How to Align Content Marketing and Thought Leadership

June 5, 2014

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Content marketing, as a whole, is intended to satisfy the needs, challenges, and questions of potential customers, motivating them to click, read, download, trust, return, and eventually, buy. 

To do this well, you need a foundation of subject matter expertise and a nuanced understanding of your target audience. That’s why thought leadership is such a logical extension of content marketing — it positions your company, and its employees, as experts through the production of high-quality, objective content. 

As with any strategy, your content marketing plan should be built systematically, from the ground up, to ensure that no steps are skipped and no details overlooked. Here are a few ways to strategically align your company’s experts with its content production:

1. Identify your objective. 

This is the most important part of creating a content marketing strategy. I repeat: This is the most important part of creating a content marketing strategy. twitter_blue Tweet this

Without a goal in mind, your strategy will be unfocused, inefficient, and incapable of being tied to bottom-line metrics and ROI

Is your intent to build visits and subscribers, generate leads, close sales, increase loyalty, or all of the above? The answer to this question will dictate the content topics and formats you should be creating.

2. Translate products and services into solutions.

Take out a sheet of paper, and list the products or services you want to market. On another sheet, explain in a sentence or two what solution each of these offerings promise: 

  • What problem does it solve?
  • What need does it satisfy?
  • How does it make people’s lives easier, simpler, more efficient, or more enjoyable?

Now, throw away the first sheet of paper. Good content marketing sells answers, solutions, and expertise — not products. 

3. Corner your area of expertise.

With solutions in hand, carve out your company’s area of expertise. This requires identifying your internal thought leaders and subject matter experts (SMEs) and researching the market to identify where you can provide unique value. 

In addition to industry knowledge and experience, the “soft skills” your thought leaders possess will influence your content strategy. Evaluate the following when choosing internal experts: twitter_blue Tweet this

  • Writing skills: Is this person a strong writer, able to compose blog posts and articles? Will heavy editing or ghostwriting be needed?
  • Speaking skills: How comfortable and articulate is your expert in front of others? Will interviews or videos be possible? Can this person speak in front of a crowd?
  • People skills: How comfortable is the SME talking to others, particularly those from other departments or disciplines? Can he/she translate complex ideas into layman’s terms and explain them to others?

4. Outline your buyer personas.

Being an expert in your field is great, but it means nothing unless it’s married to the needs, wants, interests, motivations, and challenges of your buyer personas. Create profiles for each buyer persona, and examine what makes them tick. 

Consider the following when developing personas:

  • What are their problems and challenges?
  • What is important to them?
  • What influences their decision to buy or take action?
  • Where do they go for information? 

Then, look for that sweet spot: the expertise they desperately need that you possess. This is the crux of your content marketing strategy, around which editorial themes and topics should be based. 

5. Audit and assess existing content. 

Take a moment to evaluate the content you already have. Specifically, look for:

  • Gaps in external content: Topics or buyer personas that need to be addressed
  • High-quality internal content: Documents, articles, or reports that can be updated and published externally
  • Underutilized evergreen content: Existing content that can be repurposed in new ways to make it more valuable, more shareable, and more consumable

6. Map your topics. 

You’re now ready to create a content calendar. Include slated topics, editorial themes, buyer personas, and upcoming events and milestones.

Prioritize topics thatfill content gaps while satisfying your business objectives, meeting the needs of buyer personas, and showcasing your expertise.

7. Produce, publish, and promote. 

This is where the rubber meets the road. Get into a production rhythm; assign responsibilities and set deadlines, working backward based on how long you forecast to write, edit, and publish. 

Aim to create and publish content consistently, but don’t stop there. Distributing your content is equally (if not more) important. Consider all the channels at your disposal (social media, email, PR, etc.), and test formats, days, and times of day to maximize your exposure.

In the end, content marketing and thought leadership should work in parallel. Keep your strategies in sync, and you’ll soon be producing the type of high-quality content that converts. 

About Taylor Radey

Taylor Radey is a senior consultant at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency filled with modern marketers immersed in technology and obsessed with delivering results. The agency’s team runs integrated campaigns that build brands, generate leads, convert sales, and increase loyalty.

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