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Create a Content Marketing Strategy in 3 Steps

Wouldn’t it be great to start your content marketing program knowing it will work as intended? How satisfying would it be to be confident it incorporates the insights, ideas, and focus to create stories that captivate your audience members and turn them into loyal customers?

While we can’t offer a magic formula that guarantees success, we can identify the key practice the most-accomplished content marketers adopt: They document a content marketing strategy.

Though it’s supported year after year by CMI’s annual research, a majority of practitioners still don’t take this critical step.

Why? The obvious answer is that strategy creation seems difficult. It takes thought, research, and time to plot all the details. You can’t just borrow a strategy and put it into play for your business.

This process will help you create a content marketing strategy to guide your efforts, providing significant advantages at every stage of your program. A strategy boils down to decisions in three distinct areas:

  • Why – marketing and business purpose
  • Who – audience needs
  • How – unique brand story
A #Contentmarketing strategy boils down to why, who, and how, says @joderama via @CMIContent. Share on X

1. Identify your business why

Goals and intentions

Define the business challenges and outcomes to address and achieve with content marketing. In other words, figure out why you’re creating content and how you intend for it to help your business.

Though your content marketing program can help address multiple marketing challenges, the discipline works best when focused on a single, top-priority goal. An easy trick to help accomplish this is to identify points in your funnel where the team struggles the most to reach the goals.

Answer questions like these to zero in on the content marketing goal:

  • What business need are we struggling to achieve through current marketing initiatives? For example, if the challenge is lead or demand generation, the goal could be to build the brand’s authority in the marketplace or to accelerate the conversion path on your website.
  • How big is this need? How much will addressing it help drive our goals? If you aren’t sure, compare the business value from each target market. If one drives more revenue or incurs more costs to convert, it’s likely worth focusing your content on that market’s needs.
  • What is the differentiating value? Why is it more important to invest time and money in content marketing than other things in our marketing?
  • What is our ideal outcome with this process? What will it do for our business if we succeed?

Benefits and risks for our business

While not essential to the strategy development process, look at your content goals from an organizational standpoint. This helps properly position your content marketing program to secure the resources and support to build success over the long term.

Here are a few things to consider – and some resources to explore them in more detail:

 TIP: Once successful, use this process (and some of the same answers) to scale your program to pursue additional marketing goals.

2. Determine your who (and what’s in it for them)

Audience personas

Content marketing is all about helping members of your audience accomplish their goals, so it’s critical to have a detailed understanding of who you will reach with your content and what value it will provide them. Create audience personas for your strategy.

You must know the value your #content will provide your audience, says @joderama via @CMIContent. Share on X

Personas provide a helpful snapshot of defining attributes of your target audience, including demographic profiles, informational needs, goals they want to achieve, and content engagement preferences.

They also need to account for context: How do their behaviors and preferences shift at marketing funnel stages? Who else might have a say in the decision-making process? How might their emotional needs and personal experiences influence the buying choices they make?

Though developing a detailed buyer persona for each audience segment often is complex, get a head start by documenting the answers to these questions based on information you’ve collected:

  • Who is the audience? What are its defining traits and distinguishing characteristics?
  • What roles do its members play? What does their typical day look like?
  • What do they need to accomplish? What informational gaps stand in the way of reaching those goals?
  • Where are they in our funnel? What information do they need most to help them reach the next stage?
  • Why would they care about our company as a product/service provider and/or in reflection of what we value?

Just like detailing your why, it can be helpful to first focus on a single audience persona. Choose to start with either the segment your content can help the most or a high-value target your business has historically struggled to gain traction with.

3. Figure out the how (your content marketing mission aka unique brand story)

The final step of the strategy development puzzle is arguably the most important one: Determine the stories your brand is uniquely positioned to tell and the value they provide the audience.

Determine the stories your brand is uniquely positioned to tell and the value they provide the audience, says @joderama via @CMIContent. #Contentstrategy Share on X

To accomplish this, create your content mission statement. It gives the centering principles for the content experience and distinguishes your brand’s storytelling efforts from everything competing to grab your customers’ attention (including your direct competitors’ content).

Pinpointing your unique story

Your content mission statement should include details on your brand’s unique vision of content’s value, the audience it will serve, and the priorities and principles it will uphold. It can also provide more specific details on the creative side, including the kinds of stories you intend to tell (e.g., the topics you’ll focus on), how those stories will take shape (e.g., your core content formats and platforms), and how your content assets will work collectively to create an overarching brand experience.

A #content mission statement details unique vision of content value, audience, priorities, and principles, says @joderama via @CMIContent. #Contentstrategy Share on X

For example, the Content Marketing Institute’s statement outlines our target section of the broader content marketing audience – enterprise professionals.

Content Marketing Institute leads the industry in advancing the practice of content marketing for enterprise marketing professionals. We educate our audience through real-world and how-to advice through in-person events, online training, a print magazine, daily blog posts, and original research.

The CMI content mission statement also establishes the core content platforms (e.g., in-person events, online training, a daily blog) and clearly summarizes the content experience delivered to the audience (real-world, how-to advice).

Before you document these details, look critically at internal and external factors that shape them. Use questions like these to guide you:

  • Who are we as a company? What principles guide us? What core values do we want to uphold in all our efforts?
  • What is our business uniquely positioned to help our audience achieve?
  • What are we doing through the content we create to help our audience? How are our efforts distinct in the marketplace?
  • What do we want our audience to accomplish by engaging with our content?

Defining your content mission also helps with tactical decision making down the line. Team members will have clear guidelines to determine which creative ideas are the right fit for your brand’s story and which ones may not serve its unique purpose.

Get more help crafting your strategic foundation

A strong strategic foundation unites your goals, your audiences, and your brand story to bring all your initiatives into sharper focus. That’s true if you’re starting a content marketing program, adapting to a new business model, or adding marketing priorities or customer challenges. By documenting these components, your content marketing program will be well positioned for success.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute