Content marketing is an increasingly popular strategy for online brand success, and content budgets are still growing, with no signs of lost momentum. Why? Part of the reason lies with content marketing’s multifaceted benefits: from the increased brand reputation it offers, to improved SEO and social-media effectiveness.
The other reason for content marketing's popularity is the increased ease of entry into the field itself, since all you now need are some original ideas and a decent means of execution -- or do you?
The trap most people fall into is thinking that content marketing is easy, or that they can improvise their way through it. In reality, if you want any hope of being successful, you need a strategy to back your material -- and it needs to be a good one.
Why you need a formal strategy
Why do you need to rely on a strategy, rather than just your whims and writing abilities?
- Direction and targeting. You aren’t writing for everyone; you need to find and target a specific niche, and that means conducting extensive market research to uncover the most appropriate targets. You’ll also need to do competitive research to find out where your competitors are at, and how to overcome them.
- Accurate measurement and analysis. Without a formal strategy, you’ll have no basis for comparison or a foundation by which you can measure your success. For example, how can you tell how successful you've been in earning more traffic if you never set a goal for it in the first place?
- Consistent execution and clear responsibilities. You aren’t doing this alone (or at least, you shouldn’t be). A formal strategy helps you divide the lines of responsibility and establish clear directives for each party involved.
The following steps provide a high-level overview of a much deeper dive into content marketing from my ebook, The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.
Step 1. Market research
Before you even think about writing your strategy, do your market research. Hopefully, your company already has a target demographic for its products and services, so you can start there. But let’s dig a little deeper.
What is the disposition of your customers when they encounter your blog? Where are they in the buying cycle? More conceptually, what is it they want or need? What are they looking for? What problem do they need help solving? Conduct surveys and monitor social activity to help you find the answers to these questions.
Step 2. Competitive research
It’s not enough to know where your readers are -- you also need to be aware of your competitors. What are they currently doing in terms of content marketing? Are they aggressively pursuing your target demographics? Are they neglecting any fundamental components of a successful content strategy?
You’ll want to look for offensive and defensive opportunities here. For example, look for underdeveloped areas you can exploit, as well as key strengths you need to guard against.
Step 3. Goal-setting
With your competitive and market research out of the way, you can start setting goals for your content strategy. And here you’ll have to get far more specific than just “success.” Are you looking to increase conversions primarily? Or increase traffic instead? Are you focusing on attracting new customers, or keeping the ones you already have?
There’s no right or wrong answer here, and you can have multiple goals at once, but make them specific, pointed, and actionable. You’ll also want to break them down into sub-goals, tied to individual actions like the number and type of posts you’ll produce each week, and how you’ll scale in the near future.
Step 4. Set a budget.
With your main goals and sub-goals outlined, you can begin drafting a budget for your overall campaign. Alternatively, if you already have a set budget from a supervisor or someone higher up the chain, you can start shaping your goals to match what that budget is capable of achieving, and request changes in funds if necessary.
Step 5. Allocate your priorities and resources.
Your budget distribution should be the next item on the list; and for that, you’ll need to set your biggest priorities and allocate resources accordingly. For example, do you want to build up a social audience first, or focus exclusively on onsite content until you have a suitable archive on display? Who’s going to be writing these posts, and how much of your time should be spent on that?
Are you going to be working with any outside agencies, contractors or freelancers, or will this all be taken care of by your in-house team? Clarify responsibilities and division of labor proactively and in great detail. That way, there’s no ambiguity later.
Step 6. Add accountability.
Finally, you’ll need to add a layer of accountability across the board for your strategy. How are you going to measure your progress? When are you going to measure it? Who’s responsible for various items if they aren’t executed or haven’t been executed properly? If your execution deviates from the main strategy, who’s going to take responsibility for course-correcting, and what if your entire strategy needs to be revisited? These are important questions to address from the beginning.
Creating a content-marketing strategy isn’t easy, and isn’t something you should try to scrap together in an afternoon. Take your time, do your research and settle on your tactics only once you’re sure that they’re the right ones for your brand.
There’s always room for your strategy to change, but you’ll want to come out of the gates as strong as possible, to start building momentum and reap the best possible results as soon as you can.