Updated on January 17, 2018. Blog post originally published on April 22, 2014.
By now, it’s common knowledge that a documented content strategy is essential to content marketing success. Content Marketing Institute surveys marketers across industries every year, and time and again, reports that a majority of the most effective marketers report that they have a documented content strategy. In its most recent report, CMI found that 65 percent of the most successful content marketers have a documented strategy.
It’s true that just having a strategy doesn’t guarantee results. If only it were that simple! But it does contribute to a high-performing team whose members work toward the same goals — and that’s powerful.
Our team at Influence & Co. can attest to the value of a documented strategy. In fact, ours has helped us nurture and close millions in revenue, as well as achieve other goals.
Content strategies are critical to success, yet too many marketers drag their feet when it comes to creating one of their own. Some marketing leaders don’t see the value in taking time to write down a plan when a verbal understanding seems sufficient; others would rather skip that step entirely and dive into creating content.
On the surface, these are understandable objections, but they’re also short-sighted. Content marketing is a long-term game, and that requires commitment and advanced planning — in other words, a comprehensive plan. A documented content strategy can:
The benefits of content marketing and a documented strategy to guide it are clear. Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between understanding that a plan is important and actually putting one together.
In this guide, Influence & Co. will walk you through the steps to creating an effective content strategy. Through these seven steps, you’ll learn what goes into an effective strategy and how to create one that works for your company and your goals.
1. Document your overall mission and your “why.”
A content strategy shouldn’t just be a document you throw at your marketing team because “everyone’s doing it.” It needs a purpose — and the more specific, the better. The earlier in your content marketing journey you can identify your goals, the easier time you’ll have when it comes to tracking content ROI and improving your strategy over time.
To get the most complete picture of your mission, ask yourself and your team questions like:
Documenting your mission and explaining why your company is making an investment in content is an essential first step. Not only does it guide the development of the rest of your strategy, but it also makes this document accessible by other leaders within your company.
Anyone from sales to account services to HR can look at this strategy and understand why content is a priority. So, before you dive too far into the details, look at the big picture of your plan and nail it down.
Setting goals without also identifying a way to measure them won’t benefit you or your company. Any time you make an investment in a strategy or tactic, it’s important to set up a system of measurement to know whether it’s paying off or something’s not working.
Unfortunately, accurately measuring content’s impact is a challenge for a lot of marketers. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to tracking ROI, there is a first step all marketers can take to help: aligning metrics and goals.
Match your content goals to your key performance indicators to set yourself up from the beginning to measure success. Following your mission statement, take time to clearly define your goals for content and the KPIs that will tell you whether you’re on the right track.
The image below provides a look at ways to align metrics and goals:
Now that you know why you’re creating content in the first place, it’s time to identify who your audience is and develop data-driven personas.
You might be thinking: “Wait a minute. Didn’t I already identify my audience when I put together my mission?”
The answer is technically yes — but that answer probably won’t be detailed enough. Knowing who your customers are and understanding their wants and needs is probably the most important element of your documented content strategy. This ultimately determines what sort of content you want to create so you can really speak to and engage your audience.
The first step is to do a little research. One great way to start is to trace the online journeys of some of your current customers. Make a list of a few of your best clients and walk through their journeys. How did they first learn about your company? What content did they consume on your site? What messaging resonated with them?
You can find a lot of this information in your CRM system, but take it a step further and consult those clients’ salespeople, too. What was the sales process like? What were those clients most excited about, and what were their biggest objections? This information gives you a peek at the decision-making process of people who chose to work with you.
In addition, start developing profiles of ideal audience members. Whom are you speaking to — what are their roles or positions within the company? What motivates them? Putting yourself in your audience members’ shoes can help you create better content for them. Take the time to do that when you develop personas.
With a solid understanding of why you’re creating content and whom you’re creating it for, it’s time to assess what kind of content you’ll create. Before your team sets out to reinvent the wheel, take stock of your current content assets.
A simple content audit will let you know what you already have, what needs to be refreshed, and what gaps exist in your content. Don’t worry — an audit doesn’t have to be majorly comprehensive or time-consuming.
This kind of data can help you find a starting point in your content mix — at least in your owned media. Don’t overlook the power of bringing your owned media together with earned media, like guest-contributed content and PR mentions, and paid media. Incorporating your approach to earned and paid media in your content mix is critical to getting a comprehensive view of your content plan.
The most important thing here is that you and your team consider the variety of media your audience needs to stay engaged and move through your marketing funnel.
Depending on the size of your content marketing team, this element of your plan will likely be the most tactical and involve the most nitty-gritty specifics. With all the other details of your content strategy in place, it’s time to figure out how you’ll execute it.
At Influence & Co., we understand that effective content marketing requires the right talent and the right technology. Your process is the particular way your team and tools work together, and your content plan should detail it.
Start by identifying your content’s key players and their responsibilities; include your in-house team members and any vendor or partner relationships you currently have or plan to build over the year. Next, list the technology these team members need to do their best work, and outline your editorial workflow — that is, the way these people and tech work together to ideate, create, and distribute your content.
If you put together a content strategy without also detailing a distribution plan, you’re going to have a bad time. That’s because without a distribution plan, the content you’ve spent so much time creating won’t reach the right people at the right time.
So how can you ensure the audience you’re targeting even sees your content? A good way to start is to create a social distribution plan to share your content on the platforms your audience loves and trusts.
But you can’t stop there. You have a ton of unique tactics and platforms at your fingertips that you can use to distribute your content — you just have to get creative.
Consider creating email campaigns to distribute content to your subscribers or enlisting your fellow team members to share with their networks. Submit your articles to places that syndicate content, share on websites like Reddit or Quora, or share in LinkedIn Groups that you know will find the pieces applicable.
Think through how you plan to maximize your content and what you need to make that happen. Don’t let the typical patterns of sharing dictate your strategy. Instead, come up with creative ways to get the most mileage out of your content.
Obviously, you can’t copy and paste your plan and apply it to everything, but knowing from the start how you intend to distribute a piece of content can help you move more quickly to actually do so once it’s live. It helps keep your team focused on the true value of distribution, instead of making it an afterthought.
You can also use this area of your strategy to outline any distribution guidelines your team needs to be aware of. This could be anything from your highest-priority social platforms and the standards you use when you share content to email campaign goals, audience segments, and online community guidelines.
This is one of the last steps a strategy needs to detail. Now, you obviously can’t determine your exact cadence or what you’ll publish for the whole year in one sitting. What you can do to help guide your efforts, though, is to think through an overall publishing schedule that aligns with your goals.
Start thinking about how much content — and what kind of content — you need to produce each month to achieve your objectives. How many blog posts do you need? What about guest posts to external publications? How often will you produce new gated content, videos, or webinars?
Start writing it down now, and adjust as needed throughout the year. This calendar isn’t a hard-and-fast commitment, but it can give you and your team a visual idea of how much content you will be producing and when, which will make project management much easier.
Plus, you can use the calendar to visualize your distribution plan. When you can see that a piece of content is prepared to publish, you can put promotion on your radar early on. This helps you think about social distribution, email marketing, paid promotion, and more as you create content.
Content marketing is an incredibly powerful tool for your entire organization, but to get the most out of it, you need a documented strategy. Whether you’re updating an existing plan or starting from scratch, this guide will help you maximize the value of your content. If you’d like more customized information, set up a consultation with our team. We’d love to talk with you about your specific needs or answer any questions you have to help you achieve content marketing success.
Natalie Slyman is a content marketing and social media professional. She enjoys reading her favorite blogs, perusing Instagram, and talking about her cats (even when no one is listening).