Forrest Gump may have been right about his philosophy on life when he said that it's "...like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get,” but when it comes to content strategies for your business, you better not be chancing your luck by reaching blindly into the box. No, you need to have a plan together so when you take a hold on that box, you know exactly what chocolate you're going to get, and how.
Building an effective content strategy is the centerfold of inbound marketing and it takes a planned, coordinated approach based on the good old rule of 5: who, what, where, when and how.
Why You Need a Strategy
Yes, it seems like common sense that you shouldn't be posting content for content's sake. You know that you need a strategy behind your content with backlinks, topic clusters, and customer journey mapping. But still, your strategy may be lacking. In fact, you’d be surprised how many marketers still publish content willy-nilly. The majority of B2B companies who use content marketing, actually end up failing from the lack of an effective strategy, even if they thought they'd planned it out.
Developing a coherent content strategy enables you to create meaningful, engaging and sustainable materials to attract your target customers. What’s more, it’s not enough just to know what your strategy is, you need to document it. The Content Marketing Institute published findings showing that marketers with a documented content marketing strategy were:
More likely to evaluate their content marketing efforts as successful
Less challenged by the entire process
Generally more effective in their use of content marketing tactics and social media channels
Better able to justify spending more of their marketing budget on this aspect of marketing.
Simply put, content creation without a strategy is likely to lead to disparate content with no core theme or purpose. This can be confusing and off-putting to your target audience, and could negatively impact your brand credibility.
What: Defining Your Goals
Before you start planning, it’s important to define the goals of your content strategy. These could be increasing brand awareness, positioning your company as a thought leader, driving traffic to your website, building up a database of prospects, generating leads, or building a repository of information to help with your sales enablement processes.
By identifying your primary and secondary goals, you can customize your strategy, and focus on the type of content that will meet your objectives. Keep the number of content goals to a minimum, because this will give you a better chance of realizing them and of calculating your ROI. You can always review your performance later and adjust your goals as necessary.
Who: Reaching the Right People…
An effective content strategy needs to both reach the people most likely to influence purchases of your product or service, and influence them to take an action that brings them closer to making a purchase.
Achieving this requires you to know who those people are, and to build ways to reach them into the strategy. Right at the start of your strategic planning, build your buyer personas. Identify your target audience by analyzing who your ideal customer is, where they're coming from, what they do, and what their needs and wants are. Previous sales data (known as first-party data) can be exceptionally helpful in this, particularly if you’ve collected feedback from customers on the reasons they need your product and how well it worked for them. Combine this with public data such as age, gender, income, marital status and geographic location.
Your Buyer Personas should be visualizations of your ideal customers, and for the purpose of your content strategy it’s important to limit your personas to three or four to avoid becoming too general.
We built a persona creation tool that we use internally to guide us towards producing more direct content as well as understanding our persona's unique buyer's journey based on their role, needs and pain points. You can download it for free and use it to develop a well-rounded idea of who you’re talking to with your content.
How: Methods and Types of Content to Include in Your Strategy
An effective strategy is all about reaching the right people with the right message at the right time. When you know who those people are, you can move onto planning how to deliver the right message at the right time, and the types of content to use. Focus your attention on high-performing content such as:
which live on your website and need to be published regularly and often to attract visitors. The point of blog posts is to provide information of value for your audience that showcases your expertise in your industry and encourages users to share the posts with their networks.
Ebooks and whitepapers
which are downloadable and the “next step” in content marketing. When a reader consumes a blog post and then wants more detailed information, a call-to-action banner directs him to a landing page on your website, which captures leads for your sales team to pursue.
These are logical intermediaries between webpages and other, non sales-related content. As true depictions of real cases, they can dispense with the marketing focus of a landing page, and typically tell the story of what really happened without needing to get too technical.
such as charts, tables and photo galleries, all of which help to bring the content to life. Research by Xerox shows the use of color and images increases readership by 80%, and infographics organize data in a visual way that’s more compelling than using words alone.
such as videos, podcasts, and slide shows. A study by HubSpot showed videos are the most popular form of content overall, and are 40 times more likely to get shared on social media than other formats. Podcasts are also popular, with almost a third of Americans consuming them.
with networking platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest all invaluable for distributing your content and driving traffic to your website.
which allows businesses to keep their customers informed by sending personalized communications to those prospects who have given them permission to do so. Email marketing and lead nurturing campaigns are often automated, and is attributed with the highest success rates by 59% of B2B marketers.
helps narrow down and target your content by focusing on one or two pillar keywords. Tools such as Moz’s Keyword Explorer and Google AdWords can help you identify relevant, long-tail keywords with significant search volume. Use proper on-page SEO to make your content easier for search engines to crawl and index.
Where: Choosing Content Distribution Channels
Where you publish is as important in your content strategy as what you publish. Many brands mistakenly assume they need to post their content anywhere and everywhere to increase their chances of achieving the desired results. The problem with the “spray and pray” approach, however, is that it doesn’t necessarily reach the right people to build relationships meaningful to your business.
Content distribution typically falls into three categories:
Owned media, such as your websites, email, newsletters, and social media accounts.
Shared media: Social media channels offer multiple opportunities to post original content – either on a schedule or in response to relevant consumer conversations.
Paid media, which enable your business to share any messages you want, and control the environment in which they appear—at a cost.
Conduct an analysis of channels you already use, how many followers or subscribers each has, and determine whether your audience engages with you on those channels. Identify the channels where your ideal customers hang out, and incorporate these into your strategy.
When: Creating a Content Calendar
Timing is everything in a content strategy, but to be really effective it’s vital to plan your publishing to optimize its value. A content calendar, also known as an editorial calendar, lays out your plan in detail. It includes the topics you intend to cover, the dates on which you’ll cover them, the formats you’ll use to cover them, and the channels on which you’ll distribute them, the workflow processes to follow and the responsible parties.
This gives everyone involved in implementing your strategy a bird’s eye view of the process. Benefits include maintaining a consistent production schedule, stimulating new content ideas and helping your team work more efficiently. It provides a schedule for all parties to work to, and a benchmark for measuring their performance. If you’re following the principles of content pillars or clusters, this will help keep things in perspective.
You can plan a wide range of topic types, including news, opinion pieces, seasonal content and special events, and deliver a balanced mix of content formats. When you combine this calendar with your content analytics later, you’ll be able to track the performance of content you published on specific dates.
Tools available for building comprehensive content calendars include Trello, Zerys, DivvyHQ, kapost, Rundown Creator, Airtable and, of course, HubSpot, which offers a free downloadable calendar planning template.
Developing an effective content strategy is a necessity, not a luxury. Success today requires you to have a solid plan behind what you publish, accompanied by the right tools and people to implement it.