Content marketing is not a reactive art form. If you attempt to generate leads and sales through content, it almost never lands unless you spend the time to craft an overall strategy. Random acts of marketing rarely work, and never for the long haul. Planning is the quintessential key to long-term marketing success.
So, where do you start? At the beginning, of course. There’s a science to formulating a content marketing plan, and there are integral elements to craft and research before you plunge head-first into content creation. Whether you draft this strategy yourself or with a content marketing team, the thought process is the same: Create a clear view of your audience, your business goals, and your success measurements, then focus on the content that can meet your objectives.
Step 1: Who Is Your Target Market?
If you don’t know the intricacies of your target demographic, you aren’t ready to spend time and money on quality content. You should obviously know the basics about your audience — gender, age, income, and geographic location — but consider going much deeper to increase your chances at success. As marketing expert Pam Moore states:
Knowing and understanding your audience is required to truly inspire them to further engage and connect with you.
So what do you need to know about the people you serve? Pam provides the following key questions, which are a fantastic place to start: If you can’t answer any of these easily and readily, it’s time to do more market research and get to know who you are targeting better.
- Where do they live?
- Where do they work?
- What do they do for fun?
- What is their lifestyle?
- Where do they hang out when not at work?
- Where do they hang out when online?
- What types of conversation are they having?
- Are they talking with your partners? With your competition?
- How much money do they make?
- What is their lingo? Tone? Casual? Professional?
Step 2: Define Your Content Marketing Objectives
Objectives can take many forms, including a clearly defined mission statement, or just a bullet list of goals. The point is not how you draft your objectives, but that you do it one way or another. If you fail to define the intended results of your content marketing campaigns, you will lack motivation to achieve greatness, and will end up unable to quantify your successes.
Think about the purpose of your overall content strategy. This will help define the tone and focus of your content, and help you measure results and adjust tactics to meet your intended needs. Sailing into content marketing without intention is like cliff diving without testing the water. It’s dangerous, and potentially a massive waste of your precious resources.
Step 3: Understand How Your Marketing Efforts Meet Your Business Needs
As obvious as this may sound, it’s a step missed by a staggering number of companies. Don’t forget to thoroughly consider the overall objectives of your business, then quantify how content marketing can help reach these goals. Figure out where both strategies align to highlight your key areas of focus.
Step 4: Establish Clear Positions Within Your Industry
Your content should express your industry expertise in clear and credible ways. It’s imperative that your marketing team define any positions or sides embraced by the company as a whole, so any content created can consistently reflect these views.
These positions should also align with the research you have about your audience. David Scott Meerman, author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR, suggests that “Instead of one-way interruptions, Web marketing is about delivering useful content at just the precise moment that a buyer needs it.” When you have a clear vision on your own values and viewpoints, you can better know the right time to educate and influence your audience, creating a win-win scenario.
Step 5: Be More Relevant and Engaging Than Other Media Sources
With all the clutter in the digital space, the last thing needed is a voice that regurgitates the thoughts of others. Commit to providing valuable content that is unique in your space, and you will win the loyalty and attention of your audience. If you don’t have faith you can produce content that is better than other blogs and sources with a similar bent, you won’t get the results you’re hoping for.
Step 6: Define Your Content Creation Process
Finally, it’s wise to map out both the content creation and content release process in clear detail before you engage in a full-scale campaign launch. This includes defining things like who will create your content, who manages the editorial calendar, how and when you’ll respond to audience engagement, what tools you’ll use for content release and metrics tracking, and all related issues. If there are holes in your process, it will show up one way or another in the quality of what you create. Taking the time to define your process and your tools will let your in-house or third-party content marketing team focus on what really matters: creating rock-star content that your audience simply can’t get enough of.
Illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig