and if there are some aspects of it that you think might need improvement. We’ll be happy to chat about it.