It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if you’re going in the wrong direction. That, in a nutshell, is why content strategy matters so much. Because more work does not equal better results.
More smart work = better results, sure. But if your content strategy is off, it’s not your work ethic, or your skills, or your budget, your software, or your team that is the problem.
There’s research that backs this up: Among the B2B marketers who say they’re more successful with content marketing this year than last year, 72% credit having a strategy or having a better strategy as the factor that made the difference.
And yet, strategy seems to be something that gets pushed aside so easily. We content marketers live permanently on deadline. Most of us strive to create more content every year, even while we tacitly acknowledge that the extra content we’re creating is only fueling “content shock” and reducing engagement rates to boot.
Depressing, eh? It doesn’t have to be. Just use the angst to push yourself into changing your strategy.
With even a few adjustments to your content strategy, you can beat the content marketers’ blues and get results you want without exhausting yourself and contributing to content shock (and your own carpal tunnel syndrome).
Here are a few good places to start:
Have a content strategy in the first place
Alas, there still are content marketers out there who do not have a content strategy. They rush from deadline to deadline, blindfolded, churning out words and images in vain.
But seriously. It’s 2018. Content marketing is a fully developed marketing practice. And yet, 21% of B2B marketers still lack that all-important strategy.
There is good news. Creating a content strategy is not hard. And while you might have been putting this off simply because you think you need to create a FANTASTIC, WORLD-CLASS, AWARD-WINNING CONTENT STRATEGY immediately, you don’t.
A working, get-from-A-to-B strategy is a fine place to start. You can adjust it and make it better later. And you can get started by downloading, reading, and printing out our eBook, Six Best Practices for Creating a Content Marketing Strategy, and/or listening to Larry Kim on our Rethink Marketing podcast as you drive home tonight.
Here’s one final productivity tip so you actually get this done: Give yourself a time limit. For instance, you get four uninterrupted hours to create and finish this rudimentary content strategy.
That’s tight, and it won’t produce an award-winning content strategy, but it will get it done. Finally!
Have a documented content strategy
Ah, the mighty power of writing things down. It’s surprising how effective it is.
Nothing crystallizes ideas like getting them on paper or a screen. Nothing helps as much with remembering what you were trying to accomplish long-term, especially if you tend to get lost in “the fog of war” that is keeping up with content creation deadlines.
If you question this, or if you’ve been putting this off because you’ve got another little weekly content deadline, I’ve got a stat for you.
“… Marketers with a documented strategy are 538% more likely to report success than those who don’t.”
That’s according to research from CoSchedule. When they surveyed 1,600 marketers earlier this year, they found that only 48% of them have a documented content strategy.
I realize that it takes precious time to write down a content strategy. Even the four hours suggested above can be hard to find. But when doing something this simple has the potential to make it five times as likely you’ll achieve marketing success, then maybe it’s worth making into a priority.
Create “tangential content”
First, a definition: Tangential content (as defined by Kerry Jones writing for Moz) is content that isn’t directly about your products or brand.
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see companies making with content marketing. It is rampant and expensive.
It happens when marketers confuse content marketing content with sales collateral. They think that, to get any business returns from their content marketing, they must create only content that is directly complementary to what their company sells or does. They’re only interested in creating content that talks covertly ― or overtly ― about their products or brand.
This seems like a good idea. Especially if your results from content marketing aren’t so good. After all, who wants to be frivolously creating content that has nothing to do with the sales funnel or your company?
But step back and ask why you’re doing content marketing in the first place. The sales part is important (of course), but it’s only part of the picture. Most content marketers are in it to get their content read and shared ― and for all the benefits that come from that. To do that, we need to get out in front of new prospects at least some of the time, and to keep customers engaged.
Content that’s too closely tied to your business won’t do that. Content with even a whiff of sales to it won’t do that. Content that puts your company’s needs ahead of your audience’s needs won’t do that.
You need to expand your content “safe zone” to create content that’s loosely related to your business, but that’s interesting enough to attract new people.
I’ve been seeing this phenomenon first-hand for years (in my experience, it’s the #1 reason content marketing programs fail), but there’s finally some new research to back it up:
So please, step outside your content comfort zone.
You don’t have to do it for every piece of content. If even 20% of what you publish could be completely free of any sales intention and could place your audiences’ needs ahead of your company’s needs, it would be a great start.
Develop a content-promotion and distribution strategy
Quick quiz: Half of the content published gets how many shares or less?
Answer: Eight. Eight shares. And no links.
Too often, when we plan out a content strategy, we focus on content creation. Content creation is certainly important ― vitally important ― but it’s not the whole game. Without a robust content-promotion strategy, your content isn’t going to get read/watched/heard.
Adding a promotion/distribution strategy can make a major impact. Witness how one B2B content marketer at an HR performance management software company increased leads by 300% ― simply by taking this content distribution thing seriously.
Instead of making yet more content, the HR marketer Alan O’Rourke had his team switch their strategy. They spent only 30% of their time creating new content and a whopping 70% of their time promoting it.
That got them 300% more leads. With less content.
What might a serious content promotion strategy do for you?
Develop content for multiple personas and their different stages of the customer journey
Ever heard of “random acts of content”? It’s the bad habit of some content marketers to just publish whatever comes into their head, so long as it kinda complements what their company does and gives them a nice opportunity for a sales pitch.
Often, this content strategy (or lack of strategy) devolves into creating content for just one phase of the buyer’s journey. Typically, the discovery phase.
That’s a nice start, but you also need to be creating content for the middle of the funnel and the end of the funnel. That’s a very simplified version of the customer journey (some marketers break it down more granularly), but it’s a good place to start. It’s also a framework used frequently enough that marketers refer to this top-of-funnel, mid-funnel, and bottom-of-funnel content as TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU.
You need TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content for each buyer persona. And ideally, you want multiple content formats for each buyer phase and each buyer persona. A key part of defining your marketing strategy (and filling up your editorial calendar) should be mapping the content you already have to these buyer personas and journeys, and then identifying where you have gaps in your content.
Here’s what this might look like:
See the gaps in the content above? Here they are:
- For the Marketing Manager persona, there’s no MOFU (middle of funnel) content.
- For the CMO persona, there’s no TOFU (top of funnel) content.
- For the CIO persona, there’s only MOFU (middle of funnel) content.
That’s just the first level of assessment here. Ideally, you’ll do a content audit to see where the gaps are. Or if you’ve got a sophisticated “content vault” or “content library” (a place where you keep every content asset), you may be able to sort your content via persona and phase of the customer journey so you can quickly see where the gaps are.
Needless to say, filling in all those gaps will make your marketing automation system work better, too. You’ll have content ready to go for each persona and each stage of their journey.
It’s time to stop measuring our content marketing by how much content we produce. It’s the results that we’re after. A good strategy, executed well, can help us focus far more on actual results than on just pumping out more content. We’ll save ourselves a lot of work, save our companies a lot of money, and maybe even have more fun.
And who knows … using smarter strategies might work so well, it could spread beyond the content marketing department.