“Should we be investing more in video?” “Let’s post every day on Twitter!” “Why don’t we start a podcast?” If you’re a marketer, you’ve probably been part of the “content conversation.” As digital transformation touches every industry, we’re in the midst of a content explosion and organizations are struggling to maintain control over all of their different properties and channels while delivering meaningful messages to the right customer at the right time. Content teams often act as the extra arm to many different departments within a larger organization, tackling everything from employer branding guides, event promotion, executive thought leadership, demand generation and much, much more. When everyone’s got something to say, how can a content manager maintain a unified brand voice and say something worthwhile?
Too many marketing departments confuse a list of trends or channels with a strategy. However, just jumping on the next big thing because that’s what all your competitors are doing can quickly lead to a confused and overstretched content department that sacrifices quality for quantity. Your content program shouldn’t be whipping up a new social media graphic every time a VP asks or pumping out daily Facebook statuses to meet some arbitrary cadence of how much you think you should be posting. Before you even put a single finger on a keyboard, here’s what you need to know about creating a strategic content plan. To make sure you’re creating insight rather than chatter, you first need to develop a strong content strategy.
Identify a Strategic Objective for Your Content Program
Back in 1996, Bill Gates penned his famous essay, “Content is King” and since then, organizations have eagerly pursued their own golden content crowns. And it’s easy to see why. Unlike paid media and display ads, good content marketing can be discovered organically through SEO, can be created in-house at relatively low cost with the right creative team and can establish a unique and creative voice for your brand in the market. However, just having a blog or a few videos up on your site is no longer the differentiator it once was. With practically every brand publishing material to the web, the competition to engage customers is steeper than ever.
Brands need to focus on the quality of what they’re producing and identify the goals and value to their audience for that content to have an impact. Sure, making cat memes about your new car models is a fun time for the graphic design team, but what purpose does it serve?
Every content program starts with defining a few strategic, specific objectives for how you’re going to create and publish content and how to measure the impact that your content has on driving larger business goals. Here are a few of the few essential questions every content marketing strategy needs to answer:
What does your content team look like?
Maybe you have one content director or editorial manager leading a group of in-house content specialists and strategists. Maybe you leverage freelance or agency talent to create your blog posts and whitepapers. For smaller organizations, content can even fall under the helm of a different department like PR/communications. No matter your business model, you need to understand how to best structure your team, determine the business investment and clearly define the responsibilities that each person has in bringing that content to life.
What is the purpose of the content?
Content can serve many functions from growing general brand awareness, encouraging customer retention, supporting other initiatives like demand generation and events promotion, or driving website traffic and improving search rankings. Understanding how your content will primarily be used in larger business operations lets you know what types of content will best suit these needs.
Who is your content for?
Once you know both your purpose and how you are going to create that content, the most important step becomes understanding your audience. Who are the people that will benefit the most from reading your posts, and how can you help them achieve their goals? Identifying your target customers begins by crafting detailed personas and mapping out the buyer’s journey.
Create Audience Personas That Feel Like Real People
Effective content marketing makes people, not your brand, the protagonist of the story. This means understanding who your customers are before you start the conversation. Content marketers do this by creating buyer personas: representations of their ideal customers based on research, behavior data, preferences and goals.
Unlike customer segmentation, which groups people into larger categories based on shared characteristics such as their age or vertical, good personas should be fully fleshed out profiles that understand a person’s current challenges and decision-making process. The two biggest traps marketers fall into when determining their target audience are making their focus too broad or too narrow. While you may want to sell your product to as many people as possible, generic statements about being the “best solution for everyone and anyone” come off as impersonal and lazy. On the other end, when brands focus only on attracting a single buyer like the CMO of a B2B tech company, they ignore all of the other people involved in buying and using your product every day.