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Where Does the Right Content Strategy Begin?

the right road to content strategyThough virtually every business, in any industry, stands to benefit from incorporating content into its marketing arsenal, it’s not exactly a discipline that can be managed with anything even remotely resembling a one-size-fits-all approach. With myriad options, considerations, and choices to be made for every content marketing effort, it can be a challenge for anyone to be confident that they’ve found the right content strategy to meet their unique business goals and editorial missions.

CMI asked a few of the experts who will be presenting at this year’s Content Marketing World to share their answers to the question, “What are the first strategies/tactics you recommend for new clients who want to get started with content marketing?” Here are their recommendations for getting a content strategy right from the start:

Scott AbelEvery project needs to start with a content strategy. But, in order to create the right one, we need to start with a common vocabulary. Far too often, prospects lack a clear understanding of the terminology. Content strategy (and content marketing) mean different things to different people. And the differences in definition often are a matter of vantage point. Those who come from the technical communication world often think of content strategy differently than those who hail from marketing, PR, user experience, information architecture, or mobile interaction design. As a result, confusion abounds.

At its most basic, creating a successful content marketing strategy is about mastering the art of the possible. It calls for us to re-imagine the future. To declare what we’re going to do to harness the power of our resources (human, financial, and technological) to create content designed to help us accomplish things tomorrow — things that may be impossible for us to accomplish today. To do so, we’re going to need to get creative. We’re going to have to become, as Bailie frequently says, “business consultants for content.” And, we’re going to need vision (and plenty of it). Scott Abel | @ScottAbel

michael brenner

I suggest they start by identifying their business goals and being very clear in labeling their target audience. Then, I ask them if they have an understanding of their audience’s information needs, preferred content types and channels, brand share of conversations, and more. These insights form the basis of a solid content strategy.

From there, we can get into the resources required to build the “content marketing engine” that will meet their target audience’s information needs, and how to best meet their business goals with an appropriate rate of return on the investment. Content marketing is a business investment! Michael Brenner | @BrennerMichael

joe chernovWhile I don’t work for an agency (so I don’t have clients, per se), I am asked this question often. My advice is:

  1. Precondition your executive team to be patient: Building an audience isn’t an overnight job.
  2. Get a win early: Your first piece of content shouldn’t be a “practice” asset; it’s the foundation upon which your internal reputation will be built
  3. Don’t boil the ocean: Don’t worry about tracking ROI of your content marketing effort; instead, pick a couple of meaningful metrics (like cost-per-lead) that will show you are thinking ahead to ROI, even if you aren’t ready to measure it yet
  4. Sync up with sales: Your sales team is not only your most important advocate, but, since they deal directly with buyers, they are also the “secret” source of your best content ideas. Joe Chernov | @JChernov

Heidi Cohen-content tools

  1. Start by asking some questions:
    1. What are your content marketing goals? In other words, why do you need to create this information, and what do you hope to accomplish.
    2. Who are you trying to reach? Who is the audience for your content? Think beyond your target market to include users, influencers, purchasers, and the public. To this end create both marketing personas and social media personas.
    3. Who is responsible for your content marketing strategy? While you can outsource content creation, the strategy behind it should be part of your overarching business strategy. This requires internal resources and responsibility. In other words, it must be part of someone’s job description. Related to this is the question, “Who will develop the content including interaction on social media?
    4. What is the content marketing budget? “We’re nimble” is something start-ups often say. But the reality is that you need a content marketing plan with related human and financial resources to execute it.
    5. How will you measure your content marketing results? This must flow from your content marketing goals. You must determine these content marketing metrics before you start creating your content. Further, it requires a call-to-action and tailored landing page. Heidi Cohen | @HeidiCohen

Will Davis-content tools

First — and most importantly — start with a plan. If a new client isn’t buying into planning before doing, and instead wants the “ready, fire, aim” approach to content, we’ll run the other way (quickly!). Only by taking the time to understand a prospective client’s business objectives can we then agree on why we’re doing content marketing, what success looks like, and how we are going to measure and then adjust as we go. Before starting any tactics, build out the plan — on paper, not just in your head — in order to make sure the proper thinking has been done and everyone is on the same page. When it comes to content marketing, if you fail to plan, plan to fail. Will Davis | @WillDavis

deana goldasich, best practicesWe absolutely always begin with an in-depth review of their customers, prospects, and audiences — including a detailed view of pain points. From there, we begin mapping out mission critical content and messaging. This sets the foundation for a responsible and effective plan. We’re so adamant about this planning phase, in fact, that we simply won’t work with a client who wants to skip straight to production. Deana Goldasich | @goldasich

chris goward-content tools

Our clients don’t come to us looking just for content marketing. They come looking to lift revenue from traffic they’re already attracting. We do that by, first, evaluating all of their marketing touch points to prioritize optimization opportunities, then analyzing the customer experiences on each and testing new approaches that maximize leads, sales, and profit. We follow a structured conversion optimization process that we’ve refined since 2007 to get the best results. Chris Goward | @ChrisGoward

melissa harrison, content marketing best practices

Set up a strategy document — keywords, key services, tools to be used, the times of day and types of content to be posted, who is responsible for content, etc. We rely heavily on content calendars — for everything. Blogs. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Every piece of content has a place and a plan. We also set key performance indicators (KPIs) and meet with the client before any piece of content is created/pushed live so that everyone is on the same page as to why we are doing the things we’re doing and what the end result(s) should be. We also take a look at what they’ve done in the past, what they’re currently doing, and how any of that can be supported, improved, or changed to meet the current needs of their business. Melissa Harrison | @alleecreative

Carla Johnson-content toolsLearning their story always comes first, followed by persona development. You have to know what you stand for and what makes you unique. That’s not something that you can extract from data and analytics — it has to come from the true essence of who you are as a company and what you stand for as a brand. This is the promise you make. Once you know and believe that throughout every area of your company on the inside, you then have to understand how to tell it to the audiences that matter most to you. Tailoring your story to personas is the way you make people feel special. That’s how you take their hand and guide them along their buyer’s journey. It may cost more, and take more time, to convert these leads into customers, but it’s also important to look at the lifetime revenue they generate. Being transparent about who you are to the right audience has its payoffs. Carla Johnson | @CarlaJohnson

doug kessler, content tools

It sounds like an ad, but we take them through our Big Fat Content Marketing Strategy Checklist — or ask them to go through it themselves. It helps any marketing team get systematic about fundamentals like goals and target audiences, then moves on to things like ‘sweet spot’ issues, topics, content calendars, and promotion.

We always start with goals. Everything flows from there. Doug Kessler | @DougKessler

arnie kuenn, content tools

The first thing we try to do is to understand the client’s definition of content marketing.  Many clients maintain the notion that content marketing is all about branding and directly influencing potential clients with sales and marketing messages.

While content marketing can touch on those aspects of communication with customers, the way we see content marketing is a bit different.

Our definition of content marketing is more about providing information to customers who are asking questions and trying to find out more about your product and/or services. It is not about pitching a sales message and trying to close a sale. Rather, it’s about delivering information your prospective clients need, determined by their internet searches.

Once we can agree on what content marketing is, we develop a content marketing strategy that includes the following: content marketing goals, a content audit, content planning, target audience analysis, and a competitive content analysis. These steps are all needed to create an editorial calendar.

The editorial calendar is the lifeblood of a solid content marketing program. Our ultimate goal is to get our clients to think like a publisher, and the calendar does exactly that. It will list the titles, content formats, and publishing dates of the content that was deemed necessary by following the steps outlined above.

Once the editorial calendar has been created, there is a high likelihood that the client will have a successful content marketing program. Arnie Kuenn | @ArnieK

jim kukral, content tools

First off, listen to your audience. Who are they? What are they looking for? What are their biggest problems? What do they want from you? Only then can you truly give them something that’s going to make sense and work for both of you. Resist the urge to just start blasting content all over the internet until you do this first. Jim Kukral | @JimKukral

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