Content marketing: Time to take off the blinders

bigger view - content strategy

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.

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Does your agency understand the building blocks of content strategy?

building blocks of content strategy

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

content strategyWhen 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.

content strategy building blocks

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.

content strategy building blocks

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?

(Crickets chirping)

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:


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!

CEO guide to content marketingIf 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.

Here’s Why CEOs Are Choosing Content Marketing in 2016

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.

Who’s In?

content marketing in 2016Content 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.
  • Invest in SEO.
  • Build relationships with influencers to help spread the word.
  • Create your own unique content, using data and customer surveys. (Ask the right questions—you want other people to reference your data.)
  • Include case studies in your content.
  • Test and measure your results.

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.


Side Door Thinking: Learn the smart marketing tactics you need to truly engage with more customers.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
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SEO to Know: 5 Ways Small Businesses Can Compete With Giants

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.

SEOIn 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!

Not sure if your site is mobile friendly? Use the free and easy Google Mobile-Friendly Test tool to find out. Now’s the time to go mobile, but how? Check out this handy and comprehensive FREE guide to making your website mobile friendly.

Download: The Smart Marketer's Guide To Making Your Website Mobile Friendly

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!


8 Great SEO Basics For Small Business Owners

SEO BasicsWant to learn to DIY SEO? Well, turns out SEO is a complicated subject. Figuring out how each new Google algorithm impacts search and how to deal with all the new changes are subjects of endless debate.

However, SEO Basics are well within your reach—even if you’re new to SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of strategically tweaking all the elements of your website to earn the highest possible placement in search engine results. Higher search results = more customers = money for you.

Searchers tend to click on websites that show up on page one, so that’s where you need to be.

Check out these SEO Basics to help you capture and keep that top slot.

1. Avoid Duplicate Content

Copying content is a fairly common practice, but it’s bad for SEO. You can avoid getting penalized by using special tags that identify the content as duplicate. But, for non-experts, a better answer is: don’t do it. Your website should be bursting with your own unique content. Multiple websites? Even if you own other domains, each one needs unique content. To play it safe, ensure each page and every post is different.

2. Gather Intelligence

Monitor social media and document customer service calls to learn what your customers are asking, what they’re complaining about, and what they like most. Your customers are your key to SEO success.

3. Focus Your Content

Unless you’re running a pet blog, you should probably keep your Pomeranian off your website, no matter how adorable he is. Keep your content industry and product focused—but don’t oversell it. Provide informational, helpful and relevant website content for best results. It’s not only great for SEO, it’s a great way to turn your site visitors into customers.

4. Include Keywords

Semantic search has taken the place of simpler keyword search, but keywords still have a place. Instead of using the same keywords repeatedly, make a list of words and phrases your customers might be searching for. To get started, write down your top 5 customer FAQs. Write content that answers those questions, using your keywords and phrases naturally throughout the content.

5. Understand What Your Audience Wants

When your content answers questions asked by your customers, you’ll naturally earn more traffic. If you’re not seeing more site traffic, it’s time to get back to brand basics. Create buyer personas to get to know your audience better. (Check out this free buyer persona template from Hubspot!) Consider how your products or services make your customers feel. After all, even B2B customers respond to emotional connection.

6. Change Up Your Content Delivery Method

Don’t stop at what your customers want to know, discover how they want it delivered. Trying to deliver complicated technical knowledge or dense statistics to a general audience may serve only to alienate them…unless you present it in a way they can understand. Kick-ass infographics and fun, yet informative videos are great ways to show complex information in an easily digestible form. Step-by-step photos are a great way to walk even a novice through a recipe or repair project. When you find a way to help your customer be successful, they’ll come back for more.

7. Go Mobile

Mobile search is becoming more important every year. Did you know that if your website isn’t mobile friendly, it won’t show up in mobile search? Yikes. That’s a huge chunk of business you could be missing out on. Your website content must be optimized for mobile.

Not sure if your site is mobile friendly? Use the free and easy Google Mobile-Friendly Test tool to find out. Now’s the time to go mobile, but how? Check out this handy and comprehensive FREE guide to making your website mobile friendly.

Download: The Smart Marketer's Guide To Making Your Website Mobile Friendly

8. Build Authority

How do you outrank your competition? You produce all the information your customers need to rank you as the leading authority in your field. No matter how crowded the field, a voice speaking from a new perspective can shine through. Find gaps in knowledge and fill the holes. Talk about what every other expert isn’t talking about. Make it personal and always about the customer. Build out your authoritative content over time for even more SEO juice.

Today, SEO is more about content and customer relationships than about tricks and shortcuts. You can’t game the system, you just have to be that good. These tips are low-tech ways to bump your SEO by improving your content and building your audience.

Have a question about SEO Basics? Let us know in the comments!