Content marketing strategy is one of those catchwords which everyone likes to use, yet few understand. Most of the definitions I found on the internet sound like something out of a textbook which I would mug up for an exam, but which by itself made no sense to me. So I decided to create a simpler, user-friendly definition of content marketing strategy which would ring true in every situation.
Content marketing strategy is how you create, distribute and measure your content to achieve certain pre-defined goals for your brand.
Content marketing is getting your content out there in the mad world.
Content marketing strategy is adding method to the madness.
This can be linear or iterative – meaning, you can create a strategy, execute it, and that is that. You then create a new strategy. Or, you can create a stage-wise strategy, execute it in stages, and after measuring results at different stages, re-create, re-distribute, re-measure and repeat and so on and so forth. We will discuss this in more detail later, once the components of a content marketing strategy are clear.
The Framework of a Successful Content Marketing Strategy
First, let’s understand the different pillars a content marketing strategy stands on. For content marketing to be successful, it requires a clarity of thought and execution as per the content strategy. Many businesses fail in their content marketing efforts because they miss out on one or the other of the vital components of a content marketing strategy, and cannot understand what went wrong in hindsight, coming, only too quickly, to the conclusion that content marketing doesn’t work.
Content marketing works – but only if you understand what it is, and how content strategy is an important part of it.
Even though content marketing is something aimed at building relationships with your customers, that alone is a loose way to define what you expect out of your content marketing efforts. That can be a subjective aspect of content marketing, but requires more definition to execute. The biggest reason why a lot of companies never try to do content marketing is because they are not clear on what they can achieve from it. No doubt, content marketing is effort and talent intensive, and unless there is clarity on what it will yield, putting eggs in that basket seems tricky business. Is it worth the risk? Let’s find out.
#1 ‘Why?’ – Setting Your Content Marketing Goals
Define your goals. There is always something you want to achieve from content marketing. What is that? List it down in order of priority and mentioning the parameters which will be used to measure your progress towards it. There can be no strategy without goals – any strategy is always meant to connect two dots – where you are with where you want to be. Think of it as a maze with many paths. A content marketing strategy defines your path. So, for it to be successful, you need to define the final destination.
Your goals can be anything, but to help you decide what type of goals you can have, here are a few examples:
- Branding yourself – letting the world know what you are all about, what are your values, what is your story, what you are doing in this world
- Growing your Lists – You want to grow your email list subscribers
- Collecting leads – you want to get qualified leads for your product or service via your content marketing
- Growing your following – you want to grow the number of followers on social media. This could be to grow as an influencer or otherwise.
- Helping prospects decide in your favour while buying. This is typically relevant to the decision stage in the buyer’s journey.
- SEO – getting more page visits, improving page ranking and ranking on SERP
These are a few examples of content marketing goals. You can manage only what you can measure. So it is also important to track your progress towards your goals in appropriate parameters. The relevant metrics to track progress in each of these will be variable, based on the type of business and the current state of affairs. Below are the corresponding parameters that can be monitored, as an example:
- Branding yourself – the type of responses you get from your followers on social media, and the reverts to your email. You would know if people are able to understand your brand values or not. Quality and quantity of engagement on communication can be monitored to track this.
- Growing your list – the increase in numbers in your email lists is the easiest parameter to monitor
- Collecting leads – tracking sign ups on your landing pages, buttons and banners – basically anywhere conversion can happen on your website or blog.
- Growing Your Following – these is relatively straight forward and easy to measure. You can track the number of followers, engagements and shares on your social media channels.
- Helping prospects decide in your favour while buying – Tracking the actual journey of a visitor on your website, leading to final conversion and purchase. The total number of conversions as well as percentage of conversion from the number of visitors, both should be tracked. This requires tracking over a lengthier period of time, as the buying cycle for some products or services is long, and sometimes doesn’t happen in a linear way. So manual tracking via feedback from sales team may be required in addition to online tools. Kissmetrics is a great tool to not only track the journey of an online visitor, but to micromanage it.
- SEO – Tracking (unique and repeat) page visits and visitors, as well as the source of traffic. Tracking page ranking on Google, Alexa and other search engines is also an important parameter. To arrive at better conclusions, you can also track which keywords you are ranking for. SEM Rush is an excellent tool to track all this SEO data.
#2 ‘Who?’ – Define Your Target Audience
For any communication, both sides are important – the speaker as well as the listener.
The same is true for content marketing. While crafting a content marketing strategy it is important to know who is your target audience – who are you reaching out to? Who do you want should engage with your content? Defining your target audience decides several important aspects of the content marketing strategy.
The target audience needs to be defined in terms of:
- Demographics – age, geography, gender
- What are their interests & passions?
- What are some problems they face, or their pain points?
- What type of websites, blogs, apps would they typically be reading and following?
The answers to these questions give important insights into what type(s) of content will “click” with your target audience, what they are likely to not only read/ watch, but also share. If done right, a good content marketing strategy can get amplified by the old marketing method of “word of mouth” which in social media terms also translates to sharing and getting picked up by people curating content on similar topics as yours.
At this stage, it is also important to define what type of a content marketing strategy you need to create – is it B2B or B2C? The target audience for B2B is also real, living people, ofcourse, but the nature of the content in terms of format and tone is decided to a great extent at this stage. This also defines your overall tone and brand image which would be resonating across all your content marketing. For a B2B audience, typically, you might want to have a more serious, articulate or classy tone, whereas for B2C you might venture into having a quirky, humorous or wacky tone of voice. Several businesses tend to get classified as B2B and B2C. In such a case, this decision will be based on the overlap between what you want to project yourself as with what will ring a bell with your target audience.
#3 ‘What?’ – What Type(s) of Content You Should Create
The type of content you create is decided by #1 and #2
There are multiple formats of content that can be created, depending on your business goals and what would resonate with your target audience. A list (albeit this would be incomplete in no time) below shows some of the most popular content formats:
- Your own company or professional blog
- Your personal blog – these can be of a more informal nature, and give insights to your followers into your life as the owner of your business.
- Guest posts on other websites and blogs linking back to your blog
- Ebooks & Guides
- Text blurbs – these are just text which is screenshotted or added to some graphic (without much design) and created for circulation on social media
- GIFs – these are widely popular and find use in multiple ways – like showing product previews or features, humourous clips, news flash posts etc.
- Videos – videos can be of many types, classified based on objective or method of creation of the video.
- Live video telecasts – Facebook, Youtube, Periscope, Instagram all have inbuilt features for live telecast of video, with differences in some of the features and applications. Harness the power of live video on the right platform to directly engage with and trigger a conversation with your target audience
- Photo stories – these are stories told through some provocative imagery, with telling captions
- Quizzes and calculators – these pave the way to gaining better insight into your target audience and also keeping them engaged for longer periods of time, while adding value to them.
- Apps – While not traditionally thought of as content, many businesses create an app showing their capabilities in action and creating a platform to gather a following or growing their lists.
- Email newsletters – These too, though traditionally thought of as a means of only distributing already existing content, can be turned into something more than that, and be a content type in its own right.
- Online Courses – These are more effort intensive, but also ensure higher engagement and time on site from your target audience
This list can be the starting point of your content strategy. You need to decide not only what content items you want to create, but also, what should be the frequency of creation of each of the items you choose, and what is the relative amount of time and talent required for the same. In other words, you require a content calendar as well as team management at this stage.
Do you have enough content writers who understand your business?
Do you have enough designers who will be able to carry your vision through their visual language?
Do you have an SEO expert who can help you identify the keywords you should be using in your content?
Weigh your assets. If you don’t have a team that can carry out the crafted content strategy, needless to say, it will fall apart.
So, what you create will also be decided by who are your ministers and what they bring to the table.
#4 ‘Where?’ – Distribution Of Your Content
I am always reminded of a Zen koan whenever I come to this stage of a content marketing strategy.
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” — Unknown
If you churn out a really insightful content piece, but no one reads it, does it even exist on the internet?
Content distribution forms that vital pillar in the content marketing strategy without which all content is virtually invisible. Distribution of content can happen in many ways, and the ways and means are decided as much by your target audience as by your resources.
Social media forms the biggest chunk in the vehicles for content. Which channel you should focus on is decided by #1, #2 and #3.
#1 – your business goals will decide the best places where you are likely to meet your goals
#2 – you will want to share your content where your target audience “hangs out”. Else you are selling apples to someone who wants lemons.
#3 – certain content types do very well on one platform and not at all on the other.
Each social media platform has its own pluses and minuses. But social media, though a big part of the strategy, is not the only way to reach people. Well thought out SEO goes a long way in getting visits for your content.
Forums like places where people post their questions – online forum websites, social media groups, Quora – are another good place where you can directly answer people’s queries with your content. The content you post should always be relevant to your audience, else it counts as spam!
Email marketing is another way to expand your reach and pave the way for better engagement. Sending emails with fresh content is a great way to invite people to your blog or website.
Each of these requires a well thought out plan, with numbers, dates, and a schedule in place. Without a proper timing and scheduling, this can easily get out of hand and you will not know what went wrong. Keeping a tracking sheet, or keeping all your outreach efforts in one place enables you to measure and compare the results from different avenues, and optimize your efforts accordingly.
#5 ‘When?’ – Define a period to measure the impact of Your Outreach
You can only manage what you can measure.
So if you cannot measure the performance of your content marketing strategy, you cannot manage it – ipso facto, you cannot improve it, you cannot revise it and you cannot build upon it.
We already discussed the metrics that can be used to measure the performance of a content marketing strategy. Another important factor is, what is the timeline for this monitoring? Is it 3 days? Is it 3 weeks? Is it 3 months?
I would want to give a straight forward, one-size-fits-all answer. But there isn’t one.
But one thing is certain – content marketing is not like advertising. Sometimes you may get a meteoric response in a very short period of time, but that is an exception, not the rule.
Content marketing is like building a house. You cannot measure what the whole house will look like by looking at one window or rail alone. It takes time to grow and yield results.
By most parameters, 3 months is accepted as an average timeline to measure the performance of a content marketing strategy. At the end of 3 months, if you have stuck to your plan and executed it to the last comma, you will be able to arrive at some conclusions about what is working for you and what is not working – but only if you have executed the strategy you created in the first place. Most of the times marketers face mayhem when it comes to assessing performance and ROI because they discard their content marketing strategies too soon or keep changing them every week.
If you change your content marketing strategy every week, be clear that you don’t have a content marketing strategy.
Content marketing requires persistence and commitment. If you have it, you win. If you don’t, well, try again 😊