Strategy … we all know what it means, right? Just for grins, let’s look at a simple definition:
A plan of action designed to achieve a major or overall aim.
Clear enough. So why would the majority of content marketers have no documented strategy, according to Content Marketing Institute? And by “documented,” I mean a plan that you literally write down.
This is what happens when you document your strategy, again according to CMI’s research:
- You’ll be far more likely to consider yourself effective at content marketing.
- You’ll feel significantly less challenged by every aspect of content marketing.
- You’ll generally consider yourself more effective in your use of all content marketing tactics and social media channels.
- You’ll be able to justify spending a higher percentage of your marketing budget on content marketing.
For many small companies, the “marketing budget” is simply the time you allocate for content creation and promotion. And wasting time can often be more painful than wasting money, so let’s not do that, okay?
Your mission, should you choose to accept it
Before we get to the steps, we need an objective for our strategy. Our “major or overall aim,” per the definition.
The major or overall aim for commercial entities is sales.
Even if you’re a nonprofit or charitable organization looking for new or repeat donors, it’s dolla dolla bills, y’all.
“But Brian,” the voices in my head object. “What about branding, engagement, social sharing, SEO, comments …”
“Let me stop you right there,” I tell the voices. Which is awkward, because I’m in a crowded coffee shop.
An effective content marketing strategy will hit on all of those things (and more) along the buyer’s journey to the point of sale. While larger enterprises may convince themselves that “brand awareness” is a legitimate objective of content marketing, you’re too smart for that.
New customers and clients. Repeat and recurring customers and clients. Increased revenue and profit. These are the “major or overall aim” of your content marketing strategy.
Trust me, if you invest time and money into content marketing to “get your name out there,” you’ll end up a year from now curled up in a corner, sobbing uncontrollably.
No one wants to see that.
So, let’s run through the three steps to formulating your strategy.
The three simple steps
Content marketing strategy ultimately boils down to three simple components. Not necessarily easy, but we know by now that simple and easy are two different things.
Before you can get someone to buy from you, you need to know what to say to them, and how to say it. You’ll never get that right unless you know who you’re talking to.
Call them personas, avatars, or even characters if you like.
Your first step is to do the research that allows you to create a fictional, generalized representation of your ideal customer.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the word ideal in “your ideal customer.” Although you always put the problems and motivations of the prospect first, you should proactively choose the type of person you want to reach. And it might be even more important to purposefully exclude the “wrong” people.
Now that you know who you’re talking to, you can start to figure out what they need to hear from you. You’ll also want to place yourself in the shoes of the prospect along the buying journey, so you can deliver the right information at the right time.
It could be a funnel sequence, product launch, or defined period of time on your editorial calendar.
What do they need to know to do business with you, and in what order?
A big part of the “what” also involves influential touchpoints. You need to figure when it’s best to emphasize, for example, authority and social proof, and uncover the best moments to overcome preliminary objections.
Now we get to the creative part. By taking the time to understand the who and the what, you now know how to craft messages exactly how the prospect needs to “hear” that information.
The “who” reveals the stories you should tell, not just to transmit information, but to create a unifying sense of connection. The “what” tells you how to craft an overall narrative with a through line that ties directly into the prospect’s motivation for change.
Instead of guessing blindly, you’ll deliver the perfect analogies, anecdotes, and metaphors that make your ideal prospect view you as the only reasonable choice.
And since you chose them first, your marketing will be naturally authentic — because you’re reflecting your own values to those who share them.
“But, but, but …”
The voices are back. I might need to see someone about this.
First of all, don’t even begin thinking about how you’re going to create and distribute the content. That’s usually where people start, which is why so many organizations are doing “content” but not content marketing.
As my friend Robert Rose smartly points out, content strategy is about how you get content created, whether in-house, with the help of freelancers, or by hiring an agency. It also involves how to spread that content once it’s created.
Content marketing strategy is mapping out the overall plan for what the content creators should be creating and spreading.
While you’ll certainly adapt and iterate based on what happens when your content is actually out there, creating a documented strategy will help you get closer to the mark, earlier. You’ll save time and money no matter how you decide to create and spread the content.
And no worries if the above leaves you with unanswered questions. For the next four weeks, I’ll be taking you on a deep dive to discover the who, what, and how for your own content marketing strategy.
Editor’s note: Check out additional installments in the content marketing strategy series …