Before you put a single content marketing wheel in motion, you need to have a well-documented strategy to guide you as you implement and validate your results. Without such a plan, you might spend thousands of dollars per month on activities that can actually hurt your results in the long run. Here we identify 8 critical pieces of any successful content marketing strategy.
1. High-Level SMART Goals
Every strategy begins with a goal. Without goals, you can't measure success. In order to properly measure the success of a content marketing strategy, you need to start by developing S.M.A.R.T. goals.
The SMART acronym is designed to guide you in creating goals that your entire team can use to determine whether you are on-track or off-track with your strategy. A smart goal is:
- Specific: Listing all details clearly and concisely and leaving no wiggle room for different interpretations. "We will grow our social following" is not a specific goal. Instead, say "We will grow our Twitter following by 25%."
- Measurable: Providing an available metric by which to determine that the goal has or hasn't been met. "Increase brand-recognition by 40% among millennials" sounds like a great goal, but do you have a way of measuring that number?
- Attainable: Being reasonable in your expectations. "Increase total site traffic by 3000%" is a great goal, but ideally you want to strike a balance between challenging your team and setting them up for failure.
- Relevant: Aligning your goals with everyone else's. Your goal setting needs to be done in conjunction with the goal setting for your sales team and upper management.
- Timely: Setting a deadline for meeting your goal. Strict deadlines may seem too oppressive, but without them your goals become instantly vague. "We want to get there at some point in the future" is a lot less focused than "We need to be there by the beginning of next quarter."
2. Brand Development Goals & Guidelines
We see varying degrees of thoughtfulness when it comes to "branding" with our own clients. Smaller companies think less about the importance of a strong brand than larger companies.
In truth, branding is a critical part of any content marketing strategy — regardless of company size — because growth is always the goal, and branding is necessary for growth. If you don't already have them, begin developing these branding documents now:
- A Brand Standards Manual: This is the document you hand to any design team or agency you work with. It tells them how all your business collateral should reinforce your company's brand. Even the simplest manual will include logo usage and variations, font stacks, color palettes, tone and voice guidelines, and graphic/photography guidelines.
- Your Company Story: This is a document that explains the origins of your company from the beginning to today. It shows exactly where you've come from and where you are going. It explains your motivations for being in business as well as what you hope to contribute to your customers and your community.
3. Buyer Personas & Buying Scenarios
We've written a lot of excellent informational content about building buyer personas over the years. Here are a few articles we recommend:
- 4 Mistakes To Avoid When Building Buyer Personas
- Your Marketing Strategy Won't Work Without This Step
- Creating Buyer Personas for Businesses (SlideShare)
In addition, you should be developing strong buying scenarios to guide your content marketing team. These scenarios can be hypothetical or documented examples, but your goal is to develop a deep understanding of how your target personas progress through the buyer's journey so that you can begin improving their experiences along the way.
4. Competitive & Market Research
Researching your market and your competition is not an excuse to become reactive in your content marketing strategy. The purpose of this research is to empower you to set focused SMART goals and objectives.
At some point, you will see your competition doing something that seems to be working, and you will be tempted to abandon your strategy, lose focus, and copy their strategy. By doing well-researched analysis before you build a content plan, you can avoid those distractions and be proactive in your approach.
Your primary goal with your competitive and market research is to determine your positioning — how your position and your messaging will align to make you stand out from your competitors within your market.
When we talk about positioning, we typically focus on two areas:
- Horizontals: Those services you provide where your expertise focuses on a narrow part of a broader landscape (i.e. You are a staffing agency with a specialty in on-site/exclusive managed services.)
- Verticals: Those services you provide where your expertise focuses on specific industry applications or target personas (i.e. You are a staffing agency with a specialty in management and executive level placements for military veterans.)
5. A Content Mapping Blueprint
Content mapping and restructuring plans are increasingly critical for two reasons:
- The increasing amount of content on the web demands that your content be well-positioned and well-organized.
- The "make-as-much-content-as-possible-and-organize-by-publish-date" approach to content marketing that has been popular for several years now is leaving you content-rich but results-poor.
Instead, a content strategy should include a comprehensive content mapping blueprint that serves as a roadmap for creating new content and (more importantly) pruning or optimizing old content.
With a content mapping blueprint in your hands, your content creation will be more deliberate and thoughtful, and ultimately it will serve your SMART goals better.
6. 90-Day Content Plans
Your content marketing strategy should be organized into 90-day content plans that focus on smaller SMART goals and objectives to serve your overall content marketing strategy. 90 days is enough time to accomplish ambitious SMART goals, but not so long that you could lose focus or get derailed by an unexpected shift in your market.
In addition, working in 90-day sprints allows you to build strategies that incorporate innovation and experimentation — all with measurable results — without constantly modifying your core processes. Here are some ideas for elements of a 90-day strategy:
- After talking with your sales team, you decide to target a specific industry or persona with a campaign that speaks directly to them. Your campaign includes a new website page, a video case study, and three relevant blog posts. In addition you're going to target specific companies in that industry with paid advertising on Linkedin and Google.
- Your company is adding a new service and you need content to support that. You plan to create a new website page and three subpages for that service, send an email to your existing clients and prospects announcing the service, and running a social media campaign promoting the service with boosted ads.
- Your sales team wants to open new channels for communicating with prospects more quickly. You plan to run an experiment with a chatbot platform and measure the effect on total leads and close rate. You need to write multiple playbooks for your chatbot to follow, and you need to daily monitor the chatbot's performance and adjust those playbooks to improve the user experience.
7. Metrics & KPIs
Your content marketing strategy should include a list of base metrics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to track. Quarterly strategies will include their own unique and specific metrics to measure the success of those goals, but this broad set of metrics will be the finger on the pulse of your overall content marketing strategy's health.
Some metrics are common to all strategies — like organic traffic, bounce rates, or conversion rates — but you also need to include metrics specific to your company's growth goals. Here are a few that we see more often:
- Geographic Reach: If you are hoping to expand your reach into specific regions, you may track traffic or keyword rankings just for those regions.
- Video Engagement: If you've recently started producing more videos for your content marketing, you will want to track how those videos are performing and how they are affecting conversions, bounce rate, and close rate.
- Social Sentiment: If you've recently made the decision to become more active in your local community, you want to measure how that's affecting social engagement and comments.
8. An Implementation Blueprint
Lastly, you need to have a plan for how to implement your strategy. You may have a fully staffed marketing department with expertise in everything from copywriting, to PPC, to data analytics; or, you may have a single marketing manager and a few freelancers.
Whatever your situation, you need to develop a plan for executing the strategies that are fueling the growth of your business. We recommend putting together a team that will work well together and can communicate freely.
Another situation that is common for many businesses is that you have enough people, but you lack the training and experience to implement the strategy. In that case, consider hiring a coach to train your team and bring them up to speed.
All of this may seem like a lot of work to do before you ever create a single social post or web article, but if strategy isn't informing your content marketing, you may be setting yourself up for failure. If you agree with us, consider these services that we offer to our clients:
- Content Marketing Strategies: We do all of the research, discovery, and mapping and deliver 90-day content plans every quarter for your team to implement. At the end of the quarter, we show you your results based on the metrics we've chosen to track.
- Coaching & Training: In addition to these strategies, we can show up at your business and coach your team on how to execute each step. Our goal is to give you the best possible opportunity to succeed.
- Full-Service Implementation: If you simply don't have the resources available to execute your strategy, we have a full team of experts that can jump in and help with any or all of your strategy.