What is Content Marketing Strategy? One of the best explanations of what it is, comes from Hannah Smith in her article on Distilled.com: “Content Marketing Strategy is the high level vision that guides content development to deliver against a business objective.” From this explanation, it’s clear that you first need a high-level vision of what you want your Content Marketing to achieve, and this vision must be aligned to your most important business objectives.
What must your Content Marketing Strategy contain? The first thing to know is that the more detailed your strategy document is, the more focused and successful your business will be. This is because Content Marketing Strategy helps you name and list all the factors that your business must prioritize. It will help you put targets against each priority, so you know exactly what you are supposed to be doing, day after day, to eventually achieve your objectives. To make this exercise easier for you, we have a 20-questions framework that will help you cover all bases, leaving out nothing at the planning stage. The more thorough your planning is, the more laser-targeted your actions will be, and you’ll achieve the success you want, without wasting unnecessary time, effort and money in the process.
Your Content Marketing Strategy is your route map towards success!
If you’re a small business or solopreneur, there’s every chance you may be already using Content Marketing or planning to do so. You may be seeing Content Marketing as a strategy to grow your customer base, your sales revenues and your business.
Indeed, Content Marketing is a very cost-effective way to get your marketing messages in front of your target market. Content Marketing is also the most favored method of marketing online, that’s proven to work.
The real difficulties, though, surface when you start actualizing all the plans in your head. One by one, your imagined paths of success unravel, and come to nought. You try experiments and find them to be unsuccessful.
Competitors race away to the left and right of you, and what should be your customer base runs after them, instead of you. You find that you’ve been working hard, but since you failed to plan, you planned to fail!
When you stop and think about it, see how much content is out there online already. Do you still wonder why it’s so hard hard to cut through all that clutter and make an impact? Most startups are daunted by the prospect of not knowing where and how to begin thinking differently from the crowd, to find their own space for success in the market.
That’s where having an effective Content Marketing Strategy can make all the difference. A Content Marketing Strategy document is like a plan that can help you decide what your business priorities should be, whom you should target, how you should target them, what pieces of content you’ll need to create, and how you’ll keep competitors at bay.
Remember to set out all your strategic objectives as targets and numbers you want to achieve. With a lot of such details thought over and planned meticulously, your Content Marketing Strategy will be like having a roadmap of your own, in your hands, to begin your journey with.
A lot of specialists argue that the more unshakeable your strategic plan is, the more flexible your execution of the plan can be, and you can bend and sway to the trends and changes in the market, without breaking.
But in these days of rapid and ground-breaking shifts in technology, and the consequent changes in the content-consumption habits and preferences of people, you may find that even your Content Marketing Strategy needs to be reviewed and tweaked from time to time, to keep it aligned to the realities of life at the cutting-edge.
So think of your Content Marketing Strategy as your starter plan. Don’t get either too tight or too loose with it. Review it frequently, to see that it’s not losing steam, just because it’s falling behind the times.
Let it be a living, breathing document, clarifying these three things: Where am I now? Where do I want to go? How do I get there? The more care that goes into planning, the less trial-and-error work you’ll have to do later that delays your success.
Why do businesses need a Content Marketing Strategy?
Content Marketing without strategy often leads to incoherent content. Content marketers need to produce a lot of content over time, across many different channels, and suitable for many different devices.
If you have a strategy, every piece of content, now and in the future, will be accountable to a single common vision that matches your business and brand objectives. Incoherence in content messaging is confusing to target audiences, and eventually it can erode brand credibility.
You may have heard that a Harvard Business Study found that the 3% of graduates from their MBA class, who had their goals written down, ended up earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together, just ten years after graduation. That’s why experts say you don’t just need a strategy, it must be written down.
Having a strategy is to have a core purpose for everything you do in your Content Marketing. Keep it always before you, so every day you can look at it to see if your work is always “on brand and on strategy”.
An interesting piece of research (shown below) from the LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community shows you roughly how many content marketers bother with articulating a clear and decisive strategy.
20 steps to articulating your Content Marketing Strategy!
Building your Content Marketing Strategy is a step-by-step process, and these are the twenty sequential questions you need to ask to get your content strategy pinned down:
1. Who are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses, passions and interests?
It goes without saying that any plan has to be built around what you are good at doing, and more importantly, what you like doing. After you start the work, it’s a bit too late to be thinking “Oops, I don’t like this work. I’m finding it all uphill!”. So think about yourself first, to see if you can sustain the actions your business and its Content Marketing will demand of you.
2. What niche (specific market segment) do you plan to produce products for?
A niche is a small part of a larger market segment of audiences. In the beginning, most budding content-marketers will think: “Why should I target a small group, why not target a large group of people, so I can make more money?” But the smaller and more specific your niche is, the more customized and resonant your content will be, when you write for this specific group. Soon you’ll find that you never knew that this “small group” actually had so many million people in it!
An entrepreneur I know targeted left-handers at first, to sell left-handed implements to. The group was still too large, so he then narrowed it down to left-handers with arthritic pain in their finger joints. Guess what! He sold millions of specialized scissors to this group, and is now close to hitting six figures in business. Suddenly, to him, the world looks like its choc-a-bloc with arthritic left-handers!
3. What products or services are you offering? How are they differentiated from competition?
There are many types of products you can sell to your market. Chances are, you may already know what you’d like to sell. See if it’s a physical product to be sold digitally … or a purely digital product (but still downloadable) … or if it’s a virtual product (like consultancy services).
Most important of all, see if there is some difference in the product or service you want to sell, from what the competition offers. If there is no difference in the product itself, you may have to create a difference through the quality or uniqueness of your Content Marketing.
4. What business model will you follow?
What is a business model? It refers to the way your business plans to make money. Sometimes you may decide to make money through sale of your products and services. Some other businesses – like magazines, for example – create articles as their products, but they make more money through allowing advertising, than by the sale of their magazines.
You can also make your revenue off affiliate product sales (where you get a commission for pointing people to other sites where they can buy products). You have to be sure how you plan to make money, so that your Content Marketing can be supportive of that plan.
5. What is your main business goal and what are your sub-goals?
Once you know how you’re going to use content to make money off your site or blog, you have to set actual numbers to your goals. How many products would you like to sell? In that case, how much traffic do you have to attract to your site? To get that traffic, how many people will need to be exposed to your Content Marketing?
Aside from the hard numbers, what are the soft goals you want to achieve? Topic authority? Influencer status? Social media fan base and engagement?
6. How would you articulate your brand and its key USP?
Now comes the fun part. What would you name your brand? What will you make as your brand promise or proposition to customers via your tagline? (Your USP or “unique sales proposition” is the special values your brand will stand for, which separate it from competition.)
Will you get your brand name as your domain? Is it available? If not what are the alternatives? For the social media, will you convert your brand name or USP into an emotive hashtag?
7. Who are the target audiences who may buy your products?
Okay, so you have a fix on what kind of business you’d like to do … and what you’d like to sell … and what you’d like to call your brand. But what about the target audiences you want to sell to? Who has a dire need for what you want to sell? What are their problems that your product can solve?
What are these people like – in age, gender, habits, preferences? Where do you think they hang out online? What content do they like to read, or get engaged with? Who are they swayed by? What topics are they swayed by? What trends do they follow?
8. Can you break down your target audiences into smaller specific segments?
Once you’ve zeroed in on a largish target audience, try breaking them down into smaller groups. For example, you could have a large target segment of, say, women over 40 years. Can you then break that group down by their hobbies, their jobs, their family sizes, their interests, or the places they live in?
Think hard about the people you are targeting. They have to be people comfortable enough to be marketed to online via Content Marketing. In general, the younger age groups are far savvier with online buying and technology, especially the Net-addicted, ever-socializing, buy-happy Millennials.
9. What problems do your target audiences have that your products can solve?
After you get down to the audience segment, you have go deeper to locate a clear problem that they have, which your product can help solve. For instance, if your product is a kind of health food, you may like to target “teenagers with obesity”. Segmenting people by their key problems is a very good way to start your audience targeting.
You need to get a very specific group with a very specific a problem. You have to start small, so you can directly hit them with your content, which is again very specific as a solution to their problems. You can always extend your audiences later.
10. For each of your target audience segments, can you develop audience personas (descriptor cards with mock visual likenesses) and buyer journeys (routes they take from interest to desire to purchase)?
A persona is an imaginary person – a typical member of your target group, visualized. If you find a photo of some random person who fits the likely look of your target audience, use that as a starter. Give the person an imaginary name, and try to imagine what his hobbies are, what he has studied at school, what his family is like, who are his friends, what he may do during his social media activity, what topics may interest him … flesh him out so you have a real-seeming person in front of your eyes, to write your content to. The more real this person feels, the more you will try to engage him!
Also try to describe his buying journey. Let’s say, he needs your product badly. But he doesn’t know it exists online. What will he search for as information? Then what he will look for next to compare and contrast all competitive products? Will your product be in his consideration set? How will you subtly move him via your content to buy from you, after growing to trust you more and more?
11. What are your target audiences’ online search habits and keyword search habits?
Now, get deeper into exactly how your target audience may behave on Google. What words would your persona use to search for a solution to his problem? If he is a teenager with an obesity problem, (taking our earlier example) would he look for “slimming foods” or “”getting fit” or “how other obese 17-year-olds have become thin”? Then having got some answers, what would he search for next? Again, what words would he use?
One of the best ways to see how your target audience may search online, is to actually get a typical target person in your chosen audience set to do a search demonstration before you. You’ll see how their mind works – and it may not work in the pattern that you think!
12. If you already have a website, can you audit it to see if it is serving your audiences’ content needs?
Some entrepreneurs rush to decide on a website design before they have got any strategy in place. If you are one of those people who has gotten excited by the look of a website template, do make sure it can be tweaked to suit the strategy that is taking shape in your thinking now. If not, it’s time to shelve that pretty site design, and wait till you have all of your strategy in place.
Better to have an effective website than just a pretty one, right? And who says you can’t dress up a good site design, after the structure is in place? Don’t do what 90% of startups do, and get deep into site design before you have your Content Strategy designed!
13. Which content management system will you choose after you have explored them all? (Hint: WordPress is Numero Uno!)
Fortunately, there’s one area where the decision is almost made for you, if you’re a newbie to web business. Almost the whole world of content-marketers loves WordPress as their site-and-blog platform, for its sheer ease of use and versatility. So be different in anything else, but see if you can learn enough about WordPress to fall in love with it. You’ll never get divorced from it, I promise!
14. For new content creation, can you brainstorm ideas that match people’s problems along their buyer journeys?
Content Marketing is not just about writing articles of choice and publishing them. There’s got be a purpose behind your blogging or social posting or emailing. What is that purpose? It is to gently nudge people towards the next successive stages of their buying process. You first whet their appetite for a solution to their problems by giving them a generic solution. Then when they are more interested in specifics, you give them comparisons between different solutions, till they see that your solution is best. Then you prepare them to try you out – and then buy from you.
Follow that up with great information on how best they can get better and better results from your product or solution usage. Urge them to buy more. Urge them to tell their friends – make it easy for them to retweet your content to all their friends and family. You get the picture, don’t you? No piece of content can afford to be without its purpose of moving the target audience forward on their buying journeys.
15. What formats will you create content for – judging by where your audiences hang out online? (e.g. textual, video, audio, podcasts, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube)
After you’ve decided how your content creation will align with your target audiences’ buying journey, see exactly which channels and formats of communication will help you get best results. You may already have understood where your audience hangs out online, so your choices of devices and social media channels, to distribute your content across, need to be detailed.
Accordingly, the length of your content, and the tone and style to bring your brand to life on these channels and formats, will need to be visualized.
16. How many channels and formats of content can you handle as a solopreneur? Will you have to outsource some of the workload?
How often have we seen grand strategy documents go kaput, because the business owner was too ambitious, and didn’t factor in his own ability to handle all the workload involved! Stop and think for a moment of a typical bad day at work … what if you had your Strategy Document in front of you, but you were overwhelmed and suffering from severe brain fade? Have you planned the cost of outsource workers? Or have you planned on how you can pare down the workload, by offloading some of your most work-intensive goals?
Cut yourself some slack in your strategy document, especially if you’re a shoestring solopreneur (as most of us are when we begin). No point having gleamy eyes full of unrealistic ambitions! Get real! Business is hard. Content Marketing is harder!
17. How do you plan to manage and monitor your content creation and publication?
Okay, now comes the managerial part of the work you have to plan for. How will you ensure that the content you produce is done to an unwavering schedule and quality standards? What checks and balances will you have for monitoring progress, and seeing that time management and productivity management are always at optimum?
If it was your hobby, this is a dispensable question. If this is your business, this kind of management and discipline is indispensable. In Content Marketing, quantity of content will inevitably take its toll of quality – unless you are hawk-eyed about it!
18. What metrics will you use to analyze performance? Are you aware of what’s most important to measure for your goals?
The time to plan how to measure the achievement of your goals is before you start working on them – not after. If you have no planned yardsticks to measure success points with, your content will tend to have no specific accountability when you create it. If, on the other hand, you are clear from the outset what you content scorecard must read like eventually, your content will tend to be faithful to those guidelines, without your having to think about it.
There are many success metrics, and great books and blog posts about them, to read up. But make sure you learn from the best analytics experts (I’ll recommend Avinash Kaushik) because there is a huge learning curve involved. Metrics of Content Marketing is not a light subject, worth just a half-an-hour of your time, in passing.
19. What systems will you put in place to keep ahead of the market and abreast of the latest trends and technologies?
There is a saying in English called “sharpening the saw”. It is advice to carpenters, who stay so busy making furniture, that they forget their tools need to kept sharpened, if their work has to continue. Likewise, the content marketer needs to find time every day to put his work aside, and do some catch-up with the goings-on in his world.
Make sure your Strategic Plan has room for some periodic catch-up schedules to stay abreast of all that’s happening with new technologies and trends. Better to pro-actively learn, than to be caught napping by the turn of things later! Even if it seems hard to put aside work that’s running late, catch-up time is sacrosanct. It can make all the difference in the sharpness of your responses to trend changes!
20. What systems will you put in place to keep ahead of the audiences and competition, and how they shape up to new trends?
Whew! We’re at the final question. Now, just like you need to catch up on technologies and trends, you also have to schedule time and space for keeping your eye on the ball, with respect to the activities of your competitors. And while you’re doing that, keep the other eye out to see what your target audiences are currently up to.
In the blink of an eye, people can get influenced by something new, and react entirely differently than you thought they would. The simple rule about keeping watch on audiences and competition is to “assume nothing” and “don’t take anything for granted”.
How often do you need to review your Content Marketing Strategy?
The wisdom and benefits of creating a rock-solid Content Marketing Strategy are invaluable. But if a plan starts acquiring cobwebs, it’s whole purpose is defeated. Virtually all strategic plans have the same flaw: they’re written once, with a great deal of enthusiasm at the start-up stage, and they then fall into disuse, never to be consulted again, much less reviewed.
Even an annual review is too long a period, given that we live in a world of constantly evolving technology and online habits. Your beautifully crafted Content Marketing Strategy may turn out to be grossly incorrect or obsolete in barely 6 months, if you aren’t scheduling time to give it a once-over at frequent intervals.
Many content marketers would like to know how often a Content Market Strategy documents needs to be reviewed. That would depend on how sensitive your industry or niche is to trends and technology changes, and whether your target audiences are less fickle-minded than most, or are likely to be swayed by fads and sudden mania.
Some niches are conservative and cautious by nature, others are ready to spring into new adventures at the drop of a hat. If your audiences are young, they are particularly prone to capricious changes of mind and buying habits. If your audiences are older, they may tend to be fall behind the technology curve, while you race ahead of their readiness. Both are bad situations for a content-marketer.
I review my own Content Marketing Strategy every quarter. I like knowing if I’m “with it” or not … even if I don’t have to change my plans a lot. Just seeing if all is okay is a great exercise in itself. And if changes are indicated, I plan for them to be actioned before my next review of strategy, but I exercise a bit of caution in the actual actioning of change.
I like to “hasten slowly” – because too early adopters of technology invariably waste the most money experimenting. I’d rather wait till other itchy people (i.e. competitors) burn their budgets foolishly, before I step into anything new sure-footedly. I’ve learnt that from hard experience. I hope you don’t have to go through what I did, to know what I now know!
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content Marketing Strategy”:
- Micro Marketing … Going Granular Can Help Solopreneurs Grow Faster!
- The 7 T’s Content Strategy Method That’s Do-Able For Solopreneurs!
- Steal Your Competitor’s Thunder With Your Content Marketing!
- How ToFu, MoFu And BoFu Content Helps Profit-Hungry Solopreneurs!
- Finding Your Niche Is Easy If You’re A Perceptive, Systematic Solopreneur!
- 4 Smarts For Content Marketers To Help With Competitive Analysis!