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Tough Love for Content Marketers: Your Content Has No Strategy

By Tarah Benner

Don't let your content die. Sell more flowers by creating a content strategy plan that works.

Have you ever gotten the wildly unhelpful blanket advice to “be more strategic”? It doesn’t make the list of the top 86 most annoying business clichés, but it’s still one that will make any right-brained creative cringe.

However, being more strategic with your content is critical if you want to see any return on your investment. You can’t just write about whatever comes to mind and hope that it’s going to advance your business goals. Every piece of content you create must be in line with your overarching content strategy. twitter_blue Tweet this

Content that doesn’t have a sound strategy behind it: 

  • Wastes time and resources.
  • Confuses your audience.
  • Tarnishes your brand image.
  • Adds noise to an already crowded online ecosystem.
  • Fails to provide value.

5 Signs You’re Up a Creek Without a Content Strategy

Nobody wants to hear that his or her content is off-strategy, but sometimes a little tough love is just what the doctor ordered. If any of these qualities sound familiar, your content isn’t living up to its potential:

You don’t have a clear audience (or your audience makes no sense). This is the No. 1 mistake people make when they first create content. Either they start writing with no audience in mind or they address the wrong audience. Are you speaking to the group of people that’s going to put money in your pocket or benefit you in some way? If not, you might be talking to the wrong people.

Your topics are all over the place. Go take a look at your company blog. If your latest posts range from the company picnic to your philosophy on customer service, you’re probably flying without a clear strategy. Lots of companies produce content (any content) just for the sake of it, but this is a waste of time and resources. 

You don’t have a distribution plan. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that you won’t become famous — even Internet famous — just by publishing an article online. 

It doesn’t matter whether your article appears in The New York Times or Grandma’s Country Kitchen newsletter; readers won’t just happen to stumble upon your piece (unless you literally submit it to StumbleUpon). A good content strategy includes a plan for sharing content on social media, repurposing it, and/or using paid distribution.

You publish content inconsistently. Have you ever visited someone’s blog, only to find that the latest post was published two years ago? What are the chances you’ll ever visit that blog again?

Haphazard publishing is nearly as ineffective as not publishing at all because you go to all that trouble to capture readers’ attention and then do nothing to keep it. 

Sorry, commitment-phobes: You need to decide right now whether you can realistically commit to publishing every other day, once a week, or once a month and actually stick to it

You can’t nail down your brand voice. People often confuse the tone or voice of their content with their brand perception. We’ll talk about this more later, but if you ask your team members what your brand “sounds like” and they all offer different responses, you probably aren’t creating content with a unified voice. 

I’ve heard people say that they want to sound friendly, intelligent, innovative, dynamic, poetic, forward-thinking, inspirational, understanding, and witty. 

First of all, I promise that your content does not embody all of those qualities. Second, most people have no idea what they actually sound like when they write, which is a problem.

If any of these red flags are setting off alarm bells in your head, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s never too late to adjust your efforts to align with your business goals.

10 Steps for Building a Solid Content Strategy

Developing a content marketing strategy doesn’t require any high-level knowledge of game theory or some horrible marketing flow chart — just a little brand introspection and an awareness of your core content goals. twitter_blue Tweet this

The best part is that this strategy isn’t just for guiding your content creation efforts; you can also use it to show key decision makers in your company exactly how your content is going to add value to your brand. Here’s how to build your strategy from the ground up:

1. Do a content audit.

If you’ve already created content without a unifying strategy, it’s important to get an idea of the content you currently have. This includes blog posts, articles published in third-party publications, newsletters, and website copy. 

Identify the content you’ve created so far, and jot down some common themes that emerge. If you’re not sure what to look for, check out our post on performing a content audit.

2. Get everyone in the room to identify goals.

Once you know what you have, you can start discussing what you still need. Why are you creating content in the first place? Are you hoping to build brand awareness? Get customers into your sales funnel?

Bring sales and marketing into the discussion to learn common customer questions, objections, and pain points. These will all help inform the content you create. You’ll also need buy-in from your marketing and PR teams to ensure that you’re building on and complementing one another’s efforts, not working in separate silos 

3. Focus on one or two audiences.

If you have more than one content goal, you might have more than one audience. If you’re an entrepreneur trying to build your personal brand so you can raise funding, you’re targeting investors. However, if you’re also trying to get early users to come check out your website, you might be targeting early tech adopters, too. 

4. Write a content mission statement.

Your goals and your audiences are the two components you need to write your content mission statement, the guiding principle that should drive every piece of content you create. It’s OK if you want to create more than one content mission statement, but you should pick one for each piece of content so each article supports one of your goals.

Here’s a template you can use: “I create content to (insert verb) (insert audience) about (insert topic).”

Example: “I create content to educate entrepreneurs about content marketing.” 

5. Find your brand voice.

It’s important to understand the difference between how your writing “sounds” (e.g., helpful, friendly) and what your writing makes people think about your brand (e.g., that you’re an advocate for female entrepreneurs).

I recommend choosing one or two adjectives that describe how you want all of your company’s content to sound, but you can also identify how you’d like your brand to be perceived by readers. Here’s an example:

  • Brand voice: intelligent, funny
  • Brand perception: “This guy knows a lot about mobile app development, but he’s also the kind of guy I’d like to have a beer with.” 

6. Pick your content silos.

Once you’ve established your content mission statement(s), you should be able to identify one or more “buckets” your content could possibly fall into (e.g., data security, encryption, and consumer privacy). If a piece of content doesn’t fall into one of your predetermined silos, it doesn’t fit within your strategy.

7. Locate your audience.

Any good content strategy includes a plan for getting your content in front of your target audience. Which publications is your audience reading? Which social networks are they active on? Can you repurpose your content for a drip campaign to reel in leads or include it in your customer newsletter?

8. Divvy up responsibilities, and create an editorial calendar.

Decide how often you’re going to publish and when. Then, map out the topics you’re going to write about and determine who’s responsible for creating that content. 

Even if you can’t afford an entire in-house content team, it’s helpful if you can divide the responsibilities of content creation, editing, and promotion among a few different team members.

9. Establish guidelines for internal content.

If you’re creating content for a company blog, you should establish guidelines that all content creators are required to follow. Consider including the brand voice you’ve established and the approximate length and format of each post to keep your internal content consistent.

10. Write a content plan.

As the content master, your plan can be as simple or as in-depth as you’d like. However, to get the most mileage out of the document and ensure that people actually use it to guide their content creation efforts, I recommend a one-page cheat sheet that outlines your content mission, audience(s), brand voice, and content silos.

If the idea of creating a strategic content plan kills your soul, don’t think of it as more work; think of it as a tool you can use to accomplish more with the content you create and ensure that you see measurable benefits from the work you’re already doing. twitter_blue Tweet this

Brilliant content that also fuels your company’s business goals? Now that’s something the suits and creatives can buy into.

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Post by Tarah Benner, Editor at Influence & Co.

Posted on June 3, 2014

About Tarah Benner

By day, I'm busy saving the world from bad grammar. By night, I'm a marathon runner obsessed with crime shows, microbrews, and Imo's pizza.

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