There’s no denying it. Over the past few years, the marketing landscape has undergone a massive transformation fueled by content, mobile and social technologies. Content marketing has become an essential and powerful practice for marketers to use to boost website traffic, online visibility, and convert leads into customers.
However creating good content is a struggle for many marketers, and it’s often the step that thwarts the efforts of most content marketing programs. Effective content marketing requires a good strategy, excellent planning, optimized distribution and promotion and ongoing analysis of content performance. Content marketing is an ongoing cycle that requires optimization at every phase in order to succeed. Failing at or neglecting just one of the phases compromises success even if your content is high-quality.
To make the process easier for you, and to help you maximize the efficiency of your content marketing, we’ve put together a comprehensive playbook on how to optimize the entire content marketing lifecycle to ensure you stay on the path to positive ROI. This is the first of a six-part installment designed to walk you through every phase of the entire content marketing lifecycle.
So, without further ado, let’s talk strategy.
— Neal Schaffer (@NealSchaffer) May 2, 2016
What it means to strategize your content marketing
A content marketing strategy implies the creation of not only a large quantity of content, but also the ability to ensure that content is of high value.
Let’s use the analogy of a house. You need to first lay down some basic structure and build the walls before applying paint and adding furniture. Simply put, skimping on the foundation phase means resigning yourself to failure, and the inevitable crumbling of your unstable, foundation-less house.
Why does this matter? Talking is great, but talk that is irrelevant and doesn’t speak directly to the needs of your customers is useless and ineffective.
That’s why you should conduct an annual audit of your content marketing strategy to ensure your investments are consistently aligned with your goals and objectives.
While it takes some time to complete, the research phase can begin while you launch your content marketing strategy. Here are the steps to help you strategize your content marketing process:
Align your content objectives with expected results
Have you clearly defined the goals and objectives of your content marketing?
Now that we’ve shifted to a more content-focused mindset, consider this: over the next three months, identify the tangible, concrete business goals shared by your entire company, not just your marketing team. Do you want to be mentioned in 20% more blogs this quarter? Or do you need to grow sales next year by 15%? All actions you take should ultimately lead to something that will help accomplish one of your defined goals.
To really have an impact, go beyond engagement and outline the objectives that are directly relevant to your business. These objectives should be translated into clear KPIs that you can use to monitor your progress and make the necessary adjustments to ensure you’re on track to success over the course of your journey.
Define your content marketing mission
Before creating your content, it’s essential to first identify the mission your content is set to accomplish. In other words, what is the purpose of your content? Creating content without first understanding why you’re creating content in the first place is like diving headfirst into the dark: you have no idea where you’re going. Use the goals and objectives you outlined previously to create your content marketing mission statement from which to base all your content moving forward.
- Create a content mission statement: Align your content mission and strategy with your business goals. This should be at the core of your content marketing. The content you produce should stay aligned with the original goals you established in the strategy phase. You can check out this article for tips on how to write great content for SEO.
Find your content tilt
This is a concept introduced by Joe Pulizzi that emphasizes the importance of differentiating your content from the competition. It also highlights the powerful advantage of putting thought into the design of your content before simply creating it. When planning your content, take into account how your content will be different from the competition.
Get to know your audience = buyer personas
Your industry is a great place to start. From here you can get a sense of the most popular topics influencers, competitors, subject matter experts, and others in your space are talking about. Check out this article for helpful tips on figuring out what types of content your audience wants you to share.
Beyond your industry, however, you need to direct your focus on your customer audience: who better than your customers to help you identify behavior patterns to target? The practice of persona mapping is an effective way to gain a deeper understanding of who your audience is: the challenges they face, how they make purchase decisions, and where they turn for advice and conversation. Successful pieces of content are those that are targeted specifically to your audience.
— Michael Brenner (@BrennerMichael) March 16, 2016
Find a way to actually talk to customers whenever, wherever, and however you can. Call them. Buy them coffee. Tag along with the sales team. Take customer service calls. Understanding your customer isn’t hard, it’s just that most marketers either don’t want to put in the effort or don’t feel confident enough to interact with customers one-on-one. And if you want additional ways to find out what your audience is saying, check out this article.
Define your lifecycle stages = funnel stages
In today’s digital age where information about almost anything and everything is made readily available within a few taps of a smartphone, customers are able to easily educate themselves in advance of making a purchase decision, and are as a result more independent and informed than ever before. Smart marketers must publish content that correspond directly to each stage of the three stages of the digital buyer’s journey:
Identify and answer the top questions of your audience at each stage of the funnel
According to digital marketing expert Barry Feldman, you should always answer your prospects’ top 30 questions. List out the most commonly asked questions each of your prospects has about your industry and develop responses for each. If you have nothing to say that would help them resolve this question or add value, then it’s not a good topic to discuss.
Be the best answer with content! 70% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a buyer ever reaches out to sales. (Pardot) #TMGWebinar
— Lee Odden (@leeodden) February 4, 2016
For each question listed, determine to which step of the sales funnel it corresponds. For example, questions about the price of your software classify as bottom of the funnel (BoFu), while basic definitions of industry-related terms would be categorized towards the top of the funnel (ToFu).
Map content to the customer journey
In the words of Lee Odden, “Stop creating content, and start making answers relevant to your buyers at each stage.” The following table provides an interesting way to visualize your buyer personas by mapping them out into the various phases they fall into. You can then use this to develop and plan the type of content you need going forward:
- Persona organization: list out the personas you’d like to target into columns. Tip: be realistic and avoid listing too many
- Identify and classify content: create tailored content that can most effectively move prospects from one stage to the next.
Awareness: let’s use the following example: you’ve identified your target customer as a female between the ages of 30 and 50 who lives at home with pets and children, and you’re using content marketing to promote your brand of household cleaners. She hasn’t yet heard of your product, thus your goal is to bring her into the Awareness stage. To do this, you need to keep your content broad. Consider writing about general concepts like “The Dirtiest Kid Activities” or “How to Remove Red Wine Stains from Carpet” that she may be searching for in situations where your product might be helpful.
Consideration: as your visitors enter into the Consideration stage and become prospects, it’s time to get a little more specific. While generally aware of your product, their knowledge is minimal and topical at best, and further information is needed in order for them to be fully convinced of your product’s value. It is at this point that you convey the benefits of your product. For example, “5 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with [product].”
Decision: The final stage of the buyer’s journey, and the time for you to involve your community in your content creation. On one hand, you’ve got happy customers who may be willing to provide testimonials of their experiences or extol the benefits of your product in writing. On the other hand, you’ve got the responsibility of making sure these people stick around and stay loyal, so provide them with informative content that contains helpful information about new features, deals, or tips if applicable.
Listing all your content ideas in the above table will give you a great start to defining your content that you can now develop and plan ahead in your content calendar.
While the results may seem overwhelming, it’s useful to consider whether the required content will be more useful if created or curated. Remember that third-party content is 4x to 7x more credible than brand-generated content so curating some of the content in the above table is an effective way to save time and alleviate stress while convincing your prospects in the process.
While brand awareness is the main objective at the top of the funnel, your goals as you progress to the bottom should shift to lead generation through creating and curating content.
Optimize your content to convert
Organize your content framework to convert: each piece of content you publish (whether it’s original, curated, repurposed content) should be optimized for conversion. Always include engaging CTAs on your blog posts to drive traffic to your landing pages and generate more leads.
Always be auditing
You should conduct regular in-depth audits as a staple of your daily content production processes. While this may be unnecessary at first, you need to make it common practice to analyze the performance of your content as you create more of it. In order to determine the effectiveness of your content and improve it, you need to have a concrete method for measuring the ROI. This includes careful and regular monitoring of total views, qualified leads, revenue, etc. generated by each piece of content. You should also track the conversion rates for each post, which will help you better optimize, update, re-purpose and recycle your content over time. Vital practices if you want to save time and produce more quality content!
If you want more information on how to look at the right KPIs to measure the ROI of your content marketing efforts, check out this simple content marketing analytics framework!
A helpful things to keep you on track during the writing process:
- Provide value for your audience: Every sentence or paragraph you write should be crafted with the goal of providing value to your audience. Your content should be about them and how specifically you can add value to their lives, not self-promotional and about your brand.
- Keep it consistent: As straightforward as it may seem, it’s easy to get lost in the writing process and forget the original purpose of your post. Steer away from bombarding your readers with too much information in one blog post. This is not the context for that. Instead, think strategically and save some of your ideas to develop into a few good blog posts down the line.
If you want to get 30 effective techniques to master content marketing along with valuable insights from 10+ influencers like Mark Schaefer, Rebecca Lieb, Lee Odden, Jason Miller or Ian Cleary, download our free eBook now!