Ready or not, 2018 is on its way. If you happened to catch our collection of content marketing predictions for the upcoming year, you may think you’re in for a bumpy ride. There are lots of big changes to manage on the horizon – the increasing impact of voice-activation, AI automation, and tighter consumer data regulation among them.
But just because you likely need to work a bit harder to keep your content marketing maturity level on track with your competition and on pace with innovation doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of a few shortcuts along the way. Once again, we’ve updated the toolkit of some of CMI’s best tips, checklists, and templates. They can help you tackle your usual tasks with less effort, so you can conserve your time and energy to prepare for whatever surprises 2018 might bring.
First and foremost – follow the framework
When I have a tough job to do, I like to break it down into smaller, more manageable parts and tackle one at a time. For example, the basic requirements for successful, scalable content marketing operations can be divided into the five core elements outlined in our latest Content Marketing Framework:Break down your #contentmarketing program into manageable steps, says @joderama. Click To Tweet
- Your purpose and goals: The “why” – why you are creating content and what value you expect it to provide
- Your target audience: The “who” – the one category of consumers your content can benefit most and what’s in it for them
- Your brand story: The “what” – what specific, unique, and valuable idea you will build your content assets around (This includes your overarching content mission, as well as the topical areas you will focus on in pursuit of that mission.)
- Your process: The “how” – how you will structure and manage your operations, as well as how you will enable, activate, and apply specific content tactics in pursuit of your goals
- Your measurement: The “how much” – how you will gauge your content’s performance, evaluate its business impact, and identify opportunities for improvement
With this construct in mind, let’s start from the very beginning.
Building your strategic foundation
Everything you do as a content marketer should flow from a deliberately constructed content marketing strategy. Think of it as building a road map of the content experience you intend to cultivate and how it will connect your business with your audience – and move both closer to achieving their goals.Everything you do as a content marketer should flow from a constructed #contentmarketing strategy. @joderama Click To Tweet
But before you draw your map, you first need to solicit buy-in from stakeholders that will make your content journey possible. If executives don’t understand what content marketing is, how it works, and what results they can reasonably expect to achieve, you’ll be hard pressed to get their support when there are obstacles to be cleared, let alone their permission to take necessary risks on the road to success.
The DIY tool: This checklist is part of the article How to Win Your Battle for Content Marketing Buy-in [50+ Stats]. It can help you prepare a compelling case and assure stakeholders that your content marketing program will be well positioned to reach its goals.
With stakeholder support, you can move on to develop the core building blocks of a content-first strategy.
Establish your goals
If your content program could only achieve one goal, what would it to be? Bring in more sales leads? Introduce your business to new audiences? Drive greater loyalty, satisfaction, and evangelism among your existing customers? Content marketing can help your business achieve all these aims, and more; but it works best when you focus on one challenge at a time.
The DIY tool: Answer the goal-related questions CMI founder Joe Pulizzi shares in his simplified strategy approach to quickly define the strategy that your content efforts should support.
Develop your mission statement
A content marketing mission or core content strategy statement is a summary of your company’s reason for creating content, and the priorities and perspectives it will uphold in pursuit of that mission. Not only can it help identify and characterize the unique value your company will provide through its content, it’s also a critical component for governing your storytelling efforts and guiding your decision-making throughout the life of your program.
The DIY tool: Fill in the blanks of Meghan Casey’s core content strategy statement template to home in on the unique value your content can provide – to both your audience and your business.
Pinpoint your audience
When you think of your content recipients using broad, catch-all terms like “audience” or “targets,” it’s easy to lose sight of their needs as people – unique, complex individuals, each with a unique complement of needs, interest, preferences, and behaviors.
That’s where audience personas come into play. These composite sketches help characterize key segments of your audience in terms of who they are, what their relevant challenges and concerns are, and what role they are likely to play in their company’s purchasing process. Without personas to guide your decisions, you are more likely to revert to creating content around what you know best (your products and company) instead of around the information your audience is actively seeking.
You probably already collect some of the information you need to build a robust persona – basic demographic and geographic data. But if you want your content to truly resonate, consider incorporating any insights gathered on your persona’s communication preferences, past behaviors, goals, daily challenges, and purchase motivations. These can include:
The DIY tool: This quick and dirty guide will walk you through the basics of creating easy, yet actionable content marketing personas.
Map it out
Once you’ve determined your mission, target audience, and strategic goals and objectives, the next step is to document your decisions so everyone in your organization understands the priorities and challenges involved and can execute on each effort with a shared purpose.
The DIY tool: While there’s no one-size-fits-all template for developing a thorough strategy, the one-page strategy plan shared by George Stenitzer should help you hit the ground running.Use a one-page #contentmarketing strategy to hit the ground running. @riverwordguy and @joderama Click To Tweet
Creating an actionable editorial plan
Repeat after me: “Content marketing works best when you plan for its success.” You need an operational plan that outlines all the insights, actions, people, and procedures necessary to take your content marketing program from a lofty strategic ideal to a fully functional and productive content marketing engine.
Characterize the customer’s journey
Providing your audience with a rewarding experience is the point of content marketing. It’s essential to understand their consumption preferences, engagement habits, and pain points – as well as how those needs may change over time – if you expect your content to deliver the kind of value that will help you forge deeper, longer-lasting customer relationships.
The DIY tool: Applying the information from your audience personas to this customer journey map template (originally shared by Marcia Riefer Johnston, along with a walk-through of the mapping process) will help identify the content topics, story ideas, formats, and channels that best suit your audience’s needs – now, and as they progress through each stage of their buyer’s journey.
Once you have identified the path your customers are looking to take, you want to map the specifics of how to enable your content to facilitate that journey – including your editorial processes, guidelines, and tactics, as well as the team resources to get it all done.
Align your content ideas with your business goals
To reach the right people at the right time, on the right channels, and drive them to act, you need accurate audience data to inform your publishing plans, as well as the content ideas you will execute to deliver on their needs.
The DIY tool: This multichannel content marketing planner created by strategy expert Lisa Copeland is an easy-to-use, easy-to-share way to capture data and insights that lead to strategically aligned content creation.
Establish and empower your team
When you are cultivating a newsroom-like environment – one capable of consistently producing high-quality content on multiple channels and platforms on an ongoing basis – it’s essential that you enable your team to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible. Make sure everyone involved understands your organization’s expectations, and has the required skills and know-how to fulfill them.
The DIY tool: Use this team framework developed by Michele Linn to identify the skills, mindset, and cultural considerations to account for when running a successful content marketing program.
Set roles and responsibilities
Because there are so many moving parts to effective content marketing creation and distribution, each team member needs a clear understanding of all the tasks involved in the process, who is responsible for each task, and how their own work contributes to the organization’s content goals.
The DIY tool: Make sure all your bases are covered by checking out the 10 content marketing roles Joe Pulizzi advises every brand to fill if it wants its initiatives to be successful.
Outline your team workflow
A smooth workflow is the secret sauce of successful content marketing operations. Undefined workflows make it difficult to keep track of multiple projects at once and stay on schedule, let alone understand the time and team resources spent on your content program – which is essential for determining its potential ROI.
To document your workflow, visualize the progression of all the tasks to move a content asset from the idea stage to distribution and promotion. This includes identifying who on your team should be involved/responsible at each step, as well as what tools, approvals, and collaborations, and quality assurances will be necessary to complete the process.
The DIY tools: Use this workflow template, originally shared by Robert Mills, as a quick-start reference tool. You can also follow the highly detailed workflow documentation process outlined by Raechel Duplain. This template is part of the article How to Define a Workflow That Keeps Content Production On Track.
Determine your editorial guidelines and governance details
In addition to your workflow, your editorial content plan should outline the defining characteristics of your brand identity (as it relates to the content you will publish), the preferred voice and style of your content, and the editorial rules and standards that will govern your content efforts.Editorial plans should outline brand identity characteristics, voice, style, & standards. @joderama Click To Tweet
The DIY tool: Use this publishing guidelines cheat sheet to help document and distribute the procedural information your team needs most.
And, if you regularly encounter process bottlenecks, productivity breakdowns, or other challenges with your content marketing workflow or governance practices, try these 30 Habits of Highly Productive Content Marketing Teams.
Set your editorial calendar
This most steady and stalwart of tools in the content marketer’s arsenal has transformed itself over the years, from a simple spreadsheet for tracking what you publish to an essential component for managing the life cycle of your organization’s content marketing program.
The DIY tool: The CMI team uses a multi-tabbed spreadsheet to keep our content ideas organized from conception to completion. Download (go to “File > Download As >” and select the format you would like) the sample template below from our complete guide on editorial calendar essentials, and customize it to suit your team’s content needs.
Outline your channel plan
This component of your editorial plan governs how, when, and on what channels and platforms you will publish content, as well as any rules of engagement your organization sets for each one.
At a minimum, your channel plan should account for:
- Who you will reach – the persona(s) most active/engaged on this channel
- Target goals/benefits – what this channel will help your team accomplish – including unique opportunities it presents
- Featured topics – subject areas/conversations likely to resonate with this community
- Target velocity – frequency and timing to post on this channel; length of time to spend monitoring/contributing to other relevant conversations
- Formats – content types to share; formats that could give a competitive advantage in this space
- Tone and rules of engagement – conversation style and voice that works best; special criteria or considerations to follow (e.g., write a maximum of 140 characters, avoid enabling videos to play automatically, emphasize visuals over text)
- Team resources – team member in charge of communication on this channel; other personnel authorized to post on company’s behalf; whom to notify if questions arise or issues escalate
- Call to action – owned media/conversion point to drive traffic to
- Key performance indicators – metrics to gauge content performance against goals
The DIY tool: To build your channel plan, download (go to “File > Download As >” and select the format you would like) a copy of my sample template (below), and customize it to fit the specifications of your own program. (Please note: While I used CMI as a reference for this example, the data included does not represent our actual channel plan.)
Activating your plan
Once you’ve set your strategy and outlined your plans for executing it, it’s time to start creating and distributing those compelling, customer-driven stories. Though the creative process is unique to every business, plenty of tools can help with generating story ideas, organizing them into relevant content pieces, and getting them into the hands of your target audience.
Team brainstorming sessions are a great tool for getting the creative juices flowing and coming up with new ideas for content creation.
The DIY tool: Looking to make your content ideas a bit more imaginative? Why not try the five-step improv exercise Cisco Systems’ Tim Washer developed through his experience as a comedy writer?
Write compelling content
Many types of content have immediate, nearly universal appeal – timely memes, videos featuring the antics of pets and other animals, or fun social quizzes that tell us which magical creature we would be in the world of Harry Potter. But if you want your content to truly contribute to your business goals on an ongoing basis, you need to do more than just entertain. Your content needs to offer tangible value, resonate with your audience on a personal level, and extend your brand’s influence beyond the duration of the initial engagement.
The DIY tool: If you are looking to create content that not only grabs your audience’s attention in the short term but also compels them to act and extend the engagement after they’ve consumed it, build your stories around one of the crave-worthy content themes outlined by Scott Aughtmon:
Leverage content curation
Curation is a great way to maximize your content resources and get the most value out of every piece of content. However, it can be challenging to ensure that your curation efforts add enough value to the original asset to make a positive impact on your target audience.
The DIY tool: If you want your curation efforts to get results, focus on these three tactics recommended by Ross Hudgens.
Maintain high quality standards
While there’s a certain charm to content produced under the deliberately flawed “glitch aesthetic” style, content unintentionally riddled with typos, grammatical errors, tech issues, or factual inaccuracies can cost you the trust and respect of your audience –and, possibly, their patronage. If you want to avoid being mocked for producing lazy, low-quality assets or labeled as a purveyor of fake news, carefully proof, test, and fact-check every content effort to ensure that it is as clear, functional, error-free, and above reproach as possible.Content riddled w/ grammatical errors or inaccuracies can cost you the trust of your audience. @joderama Click To Tweet
The DIY tool: Before you release any piece of content into the world, sign off on all the items Nayomi Chibana has outlined in her fact-checking checklist:
Prioritize your productivity
Not every idea you generate will be a good fit for your content marketing strategy. Some may be fantastic on paper but require more time and resources than your team can spare; others may be creatively brilliant but not useful for your target audience. When situations like these arise, it’s helpful to have a process to determine the value and urgency of each content idea.
The DIY tool: Meghan Casey has crafted a content decision-making matrix, which her team uses to evaluate and prioritize 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.
Evaluating and optimizing your performance
Following the above advice will give your content a strong strategic and creative foundation that you can build on over time. But that doesn’t mean your job is done once you’ve released your assets into the wild. You need to continually evaluate, strengthen, and grow your content kingdom by identifying what’s working, adjusting what isn’t, and amplifying your content’s power through strategic promotion and optimization techniques.
Set performance standards
Your content is only as good as its ability to support your marketing and business goals. It’s not enough to just create and distribute the content you think your audience will want to read. You must gauge how well that content does its job of driving readers to take further action and establishing the kind of trust and credibility that satisfying customer relationships are made of.
Tracking the right key performance indicators (KPIs) can help provide insight into whether your current marketing efforts are moving the needle in the right direction. KPIs can also offer clues as to what steps you should be taking to get poor-performing content back on track.
The DIY tool: Unsure of which KPIs you should track? This list shared by Mike Murray outlines some of the most informative metrics in common content categories:
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Build a measurement and reporting dashboard
Once you choose the performance indicators most meaningful for your business, you want to track the performance of every content asset you publish against those benchmarks. Building a dashboard where you can display all your data in one place on an ongoing basis makes it easier to identify performance outliers (both good and bad), as well as report your results to your supervisors and stakeholders.
The DIY tool: Dashboards can be created and customized in many ways and, with the right tools, you can get granular; the simple measurement template shared by Michael Brenner can start you with a broad view of how your content performs against common metrics over a trended time. Go ahead and download the content marketing dashboard template and customize it to your team’s needs.
Maximize the value of existing assets
These days, it seems like there’s a hot, new content platform hitting the scene before the buzz has even started to cool on the last one. But that doesn’t mean content marketers need to start publishing more and more content or generate new material for every conceivable platform to make a meaningful impact. Instead, your business may be better served by amplifying the value of the high-performing content you have or repurposing it so it can reach and engage new audiences.
The DIY tool: Not sure which content assets you should double-down on? In addition to tracking key metrics, Google Analytics can be used to uncover deeper, more actionable insights you can use to guide your amplification efforts. This tip sheet from Andy Crestodina will show you how to find several of them.
Promote your efforts
Content marketing promotion can take many forms, such as sharing your published content on your social channels, enlisting the assistance of industry influencers, or incorporating native advertising and other paid promotional techniques.
The DIY tool: Considering the high volume of content competing for attention online and the general decrease in organic reach on social media, if you want your content to get discovered by the right audience at scale these days, you need to consider investing some budget in paid promotion techniques. Our quick-start guide to paid content promotion will help you compare the available opportunities and decide which ones might work best for you.Consider investing in paid promotion if you want your content to get discovered, says @joderama. Click To Tweet
Optimize your search performance
Optimizing your content marketing for search can feel like the board game of Clue – a process where you may encounter a lot of false starts and dead ends before finding the right path to success. But there are more strategic ways to plan and manage your SEO efforts so your content draws in your target audience and delivers the value they are looking for.
The DIY tool: Following the 10 steps outlined in this SEO Clues infographic – as well as the additional tips shared in our 15-point SEO plan – will make it easier to solve the mysteries of search-driven content discovery and improve your rankings for relevant searches.
Go forth and conquer
While these tips, tools, and templates will help you tackle many of the challenges involved in successful content marketing, they’re no substitute for a thorough understanding of the principles and techniques they represent. If you have questions, or would like additional insights on any of these topics, let us know by adding a comment.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute