Anyone who has learned about the fundamentals of content marketing knows the concept isn’t all that complicated – consistently provide something of relevant value to your target audience in the hope it will ultimately return the favor in kind.
Serving the needs of your audience with valuable, high-quality content in this way is an admirable goal for any company. But of course, all your efforts will amount to little if your hopes go unfulfilled – if your content doesn’t trigger the audience behaviors that help your company reach its business goals. And that, my friends, is where the complications start to set in.
To give your content marketing program the best chance of driving your desired results, every content marketing leader should be prepared to answer a few questions:
- Who specifically should our content be most relevant to?
- What benefits will this audience receive from consuming our content?
- What desirable and distinctive content experience can we consistently deliver?
You’ll uncover the answers to these questions – and plenty of others – through the process of developing your content marketing strategy.
Before we get started
If you are new to content marketing – or to Content Marketing Institute – you may want to start your strategic journey by viewing our comprehensive Essentials of a Documented Content Marketing Strategy e-book, our Q&A guide on the topic, or our complete archive of strategy-related insights.
For anyone looking for a refresher on the essentials or some help filling a knowledge gap, read on for a handy tutorial – and helpful resources – on the subject.
Why you need a content marketing strategy
While your company should certainly have a content strategy – a strategic plan for all its content usage across the enterprise – content marketers benefit from having a strategic road map that focuses exclusively on using content to attract, acquire, and engage prospects and customers.
Why is it so critical to develop (and document) a separate strategy? For starters, consider that CMI’s annual Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research has consistently found a content marketing strategy to be the one thing that separates successful content marketers from their less successful peers.
In fact, according to our latest B2B findings:
- 62% of the most successful content marketers have a documented strategy vs. 16% of the least successful.
- 72% of content marketers who increased their level of success over the past year credit their strategy as a major contributor.
Furthermore, once you have a documented content marketing strategy, its insights can make all your tactical decisions easier to plan and manage.
What’s in a content marketing strategy?
Your strategy should define your key business and customer needs, as well as how your content efforts address them. Though no two strategies are exactly alike, they all should detail a few essential components:
- Your purpose and goals – why your content exists, what you want your audience to do once they’ve consumed your content, and the value you expect their actions to provide for your business
- Your audience personas and buyer’s journey – defining characteristics of the one audience that will benefit most from your content, their current user state, and an estimate of how their needs and goals may evolve
- Your differentiated editorial mission – your company’s unique perspectives and approach to creating content and how that distinguishes your content from your competitors
Since these are complex considerations, I’ll unpack each one in more detail.
Take a shortcut: If you’re strapped for time or resources but still want to put a more strategic content marketing framework in place for your organization, get a head start with this streamlined, one-page content marketing plan.
Setting your purpose and goals
As I mentioned in my last post, you’ll never reach your content marketing goals if you don’t know what you are looking to achieve. Since different types of content work better in pursuit of some goals than others, it’s important to clearly define success from your organization’s perspective first, so you don’t end up wasting time on efforts that don’t line up with what you want to accomplish.
Find your purpose
One of the simplest ways to home in on a unique and worthwhile purpose is to examine the key area where your business has been struggling the most. For example:
- Brand awareness: Are you struggling to penetrate a new market, launch a new product, or compete with a high-profile market leader? Learn more about brand awareness content.
- Audience engagement: Do you need to raise your brand’s profile as a reputable source of information? Are you looking to attract social media influencers to evangelize your products? Learn more about using content to drive engagement.
- Website traffic: Are your ad campaigns failing to drive traffic to your e-commerce website? Are visitors immediately bouncing from your site pages? Are they failing to find the website information they need to drive their decision-making? Learn more about content that drives website traffic.
- Lead generation/nurturing: Is your sales team having trouble finding or qualifying new leads? Are they getting push-back in one area when trying to move existing leads down the funnel? Learn more about lead generation content.
- Increasing your marketing ROI: Are you looking for ways to reduce your marketing costs, increase sales, or open up new revenue streams? Learn more about focusing on ROI.
- Customer retention and loyalty: Is customer support receiving high volumes of calls? Are you failing to secure repeat business from consumers or upsell them on product options and add-ons? Learn more about driving retention/loyalty.
Set goals around that purpose
Once you’ve identified your primary purpose for creating content, outline the goals you expect your content to help you achieve in that area.
In CMI’s Content Marketing Framework, Robert Rose explains that common content marketing goals typically fall into one of three main categories:
- Sales goals – content that aims to support specific campaigns or product-driven goals
- Cost-savings goals – content designed to increase the cost efficiency and performance of your other marketing activities
- Business growth goals – content that serves in an entrepreneurial capacity – such as creating new revenue streams or new product lines
While each category offers different benefits, each is built on a common foundation of value – subscribed audiences. Why focus your goals around subscribers? As Robert points out, the deeper level of ongoing engagement that characterizes the subscriber experience makes this audience more likely to exhibit desirable behaviors – like a greater willingness to share personal data, a greater interest in upselling opportunities, or greater brand loyalty and evangelism – than non-subscribers. Learn more about setting your content goals.
With your purpose and goals documented, you can move on to the next step in your strategy – finding the right audience to consume the content you create.
Identifying and understanding your target audience
While every business hopes its content has universal appeal, content marketing typically works best when it is targeted to serve one audience above all others. When you publish broad-reaching content that aims to be all things to all people, it never gets specific enough to provide much value to anybody.
Narrow your focus to a single niche audience
To uncover the primary audience to target, look for the one type of customer you can help the most with your content. These questions should help:
- Are there relevant yet underserved audiences who aren’t getting the information they need from other sources?
- What customer group is our business struggling the most to gain traction with? Can content help us bridge this gap?
- If we don’t provide content for this audience, would they care or notice? Can we become the leading information resource for this customer base? Learn more about pinpointing your ideal audience.
Craft your content marketing personas
Once you’ve identified your core customer, you’ll want to develop a clear picture of who they are so everyone on your team can get to know them as real people – with unique interests, goals, and challenges – and keep them top of mind when planning and creating your content.
This is where your content marketing personas come in – composite character sketches of a type of customer based on validated commonalities. Personas help you understand how certain ideas, content formats, and approaches to the subject matter might make your audience more receptive to the content you share. Learn more about creating actionable content marketing personas.
Take a shortcut: Don’t have time to gather the detailed information to develop a comprehensive audience profile? Hit the ground running with this process for hacking your buyer personas.
You should also consider how your audience’s needs and behaviors may shift as your content does its job. Creating a map of your buyer’s journey helps you better anticipate and adapt to your persona’s content needs as they evolve.
Identifying your mission
Once you know your audience, your purpose, and your goals, you have the information to develop the final component of your strategy: your content marketing mission statement. This is a brief declaration of your company’s unique content vision, the value that content provides, and the specific audience it benefits, along with the priorities and principles it upholds.
As you craft your mission, CMI founder Joe Pulizzi recommends all content marketers ask themselves, “In what subject area can we become the leading informational provider?” If you don’t believe you can own the relevant conversations around the content niche you have chosen, you may need to narrow your focus to an area of content where you can have a bigger impact on the audience. Learn more about crafting your mission statement.
For example, take a look at Content Marketing Institute’s mission statement, which focuses on helping a specific sub-segment of the broad content marketing audience:
Content Marketing Institute leads the industry in advancing the practice of content marketing for enterprise marketing professionals. We educate our audience through real-world and how-to advice through in-person events, online training, a print magazine, daily blog posts, and original research.
Your content marketing mission statement should help your entire organization better understand what distinguishes your brand’s content experience from all the other content competing for your audience’s attention. Defining the core features of your brand’s differentiated story also helps your content team make more informed content creation decisions, as it is easier for them to see which ideas are well-aligned with your goals, and which ones may not serve your unique purpose. Learn more about finding the right differentiated story, or content tilt, for your brand.
Stay tuned for next steps
In my next post, I’ll dive into the steps you can take to activate your strategy, including your editorial planning processes, the roles and skills you will need to account for, and how to ensure that your team’s efforts will align with your strategy.
Whether you’re getting started in content marketing or are an experienced practitioner, Content Marketing World offers something for you with over 100 presentations and speakers in multiple tracks on a wide variety of topics. Register today and use code BLOG100 to save $100.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute