Unlike traditional advertising, content marketing reaches your customers at their level by creating interesting content they’ll want to read, view, and engage with. Billboards and flyers can increase brand awareness, but content is what creates a lasting relationship between you and the people who buy your product and use your service. But there’s a lot more to marketing than just launching a blog. To be successful at content marketing, you need a strategy.
What is content strategy?
Content strategy is the blueprint underpinning all of the content you create. Without one, you’re effectively shouting into the dark, throwing your content online in the hopes of catching somebody’s attention.
A well-defined content strategy clearly outlines your goals. It describes an imaginary version of your ideal customer down to their name, background, and personality, and explains how best to convey your brand’s voice through the content.
Why is it important to define a content strategy?
A content strategy is likely to have many stakeholders involved, so just like any other business plan, it needs to be clearly defined before it can be put into action, to avoid misinterpretation. Most content strategies are schedule-based and follow an agreed-upon publication timeline, so to remain coordinated, the plan itself has to be plainly communicated and unambiguous.
Even if you are the only stakeholder in your content strategy, it’s still important to define your expected outcomes. This way, you can compare your best-laid plans with the reality of how things turned out, in order to refine and update your content strategy later on.
Content marketing strategies
Every business’s content marketing strategy is different, but many businesses use the same best practices to get the most out of their content marketing strategies. After all, successful content marketing strategies have a lot in common, from producing quality content to generating great leads and better sales. The key factors revolve around monitoring how your content performs so you can learn from successes and failures, and never letting quantity overtake quality.
Steps to developing a successful content strategy
Set your marketing goals
Like any other marketing or advertising strategy, a content marketing strategy needs to have clear, measurable goals. Otherwise, how will you know you’re investing your money and time in the right things? Goals can be to drive traffic to parts of your website, to gain more social media followers, to boost sales, or to promote new items. You should have a few short-term and long-term goals for the content you create.
Your goals will help inform what kind of content you should be creating. For example, if you want to drive traffic to your site, a combination of creating shareable social media posts and link building across other sites is the start to your strategy. As you narrow down exactly what kind of content you’re making, you will in turn be able to streamline your goals further.
Take a look at your brand
When companies have a hard time identifying their audiences or coming up with advertisements that fit, the problem is often with branding. You need a concrete, cohesive brand identity. This starts with your origin story and goes down to the very fonts you use on your website. Everything about your business should offer clues about your brand, and if it doesn’t, then you have work to do.
Your brand gives people automatic clues about what to expect from you, before they’ve started browsing your products. If you sell high-quality watches, you aren’t going to pepper your pages with pictures of babies. That’s an extreme and obvious example, but think of it this way: Your watches sell mostly to older male-identifying people. But you’ve got a bunch of young models all over your website. That’s a confused brand message, and might possibly drive potential customers away because they feel like they aren’t your intended audience.
Learn about your audience
Without understanding your audience, you can’t create effective content. You already sell products or services to an audience, but does that mean you know what kind of content to give them? Probably not. Selling to a millennial isn’t quite the same as writing to a millennial, though some of the strategies do overlap.
What you need to figure out is how to engage your audience. To that effect, create a few personas that encompass big portions of your existing audience and your intended audience. Your content should be geared toward giving those personas something they want. You’re trying to answer questions, provide them with new information, and bring them to your site so they start shopping.
Look at your site from the customer’s perspective
The customer experience is an important part of your content marketing strategy. Everything can affect the customer experience, from text formatting to the type of content you write. Something as simple as a too-small font or long blocks of text that are hard to read can negatively affect the customer experience.
Page analytics will help you discover why customers are visiting your page. Look at the pages they spend the longest time on, and the pages from which they quickly navigate away. The keywords they put into search engines leading them to your page are more clues, because you can use those keywords to inspire your next content topics.
Hone your content style
So you know your audience, and you’ve thought about the customer experience. Now what kind of content do you actually need? Articles, videos, how-to posts, infographics? A combination of all of these types of content is usually the way to go, but of course some kinds are more difficult and costlier to produce than others.
If you receive a lot of customer questions about a product or service, consider turning some of your FAQs into full-length articles. When people visit your site for insider information, make a blog series centering around expert advice and the latest industry news. If you’re still building your business, write content that will show potential customers how what you’re offering will fit in with their lives and make their lives more exciting or easier.
Create a content execution plan
Now that you have ideas for content and where to put it, you need to figure out how much you’ll produce, when you’ll post it, and who gets to create it. First, if you don’t have any creative team members who are up for producing quality content, it’s time to look at hiring outside writers. For small amounts of content production, freelance writers are a great way to get fresh content. If you need to produce lots of content, a content marketing firm will have the volume of talent capable of producing what you need.
Don’t be afraid to hire a graphic designer or a videographer to create multimedia content for your site, too. Producing graphic content or shooting videos is difficult when you don’t know what you’re doing. The last thing you want is content that looks homemade and amateurish.
Your content execution plan also needs to outline when and where content gets posted. Create a calendar for how often you’ll post on your company blog. Then, for each of those posts, schedule social media bursts about it. These social media posts should continue for a few days after the content gets posted.
Measure your content’s success
The best content marketing strategies continuously measure how well the content is doing, based on the goals set for the strategy and the overall goals of the company. Some simple numbers, like how many followers you’ve gained, likes you’ve received, or shares you’ve won, are helpful. The more in-depth numbers can be even more significant, however.
When you’re building leads, set up a scoring system for those leads, because not every lead is created equal. One piece of content might have brought a bunch of new leads to your page, but what if none of those leads convert to customers? If the wrong audience ended up visiting you, then that piece of content didn’t hit the mark. A few quality leads that gain you money are better than a bunch of leads that don’t gain you anything more than page views.
Audit for quality
The best advice on how to develop a content marketing strategy will do you no good if your content quality is bad. Some bad practices to avoid include: regurgitating old ideas without offering a new twist, providing information that’s out of date or uninteresting, and content written without a clear tone or audience in mind. At the beginning of your new content marketing strategy, you might be excited to crank out as much content as possible. Resist. Quality is far more important than quantity. Create a reputation for posting things that people actually care to look at.
You want to start slow. Don’t overproduce content. Instead, invest those energies into creating good ideas and quality articles, videos, or infographics to go with those ideas. The same goes for posting your social media updates and placing your content on other websites and blogs. The internet already offers quantity, so the only way to make yourself stand out is to offer information of outstanding quality that people actually want to learn.
Content marketing strategies are always evolving. With each new piece of content you post, you learn more about your audience and your customers. Ideas you thought would bring tons of leads may barely generate any, while ideas you were uncertain about could show you untapped niche potential or even new business directions. As long as you’re willing to adapt to the possibilities and learn from every step you take, your evolving content marketing strategy will continue to bring you success.
Updating your content strategy
Your content strategy needs to strike a balance between resilience and flexibility. It’s important to be able to course-correct when your content isn’t landing the way you expect it to, but adjusting a content strategy too often or too severely makes it difficult to measure your success versus your goals over the long term.
Repeatedly bouncing from one idea to another may mean you’re chasing the next trend rather than investing in your existing strategy. This can leave your content feeling chaotic and your brand identity looking confused and unfocused.
Before updating your content strategy, make sure you have a clear objective in mind. What follows are some very good reasons to revise a content strategy.
A new competitor appears
When a new competitor enters your market with a lot of momentum and early investment, they might end up using your own brand identity against you. A common content strategy for newcomers is to differentiate themselves from established rivals. If successful, this can capture the attention of your target market and begin to siphon away customers. This is a good time to reassess your own content strategy.
Your growth stalls
If your page views or conversion rates are stagnating, it might be time to think about making some changes to your content strategy. But don’t act on this too soon. You need to give your existing strategy time to flourish, so wait for around six months of flatlining metrics to rule out other factors that may be dragging on your performance.
Once you’ve decided it’s an appropriate time to start tinkering with your strategy, identify which aspects of your content strategy were working up until now, and lean into those parts of the plan. Repurpose your existing content to suit your new agenda, and salvage anything you can.
Content strategy vs. content marketing
These two terms are often used interchangeably, but content strategy and content marketing are distinct ideas with their own particular meaning.
Both refer to the use of content—blogs, videos, viral campaigns, and social media—to engage with an audience and organically promote and sell your product or service. But each plays a very different role. So what’s the difference between content strategy and content marketing?
Content strategy is the mission
A content strategy describes everything about your plan. This includes the kinds of topics you’ll write about, your budget, the creators who will produce the content, the guests who will appear in the content, the benchmarks by which you’ll measure your success, and the goals that you’re trying to achieve.
Content marketing is the action
Content marketing is the plan put into motion. Using your content strategy as a blueprint, content marketing comprises the actual content of your campaign, its promotion, its maintenance, and its measurable impact. Your blog posts and videos are part of your content marketing. The underlying objectives and research that drive their creation are part of your content strategy.
What is the role of a content strategist?
Put simply, a content strategist plans, organizes, and creates content for a brand. Their duties might also include analyzing traffic and continuously monitoring user engagement to determine which aspects of a content strategy are working and which are falling flat.
A content strategist’s responsibilities can vary a lot from company to company. In some cases, they may be strictly focused on overseeing the production and maintenance of the entirety of a brand’s visible content, such as blog posts, videos, and social media presence. In other situations, they could be responsible for everything behind the scenes too, such as coordinating global campaigns, liaising with relevant stakeholders within the company, carrying out consumer research and competitor analysis, optimizing content for SEO, and shaping the customer journey.
Content strategies examples
No two content strategies are alike, but most have a few basic things in common. They have clear goals in mind, they’re targeted toward a certain type of customer, and they reflect a brand’s identity and ethos. Here are two simple examples of a content strategy in action.
Frances opens a flower shop in the city
She wants to attract customers to her website and grow her business, so she uses content marketing tools to identify a list of popular, related keywords being searched for in her local area. She uses these topics as leads, planning a series of blog posts that her customers will find interesting, and that are scheduled to publish at precisely the right point in the season to drive sales.
A vegan cooking class wants more students
They hire a content strategist who meets with them to discuss their goals, understand their audience, and decide on the type of content they’d like to produce. The strategist uses what they’ve learned to enlist the help of a popular chef and create a series of short cooking tips to be published across various social media channels, with a call to action to find out more by joining the cooking class’s mailing list.
You can find templates and guides online to help you format and structure a content strategy. Like any good plan it should be clear and concise, as well as highly visual and example-based. But above all, keep in mind that what your content strategy contains is more important than how it looks.
Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.