In the latest Content Marketing Institute research, there was a clear conclusion: Those who document their strategy are more successful in the long run. However, only 21% said they were able to effectively track ROI (rising to 35% for those who had a documented strategy).
A huge number of marketers still guess about their success. Yet more and more content marketing activity is taking place, budgets are rising, and the world only gets more complex. With an average of 13 content marketing initiatives being used by each marketer across a dizzying array of channels – both paid and free – there are some big questions to be answered:
Do you have the right strategy? How do you turn your strategy into action? How can you keep your strategy and tactics aligned? How do you measure your success?
Here is a practical four-step process to help you answer those questions and go from developing a sound content marketing strategy right through to measuring its impact on your business goals via great planning and tactical execution.
Step 1: Strategize
Any successful content marketing strategy can be essentially boiled down to three components:
Customer needs + business needs = Content-Market Fit.
Alexander Osterwalder invented a brilliantly simple but powerful model, the Value Proposition Canvas, which can be adapted by marketers to get their Content-Market Fit.
For the purposes of your content marketing strategy, getting to your Content-Market Fit will involve:
In its absolute simplest terms, you first need to understand your customers. Break it down further into three segments:
- What are their demographics?
- What are their needs, desires, outcomes?
- What are the pain points and challenges that stop them from realizing their needs (and that your company can help with)?
Combine your answers to create a good picture of your target customer segment – often referred to as your buyer persona.
Now you need to think about your business profile. You again can boil this down to three essential questions:
- What can you offer your customers?
- What are your business goals?
- What does success look like?
With answers to these basic questions, you have a rounded picture of your business needs. Pay particular attention to your answer to what success looks like because it should be quantifiable and measurable. This is your key metric. Everything else will ultimately be measured against it.
Next comes the Content-Market Fit part of the equation. This is the easy part because you already have created your customer and business profiles. Look at where there is a clear overlap between your customer profile and your business profile. What do your customers need that you provide? Which of your business goals help alleviate their pain?
This is the Content-Market Fit and where you can start the process of planning, the next step in the journey.
Step 2: Plan
From your Content-Market Fit, you need to develop a campaign, theme, or big idea. Use the common ground to develop into a narrative or a theme so there is a high likelihood it will resonate with your customers.
From this theme, brainstorm a lot of different, but related, messages. For example, if your company sells time-management software to the owners of SMBs, your overarching theme may be one of productivity. You then can discuss things like time management, self-improvement, quantified self, health and wellness, etc., which all feed into improving a person’s or business’ productivity.
At this point, define some secondary or proxy metrics, the kind that can be tracked in a shorter time window (ideally the lag would be under a month) than your one key metric. You can use the proxy metrics as indicators of whether your campaign is moving in the right direction. These secondary metrics are probably middle-of-funnel results and could encompass things like email subscribers, engagement (however you quantify it), downloads, or leads, etc.
Now you have a high-level plan, encompassing a comprehensive persona/customer profile aligned to your business needs with an overarching narrative and lots of great ideas for specific themes to include in your content marketing.
Step 3: Go tactical
Now you need to turn your content marketing strategy into a tactical plan, ideally by plotting a blow-by-blow editorial calendar. Whether it spans a year or a quarter depends on your resources and how quickly your industry changes.
For example, if you’re a fashion brand, it might not make sense to plan beyond each season; however, if you sell life insurance, then you could plan the year confident that nothing major will change.
Here’s how I would structure this process:
Take the four themes from the planning stage about which you’re most excited, then brainstorm a “hero” piece of content for each theme (one per quarter).
This hero content may be a data-backed piece of research, a big experiential campaign, a web mini-series, or anything else that you think is exceptional content that helps your brand stand out.
Just make sure the hero content aligns with both your strategy and your plan, particularly in terms of the results you expect it to deliver (ideally its success will be measured by the mid-funnel results you defined earlier).
From this, think about how you can repurpose the hero content as many times as possible (without flogging it to death) and create other related quick-win pieces of content to help push it.
With the formats of your hero and supporting content, and your personas in mind, consider which channels are best to use to support the promotion of this content. For example, if your content is highly visual and your target persona skews female, consider focusing on Pinterest and Instagram. If it’s professional content, LinkedIn should probably be at the top of your list.
Don’t forget to consider paid distribution channels like these, too:
Image Source: B2B Advertising Usage
Next, make sure you have a properly resourced execution plan: Who will do what by when? You may find gaps you need to fill by hiring freelancers or pulling in additional team members.
Finally, you should think about what additional metrics will reveal how each individual piece of content is helping contribute to the bigger picture. These will most likely be top-of-funnel metrics like impressions, media hits, social shares, site traffic, etc.
Step 4: Close the loop
Now you can work backward to close the loop between the execution of your tactical content marketing and the effect it is having on your strategic goals.
Are your top-of-funnel results creating positive mid-funnel results? Do those mid-funnel results in turn mean you’re hitting your strategic goals? By breaking it down this way, you can start to see whether there are specific strengths and weaknesses in your content marketing.
Perhaps you’ll notice that a few particular pieces of content are driving the majority of your results, so you can focus more on those types of content than others.
What you may find is that you’ve got great results at one stage of the funnel, but they are not translating into results further down the line. Why is that? Have you got some leaky conversion problems that you need to A/B test and optimize? Or perhaps the top-of-funnel content isn’t that well aligned with your content further down the funnel, i.e., it’s attracting interest from the wrong audience, so they’re not converting.
Either way, you now have a practical way of dissecting and measuring the success of your content marketing campaign, from strategy through results, in just four simple steps.
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Cover image by George Grimm Howll, Publicdomainpictures.net, via pixabay