By Michele Linn published October 10, 2014

How to Build a Better Content Marketing Strategy

better-content-marketingI would argue that a lot of marketers don’t understand what [a content marketing strategy] means. They think culling together a bunch of tactics is actually a strategy, but it’s not.
—Ardath Albee

Unless you have a focus on what it is you are trying to achieve with your content or your digital marketing in general, you will get distracted.
—Nick Panayi

These quotes are just two key points made in a recent roundtable discussion CMI developed around our B2B content marketing research. This series of conversations explores the “whys” behind our findings and provides expert advice on ways that content marketers can make their efforts more efficient and successful.

A big thanks to Ardath Albee, CEO and Marketing Strategist at Marketing Interactions; Carla Johnson, Principal at Type A Communications and Vice President-Thought Leadership at the Business Marketing Association; Nick Panayi, Head of Global Brand and Digital Marketing at CSC; Gary Van Prooyen, Senior Director, North America Demand Center, at Motorola; and Steve Rotter, Vice President, Digital Marketing Solutions at Brightcove for participating in this conversation.




The first topic the team discussed was the importance of a content marketing strategy. As Joe Pulizzi recently asserted, documenting your content marketing strategy and following it closely are the two things that separate great content marketers from their less effective peers.

The 16-page guide Content Marketing Institute published on documenting your strategy can certainly help you get started. But, once you’ve gone through the initial documentation process, you’ll need to know how to implement that strategy — and keep it updated on an ongoing basis.

While you will want to follow your strategy closely in order to keep your content marketing focused on your organization’s goals, it should also be flexible enough to account for new insights and information you receive as time goes on. There is no specific template you can use to build a strategy; but below, we share some guidelines you can use to determine what elements should stay consistent and what will likely evolve:

Your goals and mission should be sticky

The first two things you need to identify when building your strategy are the goals and mission of your content marketing program. Coincidentally, these are the same two that should change very little.

In case you aren’t as familiar with these two concepts as you would like to be, here are some high-level details:

Goals: It’s never a good idea to create content just for the sake of having content. Rather, you need to understand what business outcome you want to impact through your content creation. For instance:

  • Do you need to raise awareness for your brand?
  • Do you need to build your email list?
  • Do you need to nurture prospects along their buyer’s journey?
  • Do you need to convert your audience to paying customers?
  • Do you need to retain customers and/or increase their purchases (up-sell/ cross-sell)?
  • Do you need to convert customers to evangelists?

We have to be able to tie content to business objectives. What is it we’re really trying to do for the companies we’ve worked for and [want to] move forward? I think it’s the biggest thing that marketers miss. —Carla Johnson

Mission: This addresses key considerations like who you are aiming to help, what you will deliver to them, and how your audience will benefit. The more specific you can be, the better. (I always cringe when I hear marketers tell me that their product/service can help anyone — it’s best to focus on serving the audience that can benefit the most, and then figure out what content they truly need.)

[Use your content marketing strategy] to decide what the purpose is of each piece of content that you are doing. ‘How does it fit into the bigger picture of what we are trying to do?’ Without that strategy, you don’t have purpose-driven content. —Carla Johnson

Your goals and missions should be so core to what you do that you think about them every single day. In fact, they should be the lens through which you evaluate every piece of content you are creating. For instance, at CMI, we consider every piece of content with these two things in mind:

  1. Will this help us advance the practice of content marketing for enterprise brand marketers?
  2. Will it help us generate more email subscribers or help our audiences engage with us in more ways.

Other aspects of your strategy should be revisited (and possibly revised) regularly

While it’s useful to hold fast to your “editorial lens,” there are other aspects of your content marketing strategy that will benefit from being reviewed periodically to make sure they are still on target. While the contents of your strategy may vary, here are some examples.

Your channel plan

Your channel plan covers which channels you should create content for and what, specifically, you will share/ do in each of those channels. (It hopefully goes without saying that you need a different strategy for each channel.) The more you learn about what type of content does well in each channel, the more effective your strategy will be.

When to revisit this: While the general type of content you have in each channel may be relatively set (e.g., Facebook works best for interest-based content, whereas LinkedIn users prefer topics that are career-based), there is a lot of room for flexibility in the way you share this information. In addition, if you are using any type of sponsored or paid promotions in your social channels, it’s especially critical to revisit this section of your plan on a frequent basis to make sure you are staying on top of consumer and social media trends.

Topics

The key topics and themes you will cover should be a part of your content marketing strategy. Not only will they serve as “guardrails” for your editorial, but they are also helpful for organizing your content for easier findability (and they are key to your internal curation strategy). Additionally, it’s useful to periodically review all of the content you have created in a given topic to see if it’s still an area that is resonating with your audience (i.e., to make sure you are aware of what’s moving the needle when it comes to your content).

When to revisit this: If you are just starting out with content marketing, I would recommend doing a topic evaluation on a quarterly basis. This gives you time to get some traction on your content that you can use as a benchmark for future efforts. If your content marketing program is more established, I would suggest reviewing your topics every six months to one year.

Process

[If you were to ask] ‘Who owns content in this company?’ you would have a hundred hands raised, because all of [your teams] truly believe that they have some ownership of it. The reality is, they do — but it is not complete ownership, or it’s not the same level of ownership. To be able to articulate what the content roles are that people play is critical. Otherwise, you are going to see people bumping heads. — Gary Van Prooyen

It’s important for your strategy to document who should be responsible for the various aspects of your program. This could be as simple as outlining general roles (Joe’s post on the 10 roles needed for content marketing to succeed is a good place to get insight on how to do this,) or it could be a more task-driven list. As Gary mentioned in our roundtable, the goal is to make sure everyone understands what he or she needs to do.

When to revisit this:  Of course, whenever the members of your team change, it’s a good idea to revisit your process. However, even if your team has not changed, I suggest reviewing your process at least twice a year to see where you might be able to gain efficiencies.

How to get the most from your content marketing strategy

In short, just like with most things, you need to find the balance between structure and flexibility:

  • Review your strategy and identify what is a constant, and refer to that regularly. Post these things on your wall if you need to (or at least until you internalize them).
  • Identify which sections of your strategy can be improved over time, and make a note in your calendar to review these at set intervals — unless other needs arise that necessitate you reviewing them earlier.

I’d love to get your thoughts: How do you manage your content marketing strategy once it is developed?

Follow our simple, step-by-step plan to integrate unique, impactful, and strategic content marketing into your organization. Download Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program.

Cover image by Joe Kalinowski

Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Vice President of Content at the Content Marketing Institute. She is one of those people who truly loves what she does and who she works with. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

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  • Beth

    This is such a great article. Actually, I see it more as a great resource. I’m always thinking of ways to succinctly explain the importance and potential impact of a solid Content Strategy to our clients and you have done it so well here. I’ve bookmarked your article and plan to refer back to it frequently. I just wanted to write a quick comment to say what a great job you’e done here and thank you for the great resource!

  • Mary Jane Kinkade

    This is excellent! So much great information and links all in one place. Very well done. Thank you.

  • http://www.directenergy.com/ Adam P. Newton

    Thanks for such an wonderful, encouraging article. The concepts served as a welcome refresher and reminder that my words (no matter how well-written) need focus, clarity, and direction in the broader scope of a strategy to have any real impact for the brand I represent.

  • http://www.copyarc.com/ Corey Pemberton

    This is great, Michele. Thank you! When I was first starting out online, I made the mistake of overlooking the ultimate goal and focused too much on publishing content. It’s a mistake I see all time; people have a business blog because they’re “supposed” to have a blog. But they keep on going full speed ahead without slowing down to consider the purpose. Thanks again, -Corey

  • shahr

    I really like it , Thank you for sharing with us ,

  • http://about.me/yannispatras Yannis

    Inspiring and eye-opening Michele. Would you say that the Process does not only have to do with who ‘generates’ the content, but also who ‘disseminates’ it and in what ways (among other things of course)? Kinda got that feeling reading Joe’s mentioned post as well.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Hi Yannis — Absolutely. Process should include everything from generating ideas, prioritizing them, creating the content, distributing the content and then measuring results.

      • http://about.me/yannispatras Yannis

        Thank you for the clarification Michele! Much appreciated 😉

  • Velvet Cartel

    Another fantastic article! Thanks!