No matter how familiar you may be with the principles and potential benefits of content marketing, it’s natural for questions to arise when it’s time to get hands-on and apply the techniques in a real-world setting. The CMI team thought it would be helpful to build a road map of sorts to help you track down answers you’ll likely need along the way.
Let’s start with some considerations we hear marketers asking about all the time: How to manage the strategic planning process.
Content marketing strategy
Q: How do we get started?
The first step in getting started with content marketing is so simple that it often gets overlooked: You need to make sure you have a clear definition of what content marketing is, as well as what it isn’t (for example, it’s definitely not native advertising). Otherwise, you will always struggle to understand what goals to pursue, determine how well your efforts are performing, and get the necessary buy-in from your company’s stakeholders.
Another element that is essential if you want your content efforts to contribute to the business’ goals is a content marketing strategy. In fact, in our 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research, we found that 53% of the most effective marketers are those who have planned their strategy and documented it so their team can reference it on an ongoing basis.53% of the most effective marketers have planned their strategy & documented it via @cmicontent #research Click To Tweet
Find more answers: If you want additional clarity on the content marketing process, as well as step-by-step guidance for managing its most essential components — CMI’s Back-to-Basics series is a great place to start.
Q: Is a content marketing strategy the same thing as a content strategy?
While people often use these terms interchangeably (which is understandable, as the lines are somewhat blurry), content marketing and content strategy are two different practices.
CMI typically defines content marketing as creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action. A content marketing strategy is a plan specifically focused on what content to build — and how to apply it — to achieve that objective.A #contentmarketing strategy focuses on what content to build & how to apply it via @joderama Click To Tweet
Content strategy, on the other hand, delves deeper into the creation, publication, and governance of that usable content, seeking to manage it as a strategic asset across the entirety of the organization.
Find more answers: Razorfish strategist Melanie Seibert breaks down the similarities and differences between the two, and discusses where content marketing fits in with other related business roles. You can also use this chart she created as a cheat sheet.
Q: What information should our content marketing strategy include?
While there are no definitive templates for building a content marketing strategy (each one will be unique to the business), some key components typically include:
- Your business case: Outline what you expect content marketing to help your business achieve, explain why you believe it is a technique worth exploring, and offer evidence to support your claims. The business case is critical for gaining executive buy-in to build and run your content marketing program the right way.
- A business plan: Detail how you will use content to achieve the goals you’ve outlined. Include a summary of the specific goals, the value you expect your content to provide for your audience, and how your efforts will align with your company’s overarching marketing plan.
- Your personas: These composite sketches identify and characterize the audience segments to target with your content. They actively inform your strategy and drive buyer engagement.
- Your brand’s editorial mission: Outline who you are as a company, the ideas and messages you want to communicate through your content, and the impact you expect them to have on your audience. This is your guiding light whenever you create a piece of content and should be the measuring stick by which you evaluate its potential worth.
- A channel plan: Govern where, why, and how you will distribute your content, and include the platforms you will use to tell your story, as well as the criteria, processes, tone, and objectives for each one.
Content Marketing: Forget About the 5%
Find more answers: Our guide to developing a content marketing strategy offers more detail on each of these key components, along with a clip-and-save list of key strategy takeaways (shared below).
Q: How do we get the necessary executive support for our program?
Many companies begin content marketing with a pilot program, testing the waters and gathering evidence to convince stakeholders of its potential for success. But if you want to get the approval, budget, and participation, you need to run a successful program over the long-term. It’s helpful to set expectations right from the beginning by presenting executives with a clear and compelling business case.
While the points will vary based on your company’s priorities and marketing goals, in general these buy-in conversations should cover issues such as:
- Why your company needs content marketing – for example, you can point out how integral it has become to remaining competitive in any industry and the important role it can play in consumers’ purchasing process
- How it can help your organizations meet its marketing goals – for example, you can discuss the role content plays in building positive brand perception or how it can be used to drive increased engagement — particularly when marketing to younger demographics
- The budget and resources you will need to execute on your strategy effectively — including staff, materials, and media
- Your expectations for success – what results you see your efforts achieving and how long you expect it to take for those results to be realized
The following checklist can help you assure stakeholders that you have positioned your content marketing strategy for optimal success. You may not be able to get every element in place before you ask executives for their support, but the more boxes you can check, the more effective your content marketing program buy-in pitch is likely to be.
Find more answers: Check out our essential starter kit for stats, talking points, and helpful tips to build your business case for content marketing.
Q: How can our content help us stand out from our competition?
As part of your strategy development process, it can be useful to identify your content tilt — the unique perspective you have on your business niche and unique value your content will provide for your target audience. This distinguishes your content from that of your competitors as well as from other distractions that compete for consumer attention.
As Joe Pulizzi often mentions, all content marketers should ask themselves, “Can we be the leading informational provider in our subject area?” If you don’t believe your content marketing plan will enable you to “own” the relevant conversations in your chosen niche, you may want to drill down and find a more narrow focus where your content will have a bigger impact on the audience.
Here are some things to consider when searching for your ideal content tilt:
- Your audience: Identify a segment of your customer base for which your perspective will be uniquely relevant and useful.
- Your story angle: Is there a different spin your company can put on the topics commonly discussed and/or debated in your industry?
- Your content platforms: Is there an opportunity to explore a new channel or content format that your competitors aren’t using?
- Your subject matter: Are there areas of your industry that other companies are overlooking in the content they publish?
Once you’ve discovered your content tilt, it will be easier to identify opportunities to delight readers with content they need – and can’t get anywhere else.
Find more answers: Joe’s Content Inc. blog offers more epic insights, examples, and inspiration to help you discover your content tilt and apply it to create a more successful content marketing strategy.
Q: How can we ensure that our content will stay on-strategy?
Once you’ve defined your strategy, target audience, and content tilt, you can start to plan topics, ideas, and approaches on which your content marketing efforts will focus.
At the same time, you probably recognize that not all content ideas will be equally worth pursuing. For example, some content pieces (like videos or podcasts) may require more production resources than you have available; others may be well within your team’s capabilities but might not be the best fit for your target audience; and some ideas might be brilliantly creative but just aren’t likely to have the bottom-line impact you are looking to achieve.
It may be helpful to put a system in place for gauging the relative value of all your content ideas and keeping them on track with the marketing outcomes you want to achieve.
For example, Brain Traffic’s lead content strategist Meghan Casey has crafted a content decision-making matrix, which her team uses to evaluate and prioritize their story ideas. Each idea is given a numerical score based on its capacity to serve the needs of the target audience while also contributing to your own business goals.
To use the matrix, display it on a screen or whiteboard, and talk through each topic or content idea as a group. Through discussion, have stakeholders agree to a score for each idea on a scale of 1-5. Meghan recommends discarding ideas with a total score of 3 or less, as they are unlikely to perform well against your strategic goals. She also suggests using the total score as a means of prioritizing the ideas you should move forward with.
Find more answers: Once you have selected your ideal topics and ideas, you still need to determine the formats you will use to craft your stories. Our 2016 Content Marketing Playbook serves as an excellent guide to choosing the best formats for achieving various audience goals.
A basic tenet of content marketing is that you need to understand — and create content specifically for — the consumers you want to reach. Seems easy; but gathering, prioritizing, and applying the necessary insights to build a solid content plan can take some significant legwork.
Q: How do we determine our best target audience?
As mentioned, your strategy needs to include how your content will help you achieve your business goals. The next step is to identify your core customer base — i.e., the target audience you think you can help the most.
To zero in on your target audience, consider these issues:
- Are there relevant yet underserved audiences who aren’t getting the information they need from other sources?
- What customer group is your business struggling the most to gain traction with? Can content help you bridge this gap?
- If you didn’t provide content for this audience, would they care or notice? Can you become the leading information resource for this customer base?
Find more answers: It’s possible that you will find more than one audience that fits these criteria. While you may be tempted to target multiple personas, you could risk watering down the impact of the content you create. Follow the advice Joe shares as part of his Content Inc. model: First, focus on building a strong, loyal relationship with your core audience, and then expand your content initiatives to target additional customer groups.
Q: How do we create a buyer persona?
Persona development is often thought of as a customized process that “thins the herd,” as it’s meant to provide your team with a clear picture of one type of person your content can help the most.
As Marketing Interaction’s CEO Ardath Albee explains, to get value from your personas, you need to create them with enough depth and insight to enable your team to generate content ideas and topics that resonate. You also should be able to use them to help visualize the specific situations your target audience may be experiencing in their current user state. To create richer, more actionable personas, Ardath recommends using the following nine-part approach:
- State the persona’s specific objectives. Give content creators something insightful and targeted that they can use when crafting content ideas.
- State the persona’s main problems. If you were asked to write something helpful for readers you’ve never met, which problem description would you rather be handed?
- State the persona’s orientation toward their job. The more details about the persona’s professional demeanor, the more that persona can help your team decide what content to create and how to communicate in a way that engages the people your company wants to connect with.
- State the persona’s relevant obstacles. Instead of broad concerns like price, focus on things that get in the way at each funnel stage and prevent your persona from moving forward with their decision-making process.
- State the persona’s burning questions. Not only will this help you create content that informs your prospective customers, it also informs you about where those prospects are in the buying cycle.
- State the persona’s content preferences. Include details like their favorite content channels, the social networks they are most likely to use, the tone and style that resonate most strongly with them, the content formats they prefer to engage with, etc.
- State keywords and phrases the persona would use. Ask yourself, “What are they most inclined to type into that search box?” and capture the most telling phrases.
- Sketch engagement scenarios for the persona. Visualizing ways in which your persona might want to interact with your content over time helps you imagine useful ways to link that content into a cohesive plan.
- Create a day-in-the-life scenario. By crafting a real-life situation your persona may be experiencing, you enable your content creators to truly understand how the content might impact the persona’s everyday goals and challenges.
Find more answers: For additional information to include in your personas, as well as a rundown of how to gather the audience insights, check out the second part of Ardath’s discussion on persona development: How to Build Buyer Personas That Build Sales.
What questions are you looking to answer?
While the previous questions tackle some of the biggest strategy and planning issues in content marketing, they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to everything content marketers need to know to be successful at their craft. If there are other questions you would like to ask, feel free to add them in the comments. And keep an eye out for upcoming Book of Answers posts where we’ll tackle questions about teams and processes, content creation, content distribution, and content measurement.
Get a detailed overview of the five principles that content marketing success is dependent on. Read our 2016 Content Marketing Framework: 5 Building Blocks for Profitable, Scalable Operations.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute