By Michele Linn published May 29, 2016

What Should Your Content Marketing Priorities Be?

content-marketing-priorities

A few months ago, I was cleaning the basement with my kids. The goal was to put the toys away so it could be vacuumed, dusted, etc.

I looked over, and my 8-year-old was erasing the whiteboard and chalkboard. When I asked her to help clean up, she explained that she was cleaning. The whiteboard obviously needed to be erased.

I lost my patience and said, “Just pick up your toys!”

While it wasn’t a proud parenting moment, it was an aha moment. How many of us spend time doing something that doesn’t help a goal (erasing the whiteboard) instead of doing something that truly needs to be done (picking up the toys)?

Don’t get me wrong: It’s often tough to figure out where to spend our time. (And honestly, sometimes we know but what we need to do is just too darn tough.)

Our annual content marketing research asks marketers to select their top five priorities from a list of 10. Below I look at all 10 and discuss when each may be something you may want to prioritize – and when it might not be.

My goal for this post isn’t to add more things to your list but to take some things off – or at the very least prioritize some of these activities lower on your list so you can focus on what is most important.

Your order may be a bit different, based on the maturity of your content marketing program. However, you can use this list, which starts with the activities most organizations should be prioritizing. However, what you rank as important in your organization may vary, so use this list as a guide so you can have conversations with your team on what you should prioritize so you are all working toward the same goals.

  • Better understanding your audience
  • Creating more-engaging content
  • Better understanding what is and isn’t effective
  • Finding more/better ways to repurpose content
  • Content optimization
  • Creating visual content
  • Becoming better storytellers
  • Becoming a stronger writer
  • Content curation
  • Content personalization

Bonus tip: If you are struggling to truly prioritize, consider using the Agile process. Andrea Fryrear answers some common questions to help.

understanding-audience

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Better understanding your audience

When this makes sense as a priority:

I’ll admit that these numbers surprised me. Why don’t all marketers make understanding their audiences a top priority? Is it because they already understand them so well? Of course, this may be the case with some people, but I think a more likely reason is that marketers know they can benefit from personas but don’t prioritize them because they don’t directly feed the content beast. Understanding the audience better also isn’t something marketers are directly measured on. (It’s easy to say, “Let’s work on what needs to get done, and we’ll do these tomorrow.”)

But that’s a vicious circle. If creating more-engaging content is a top priority, chances are that you need to spend more time understanding your audience and documenting what you learn in personas so everyone from your team is working from the same page.

When this doesn’t make sense as a priority:

Honestly, the only time that I would not prioritize this is if your company already has solid personas that are documented and shared throughout your team. (Though, I think this should still be a periodic priority to ensure that those personas are still valid.)

Ardath Albee suggests that you update them at least annually. She continues:

“However, there are a few things that could trigger a refresh sooner, such as:

  • Compliance or regulatory changes/updates that affect how your buyers would address them in relation to the solution you provide
  • Industry shifts that affect your customers’ go-to-market strategy
  • New roles are introduced or added to the buying committee – or existing personas are no longer involved in the same way they were when the personas were developed (salespeople are great info sources for this shift)
  • Content topics that were once high-performers are no longer drawing attention/engagement
  • New, adjacent technologies become available that change how your buyers may approach solving the problem.”

Creating more-engaging content

engaging-content

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When this makes sense as a priority:

In general, making your content more engaging should be a priority. As Jay Acunzo recently explained, we need to become truly creative to create more-engaging content. Engaging means creating content your audience will want to read. You can’t go wrong in honing your craft.

We need to become truly creative to create #content your audience will want to read via @jayacunzo Click To Tweet

When this doesn’t make sense as a priority:

Before you make creating more-engaging content a high priority, you need to understand what “engaging” means to your brand. More shares? Better readability? If your team doesn’t know your definition of engaging – and how to measure it – it will be tough to make headway. In this case, get clear on what success looks like for your team – that’s the higher priority.

If creating engaging content is a priority:
5 Engagement-Driven Elements You Should Add to Every Blog Post

content-effectiveness

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Better understanding what is and isn’t effective

When this makes sense as a priority:

Insanity is doing the same thing again and again, and expecting different results. If you aren’t measuring what’s working and what isn’t, you can’t know if you are making progress – or truly being that informative source for your audience.

Measure your #content effectiveness so you can be an informative source for your audience via @michelelinn Click To Tweet

Understanding what is effective should be a priority if you need to convince your C-suite that the content marketing budget should increase. It also should be a priority when you’re looking to expand a certain tactic/part of your content marketing or to cut back on something.

When this doesn’t make sense as a priority:

Data is great, and applying lessons about what is working is always a good idea, but don’t get so stuck in the quantitative that you forget the qualitative. Said another way: Understand what is working, but don’t become so obsessed with the metrics that you stop thinking creatively and trying new things.

If understanding content effectiveness is a priority:
How to Uncover Critical Content Marketing Insights Using Google Analytics

Finding more/better ways to repurpose content

repurposing-content

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When this makes sense as a priority:

Content is an investment, so you want to get the most from it. Repurposing should be a high priority when you have a key piece of content that’s core to your story and can be broken out in multiple ways. It is also a good idea when your audience is on different platforms or they consume information differently. In these types of cases, repurposing your content in different ways is important.

When this doesn’t make sense as a priority:

I’m not a fan of repurposing content into other formats to simply check a box. For instance, before you rush to create a talking head video of your latest white paper, ask yourself if this format really helps get your message across/adds clarity.

If you have “meh” content, it doesn’t make sense to figure out more ways to get it out there. (Of course, none of us strives to create “meh” content, but it’s inevitable that some things will be better received than others.)

If repurposing content is a priority:
Content Reuse: A Super-Simple Way to Get Started

Content optimization

content-optimization

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When this makes sense as a priority:

You want to get more from the content you create. Optimizing includes everything from developing your SEO strategy, to A/B testing your landing pages, to running tests in email. In general, include optimization as a top priority in your ongoing work so you can continually improve your customer experience — as well as your bottom-line results.

When this doesn’t make sense as a priority:

Optimization can feel like a never-ending proposition. What do you optimize? Figure out your top two channels and optimize your content for those. Don’t try to optimize everything.

If optimizing your content is a priority:
9 Website Optimization Mistakes Even Smart Agencies Make

Creating visual content

visual-content

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When this makes sense as a priority:

Visuals can aid in comprehension, especially when you are explaining something complex. They also can increase visibility and shareability, which is especially important when social media is core to your strategy.

When this doesn’t make sense as a priority:

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Will the visual help explain something more clearly than you can do in text?
  • Are you sharing the content on a platform that relies on visuals?

If you answer no to both, then visuals do not need to be a high priority. Not everything you create needs to be translated into a graphic. Always remember to think about how form meets function. And does your audience really want another infographic in which data is spewed into a scrollable piece? (Hint: Use your metrics to see how your audience responded to similar infographics in the past.)

Becoming better storytellers

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When this makes sense as a priority:

If creating more-engaging content is a high priority, becoming a better storyteller probably should be too. Storytelling is designed to engage your audience by humanizing your brand.

It can allow your content to stand out from everyone else’s. Remember this: No one has the combination of your experiences and knowledge, so use your personality instead of hiding it.

You also engage your audience for a longer time because you’ve crafted a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

Or you can use elements of storytelling to attract your readers and make your content more relatable (for instance: the anecdote at the beginning of this article [hopefully]).

When this doesn’t make sense as a priority:

Not all content needs to be a story. If your brand concentrates on how-to content, storytelling isn’t a high priority. If your audience responds well to straightforward explanations, storytelling probably isn’t that important. In all cases, though, clear, useful content should be your focus.

Becoming a stronger writer

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When this makes sense as a priority:

When our team reviewed the preliminary results of the research, we were dumbstruck that the last-ranked priority for many marketers is becoming a stronger writer. Really?

How can you have more-engaging content if you can’t write better? How can you become a better storyteller? We were so surprised by this, that we discussed it in depth at our research roundtables. The panelists were also stupefied by the priority ranking, but they offered many tips on how to improve one’s writing.

If you are trying to make your content more engaging, you need to prioritize becoming a better writer.

Why you may not want to make this a priority:

Not every job related to content marketing necessitates strong writing skills.

If becoming a stronger writer is a priority: 
48 Content Writing Examples, Tools, Tips and Resources

Content curation

content-curation

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When this makes sense as a priority:

If you are new in an industry or if you are in an industry replete with competition, curation may be a great bet. Instead of trying to add to the noise, figure out what makes the most sense for your readers and surface that. You can then be seen as a source of truly useful information.

Why you may not want to make this a priority:

If you can create content that is better and different than what is already available, spend your time on creating original content that provides an answer or a new way of looking at an issue.

Content personalization

content-personalization

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When this makes sense as a priority:

Personalization is definitely something that has been gaining interest and momentum, but it’s not for everyone. As explained in one of the takeaways that our team had from the Intelligent Content Conference:

If you can personalize your content in a way that people will appreciate, and if you can justify the expense, plan it and give it a try. Otherwise, save yourself the headache.

If personalization is a priority:
Adaptive Content: The Way to Your Customer’s Heart

Why you may not want to make this a priority:

If you don’t have a good grasp of the more fundamental priorities such as understanding your audience and creating engaging content, chances are you don’t need to prioritize personalization just yet.

General conclusions

While priorities will vary depending on your content marketing program’s maturity and needs, review your documented content marketing strategy (the first and most important priority) to evaluate and rank your other priorities.

Here’s what I recommend for any brand’s top three priorities:

  • How are you going to create content that is different than what anyone else is creating (creating engaging content)
  • Your audience (understanding your audience)
  • How you measure success (understanding what is and is not effective)

Once you have handled these three priorities, you then can prioritize the more specific tasks to create even more-engaging content (storytelling, becoming a better writer, curating, visualizing) and to get the most from your best content (repurposing, optimizing, personalizing).

Let us know your thoughts: What are your priorities? What would you like to take off your list?

Your top priority for today should be to register for Content Marketing World before early-bird savings ends May 31. Use code BLOG100 to save an additional $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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.

Other posts by Michele Linn

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  • Marissa

    This was very well written, very useful, and informative- thank you so much!!!

    I work for a b2b smaller tech startup where we provide lead conversion tools to automotive dealerships. As an individual I am in charge of our content and social media strategy.

    Although the creativity and writing comes easy to me, I am having a little trouble on tunnel visioning into our target audience which has been clouding my vision.

    Do you have anymore advice on reaching such a small target audience???
    i.e. our decision makers to use our product are typically the working partner of the dealership- but can tunnel down into internet sales manager or other high ranking positions (could influence their dealership using our product).

    The only solid content idea I am about to run with:
    — case studies on our current successful dealerships

    Thank you,
    Marissa Marazzi
    company: @intice
    personal: @marissamarazzi

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

      Thanks for the kind words, Marissa.

      A simple way to start is to write down all of the questions your target audience has. Where are they struggling and how can you help?

      For a more in-depth answer, I highly recommend Joe Pulizzi’s book Content Inc that lays out the 6 steps a business needs to take when launching a content-first business (either as a solo business or inside an existing company).

      http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/6-steps-building-content-inc-empire/

  • http://www.globalwebforce.com/ Hitesh Parekh

    Enjoyed reading this great work. The facts are well written into convincing priorities that sets the tone for how one will strategically plan content for dispersal and consumption for a target market. To me, content marketing is an ongoing story where data insights hold the most value and how it impacts our decision making on how we plan, create and disseminate content.

  • http://www.callbox.com.sg/ Jayden Chu

    Great list! Priorities vary to companies depending on their market research and evaluation. “Better understanding your audience” is on my top list. It’s like a foundation in content creation, to see what appeals and what is relevant to them. Other than that, their problems and pain points are important to identify to provide answers that will be beneficial. With understanding audience, it will be easier to conduct other activities in content marketing! Thanks for this wonderful idea to identify the best priority we should invest in..

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