A Guide to Developing Content Strategy – Part I

A Guide to Developing Content Strategy – Part I

by Rob May / Wednesday, 26 November 2014 / Published in Brand awareness, Content marketing, Inbound Marketing

Earlier this month, I wrote an article about various misconceptions about content strategy, and pointed out a few key points to help improve your already ongoing efforts in content marketing! This week’s article starts to focus at the foundation, and a little more on several key points that I think will help anyone get off to a better start with their content marketing strategy.

This week’s feature is going to focus a little more on several key points that I think will help anyone get off to a better start with their content marketing and strategy plan. Essentially, mapping out the various stages you need to go through to plan an effective strategy and, aligning that with business goals and tracking to measure content performance. There are a lot of steps along the way, so stick with me!

In order to make this something more digestible, I decide that for the next 3 weeks, I will write a series of articles (this is part I) that hopefully helps anyone looking for information on content process strategy. At the same time, helping outline things they should be doing early on and throughout the process to achieve success (because isn’t that our end goal when working with content!)

What Exactly is Content Marketing?

Joe Pullizi (@JoePulizzi), who founded The Content Marketing Institute, has a quick and “ready” definition for content marketing. I’m not going to try to rewrite it or re-invent the wheel! He’s someone I have been following for many years; admire greatly in the field and who is by far, probably the most renowned content marketing specialist around.

Here is the short and direct version he has developed. It pretty much sums in up!

Content marketing is the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

@JoePulizzi / Joe Pulluzi – Content Marketing Institute

contentstragegy-thinkcapWith the ‘creation of content’, we aim to educate and nurture customers in the buyer journey of a product or service. It is the process for developing, executing and delivering content and related assets that are needed to create, nurture, and grow your company’s customer base. All these components need to attract and engage users (your customers) and educate them to make a trusted decision.

Get ready to put your thinking cap on!

What Content Marketing is Not!

It is not a platform to pitch to customers about “your products and services”.  We don’t want to be self-proclaiming, or self absorbed about our own products and how well we do things. That isn’t the point here. There is still entirely too much of this today in content marketing and I see it all too often in when auditing clients who already have some sort of content marketing in place.

Your end goal should be to “educate your readers about your industry”, to provide value and trust, to help them make smarter buying decisions by being more intelligent about what they are looking for.

To simplify things a little, you should be looking to do:

  • Attract traffic to the website
  • Work to convince people that they should sign up for your blog
  • With that signup list – develop a email marketing campaign to nurture readers
  • Convince these subscribers you are an authority in industry
  • Finally, convert these subscribers into leads.

On the positive flip side to this, it will allow you to position yourself as a leader in the industry, and build trust about your company and brand, as well as build natural authority in the industry you work in.

The belief in content marketing is that as you help nurture and educate through delivery of consistent, ongoing and valuable information to buyers “that they will ultimately, reward you with their business and loyalty.” The result is that potential customers will use these sources of information to help answer the questions they have prior to making a buying decision on anything. Is this something you want to miss out on? No, not at all! You do not want to miss out.

Content Marketing isn’t for the Faint at Heart!

And I can’t stress this title enough! If you are already working with content (great!), or you found yourself visiting article to gain little more insight into considering content marketing as another channel to develop – it is a long haul commitment and not a quick solution to gaining traffic and leads. Content marketing is both a huge investment financially, a large investment in time on all parties included. Ultimately, It’s going to take a huge amount of communications to keep things lined up, and a huge investment in time on both parties.

So, if you’re ready to take the plunge and have found in your research and budgets that content marketing is for you, then keep reading because this series of articles over the next few weeks. It will begin to help you see how it all comes together.

First, Where do you Begin with Content Marketing?

Understanding your Content Marketing Strategy

Take the time to develop a sound content marketing plan, and your strategy will execute with the least amount of problems!

In order to get started in content marketing (the right way), you should start getting answers and understanding to a few key questions:

  1. You need to know and understand you company goals
  2. You need to develop your company’s mission statement

Why do you need to understand the goals and your mission statement prior to launching a content marketing campaign you might ask? Simple. You need to figure out exactly what you want to do with your content marketing efforts in order to map out how you are going to get there, while also achieving results that help drive conversion and sales.

It’s important to take the time and align your content with both your business and your content objectives. By following this step, you will be able to ensure you attain measurable KPI’s and goals you want to track when launching.

Your First Assignment! 

Now that you have a brief understanding of what is going on with content marketing (or are starting to get the picture ;), we can explore a little more about the goals of content marketing and relating those back to the business. John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co. attributes five business goals to content marketing. They include:

  • Brand Awareness
  • Brand Loyalty
  • Customer Engagement
  • Customer Engagement
  • And Talent Recruitment

Of course, right now, I can here our Director cringing and saying “what about the KPI’s!” and “OK, great. How do you measure this for clients so we can determine it’s success”? So, yes, it’s super important to identify even a few points for monitoring performance (KPIs), but at the same time, not to be overwhelmed with Key Performance Indicators that you lose focus of the clients goals mentioned above.

This is why those traffic and click through rates as metrics are not included here. Hall mentions that “Readers are smart, so creating an article with the intent of driving traffic or building links, will only prevent your audience from drinking the Kool-Aid you’re serving.” He goes on to say that traffic is a “good thing” and “building traffic the right way” is what the end game of content marketing should be about. His conclusion is this – “Consider link building a by product of your efforts, but don’t set it forth as your goal.”

Identify & Understand your Business Goals!

Plain and simple, you need to understand where you want to go, so you can plan correctly map how to get there. This is referred to content mapping. You need to think about content and identify how it can help you attain your objectives – whatever you identify them as. Having these clearly identified means that your content strategy will help you directly answer them, and align with your goals and KPIs. There may be others that I have not included, but these are some of the top goals I have come across. You can surely identify what goals matter to your business and apply them below. It will only solidify your objectives and results later on.

  • Do you need/want more leads?
  • Do you need/want to build awareness for your brand?
  • Do you need/want to cross-sell, or up-sell clients who are already clients?
  • Do you need to convert more leads?
  • Do you need more prospects along the buyer’s journey?

It’s important to remind you, that you need to “identify how will your content help you attain your business goals”, in order to help you align and achieve them.

OK, so now you know what Content Marketing is and you’re working to align your plan and goals. Where the heck do you go now?

Understanding Content Strategy

Understand Content, and have everyone contribute to the strategy that has a say!

That is probably the hardest question to answer if you don’t really know where you are going and jump in before understanding how you should approach it! I’ve heard this numerous times when speaking with clients in meetings about the work. Since it follows the previous section of answering questions (and yes, you will have lots of these questions throughout the content planning stages to answer), we have to tackle them!

I’ve worked with clients who have said “Hey! Here is our content strategy. I’ve built an editorial calendar that we worked on too. We put in a ton of hours on this and think it’s a great start to get us going with content.” That’s fantastic” I say; but the question is, was the work of value? Were the primary questions above answered? Do you know who you are selling too? Do you know your market? Was the time taken to fully understand who you were targeting and why?

Almost (90%) of the time (in my experience), clients didn’t take the time to develop out whom they were targeting in their marketing strategy and why. They didn’t ask many questions, if any at all. I find it alarming how many companies don’t have a “general” persona developed to understand their primary targeted buyer! Taking the time to develop out these steps out, personas will help you in the end, by organizing your content around the buyers and evangelists who will in the end, helping you increase conversions and lead generation, thus becoming evangelists and consumers of your products or services.

I always take the time to look over any client work handed to me, but my recommendations are usually pretty straightforward and end with several questions for the clients to answer, which helps set them in the right direction and get moving.

This makes it clear that, although they built a nice outline, an editorial calendar, plugged some titles in, and in some cases has already started production, they had no idea WHO they were writing too, targeting and why, as well as who their clients actually were.

So, what the heck to do ask yourself prior to getting started? I’ve added a few questions (yes, more questions that I actually use in various stages of the planning and development phase!) below to help you align your efforts to attain business objectives.

Question Everything

Make sure to question everything in content strategy. There is no wrong answer!

Questions I usually ask clients might include (pre or post looking at their project work to date)

  1. Who do you want to target? Do you have a persona built already?
  2. Do you own a specific niche right now? Identify it here!
  3. Do you have a specific niche you want to develop and own the brand (conversation) on?
  4. What services do your clients/leads or prospects want or need?
  5. What information are my potential customers looking for?
  6. What can you offer them?
  7. In what we are targeting, do you want to have them associate with the brand?
  8. How do prospects find you now?
  9. How can you attract new customers?
  10. Have we assessed our competitor’s content strategy? What do we like/dislike about what they are doing and what’s resonating with the clientele?
  11. Do you have anything you do NOT want to highlight within the company/brand?
  12. Describe your typical customer (needs, desires, preferences, fears, pain, etc.).
  13. What sets your company apart from others in your industry? Is there a unique aspect to your company that you could use as a point of differentiation?
  14. What overall KPI’s and goals do you have or want with your content strategy?

Building your Persona (Ideal Customer)

One very serious question you need to ask yourself before moving ahead is, “whom is this content directed at?” as I mentioned above, going back to my previous point. By identifying this from the questions above, you are on your way to getting out the door right, on the right foot and into the race with competition. In fact, following this series will actually help you be better at content marketing through detailed process planning!

So, you should be able to look at answering this, if you took the time to develop out your persona file, and understand your market. Understanding your marketplace, and your visiting traffic will help you tailor your work and target it towards the very people looking for the services or products you offer.

  • Stage 1 – Building a persona (or personas for the ambitious!). You might think this is an easy thing to do, but its actually incredibly difficult, almost every company I have ever worked or consulted with has struggled to produce even one persona that would help them impact their content strategy. This persona will help them identify who their idea customer is and help them plan on how to target them with the right messages.
Sample of a buyer persona

Make sure to build your business personas! This will improve your chances of success with content marketing.

The Next step! Actually Brainstorming Ideas for your Content Strategy

This next step is about brainstorming. Having someone who is skilled enough in leading a brainstorming session is absolutely key in making it a successful session (*so you don’t waste yours or anyone else’s time) so you can start to accumulate results that you can work with! Nothing is out of bounds in this process and every stakeholder involved in the project should be involved in this process to ensure you have all views and points included.

“Your brainstorming sessions should be about volume, not about accuracy.”

content strategy brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming sessions are imperative. Everyone gets a seat at the table! Ideas Ideas Ideas!

As many ideas as you can think of, from a variety of people on the team, staff, product managers, even your CMO’s! Whoever you can get into a session that should have a say, should be there – and let me emphasize this – “everyone should have seat at the table for content strategy. It touches all departments at some point or another in various parts of the funnel (we’ll talk about funnels and segmentation in a later article). It’s better you are connected with your team at the beginning; and not trying to patch things up at the end after you have decided where you are going. What a mess that is! Get everyone on board early and the process will be so much smoother moving forward. Generate as many ideas as you can muster up and then analyze! It’s not about quality, analysis or decision-making at this time, it’s about quality – the more ideas the better! Quality comes later.

Something I should mention here, for the brainstorming session. Make sure to pay attention! This is the time you get to offer input in the process of the strategy. If you’re caught sleeping at the wheel, or better yet, flat out not paying attention, you get left behind and the team doesn’t get the ‘valuable input from you’ at that stage. So, later if there are gaps, and everyone gets busy, there are holes in the plan. These holes create problems in the cycle later – so stay tuned in to what is going on around you. Put the cell phone away. Close the laptop and get involved. Start getting creative and moving in a manner which flows with everyone else contributing to the goals!


The Takeaway

You can clearly see that these first few steps are key to getting off on the right foot. They will take time to put together and it will take some planning and timelines, but in the end, it will be all worth it and you will have a well oiled machine working for you, not against you.

In next week’s follow up, I’ll focus on helping you start your keyword research (to align with your brainstorming and content selection ideas), setting up and producing your content calendar for publishing (even provide a few samples I use), and various SaaS tools you can use for content scheduling and management.

The weeks’ following that will address and help you in reviewing your content goals before launch, and the goals and KPI’s you should be using inside the content funnel to track and measure performance.  Make sure to check back weekly for each article as this series is aimed at helping anyone interested in content strategy.

In the end – these guidelines will help you define a solid content strategy that you can honestly be proud of.

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Rob May, Ludis Media

Rob May

Over 15 years experience and a passion for SEO, Web and Inbound Marketing. Started in web development back in 1999-2000 during university at Bishops, but made a major shift towards web marketing and haven't looked back since. I have been involved with successful start ups over the past 10 years and have joined Ludis Media to build with another team. Always looking forward and love technology!

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