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Because content without strategy makes the web lame

Kristina Halvorson, an eminent authority on the topic of content marketing, succinctly summed up the problem with today’s content initiatives.

Everyone is publishing content but without a defined strategy. According to a survey by Content Marketing Institute, only 37% of the businesses reported having a content strategy. Hence, a majority of the businesses, despite their best efforts, are not getting the desired results.

This article will discuss how you can create a content marketing strategy for your organization by understanding your audience and mapping that information to define content requirements which helps you achieve your business goals.

It will cover the following steps while explaining how to create a content marketing strategy:

  1. Identify Niche
  2. Define Audience
  3. Define Marketing Challenge
  4. Prepare a List of Content Topics
  5. Competition Benchmarking
  6. Determine Goals
  7. Determine Frequency
  8. Prepare Content Calendar

Step 1: Identify Your Niche

One of the things I have observed many content marketing starters doing is that they try and chase trends even when it is not relevant for their business.

If the trend is around Blockchain, they will start writing around it. While newsjacking is a great way to temporarily give a boost to your metrics, it isn’t something that you can completely rely upon to build a loyal audience and achieve business goals.

It is important that you identify your niche and specialties before fleshing out other details of your content marketing strategy. This helps you to stay laser-focused on what you want to write about and which trends to chase.

Step 2: Define the Audience

The next step is to document the key traits of your audience.

For this purpose, you should list down as much information as possible about your audience:

  • About the Company: Industry, Size, and Location
  • Role of the Target Audience
    • Role of Decision Makers
    • Role of Decision Influencers
  • What are their job responsibilities?
  • What are the key challenges faced by them in their current set-up?
  • What kind of content do they consume? Is it blogs, e-Books, whitepapers etc.?
  • What is the role of content in their job?

You can use internal information and tools like Google Analytics, Google Keyword Planner and other tools for this purpose.

Step 3: Define the Content Marketing Challenge

The hype around content marketing has meant that every company has jumped into it, often with high expectations, before thinking about the objectives of this initiative. This has resulted in a content shock, with more than 50% of the companies complaining about not getting the desired results.

Content marketing, or for that matter, any marketing, is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself, as is being considered by most businesses. The role of marketing is to build awareness, drive credibility and generate leads at scale.

So, before you start writing content, you need to first define “What are you trying to achieve? Is content marketing over the web the right tactic for that?”:

Content Marketing Institute has laid down the following purposes for producing content. You can use this as a guide to define your purpose.

  • Brand awareness: When you are struggling to penetrate a new market, launch a new product, or compete with a high-profile market leader.
  • Audience engagement: When you need to raise your brand’s profile as a reputable source of information
  • Website traffic: When your ad campaigns are failing to drive traffic to your e-commerce website
  • Lead generation/nurturing: When your sales team is having trouble finding or qualifying new leads
  • Increasing your marketing ROI: When your return on marketing cost is prohibitive
  • Customer retention and loyalty: When your customer support receiving high volumes of calls and when you are failing to secure repeat business from consumers

Step 4: Prepare a List of Content Topics

Once you have identified your target audience, understood their challenges and defined your purpose, your next step is to prepare a list of content topics.

The topics would be different in each case be it a different target audience or a different purpose:

  • If your purpose is to boost awareness and credibility of your brand among decision-makers, then you should focus on case studies and building exposure through industry trends, first party reports, guest articles, media coverage, reviews, whitepapers, and videos.
  • If your purpose is to boost awareness and credibility of your brand among lower-level employees (decision influencers), then you should focus on SEO-optimized educational content: guides, tips, and how-to articles, videos and webinars.
  • If your purpose is to address customer queries, then you should focus on covering customer FAQs, either in text, chatbot or video form.

One of the biggest challenges faced by content marketers is “Content topic generation”. Doing this work upfront solves you a lot of time in the future.

Here is a great post by Kissmetrics on 101 ways to find content ideas.

Step 5: Benchmark Competition

This helps you to understand the content strategy of competitors and identify the share of online visibility, gaps in the content strategy, and key best practices followed by them.

You can use this information to:

  • Do a keyword research
  • Identify top media publications for guest-posting and backlinking
  • Create a list of content topics
  • Determine distribution channels
  • Define the amount of effort and resources required for your content marketing initiatives

Here is a list of 20 competitor analysis tools to identify your competition and understand their content strategy.

Step 6: Determine Goals

While you would have already identified your content marketing purpose, the objective of this activity is to define measurable metrics around that purpose.

  • If your goal is to Generate Leads, then you should be measuring the number of leads, click-through rates, sales conversion rates and sales conversion time period.
  • If your goal is to Increase Awareness and Credibility, then you should be measuring the number of content views, social shares, and comments.
  • If your goal is to Reduce Load on Customer Support, then you need to measure the reduction in the total number of calls and views on FAQs

It’s important that you set SMART goals for your content initiatives: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timely. This helps you analyze your efforts and further optimize based on what’s working and not working.

Here is an example of how you can set SMART Marketing Goals.

Step 7: Determine Frequency

There is no hard and fast rule about the frequency of blogging. It depends on multiple factors: your industry, the goals of your company, competition benchmarks, and the amount of time and resources in hand.

If you are just starting up, it is advisable that you blog at least a couple of times a week across a wide range of topics so that you are able to see and analyze the results of your efforts. Over time as you understand your customers and the type of content they read and share, you can scale your efforts and write more frequently.

Step 8: Create an Editorial Calendar

This is the final piece in the puzzle where you are collating every information defined above in a content calendar:

 Niche > Target Audience > Content Purpose > Content Topics > Content Frequency > Calendar 

This gives you a quick overview of your content schedule, thereby giving everyone clarity about project schedules and deadlines.

Some key tips that you need to keep in mind while preparing the Editorial Calendar:

  • Focus on high-priority topics first (That are related to the largest selling product/service) and then gradually move to other topics
  • Factor in special events (such as Black Friday, Christmas etc.) and define topics to leverage them
  • Allow some room for flexibility to accommodate any change based on results of earlier published content
  • Make room for refreshing old evergreen content

Hubspot has published some great editorial templates which you can use to plan your content strategy.

Conclusion

It is important to not only produce content but to produce it with a purpose. This will help you to tag all your efforts to your business metrics. Additionally, preparing a content strategy is not a one and done exercise. You should constantly review it to see what is working and what is not working.

What best practices do you follow while creating your content strategy? Please comment below.