So you want to do content marketing, but might be wondering why you need a “strategy.” There’s no doubt that content is important in and of itself; but you also need to keep your eyes on the target. You need a goal, and a way to get there – this forms the crux of your “strategy”.

You can use different types of content to build brand awareness, improve customer experience, or generate inquiries and leads. Companies use also their content marketing channels to get feedback. But regardless of your goal, your final “content mix” – whether it’s your blog, your Facebook page, your Twitter account, or all of the above – should consistently and effectively promote your messaging, provide a great user experience, and add value to your business.

Here are nine essential elements that will help you form a great strategy to get you there:

1. Identify Your Audience

Usually, this is the first thing you need to work out – who are you talking to? Which target population are you gearing your content towards? This, of course, will be largely dependent on your product or service. For example, if your company makes baby toys, you need to talk to parents (the decision makers). But if your product is made for single professionals, then you need switch your voice and content to appeal to this segment.

Basically, you need to talk to the right people, in the right language.

Spend time identifying your target audience. Surveys, interviews, focus groups, and marketing databases are all great sources of information. If you’re on a budget, you can send a quick survey to your current customers, interview your sales team (after all, they interact with your target audience every day), or even post a question to your social media channels.

2. Get Internal Support 

Content marketing is time-consuming and labor-intensive. You cannot do it alone (you could try, but for your sanity’s sake, do we not recommend it!). At some point (the sooner, the better), you will need support from all quarters – everyone from the product, development, marketing, and support teams… and especially from senior management.

They need to buy into the strategy, understand the larger goal, and be willing to assist the process. This way, whenever you need help or additional resources, you already have their support. Getting them involved from the very beginning is critical to your strategy’s success.

3. Have Your Checklist in Place

We’ve already established that creating and executing a content strategy requires plenty of time and resources – but we have some good news! The more time you spend planning in the beginning, the more headaches you’ll save later on. Make sure you cover the following questions right from the start:

  • What are you trying to achieve with content marketing?  Increasing users, website traffic, social shares, gaining feedback – whatever it is, know what your objective is. Set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely.
  • What is your current situation?  What’s the state of the marketplace right now? Is your industry growing, or shrinking? How about your company? How did you perform last quarter, or last year? What about your competitors? What are customers, analysts, and press saying about you? What’s the size of your content marketing budget? Know exactly where you stand, so you can set the course towards your goal.
  • How will you put this strategy in place?  How will you allocate the required time and resources for your strategy? Many companies start with ambitious plans, and then decide that they don’t want to spend much. Alter your strategy if you must, but remember that you will not get results without investing time, effort, and money.
  • How will you measure the strategy’s effectiveness?  Get all the necessary measurement and analytics tools in place for all your channels, and determine the schedule for reviewing analytics. Continuously adjust your strategy, based on your analytics data – keep doing what’s effective, stop doing what’s not.

4. Develop the Right Content & Channel Mix

Many businesses, given an opportunity to present their online brand, get lost somewhere along the way. Usually, it’s because they’re only looking at one half of the picture. Having your content in place is only the first challenge. The next challenge is to identify the channels you can use to distribute your content.

Different channels are better suited for different types of content: shorter content is great for Twitter, while longform will perform better on LinkedIn or Medium. Videos are for YouTube, images go on Instagram, and infographics are good on almost any network. And we haven’t even touched on whether your readers access your content from smartphones, tablets, or computers.

Your content strategy will help you identify how to best distribute content through this plethora of channels and devices. Take the time to understand which ones appeal to your customers. For example, they might want a discount coupon sent to their phone, or they might want to read a blog post while lying in bed with their tablet.

Again, take the time to conduct all the research you need about which channels your audience uses, as well as best practices for each channel.

5. Engage the Customer

Customers are at the heart of content marketing, and everything you do must be geared towards them. This is the audience you’re trying to support, engage, influence, and empower. Everything in your strategy – from your content’s voice and tone, to the types of content you create and different channels you use – must work towards this end. Keep these two questions in mind:

a) Which stories will delight your audience?  Do they want to read about sales promotions, or success stories? Do they enjoy lists and quizzes, or how-to guides? Do they enjoy reading about science, or laughing at cat memes?

b) Which stories will make the biggest impact?  Content marketing’s biggest strength is its ability to turn customers into advocates. For example, political parties and nonprofits will often incite outrage to get readers to vote in a particular way, while a video demonstration of your product doing something amazing can encourage people to share it with their friends, creating even more potential leads. So think about what stories will influence your customers.

6. Think Small

This might sound strange, but even as you look at your content as a whole, make sure you “break” it into smaller pieces. When it comes to content, feeding information in smaller doses is more effective, as too much can overwhelm and turn away your audience. You also want to be thinking about the appropriate content type and length for each particular channel (see Tip # 4).

For example, if you create a groundbreaking product update, instead of jamming it all into a long blog post, you could first post a demo video on your YouTube channel, follow it up with a behind-the-scenes interview on your blog, then place FAQs on your website, and finally top it off with a series of short, enticing tweets. When it comes to content, feed it to your audience “one spoonful at a time.”

7. Planning is Key

There’s a carpenter’s proverb that says, “measure twice, cut once.” And as we mentioned in Tip # 3, the more you plan now, the more pain you’ll avoid later. Take your editorial calendar, for instance: have it in place for a whole year. When do you publish? How often do you update your website? Do you tweet in the morning, or in the afternoon? Do you have a “content bank” of interesting, timeless stories to tell?

Benjamin Franklin said to fail to plan, is to plan to fail. And sure enough, many companies fail at content marketing because of a lack of planning. Have enough content (or at be producing it) to last at least a month, or even the next quarter (or two, depending on your industry and resources).

8. Build SEO-Friendly Pages

So you’ve built all these pages and loaded them with great content, but you’re not sure why people are not visiting. Often, it’s because people can’t find your content. Proper Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ensures that your page is “search friendly,” and shows up near the top of search engine results when users search for products and services in your industry.

What measures can you take to be SEO-friendly and make sure users find your page? The most important practice for building SEO-friendly pages is including relevant keywords in your content, and there are many tools that can help you optimize your blog, website and other channels (including Google AdWords’ free keyword research tool).

However, overdoing it can prompt search engines to penalize your content and place it lower in search rankings. So strike a good balance. Building the perfect landing page for SEO is as much an art as it is a science, and the more you do it, the better you’ll get.

9. Are You Making Progress?

Like everything else in business, when you have an objective, you need to check to make sure you’re on the right track and achieving the goals you set for yourself. If you did the proper planning at the start, you’ll already have a list of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs, or “metrics”), benchmarks and milestones to achieve. For example, maybe you want to attract 10,000 unique visitors in a month, or generate 10 daily comments on each blog post. These are the KPIs you must monitor. Here’s a useful primer on metrics, and another one on tools (some of them are free!).

Once you’ve started implementing your strategy, you can use measurement data to do “course corrections” by regularly reviewing and adjusting goals or tactics, so you can get back on track.

What Now?

As you can tell, creating a good content strategy requires a lot of time and effort. But if you invest and plan wisely, you’re much more likely to succeed than going in without one.

Be sure to subscribe to Contentools’ blogs for more strategy tips. And if you need help developing a content strategy, drop us a line. We’d love to help you out.