By Joe Pulizzi published June 2, 2014

9 Content Marketing Strategy Questions You Need to Answer

man holding question mark signLast week, we held our inaugural CMI Executive Forum in San Francisco. Content marketing leaders from some of the largest B2B and B2C brands came together to talk about the challenges and opportunities they see for content marketing.

We asked attendees to keep our discussions during the meeting private — no tweets, posts, or social media updates allowed. This also means we won’t be sharing the bulk of the meeting details (well, not just yet). But I did want to share a number of questions I came away with — questions worth mentioning because most content marketers don’t seem to be addressing them.

1. What are your content marketing objectives (and have you written them down yet)?

Whether or not you want to refer to your list of objectives as a content marketing mission statement is up to you. But the simple truth is that most businesses don’t have a clear idea of the direction in which their content marketing strategy is headed — or, even worse, they simply haven’t thought at all about what the purpose of their content is.

2. How does your content marketing strategy impact your company’s overall business vision?

What is the role your content is supposed to play for furthering the organization? Set your content marketing mission side-by-side with the company’s business vision. Map what your content’s purpose is to the specific parts of the company’s path. If these don’t align or you can’t make the case, that’s a problem.

3. Does your content help its audience members achieve excellence at what they do?

You should be asking yourself this question at the start of every work day. If your content doesn’t truly impact the lives of your audience members, why create it at all?

4. Do you read all the content your business creates?

Most senior marketers aren’t aware of the wasted efforts their company may be dishing out on a daily basis. To truly get an understanding of what’s working and what is failing when it comes to your content marketing, you need to engage with every piece of content your company creates and distributes… at least until you can set a clear benchmark for the direction your content should be taking.

5. Are you taking a definitive position on issues in your content?

Are you actively creating value, or are you merely describing what should be considered valuable? If you don’t take a stand on any of the issues affecting your industry, what will separate you from your competition? You need to create differentiating value by actually being different. To be honest, with most content marketing, you could simply remove the company’s logo and switch it with a competitor’s logo and no one would be able to tell the difference.

6. Can you do a better job than the relevant trade media that covers your industry?

This is a worthy conversation to have in your organization: Could you provide more valuable information or deliver it in a more beneficial way than the professional trade publishers have been able to do? Strip away all the things you think you can’t or shouldn’t do, and get your senior team to discuss the merits of covering the industry. You may surprise yourself with what you can achieve.

7. Are you training your marketers to tell better stories?

Do you have a formalized training program that communicates the company’s vision for its content — and its expectations of quality — to the entire marketing team? If not, how will they know when they are succeeding, or where they need to improve?

8. Are you training your employees to tell better stories?

Getting all employees, across all a company’s business units, to participate in creating content marketing is usually a major challenge. If you start to ask for their involvement in your content without giving them the formal training they need to feel comfortable and proficient, you are just setting them up for likely failure — and certain frustration.

9. Have you developed a communication tool or process for spreading your content marketing vision throughout the organization?

I believe one of the reasons Coca-Cola’s Content 2020 initiative was so readily adopted by its senior staff is because everyone fully understood and believed in the company’s content vision. How was that possible? Coke created a Jerry McGuire-like mission statement document for the Content 2020 program. It was highly engaging, highly shareable, easy to understand, and was able to make an impact on thousands in a very short period of time.

Are you finding it difficult to get buy-in? Do the field marketers, product marketers, and sales team members all understand what you are trying to do? Probably not, so it’s vital that you provide them with tools they need to make sure everyone works off the same script — and toward the same goals.

You may not have the answers to these questions right now, but you need to figure them out at some point. Every week you should be reviewing these questions with your team and tracking progress… they are that important.

What additional questions do you think content marketers overlook?

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Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • globalcopywrite

    Hi Joe,

    I love #5. If all the companies that aspire to be thought leaders would take a stand on issues in their industry, we’d have a surge in the amount of quality content around. This is especially true in the B2B arena.

    Thanks for this handy post. I’m passing it on to clients with a ‘Be prepared to discuss at our next meeting’ note.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for that Sarah. I like #4 as well. I find that most marketers don’t read their own content.

      • globalcopywrite

        That’s true, Joe. I see it all the time as a service provider. Honestly, if we don’t care enough to read our own content, why should anyone else? Not reading your own content is a super way to demotivate your creative staff.

  • Neal Taparia

    I went to a seminar by Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone. He said to be the best sales person, you have to have the mentality of being personal concierge to your customer. Point #3 I felt embodied the spirit of this.

    I think all of us can identify with articles that provide little new information or value. A basis litmus test of “can this help my reader do his or her job better” can provide a framework for quality content.

    Interestingly, consultative selling is all about understanding a buyers problem and helping solve for their needs with your product or without. Content marketing follows similar principles. A good sales person should be able to make a good content marketer, and vice versa, because of their ability to offer value to the buyer or reader.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for the comment Neal. Great stuff.

  • Storewars News

    Really informative. I just read this article: Coca-Cola
    ‘Share a Coke’ campaign to return with over 1,000 names. Read it here

  • Leanne Fournier

    Unbelievably relevant content as always Joe. 2 and 3 are my hotspots. As a writer I find it really tough when I’m brought to the table late in the game just to do the writing. How do we bring clients around to see the value of the overall content strategy?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Leanne…great question. As a writer, continue to ask how the business side shows proof that the writing is working. They may not actually know, but the questions will help. What is the content doing to advance the business?

      • Leanne Fournier

        Great idea. So rather than “forcing” the strategy on them, pull it out of them with the right questions. Love that!

    • Carlos Abler

      This is a powerful area to focus. It may be helpful to distinguish initial alignment and outcome. I’l speak to alignment only here for now. It helps if your company has statements of strategy, vision or mission that you can tie to similar documented statements for a) your content program as a whole, b) any specific content marketing strategies and initiatives that you deploy. As Joe eloquently stated in #3, your content should help your customer achieve excellence for their needs and goals. If your company has customer focused rhetoric, you can can use these in arguments to support specific initiatives especially where you are under-funded. Holding your company to their own rhetoric is part of the “put your money where your mouth is” piece of the negotiation. Many people are far too passive toward their leadership when they are under-resourced. They just sweat it out in their cubes and try to fight sometimes impossibly uphill battles with limited resources. Message alignment can help put you in a more aggressive position. If you company rhetoric is about ruling the universe through domination of market share, you can speak to how content helps you expand market share through value-added enhancement of relevance to increase the quantity and quality of customer touch-points. However most important is that YOUR CONTENT SERVES CUSTOMER NEEDS AND GOALS. If you’ve got that right, it becomes more of a distribution questions from there. ARE THEY GETTING THEIR CONTENT WHEN THEY NEED IT? As the NYT leak demonstrated, it’s not enough to produce effective content, it’s got to get into people’s hands when it matters and on your terms. This is even an antidote to content saturated markets. If you can get your content to people when and where it matters, even if what you are doing is equal or even not as good as competitors, it may nonetheless accelerate your business over the competition. If you get these two bits right (content relevance and distribution), you’ve won 90% of the battle. Everything else builds on that (measurement, optimization, tech etc.) What’s left is largely operational at that point.