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 is due to content marketing’s multifaceted benefits, from increasing brand reputation to fueling SEO and social media campaigns. Another part is due to the ease of entry in content marketing, since all you need is some original ideas and a decent means of execution — or do you?
The trap most people fall into at this point is thinking that content marketing is easy, or that you can improvise your 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 a strategy, rather than just relying on 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 foundation by which you can measure your success. For example, how can you tell how successful you were 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.
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 your customer’s disposition 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, you’ll need to look for underdeveloped areas you can exploit as well as key strengths you need to guard against.
Step 3: Setting Goals
With your competitive and market research out of the way, you can start setting goals for your content strategy, and 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: Setting 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 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: Allocating 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 there? 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 here proactively and in great detail — that way, there’s no ambiguity later.
Step 6: Adding 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 if they haven’t been executed properly? If your execution deviates from the main strategy, who’s going to take point on course-correcting, and what if your entire strategy needs to be revisited? These are important questions that should be addressed 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 only settle on your tactics 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 if you want to start building momentum and reap the best possible results.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!