I average about three speeches a week revolving around the topic of content marketing. At every one of those events I ask, “How many of you have a documented content marketing strategy?” That answer has never been more than 20 percent, and usually just a few hands are raised.
Think about that for a minute. Content creation and distribution is booming. We’ve never seen brands more active in developing content to attract and retain customers. Our latest research tells us that more than one in every four marketing dollars is spent on a content marketing initiative. Yet, almost no one has a concrete strategy for the deployment of those content assets.
(I’m virtually shaking my head.)
“Creating more content” was cited as the biggest challenge for content marketers in 2013. But without a content strategy of some kind, you simply don’t know if that’s true. How can more content fix your problem when you have no concrete plan? It’s like building a house with no architectural plans.
So, we are going back to basics here. Expert content marketers with defined and working strategies can skip this article. For the other 90 percent of you, all I ask is that you start thinking about some of the steps below before creating any more content.
1. Start with “why”
With content marketing, there are a number of possible business goals you can have. A few to consider are:
- Lead conversion and nurturing: How you define a lead will vary; but from a content marketing perspective, a lead is when you have (through the exchange of engaging content) encouraged someone to give up enough information about themselves that you now have permission to “market” to them. This can include signing up for a “demo,” registering for an event, subscribing to your eNewsletter, or gaining access to your resource center. Once you have the prospect’s permission, you can use content to help move them through the buying cycle.
- Customer loyalty/retention: Just like you have a planned lead nurturing process to turn prospects into customers, you also need a planned customer retention strategy. If your ultimate goal is to turn customers into passionate subscribers who share your stories, this area needs major attention. Options may be a customer eNewsletter or printed newsletter, a print or tablet magazine, daily or weekly blog content, or possibly a user event or webinar series.
- Customer up-sell: Why stop communicating with prospects once they become customers? Instead, communicate with them more frequently (certainly not in a creepy way) and engage them with additional value. Customer up-sell and customer retention goals can work hand-in-hand.
- Passionate subscribers: If you can successfully move customers to this stage, you have really accomplished something. Content — and especially content generated by satisfied customers — can be one of the most powerful ways to reach any business goal. This is when content marketing starts to work for you exponentially. For example, CMI has over 40,000 active subscribers to our daily or weekly content. Those people have “opted-in” to our content and have given us the permission to market to them. The majority of our revenue sources come from that subscriber base. The moment we started focusing on subscription as a key content marketing goal is when our business started to take off.
The key takeaway
The return on any one of the above objectives must have direct impact on one of these areas:
- Lower expenses
- Happier customers
If your goal is to increase search engine rankings, you have to continue that path to help show one of these three behaviors or, honestly, you’ll never get taken seriously by senior management.
The most effective way to look at this is to ask, “How are customers and prospects who engage in my content different from those who don’t?” At CMI, we know a subscriber is more likely to sign up for one of our events, which is a key revenue source for us. More subscribers of a similar type equals more revenue for us. It’s just math at that point. Subscribers also share more of our content to others, which helps increase our search rankings and helps more people become aware of what we do through social media. CMI’s “Moneyball“ number for content marketing revolves around passionate subscribers. What’s your number?
2. Build your audience persona
If we are thinking and acting like media companies and publishers, everything we do with our content marketing begins and ends with our audience. If we do not understand the wants and needs of our audience, there is no way we can be successful with our content.
Most of the time, we think that our content audiences are the same as our buying audiences. For example, John Deere distributes “The Furrow” magazine to farmers. These farmers are the same people who buy John Deere equipment. But this isn’t always the case.
Let’s use a university as another example. A university has many audiences — some are buyers, some are influencers, some are stakeholders. The first, and most likely audience is students. But then you have the parents, who help support and fund the students. Then you have alumni. Don’t forget about the teachers. What about local, state, and federal government? Depending on the goal of your content program, you could target dozens of different audiences.
So before you start any content program, you need to have a clear understanding of who the audience is and, ultimately, what you want them to do.
What do you need to know about your audience to build the right persona? The easiest way to find out is by asking the following questions:
- Who are they? How do they spend their average day?
- What are their needs? This is not “why they need our product or service,” but what are their informational needs and pain points as they relates to the stories you will tell.
- Why do they care about us? Remember, the persona most likely doesn’t care about your products or services, so it’s the information provided to them that will make them care, or grab their attention.
Your audience persona doesn’t have to be perfect, but it needs to be detailed enough so that your content creators have a clear understanding of who they are engaging.
Two amazing resources are Adele Revella’s Buyer Persona Institute (Adele is conducting an amazing workshop on buyer personas at Content Marketing World in September), and Up Close & Persona from Ardath Albee (a CMI Consultant) and MLT Creative. I recommend using each one to help you better define the audience for your content.
3. Define the mission
“I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.” — Herbert B. Swope, American Journalist
Once you are grounded in the “why” and “who” of your content marketing, you can get laser-focused on your content marketing mission. For you old-school publishers, this is your editorial mission statement. All great media companies have one. If you are going to be a publisher of epic content, you need one too.
Your mission statement, at this point, has nothing to do with the products and services you sell — it’s all about the informational needs of your persona, and should include:
- The core audience target
- What will be delivered to the audience
- The outcome for the audience
- Core audience target: entrepreneurs looking to take their business to the next level through additional funding
- What will be delivered to the audience: useful information, advice, insights, resources, and inspiration
- The outcome for the audience: growing their businesses
Through this mission, OpenView positions itself as the trusted expert in its industry (like a media company), and when its subscribers are looking for accessing funding options, they turn to OpenView first.
What do you do with it?
Not only does the content marketing mission statement provide the basis for your content strategy moving forward, using it is instrumental to your entire content creation process:
- Post it: Include the mission statement where it can easily be found by your audience. The best place to put it is anywhere you develop non-product oriented content for your customers, such as your blog site, Facebook page, or main content site (like an AMEX Open Forum).
- Spread it: Make sure everyone involved in your content marketing process has the mission statement. Encourage them to print it out and pin it up on the wall. This includes giving it to employees involved in the content creation process, as well as any agency partners or freelancers you may be using. So often, content creators in a company are not aware of the overall content mission. Make sure you don’t let that happen.
- The litmus test: Use the mission statement to decide what content you will and won’t create. Often, bad judgments in content creation can be avoided by running it against your mission statement first.
This is just the beginning
Most content marketing programs have fuzzy goals, ill-defined audiences, and lack consideration of the audience’s pain points during the content creation process. Following the above guidelines means these problems won’t apply to your business any longer.
There are so many more aspects to building a sound content marketing strategy, but keeping a keen focus on your “whys,” your personas, and your mission will point you in the right direction.
Want more guidance on producing the precise forms of content your audience wants? Download CMI’s Content Marketing Framework: 7 Building Blocks to Success.