I recently argued that one of the top content marketing trends of 2014 will be hiring a director of content strategy (for more trends, see The Top 7 Content Marketing Trends of 2014). But what if your business can’t support a full-time content strategist? Can you develop a system that helps you think strategically about your content marketing plans and get you on the right track?
While a content strategist has deep expertise in certain areas, it’s possible to ask the right questions and develop a world-class content strategy in house. Here are the top areas I think that entrepreneurs should consider to help them strategically craft their 2014 content marketing plans.
Do you have a content culture?
A good content strategist knows that one thing is true about content marketing: there are converts and there are haters. Few people fall in between. Inbound marketing statistics and well-chosen case studies can quickly bring the agnostics over to the side of creating a content culture. But any content strategy needs to start with asking a series of cultural and mindset questions:
- Do your key stakeholders understand what content marketing is, how it works, and the way in which it will bring value to your organization?
- Have you defined your most urgent marketing goals and business objectives? If so, tied to that:
- Have you prepared a compelling case for why content marketing is the right solution for your business, at this time, to reach this goal or solve this issue?
- Are there issues or concerns around content marketing versus hard selling?
- Do you have or can you create and implement a process that focuses on how to properly convert a content marketing lead (which can be markedly different than handling a cold calling prospect)?
Every successful content campaign begins with a period of self-reflection that looks at mindsets around content marketing. This is important both organizationally and individually on the part of key players, whether those are executives or individual contributors to your campaigns. Identifying strong supporters and those with concerns will help you recruit champions and address obstacles before they become real problems. For more information on understanding the organizational context for a content marketing initiative, see my article How to Convince Your CEO to Give You a Content Marketing Budget.
Are you leveraging every avenue to get content creation going?
One challenge that many businesses face is creating enough content to fuel a campaign. But thinking like a content strategist means knowing that you have multiple untapped content resources at your fingertips. Here are a few different approaches that content strategists use to create unstoppable content generation machines at their client companies:
Hire a dedicated content person: Whether it’s a full-time employee that’s writing blog posts, managing social media accounts, and implementing lead generation strategies or a freelance writer that’s producing a specific number of blog posts per week, a dedicated content person is your secret weapon to a successful content campaign. Many campaigns require multiple contributors, but if you’re on a tight budget, start small by hiring a freelancer to produce material on a per-article or per-deliverable basis.
Empower or inspire existing staff to create content: Many of your staff members would be happy (or at least willing) to produce content – if you ask them. A customer service rep might be the right person to create a blog series answering your company’s most frequently asked questions. A sales team member could help you write a piece about why your products beat the competition. A member of your R&D team could help explain how your product solves a specific issue or offer an inside look at your product development process. Think outside the confines of your staff’s existing job descriptions and ask yourself what unique perspective they can contribute to your firm’s content development efforts.
Make it a part of their job: In some organizations, all staff members are required to produce content as part of their job descriptions. Admins research motivational quotes to post to social media accounts. Every individual contributor submits one blog article a month. Every partner-level hire must write a thought leadership piece or white paper once a quarter. Consider how you can institutionalize a culture of content by holding all staff members accountable for content production. If it’s a part of the goals they’re expected to deliver on and a component of how they’re evaluated and compensated, you’ll very quickly see interest levels and efforts in output increase.
Support your staff’s content development abilities: If content marketing is a big part of your organization’s future, maybe it’s time to educate your team. Does the staff you’re working to motivate to contribute understand what content marketing is, what types of content you’re hoping to produce, and what results you’re going after? If not, it might be time to invest in a one day content marketing seminar or virtual course. If the actual writing is a problem, there are numerous writing coaches, blogging courses, and classic reference books on copywriting and writing well that can be helpful. A small investment in education can reap tremendous benefits throughout the year in terms of content production.
If you need more ideas on how to get your team writing, please see How To Build a Kickass Content Strategy.
Are you building on a solid foundation of understanding your audience?
If you look at companies that are succeeding with content strategies across industries and markets, you find one common factor: they understand their audiences very, very well. As a result, they’re able to communicate effectively with customers, create content that resonates, and disseminate content strategically to achieve real business goals. Content strategists always start new campaigns by reviewing, creating or updating a company’s buyer persona.
Your buyer persona, once it’s fleshed out, gives you an ideal person to write for. You’re able to vet every idea, piece of content, guest posting opportunity or other content decision against the question “Would our buyer persona like this? Would this idea resonate with our ideal customer and move them to action?” The questions you ask will vary a bit based on whether you’re putting together a consumer persona or a B2B persona, but the following can provide a guideline:
- Basic demographic information, such as age, gender, geography, marital status, or income.
- Basic B2B demographics include title, role, industry, reporting structure, and goals.
- What is your target customer’s typical buying behavior? Do they research or impulse buy? Are they the decision maker or the gatekeeper for a family or committee purchase?
- What problems or challenges are they trying to solve? In what way does this challenge or problem hinder them?
- What would solving the problem mean for their life (e.g. more free time, more money, better health, able to serve more clients, feel less stress)?
- Where do they go for their information? Who do they trust? What kinds of content do they consume?
Integrate these pieces into a profile of a person that would buy your product. Consider even giving them a name. For example, “Michelle is a mom of three from Middle America whose biggest concern is providing opportunities for her children. But Michelle is busy: she and her husband work full-time. Their income is limited, and they don’t have extra cash laying around for the kids to play sports or attend music or art lessons. Because Michelle works in corporate America, she’s pretty tech savvy and she’ll be open to technology solutions to help her kids learn skills such as music or martial arts digitally to expand their education. She trusts referrals from her friends, from mom bloggers, and from national parenting publications. She worries that they’re missing out on important learning opportunities, and solving this issue would help her worry less about their academic futures.”
Your actual profile would be more detailed, but it’s easy to see how even this mini-profile can provide a powerful starting point for your marketing initiatives.
If you need more information on developing B2B buyer personas, read my articles “How to Achieve ROI from Your B2B Content Strategy in 60 Days,” and “Are You Using Your B2B Marketing Personas Effectively?” If you want more help in understanding a consumer audience, I recommend 6 Steps to Decoding Your Target Audience.
Have you simplified implementation as much as possible?
An entrepreneur’s content marketing nightmare is something like the following: you start out on a campaign but you’re not getting any results. You realize that it’s because you’re not publishing regularly, because what you’re publishing isn’t on message, and because you’re not measuring your results. In essence, what started off strong is fading. What’s usually happening here is that there’s a lack of oversight and organization. To think like a content strategist, it’s important to use a handful of tools to keep your team focused and delivering. Here are some strategies to simplify your implementation as much as possible.
Content calendar: A content calendar or editorial calendar is a simple tool that says who is going to write what and when. It clarifies responsibilities, topics, venues, delivery dates, and more. Content calendars help you proactively manage your campaign while making each person’s role and responsibilities very clear.
Editorial guidelines: One of the most disheartening things for an employee is hearing that what they wrote can’t be published, or that pieces need to be endlessly reworked to conform to company standards. Instead, consider publishing a set of editorial guidelines that clarify topics such as:
- The goal of your blog and other content;
- The company voice;
- Acceptable topics, formats, and typical post length;
- Photograph, link, and author bio requirements;
- What the voice should sound like (e.g. friendly or impersonal, educational or salesy, second person or third person);
- Any topics to avoid or specific angles to take when talking about priority topics;
- Language to use or language to avoid;
- Any SEO requests or requirements;
The more information that you can give potential contributors to your blog, the better chance you stand of having successful submissions that require minimal editing before moving to publication.
Quick content formats: Your content shouldn’t be formulaic – but that doesn’t mean it can’t follow a formula. Many content strategists will identify the types of content that work well with the audience and campaign goals. Writers can then use them as a starting point. Examples could be:
- Case studies
- Top 10 lists
- How to pieces focused on a specific problem
- Curation of “best in industry” content
- Excerpts or repurposing content
- Expert interviews
- A look at interesting, insider data
- Frequently asked questions
- Commentary on a hot news story
Editing support: Sometimes the raw material is all there, but writers need another set of eyes to proofread, format, and smooth over awkward writing. By employing a freelance editor or appointing one of your staff to review all content for grammar, spelling, and flow before it goes live, you can avoid simple bottlenecks in the process. Content strategists know that a bit of polish always helps your brand content shine.
Is your content optimized for the conversion?
A content strategist never loses sight of the end goal: pushing out content to the market that attracts leads and makes sales. Powerful calls to action are a critical component of making that happen. To think like a content strategist, it’s important that you define the different types of conversions that will help grow your business. This could be an email sign up, downloading a white paper, submitting a lead form, or making an actual sale. Then each piece of content needs to be scrutinized before it’s published to ensure that the call to action is clear, powerful, and easy to execute on.
Good content strategists know that it’s also important to review existing content and add new life by including a powerful action call at the end of each piece. It’s also helpful to look at aspects such as copywriting, design, and overall flow to bring as much attention as possible to your call to action. But at a minimum, start by making sure that all the content you publish includes them. If you need help writing more effective calls to action, check out The Definitive Guide to Writing Calls to Action in Your Content.
Have you put a plan together to measure content performance?
Content strategists know that measuring your content’s performance is essential to understanding several things:
- How individual content types, topics, approaches and campaigns are performing
- Calculating your overall ROI on a content marketing initiative
- Deriving business-focused metrics such as customer acquisition costs and lifetime value of customers
- Planning future content campaigns
What metrics can you consider when you’re developing a plan to evaluate your content marketing performance?
- Page views and reads
- Social sharing and other social signals
- Growth in social media following
- Growth in email subscriber rate
- Form submissions and other contact conversions
- Inbound links and mentions
- Conversion rates for leads
- Sales and revenue
Powerful content marketing is based on good strategy. If you can’t afford to hire a content strategist, learn to think like one. Ask the right questions and ensure that you’re building your content on a strong foundation, creating an efficient content creation machine, and optimizing and measuring your performance along the way.
How do you approach your content strategy planning? Let me know in the comments below.
By Jason DeMers, Forbes Contributor.
Originally published on Mar 26, 2014 10:12 AM