Who in their right mind would build a house without a blueprint?
You need a detailed blueprint to convert the piles of building materials on your empty lot into a beautiful, finished home. If you try to build it on your own, without a blueprint, you’ll end up with a haphazard structure that will probably get knocked over by the first strong storm.
Spending money with an agency or outside advisor to produce content without a strategy is quite similar to building a house without a blueprint: it’s haphazard, random and ultimately won’t help you achieve your objectives. In fact, let’s be honest… it’s a waste of your time and money.
To help you design a solid blueprint for your content marketing strategy, here are the steps you need to follow for your content marketing strategy to be successful. So grab your tool belt and hard hat… let’s go!
1. Align with a key business impact or goal
Every successful content marketing program starts with a business impact or goal. What do you want to accomplish? What impact do you want to make on your target audience? Make sure your goal is tied to one or more of your organization’s goals, or it won’t survive long in your bottom-line oriented corporate environment.
2. Build your knowledge of your target audience
A critical step in creating a content marketing strategy is to create a detailed profile of the target audience you want to influence. The detailed profile includes a description of who they are as a person, what motivates them and what challenges they face in their work. What keeps them awake at night? Create an imaginary person and give this persona a name like Bob or Judy – and write a “day in the life” description of them. Our goal is to make them as real as possible, to understand their needs at a very deep level. We call this exercise creating a persona.
3. Define your content marketing strategy
Based on your company’s business objectives and the customer personas you’ve created, it’s time to create a content marketing strategy. Ultimately, you need to deliver the right content, to the right people, at the right time. Here are the key pieces to analyze that will help you define the who, what, where and when within your content marketing strategy:
Buyer’s journey: It is vital to understand your target audience’s buying process (their journey). In other words, the steps they take from the time they first realize they have a need until they are ready to buy. We call that process the “buyer’s journey.” Understanding who is involved in the purchasing process, their roles and their information needs throughout the buyer’s journey helps us write content that will help them decide to buy from you.
Content to be produced: Focus on your customers’ needs that you have identified while creating personas and documenting the buyer’s journey. Your content should arm your audience with the knowledge and insights they need to move through the buying process quickly and efficiently. In addition to educational content, consider creating content that can be used to gently nudge or “nurture” prospects to where they are ready to buy.
Also, be mindful of the formats that your target audience prefers to consume. If they favor video, then your content should be prominent on video channels where they are already gathered. For most B2B audiences, LinkedIn is a natural gathering point.
Timing: Create a content calendar to outline what topics and customer pain points will be addressed each month. A documented and shared content calendar helps keep your team focused on your content strategy, and helps you take a more cohesive approach to creating and publishing your content. When you’re planning your content calendar, keep in mind any potential seasonal topics and times of year where there may be pent up demand.
Create a monthly email program where you email brief teasers of your content that click thru to your website to read more.
Inspire your team to share your new content on their social media channels, where it can reach a larger audience of people – and even more people who match the characteristics of your buyer personas via paid promotions.
Develop your content using SEO (Search Engine Optimization) best practices to increase visibility within search engines results. This way when your customers will find you when they use google and bing to find information about your products.
Designing a solid blueprint for your content marketing strategy leads to success. At Cultivate, we offer a free 30-minute consultation, where you will walk away with a concise understanding of how to develop a solid blueprint for your content marketing strategy. Call or email me directly for details.
Developing a content strategy that effectively engages people involves more than simply choosing the content to put on yourwebsite or tweaking what’s already there. It should center around ALL aspects of the way your company communicates with its target audiences.
Recently, I had conversations with several content specialists. Their definitions of the term “content marketing” were tactical in nature rather than strategic. They suggested things like, “Do a review of the client’s current website and make recommendations on how to improve it.” And, “Do an overall communications assessment – including the client’s website, SEO and social media efforts, and develop a plan for improvement.”
A lot of fix-it stuff to do, but no real big-picture game plan.
You’ve got to take your blinders off!
A bigger view of content strategy
Don’t get me wrong.
Assessing what you’ve done to date is an important part of creating a content strategy. But it’s only one small part of it. The other core pieces ought to include this list of important elements. (I’ve made the a checklist so you can keep track of your progress):
☐ Objectives that are tied to key business objectives. Content marketing cannot be an end unto itself. It must deliver a business impact in order to be successful.
☐ Detailed research into customer needs, which is used to build customer personas for each segment of your target audience.
☐ Development of a customer journey map that visually depicts the process customers follow from the time they realize they have a need until they purchase a product.
☐ Customer content needs that are mapped against that customer journey.
☐ An editorial calendar that considers all media where messages can be communicated.
☐ A tightly-designed set of content should move prospects toward a desirable action, usually a sale or a deeper relationship.
☐ An assessment of competitors and their messaging, to help you differentiate your content so it stands out.
Think “Big Picture” about content strategy
Don’t limit yourself to just improving what you’re already doing.
Get creative with these additional channels:
Podcasts: For some industries, a podcast may be an excellent way to educate prospects.
Print: A print magazine may be just what’s needed to provide your target audience with an engaging experience that builds trust, understanding and preference.
Educational Video: If your product or service is very visual in nature, perhaps a series of brief educational videos will help your company to stand out in their minds.
Integrate: Look for integration opportunities in your communications. For example, what if you produced a printed mailer that was a “teaser” for a more complete message online?
Don’t be blinded by cool, new technology, however. Always be mindful of where your customer is at and the channels and messaging formats they’re most comfortable with.
Content assessments: Your mileage may vary
If you lack the staff and expertise to launch and manage a consistent content program, a content marketing agency may be able to help you. But keep in mind that having an agency assess the quality of what you’re doing can be a very subjective exercise.
Also know that an agency’s point of view tends to be biased by its existing business specialty. In other words, a social media expert will tend to look at content as a tool for social media channels. An SEO firm will tend to view content as a tool to increase search engine rankings. You’ve probably heard the saying, “When you have a hammer, everything tends to look like a nail.”
Ideally, the agency you select to help you ought to be agnostic. They need to be committed to accurately assessing your current communications program AND identifying new opportunities.
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!
In the past, content marketing has been a hard sell to busy executives. It’s hard to sell a theory, and harder still to explain benefits measured in “engaged audience.” Not so long ago, many CEOs were more invested in sales numbers than in the long-game of building trust and authority online—and that’s proven to be a mistake for many.
Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report revealed some interesting information. Of the 88% of businesses using content marketing, only 30% feel they’re using it effectively. Given that, it’s not surprising that only 32% said they had a documented content strategy. Should that be discouraging? Not at all. CMI’s Joe Pulizzi pointed out that, “companies that report being clear on what success or effectiveness looks like also show a higher effectiveness rate (55 percent).”
So, while most businesses have opted in to content marketing in 2016, most of them don’t really have a plan, and therefore, aren’t satisfied with returns. However, those with a content marketing strategy had a very clear picture of their successes.
The Takeaway: CEOs and other C-suites who went “all in” ARE seeing the long-term results we expect from content marketing. To understand the value of content marketing and take it seriously (read: dedicate sufficient resources to make it work), your content marketing plan should be documented and focused, and it should outline exactly what success looks like.
Content Alone Is Not Enough
Successful marketers understand one thing better than their competitors: It’s not just the content. Great content is useless without distribution and promotion. When we say “all in,” we mean a budget that includes stellar content, plus social media investment to give it legs.
If you think making noise in 2015 was tough, brace yourself. It’s going to be even harder to get attention in 2016. But: It’s also going to be more rewarding if you do it right.
You start with great content. No matter what your industry, this will include product and industry knowledge, an intimate knowledge of what your customers are looking for, reviews and testimonials, and engagement on all levels.
Neil Patel recently revealed he’s invested $30K in high-quality, in-depth guides, which he gives away for free. He then promoted them via free channels. To date, Patel’s ROI is 10x what he’s invested. Wow.
He is the definition of “all in.” He’s also a CEO at the very top of the game, one of the most trusted names in the business. He did not get there by accident. He invested, remained consistent, published the most informative content in the digital marketing industry, and understood the long game.
Can You Get There?
Certainly. Believe it or not, few industries have strong leading voices. Even today, businesses are flooding the web with low-quality content and terrible social media fails. They’re not earning enough real traffic. In other words: they’re wasting their marketing money.
To make content marketing work for your business, go “all in.” Here’s how…
Budget for extraordinary content, social media, and promotion.
Understand what your audience wants and where they hang out online.
And above all, start with a plan. Every year, marketing studies say the same thing: Companies that start with a content marketing strategy see much higher returns. Once you start seeing more traffic, double-down. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Then, keep expanding your reach and answering audience questions. You’ll see your content marketing pay off.
Stop banging on the front door of your customer’s mind …when the side door is wide open! Want to learn more about effective content marketing? Whether you decide to outsource content marketing or not, this eBook is chock-full of great information on content marketing. Download this FREE guide, Side Door Thinking, to discover how content marketing can help you ramp up your website and complete your marketing strategy.
You’ll learn how to:
Increase Your Referral Rate
Increase Your Social Media Reach
Leverage New Product Lines & Revenue Streams
Earn Your Customer’s Loyalty & Business
Position Yourself As An Industry Leader & Trusted Resource
Small businesses are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to competing in a crowded marketplace—and no marketplace is more crowded than the Web. That’s a lot of competition for those precious few spots on the first page of search engine results.
In almost every industry, there are giants. You know them; everyone does. They’ve been around since the beginning of the Internet, have a natural audience, and have everything they need to dominate in the realm of search engine optimization (SEO).
How can a small business hope to compete?
The secret is in how SEO works. If you have the answers your customers are searching for, you wind up on top. Here’s how to get attention.
1. Work Your Niche
Big businesses try pretty hard to be all things to all people. You win if you concentrate on one thing. Find your niche and dominate it. Make your content relevant to your niche and repeat your message in different ways on every page. What’s unique about your business? Find your unique selling point and let it permeate your company culture, social media, and website content.
2. Go Hyper-Local
Small businesses have the advantage when it comes to location-specific goods and services. Google’s Pigeon update put local businesses at the forefront of mobile search. Using geo-location built into smartphones, Google shows users businesses that meet their needs and are in closest proximity. By mentioning specific neighborhoods or location-specific ingredients or interests, you move closer to the top of the search.
Location-specific ingredients, you ask? Local brewery Black Husky Brewing makes a beer called Sproose II IPA, which has the true taste of the great Northwest. It’s made with spruce tips. Chipotle grew quickly from a small business to a big business with a unique selling proposition: “fast casual dining.” It’s fast, but not fast food, locally sourced, fresh, and far more nutritious than traditional fast food…but still cheap and ready to serve.
3. Become the Authority
Remember, big businesses don’t have to work that hard. They concentrate big budgets on traditional advertising. Your best bet is to do the opposite and drive traffic through content and social media. Share your industry expertise on your blog and on major publications. The more relevant content you can produce, the more likely you are to add the value Google is looking for.
Every business has the opportunity to become a publisher. Use your platform to provide as much information as you can—and be sure it’s the information your customers are searching for.
4. Spread Your Fame
Link juice is still valuable. To gain valuable inbound links, you can approach influential writers in your industry or write interesting content and submit it for publication on big-time or industry sites. You can also sponsor an industry report. Good quality reports, like Deloitte Digital’s survey “Navigating the new digital divide,” earn more inbound links and mentions than any other type of content.
5. Be Human
Big corporations can appear to be cold and faceless. Call them and you may spend hours on hold, or get lost in the phone system twists and turns. Small businesses have an easier time being warm and human. Make everything about your customer service and social media personable and friendly—and that will become your reputation. Personal service makes you stand out, plus, it earns you recommendations and social media mentions, which pump up your SEO.
One last thing: If you don’t have a mobile-friendly website, build one. It’s useless to work on SEO if more than 60% of your potential customers won’t see your website when they search on their mobile devices. It’s time to go mobile in 2016!
Getting to the top of search engine results and staying there takes constant and consistent content marketing maintenance—and it’s totally worth it. Solid SEO strategy can help you compete with the biggest of the big boys for prime real estate on search engine results pages. Try these 5 tips to work your way to the top!