Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect changes in the current state of content marketing.
With many consumers becoming distrustful of traditional advertising, content marketing has become the digital marketing tactic of choice for contemporary marketers, with 82% of marketers currently using it according to HubSpot. The success of content marketing, however, hinges on a well-documented content strategy.
However, while content marketing seems to be gaining in popularity, many marketers don’t have a documented strategy to help them. A report from Content Marketing Institute highlights that only 43% of B2B marketers have such a documented strategy in place.
Having a content strategy is a critical component of getting content marketing right. So, we've turned to content marketing experts to learn what a content strategy is, why businesses need one and what steps to take to develop one.
Lauren Reed, editorial services manager at Honolulu, HI-based iQ 360 defines a content strategy as "your business's approach to creating and distributing content for your target audience." While a content strategy may be straightforward, it's easy to get wrong if you don't prioritize content that’s relevant for the right audience.
It's also essential that you document a content strategy that focuses on providing value to your audience. "A successful content strategy," Reed continues, "is one that seeks to understand what your audience wants and needs, and focuses on developing content that is useful, educational, relevant or otherwise valuable to them."
Understanding the type of content that will excite your audience is essential because even though many organizations focus on the creation and distribution stage, your audience will determine the ultimate success of your program.
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"Businesses need a content strategy," Daniela Andreevska, marketing director at Campbell, CA-based Mashvisor explains, "in order to make sure that they attract the right users who will convert into customers, educate them on the benefits of using their product, convert them into customers and retain them as customers." You need a content strategy to bring potential leads down the sales funnel and keep them coming back.
While Reed agrees on the benefits of content marketing, she adds, "creating content without purpose, simply for the sake of putting something out there, can be a costly and time-consuming mistake." Knowing your strategy before you start producing content will allow your brand to create more relevant content, which converts to greater trust and a better ROI for content marketing efforts.
Knowing what a content strategy is and why you need one are important, but what can you achieve by spending time to create one? Here are some benefits of creating a content strategy:
Even though there are some general guidelines for what a content strategy is, it ultimately depends on the needs of your business. Yes, you do want to bring leads down the funnel and keep them coming back, but to what end? All content created should be with the intention of helping you achieve your business objectives. According to Marcus Ho, Managing Director at Singapore-based Brew Interactive, “content strategy should do a number of things, but ultimately it should help you achieve core business goals.” That objective for most businesses should be to increase sales, but depending on the product or service you are selling, a content strategy may look different from one company to another.
For one company a content strategy may focus on written content that hits many SEO keywords. For another company, their strategy may focus a lot more on video content or podcasts. At the end of the day a content strategy should be unique to your business. As Neil Morton, Chief Marketing Director at Peterborough, Ontario-based StudioPTBO explains, “a highly effective content strategy should give you both brand lift and generate leads to your business, which you have a method of converting seamlessly to new customers.”
Here are seven steps that are essential to developing a solid content strategy:
Reed recommended you start with an objective. "Starting with the end business goal helps keep you focused," she said, "otherwise it can be easy to get distracted." Without concentrating on business objectives, you could end up publishing content just for the sake of it. “At this point, make sure you have your analytics all set up,” suggested Taras Prystatsky, content marketing strategist at Respect.Studio. Potential metrics to track in your analytics tools could include page views, social media shares or ecommerce conversions.
"Get to know your target audience," said Andreevska. You want to know where they spend their time online, what they spend their money on, and how you can solve their problems. "Map out their journey from the discovery phase, to the consideration phase, to the point of purchase, to hopefully becoming a repeat customer," Reed recommended. You want to develop content that attracts your target audience and leads them every step of the way to a purchase.
After you've determined your target audience, Andreevska said, “you have to carefully research the keywords relevant to your audience," as these will become "the backbone of your content development." Many tools can help with keyword research like Ahrefs and Google Keyword Planner. You can create content around these keywords that drives traffic and higher SEO rankings for your website and brand.
Once you understand what your target audience and keywords are, it's a great idea to examine your competitors' content along with the areas and keywords that they rank for. "Look at what your competitors are doing, but more importantly, look at what they're not doing," Reed said. Study the topics, keywords and length of the content on their website or other distribution channels. If you find areas where your competitors have content that's lacking, you can fill in the gaps and provide better value to your target market.
Don't let the endless amount of distribution channels overwhelm your teams. Prystatsky believes brands should choose a small handful of channels for content distribution, such as a blog and a YouTube channel, allowing the company to "focus on distribution to the right people through the right channels."
Attracting customers to your brand with top of the funnel content is beneficial. However, what happens after you’ve got them there? You need to provide content that doesn’t just peak their interest but potentially solves their problems. “Many companies I see place too much emphasis on the top of the funnel, but fail to create content assets that help convert at the bottom of the funnel,” said Ho. It’s also important that a brand should have assets like “case studies, testimonials, or videos convincing why they're a good fit to work for you.”
Once you've chosen your distribution channels, "create an editorial calendar to iron out the nitty-gritty details of where and when this content will be made available," Reed said. An editorial calendar will help you keep track of your content and ensure you're publishing consistently.
“Deploy a mix of storytelling and soft sell,” explains Morton. Your content strategy shouldn’t just be focused on selling, but it shouldn’t just be about solving problems for free either. “People buy solutions to whatever their paint point is so you are trying to project confidence that you can solve their problem.” Your first step should be providing content that educates them, then showcases how your brand can help. Morton also recommends using a mix of content types to have the best effect.
Prystatsky concluded, "when it comes to B2B — it is much more important to build a credible image instead of catching hype." Following these steps will help you create a content strategy that provides real value to your audience and develops long-lasting trust for your brand.