Is your digital agency focused on helping you to develop an effective content strategy for your brand?
Or are they only execution partners for content production, SEO and social media? All too often, agencies seem to be satisfied to work in the latter role, and either can’t or won’t contribute to the brand strategy.
Analogy: Building a house
When you build a house, what do you do first? You would never just lay bricks, put up siding and paint rooms, in random order. You must have a plan, a blueprint of the house design that includes all of the critical measurements and a list of the materials that will be needed to construct it. It’s definitely not one of those “Let’s just get started building stuff” projects!
It’s the same way with content marketing. To be successful, you can’t just start producing content. You need a specific business objective. You need to deeply understand the needs of your target audience. And you must formulate a plan that will guide your actions.
Despite this, far too many brands and agencies are still in the “let’s build stuff” stage of content marketing. And then they wonder why it isn’t working as effectively as they had hoped. What’s failing them is not the practice of content marketing, but the way in which they’re going about it.
Content strategy “building blocks”
The pyramid-shaped infographic (below) clearly illustrates a better model of content marketing planning and execution. The lowest levels of the pyramid form its foundation. They underpin everything above them. If you work for or support a brand that wants to create a sustainable content-based marketing strategy that delivers a business impact, the best place to start is NOT by creating content.
Doing the foundational work of content marketing will significantly increase your odds of success:
- What business impact is desired? Every marketing strategy and tactic you employ must be aligned with your corporate strategy and tied to a measurable business impact. Otherwise, it won’t survive the scrutiny of senior management for long.
- What do we need to know about our target customers? It’s critical that you develop a detailed customer persona for each of your key audience segments, to help you better understand who they are and what motivates them. What are their deepest needs? What problems do they need solved? You also need to understand their buyer’s journey: What steps do they take from awareness to consideration to preference and purchase – and after the sale, too?
Once you deeply understand your target audience and what their needs are, it’s time to formulate a content marketing strategy and tactics to achieve the business objective you have specified. The final steps in the process are execution and measurement, of course.
The key to success is that everything ties together, from the bottom to the top of the pyramid.
It’s not magic – just solid strategic planning.
What happens if you just “make” content?
Let’s take another look at our content building blocks pyramid in a slightly modified form. The “ghosted” levels of it assume that we’ve decided to start by producing content, without doing the foundational levels of research and planning.
To do so, we’re going to imagine a conversation between a chief marketing officer (CMO), and a content marketing manager who is responsible for the organization’s content strategy and execution.
CMO: Does this content meet the needs of our target audience?
Frankly, we don’t know.
CMO: Does it map to a specific part of their customer journey?
Yeah, we want to capture them as leads into our sales funnel.
CMO: What then? How do you nurture leads along the buyer’s journey to a sale?
We haven’t really thought about that. We just give the leads to our salespeople, and they take it from there. That’s always worked before…
CMO: Does your content support a strategic business objective, such as increased sales or enhanced customer loyalty?
It has received a decent number of views, likes and shares. We’re pretty proud of that.
CMO: That’s not what I asked. How is your content driving a bottom-line business result?
Without a solid strategy, the isolated pieces of content you’ve created will have little or no impact, like the dying ripples of a rock tossed into a placid lake. To be effective, content must tie back to a specific persona and a point on the customer journey. Ultimately, it must move the needle, generate sales or positively impact the customer experience in other measurable ways.
Otherwise it’s an exercise in futility.
Do the foundational work. It will give your content marketing initiative some much-needed direction, efficiency and impact.
What if you’re just starting out with your content initiative and you’re testing the waters? Go ahead and do that. We all had to start somewhere. But the important thing to remember is this:
DON’T STAY THERE!
Once you’re satisfied that content marketing makes sense as an integral part of your marketing mix, take a step back and do the proper planning, to ensure that your content marketing initiative will deliver the results you need.
Finally, make sure the agency you hire can do the same. Make sure they’re not just producers of content, but can contribute to the development of a well-rounded, practical content marketing plan. They should have expertise in crafting marketing objectives, developing audience personas, mapping customer journeys and selecting points along it for production of targeted content.
We can help!
If you have questions about content marketing planning and strategy, please contact us. We’d love to discuss your needs with you!
For more information, read our CEO's guide to content marketing. It explains how a strategic approach to this practice matches the way customers buy today and outlines how it can help your firm to grow.