The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive audience action. Clearly, if content marketing can deliver on these promises, it should become a key part of every marketer’s toolbox.
However, given that developing and executing a content strategy is extremely time and resource intensive, it is critical for organizations of all sizes to take a step back and form a realistic and a sustainable approach to creating and distributing content. Why? Because in a resource-constrained world, marketers need to focus on strategies that deliver real results rather than blindly following the advice of marketing gurus who would have them invest in creating expensive content factories that may or may not deliver.
The promise of a content strategy
There is a plethora of compelling statistics that provide a powerful argument for creating and executing a content strategy:
Content marketing gets 3 times more leads than paid search advertising. CMI
Content marketing generates over three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62% less
Content marketing costs up to 41% less per lead than paid search
As you publish more content, Google will continue to increase your page rank, making it easier for customers to find you
70% of customers feel closer to a business after engaging with their content
For many businesses, the promise of a lower cost and more reliable way to generate leads with content can be very appealing. But it is important to realize that with content marketing, the devil is in the details. That’s why it is critical to create a well-thought out and research-based content strategy designed to deliver on clearly defined business goals.
HOW TO CREATE A CONTENT STRATEGY
While the idea of creating a content marketing strategy may seem daunting, in reality it can be broken into seven distinct steps:
Identify your audiences – Create personas
Set objectives & goals – Get what you measure
Develop content themes –Define/refine your messaging
Create an editorial calendar – A day-by-day plan across platforms
Develop syndication plan – Publish content to relevant platforms
Create content – Choose from a wide range of content formats
Monitor performance – Use analytics to measure impact
Align content strategy with the customer journey
As suggested by the Content Marketing Institute’s definition, a key reason to develop a content strategy is to attract and retain a defined audience. What does this mean? Content can be used to drive traffic to your website (create awareness) and then guide customers through the consideration process until they are ready to make a purchase decision. Content can also be used to position your organization as a trusted advisor or expert within your industry.
Customers have different information needs as they move through the customer journey. These needs are critical inputs to developing a content marketing strategy.
How does your audience learn about your organization?
What action do you want them to take?
How can you help your audience take the next step in the journey?
What pain points or road blocks can you remove them?
At Sugarbird Marketing, we pride ourselves on being proven content creators. Our expertise in digital marketing and more specifically in content development, digital content strategy, social media and email marketing, search engine optimization and PPC advertising helps us connect customers with products and services. We believe that a content plan should be developed for each stage in the journey because the customer’s information needs are different as they move from awareness to referring their friends, family and co-workers to your brand.
Developing a realistic content strategy
While the idea of creating a digital content strategy may seem daunting, in reality it can be broken into seven distinct steps:
1. Identify your audiences – Create personas
Content should always be created from the perspective of the intended audience and where they are in the customer journey. Depending on whether your organization is a business or a non-profit, audiences for your content may differ. For example, critical audiences for nonprofits may include donors, beneficiaries, partners and volunteers. Companies may want to target current and/or future customers, investors, business partners, prospective employees and more.
We believe that developing a deeper understanding of your audience and their information needs is a critical first step when creating a content marketing strategy. One way to accomplish this is to create content marketing personas which allows you to personify each audience segment.
Creating audience personas allows you to determine:
What topics you should focus on
What type of content to create
What tone, style, and delivery strategies to develop
What the call-to-action should be
You may also want to create a variation of each persona based on where the person is in the decision-making process.
Personas commonly include:
Demographic information (age, income, location)
Background (job, career path, family)
Key decision drivers
Places they’re most likely to find information
Preferred content formats (blog posts, videos, social media posts, e-books)
Email us for Sugarbird’s Content Persona template.
2. Set objectives & goals – Get what you measure
Given that content marketing requires an investment in time and resources, it is critical to make sure that you are getting the kind of returns you are looking for. That is why it is important to start by setting goals and objectives. Objectives define the qualitative results your organization must accomplish over the next year. These could be revenue growth, customer retention and more. Goals determine how progress toward objectives will be measured quantitatively. For example, we will grow our revenue by 15% and increase customer retention rates by 20%.
Now it is time to align your content marketing strategy with your goals and objectives. What will content marketing deliver qualitatively during the next year? (e.g., drive more traffic to our website, increase conversion rates, etc.). Finally, how will we measure whether our content strategy is working? How will we define success?
3. Develop content themes –Define/refine your messaging
The idea of generating a large amount of content to support customers throughout the decision-making process can be daunting. However, at Sugarbird Marketing, we believe that all content should be derived from a deep understanding of your organization’s value proposition. If you have not already gone through a comprehensive value proposition discovery exercise, now is a good time to do it. The output of this process is a formalized messaging framework which is a structured representation of the value promises your organization, product or service is making. Messaging is always audience-specific and starts from the perspective of the problems you are solving for that audience. At its core, a messaging framework answers the question: Why?
Contact us to receive a copy of our guide to creating a brand messaging framework for your organization.
The Sugarbird Messaging Framework is built on three value promises your organization makes to customers (or whatever audience you are creating content for). Each of these value promises describes the problem your organization is solving and the transformation you are enabling for your audience. It also outlines how your product/service delivers and what measurable impact your audience can expect.
This is why your messaging framework offers fertile ground for developing content themes.
If you align your content themes with your value promises, it is also important to create different content for the customer at each point in the decision-making process.
4. Create a day-by-day plan across platforms
A content editorial calendar allows you to map out what content needs to be created, for what platform and by when. This allows you to get a sense of the resources you will need to execute your content plan. You can utilize many forms of content marketing like blogs, SEO, social media marketing, etc. to build awareness and attract more traffic. The following best practices give you a sense of how much content to create each week for each of your platforms
Blog: The answer to how often to blog is: It depends. If you are starting up a new blog, there is value in seeding it with posts to establish credibility. Blogs with 20+ posts will have a higher authority with google and will, therefore, drive more traffic to your site. Once this critical mass is reached, we believe it is more important to focus on quality rather than quantity of posts.
Facebook: 1-2 posts per day– If you have less than 10,000 followers, you should post one or fewer times per day.
Instagram: 1 – 2 posts per day
Twitter: 3 – 5 times a day; Aim for quality content vs quantity
LinkedIn: 1 post per day
Another input into creating an editorial calendar is to decide on content serving sizes
Finally, determine the best times of day to publish your content to each social media platform. For example, Sprout Social offers the following best practices:
Wednesday and Friday at 2 p.m.
Monday at 9 a.m.
Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Thursday at 10 a.m. and noon
Friday at 9 and 11 a.m.
The safest times to post are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays
Email us for our social media posting calendar template.
5. Publish content to relevant social media platforms
By now, we all understand that we live in a multi-platform world. Depending on your strategy, you may develop different syndication tactics. For example, your strategy to establish your organization as a thought leader may lead you to create a white paper. Your content syndication plan may then be as follows:
Create white paper as a pdf
Develop a landing page where prospects need to provide their email address to access the white paper
Post links to the landing page on social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
Run paid advertising that links to the landing page
Run an email campaign promoting the white paper
Depending on how much content you are creating, publishing this content to social media platforms can be extremely time-consuming. Luckily there are a large number of free and paid social media syndication and scheduling tools available to automate this process. At Sugarbird Marketing, we use the free version of Buffer to post to Facebook and LinkedIn. Paid services like Hootesuite (they also have a free version) and Sprout Social offer rich capabilities that can save you time and increase your returns.
6. Create content – Choose from a wide range of content formats
For us, creating content is when the real fun starts! But before we review content types, there are a few key points to review:
Make sure that you consult your brand guidelines as these will inform voice and tone
Remember your audience – revisit your personas
Align your content with your value promises – use them to develop content themes
What does your audience need to know at each point in the decision process to move to the next step?
What is the best channel to reach the audience at each stage?
What do you want the audience to do? What is the call to action?
As far as content is concerned, the sky is the limit. There is a great opportunity to throw away the rules and create new types of content. Remember the first time you heard the word “infographic”?
Here are a few content types to get your creative juices flowing:
VIDEO MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND
What other content should be included in your content strategy plan? Explainer videos are a great way to bring your unique value proposition to life. They can range in cost from a few hundred to a thousands of dollars – depending on your budget.
As you think about which content to create, it is important to prioritize as all content is not created equal and delivers different types of results.
Your content strategy should be powered by keywords
If the goal for a piece of content you are considering creating is to drive organic traffic to your site as part of your awareness strategy, then you have to start by conducting keyword research. Much has been written and many tools are available about the importance of SEO for content marketing. Organizations like Moz and Neil Patel have built highly successful businesses and at the same time, have helped create an $80BN industry.
While it can be extremely helpful to hire an SEO firm to support your content strategy, the plethora of free tools available makes it relatively easy for you to create keyword-optimized content that will drive traffic organically to your site. A few SEO tools we use at Sugarbird Marketing include:
Google Trends: for starting the process of finding high-volume search terms
Answer the Public: For finding questions your audience is asking about specific topics
SEMRush for looking at competitor’s keyword
Google Keyword Planner (available once you set up a Google Adwords account) – for testing different keywords and their associated search volume
MarketMuse for analyzing existing content
At Sugarbird Marketing, we offer keyword research as a core part of our content strategy services. Contact us today to learn more.
In conclusion: Experiment so you can optimize for what works
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to creating content. In our experience, it is invaluable to try things out and then see if they work. If they deliver the results you are looking for, do more of that. If not, move on and try something else.
At the end of the day, however, what is most important is a sincere desire to be of service to your audience by providing them with valuable and useful information that meets their needs. Creating content authentically rather than stuffing it with keywords is always the right approach. Sometimes a few pieces of high quality content can yield the results you are looking for rather than spamming customers with low quality content that meets high volume content production targets.