What is content strategy? Whether in an editorial or marketing capacity, content strategy encompasses the planning, creation, management, optimization, and distribution of media in order to engage and activate audiences.
Perform a Google search on “content creation strategy,” and you’ll get millions of results offering tips, ideas and templates to help you get started. While some of these pages offer good advice and guidance, remember to evaluate your organization’s unique circumstances before taking action. What are your biggest challenges with content? It’s vital that you take the time to consider some critical questions before you even begin making a list of blog topics.
Why? Content created for the sake of having content or to meet some self-imposed publishing schedule isn’t enough. Your content needs to serve your business by supporting corporate goals. In return, the organization has to support your content strategy with executive buy-in, budgets, and resources. And let’s not forget the customer — content has to meet the needs of the customer at each phase of the buyer’s journey.
Careful thought must go into your content strategy for it to be effective. To help you develop yours, we’ve put together a list of 25 questions you and your team should consider as you build your plan and make your content vision come to life.
Start with the big picture questions to develop your content creation strategy
These questions are the foundation for your content marketing strategy, and they ensure alignment with corporate goals. A content marketing strategy created in a vacuum isn’t all that valuable to the company at large.
1. What does the company want to accomplish in the next 6-12 months?
Start here. Your content must support the organizational goals and objectives. Otherwise, what’s the point?
2. Who are we trying to reach?
Does this seem like a no-brainer? You know your target customers based on your gut or your everyday encounters with buyers, right? But that’s merely a glimpse — and it could be flawed. Start by documenting the big picture of who your ideal customers are. We’ll get more granular on questions 9-14.
3. What does the marketing team need to achieve to support corporate goals?
After you document the answer to question 1, start developing a list of objectives and associated metrics. Be specific in defining these metrics, so you can measure your progress.
4. Are brand and style guidelines established and are they formally documented?
Help your team create content that is consistent with the brand values, style and tone. Publish your brand style guide and ensure everyone understands why brand consistency is so important.
5. Is my definition of success in line with management’s expectations?
Get together with management to review the success metrics you defined. Everybody should agree on the goals and the definition of success.
6. Who are the internal stakeholders involved in the approval process?
Figure out who needs to be involved in the approval process. One misstep could, at best, ruffle some feathers; at worst, it could get you fired or in compliance hot water, if you’re in a regulated industry.
7. Who needs access to ongoing reports and stats?
Identify which team members and executives need access to reports, and then figure out what level of data they need and how often they need it.
8. How will we know if we need to change our approach and how would we proceed?
Establish thresholds, target dates or milestones for your content marketing strategy that can help you evaluate effectiveness during execution. Next, create procedures for making a tweak or a “pull the plug” decision. Don’t wait until year-end to discover your plan didn’t work.
Get to REALLY know your audience
As discussed in the beginning, you have to know your audience. Question 2 approached the subject at a high level — now let’s cover the nitty-gritty.
9. What are the demographics of my buyer personas?
Demographics include information such as age, income, education level, etc. This is crucial to determining the type of content you need, the questions it should answer and the language and imagery you should use. What resonates with a millennial may not mean as much to a Gen Xer or baby boomer. Marketo has a great cheat sheet to help you create your buyer personas.
10. What are the psychographics for my buyer personas?
Psychographics are the attitudes, aspirations and other “psychological” information about your target audience. These insights may be harder to gather than demographic data, but the effort is worth it. If your persona is typically a positive, upbeat person, for example, fear tactics and somber writing won’t win them over. HubSpot offers an excellent beginner’s guide on using psychographics in your marketing.
11. What do my target customers do online and what do they read?
If your personas love video content and spend a lot of time on YouTube, you need to create video content. If they devour articles on industry trade websites, you need to get a guest post on the site or curate that content on your site and social platforms.
12. Do personas differ based on the industry vertical?
If you create content for B2B audiences, you may need to consider industry verticals. What’s true of a buyer in consumer packaged goods may not be true for a buyer in the automotive industry.
13. How many people are involved in the decision-making process?
The person with whom your sales rep ultimately closes the deal may have had to run everything through a committee (or a spouse). Create content that supports your champion and speaks to concerns that different departments or individuals may have.
14. What are your personas’ pain points and typical objections?
Your content strategy can start addressing these issues well before a prospect reaches out to your sales team (or your competitors’).
Perform a content audit
A content audit will help you understand which topics, types of content and distribution channels have been working (or not working) up until now. An in-depth review helps you build on what’s working and avoid what’s not.
15. Which types of content are performing best and worst on our site?
Select metrics like bounce rate, time on page, actions taken after viewing a page, etc., help you evaluate your current content’s effectiveness.
16. Do we have content that talks to our buyer personas?
It’s pretty obvious why you need this step. If your content isn’t addressing a key stakeholder, create some content that does and map it to the buyer’s journey, so it addresses questions and concerns at every stage of the process. Content Marketing Institute shows how to create a customer journey map.
17. Which types of content are we missing?
It’s not all about copy. You need a good mix of text, video and images to capture attention. So much of the Internet today is dominated by visual content, and 65 percent of people are visual learners, according to the Social Science Research Network. Don’t miss out.
18. What are our competitors doing?
Learn what they are doing successfully from a tactical standpoint, and emulate those efforts when it makes sense. But make your messaging and strategy uniquely yours. Study the competition and devise ways to differentiate your brand through your content.
19. Does our SEO need attention?
Sometimes content marketers and SEO pros feel at odds with each other, but let’s face it: You need one another. A well-crafted post is both easy to read and optimized for search. Let your SEO expert go in and ensure your tags are in place, check that your internal links are appropriate, etc. And when it comes to identifying guest posting opportunities on other sites, get this person’s two cents, too. Your search expert will help you evaluate which sites to avoid.
Define the content creation and distribution workflow
Now it’s time to plan how you will get the work done. Here are some questions to ask that can help clarify roles, responsibilities and procedures.
20. What tools are required?
A few tools that can help you with your content efforts include editorial calendar software or templates, project management tools, analytics, mind-mapping tools and templates, tools for visual storytelling, pre-launch checklists for each content type, etc. (ClearVoice comes complete with strategy, project management and publisher tools… just sayin’). Tools to consider for distribution and promotion include social media dashboards, email marketing programs, employee advocacy and social selling solutions and influencer marketing platforms.
21. Is my content calendar transparent and does everybody know their role in it?
The best way to ensure a plan is executed correctly is to communicate the plan and hold people accountable.
22. How will content be distributed and promoted?
Each piece of content will have a home — your website, blog, YouTube, SlideShare. Each will also have its own distribution/promotion efforts: social sharing, paid discovery, email marketing. There may even be individuals outside your marketing team who are responsible for amplifying content such as employee advocates, social sellers or outside influencers.
23. How will evergreen content be handled?
Don’t let evergreen content go to waste. Create a schedule for resurfacing and sharing this content. Search Engine Watch explains why evergreen content is so important.
24. Do I have the resources I need?
Great content requires more than a couple marketers. Even with a jack-of-all-trades who’s pretty talented in several key areas, you are going to need additional support for writing, design and promotion.
25. Do I have the budget I need to pull this off?
Here’s where the rubber meets the road — the moment where you discover how much of this you will be able to execute. If your plan is realistic and you can forecast an ROI, you will probably have fewer obstacles getting your budget approved than someone who didn’t do his or her homework. If you have to ask for more money, make sure you have the data to back up your plan.
Bringing the answers together
You’ve taken the time to explore the significant issues can make or break your content strategy, but the work doesn’t stop there. Information without action is as useless as no information at all. Start organizing your findings into next steps that make sense for your organization based on your content marketing maturity level.
If you’re just beginning — or stuck in the early stages — of content marketing adoption, you face several obstacles. Your primary objective in this phase of maturity is to start establishing a culture of content. Use your findings to the questions above to help leaders and other departments understand the role content can play in improving customer service and loyalty, generating leads, increasing sales, and improving the organization’s visibility in your industry. Help others see your vision and feel like an integral part of making it happen.
Also, make participation a privilege instead of a chore — especially if you are a solo marketer in a small-to-mid-sized company. You can’t do this alone. You need to sell the vision.
Suggestions for this phase revolve around establishing a culture of content:
- Gain executive buy-in and budget.
- Share the vision with other departments.
- Sell others on being part of the process.
- Develop buyer personas to ensure your content resonates with buyers.
- Establish a manageable content plan (e.g., basic SEO, blogging, email and social media).
Intermediate Content Marketing Organizations
If you have reached this phase, you probably have a blog, participation from subject matter experts, a social media presence, and reporting. Maybe you have experimented with other content forms like videos, infographics, ebooks or white papers, and podcasts. However, things could still use a little fine-tuning. Focus in on your persona-related and content audit questions above to make improvements.
If your organization is in this phase, spend time prioritizing next steps as follows:
- Refine your buyer personas for a more in-depth picture of your ideal customer.
- Audit your existing content and ask if it meets the needs of the ideal customer (your new, in-depth persona).
- Determine if you have content topics and formats that speak to buyers at each stage of their buyer’s journey.
- Experiment with new content promotion and distribution methods to reach more qualified audiences (remarketing or paid social media, for example).
Advanced Content Marketing Brands
If your organization has reached the advanced stage, congratulations! You’ve already done the hard work to build a culture of content and perfect your messaging and reach methods to inform, educate and engage target audiences. Just don’t get too comfortable. You can never stop learning and growing.
Suggestions for companies at this stage involve next-level content thinking:
- Study new trends in online marketing, including things like voice skills for Alexa or Google Home, virtual reality and augmented reality. Consider the implications these new content forms will have on your SEO.
- Experiment with machine learning and artificial intelligence platforms that can help you personalize content for each new visitor.
- Treat your content site as a media property that is as valuable as the product or service itself, and ask for the budget and resources that the effort deserves. Be ready to prove ROI when you make the ask.