By Don Stanley published January 10, 2014

Why You Should Discuss Content Marketing Strategy Before Tactics

Failure to plan is planning to fail —John Wooden, legendary basketball coach

businessman writing strategyI often get asked the following question: “What’s the primary reason businesses fail at content marketing?

Those who ask seem to want, or expect, a complex answer; but the fact of the matter is the answer is really quite simple: Most organizations fail because they jump right into content marketing without first creating an overall content marketing strategy. They know they need to produce content, so they just start producing it. Not much effort is given to why they’re doing it or whom they’re targeting. Sadly, what often happens is these organizations try content marketing for 3 to 6 months and then, when they don’t achieve immediate and monumental success, they declare that it doesn’t work. Unfortunately, without developing a strategic plan, these organizations are destined to fail before they even get started.

To some of you, this may seem like a “duh” moment. After all, taking such a haphazard approach to content marketing is just as counterintuitive as an architect designing a building without giving any consideration to the landscape, climate, and surrounding structural environment.

If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time. —Zig Ziglar

I can’t stress enough how critical it is to reach agreement on a content marketing strategy before discussing tactics. Building and then making a smart business case for investing time, dollars, and staff into this new venture should be top priority; after that, an organization can go about generating all the content it wants. But the content needs a purpose, a target. Without this, you will have trouble justifying your investment when the content marketing ROI conversation inevitably comes up.

So where do you start?

Start here: Top two “W” questions to ponder

Any time the issue of whether to pursue a content marketing strategy comes up, the following two questions should be the first ones asked (and answered):

  1. Why do we want to participate in content marketing?
  2. Who do we need to convince that our content marketing will be valuable? 

As author and renowned TED talker Simon Sinek would say, “Start with why.” Evaluate both the internal (within your organization) and external (outside your organization) reasons that content marketing makes sense. Yes, it’s been proven to increase the bottom line. Yes, small and focused content with high value can generate brand awareness, web traffic, online leads, and customer loyalty. But what else can it do in your specific industry — and for your specific customers?

Once you know why you want to engage in content marketing, you must convince a disparate “who” group of internal stakeholders, including executives, decision makers, and would-be content producers within your organization.

At the same time, you need to consider whether your external customers truly will find your content to be worth their time. Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero once said (or so I read), “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words.” And, more than 2,050 years later, he’s still right. You must think like your target audiences and produce content and information they want and need. In the words of Jay Baer, your business needs to serve as a “Youtility” for your audiences to be successful in today’s marketplace.

So once you’ve defined your “why” and your “who,” what should you do next?

Five more questions to consider

Now it’s time for the rubber to meet the road and for you to get specific about the information you will need to develop your content marketing strategy. To do so, you will want to reflect on key questions like these:

  1. What investments are required to make your content marketing effective?: Do you have the dollars to dedicate to creating successful content marketing? Can your employees afford the time it will take to create high-quality content consistently? Might additional staff members need to be hired or other resources need to be added to do the job right?
  2. How innovative is your organization?: The size of your organization determines the type of content marketing pitch you make. Smaller organizations and those that are known for innovation might be more provocative with their proposal — for example, they may consider including bold designs, sexy copy, and edgy videos as part of their overall content marketing strategies. Compare that approach to one of a Fortune 500 company that has a board of directors and a slew of investors who all will be judging the content purely from a bottom-line perspective. Remember, you’re pitching a new idea, and you need to understand how far you can go with that idea.
  3. How will customers and prospects potentially benefit from your efforts?: Know what they want to hear from organizations like yours, and what they need in terms of useful information and value. Everybody asks, “What’s in it for me?” But you’ll need to know the answer to that question well before your customers do. Make sure you create a content calendar to ensure that, after a few weeks of effort, you don’t run out of topics that your customers will care about. And remember that your content must, in some way, help make your customers’ lives easier and encourage them to engage with your company. Write for them, not for you. This approach will pay off in the long run.
  4. Where will people be looking for this content?: Do your customers spend most of their online time at their desktops or on mobile devices? How many views does your website’s home page receive per month? If it’s more popular than other pages, that means visitors are seeking out your company’s expertise — and are perhaps finding nothing but a sales pitch. Would they stay longer if you posted something to engage them — something that would compel them to leave a comment, download a 16-page eBook, share a video on their Facebook feed, or mention your organization on Twitter? Answers to these questions will help you determine distribution priorities for your content marketing strategy.
  5. What risks are involved?: What if, once you’ve received buy-in and begun to create videos, blogs, newsletters, and other content, the process doesn’t quite work the way you envisioned it? How will you track a campaign’s effectiveness? Who will have the authority within the organization to permit you to amp up (or to scale back)? And who, ultimately, will be responsible for the overall content marketing strategy; in other words, who will be prepared to lead the charge if the powers that be say yes to content marketing — and who will have a convincing response on hand if they say no? Regardless of the ultimate outcome, you’ll garner trust by coming into your pitch meeting prepared to address whatever questions, comments or arguments come your way. 

All of this, obviously, requires a keen understanding of your customer base. Remember the wisdom of Cicero….

One way to overcome any unknowns about your audience is to pitch content marketing as an experiment — something that will remain separate from the core of your business and can be halted at any given time, based on resources and results. That approach often eases the burden of commitment, too.

A final note on ROI’s place in the strategy equation

So far, I’ve quoted an ancient philosopher and a modern-day author, and I’ll begin my wrap-up with a reference to a guy who chronologically falls somewhere in between those two gentlemen: Albert Einstein: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts,” the great physicist once said, coining what has become a relevant phrase for many a social media discussion. Quality, not quantity, right?

This also holds true for content marketing. The return-on-investment equation should not be part of the business case for developing a content marketing strategy. Instead, ROI goals should be set after the strategy has been put into action. This is because ROI is a measurement of a strategy’s goals — not a part of them in and of itself. Again, this is a common mistake organizations make. Once your content marketing has begun, you will be able to track such things as sales lift, customer conversion, and user traffic and engagement — which provides the fuel you need to create convincing ROI conversations down the road.

In my experience, once an organization has agreed to establish and deliver a quality content marketing plan, the only regret I’ve ever heard expressed is this one: “I wish I would have started sooner.

Ready to make content marketing an integral part of your business operations? Download our workbook to learn how to Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Don Stanley

Don Stanley is owner of 3Rhino Media, a boutique digital marketing agency dedicated to helping companies share their expertise and connect with the right clients online. He’s personally worked with a wide range of organizations including Fortunate 500 companies, Silicon Valley start-ups and nationally known nonprofits. He’s an education-based marketer, workshop leader and keynote speaker who specialized in helping businesses build strong, authentic and profitable relationships online. Don’s also an award-winning instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he teaches digital marketing courses. Follow Don on Twitter.

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