What is your content strategy? Does everyone in your marketing department or on your company’s leadership team know what it is? Do you have a documented content strategy? If I asked to see it, could you show it to me within a minute or two?
I would be willing to bet that what you are calling your content strategy isn’t one. Don’t feel bad. That is probably true, too, for what folks in your company and others are calling their “business strategy,” or their “marketing strategy.”
More than likely, what is being called a strategy is actually just a plan. I am not just splitting hairs here. It is just that most plans lack any real strategy. They are something you’ve downloaded from the web, received from an Angel investor, or copied from your last gig.
Lawrence Freedman in his seminal book Strategy: A History takes a deep dive into strategy through the ages, from chimpanzees to Fortune 100 company board rooms. You can read the 600+ pages to better understand strategy.
One favorite takeaway that you can use at your next strategy session is Freedman quoting Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.”
Or you can file away that there are basically two types of strategy: force and cunning.
What does this mean for your business and your content strategy?
An example of force in content strategy would be giving your CMO unlimited resources and budget to create a Super Bowl ad campaign with all the supporting collateral whether digital display and PPC ads, blog posts, eBooks and so forth. Don’t know your target audience? Who cares, buy more PPC ads and figure it out later on.
An example of cunning in content strategy would be recognizing your marketing budget for the entire year is less than half the $5 million for a 30 second Super Bowl ad plus all the other resources to do all of the above. So, you create “If We Made It,” a campaign from Newcastle Brown Ale that hijacked the Super Bowl ads conversation in 2014 without airing a Super Bowl ad.
So with that, let’s dive in and create (and document) a winning content strategy for 2019.
Why should you document your content strategy
Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, answers this question better than me. You can read it here. Basically, most successful marketers attribute their success to having a content strategy. And marketers that document their content strategy are more likely to be successful achieving their goals and realizing success.
Joe points to research done elsewhere on goal setting. For example, you’re more likely to complete that 5K or marathon run if you tell people that is your goal.
Makes sense, right? But one in five marketers still lack a content strategy of any type. Ugh.
How do you document your content strategy
A documented strategy sounds pretty fancy, but doesn’t have to be. Open up a new doc in Word or Google and answer the questions below and, voila, you have a documented content strategy.
Besides understanding your resources and constraints, which we will discuss below, having a deep understanding of your ideal buyer is the most important thing that needs to be done in creating your content strategy.
Response rates plummet when you send generic content to a broad, untargeted audience. Spend the money, time and other resources to figure out who you are trying to reach. After all, your marketing success — and your business success — depends on it.
To gain deeper insight into your buyers — and to build better buyer personas — you can hold focus groups, interview current customers, conduct surveys, or check out who’s engaging with you via social media.
Get the sales team involved. Sales has the most direct access to your customers. They understand pain points and motivations — so get their input on personas. If sales isn’t aligned with your messaging, the conversation will feel disjointed.
Think about the challenges your personas face. Do they feel their current tool is unreliable? You can research which pain points are plaguing your customers through interviews, surveys, or conversations with sales. You can see what they are saying on social, too.
Learn where and how they devour content about your industry. Is it all from peer review sites or a specific industry blog or website? Look toward your current customers, and find out how they first consumed your content.
Give each of your buyer personas a name, job, likes and dislikes, pain points, purchase drivers, activities, success measurements, and more. If most of the CEOs you want to reach are female, name your persona “Aniyah,” not “CEO Persona.”
Refresh personas at least every year or two. Once you’ve revisited your personas, update lead nurturing tracks to fit them.
Goal Setting and the Funnel
Next up is getting input from your executive team on what are your 2019 business goals for the company?
Follow Stephen Covey’s advice and begin with the end in mind. Identify those goals, and then work backward to identify what would mean in sales qualified leads, marketing qualified leads, leads, unknown visitors, and then what you expect it to takes in published blog posts or eBooks, ad spend, events and so forth to get there.
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Who are your established and up-and-coming competitors? What’s on the horizon that could dramatically change the game (regulatory, economy, consumer expectations, etc.)?
For your competitors, what can you learn about how they’ve outlined their personas? How are they reaching those audiences? What do you think is their messaging? What content, tactics and channels seem to be successful for them?
There are all sorts of ways to develop this information. You can use digital tools like Moz, SEMrush, and BuzzSumo and others to see what are their most popular pages on their website, or what content they have that is being shared most often.
You can check them out on LinkedIn and get some intel on the size of their sales and marketing teams, and some of the titles that are being used. For example, do they have a lot more sales account reps that are based outside the United States? That may tell you that is where they are focusing on growth. Do most of their marketing titles relate to event marketing, content marketing, or demand generation? That also tells you something.
You can also ask your sales team for input. What are customers from competitive takeaways telling us? What content, messaging, tactics, and channels are the sales team seeing out in the field?
Resources & Constraints
By now, you’ve learned a lot about your target audience and how your competition may be reaching them. Now it is time to understand and document your resource and other constraints.
You can begin with auditing your current content, mapping it to your customer’s journey, and seeing what you already have that addresses their needs. You can also see, via your analytics and CRM, whether any of that content is effective (in driving inbound traffic to your website, in converting unknown visitors to leads, in converting leads into MQLs, and so forth all the way to what is converting to closed/won sales).
Next, what is your budget for next year? What other resources do you have?
It is one thing to say you will be creating an inbound strategy via your blog. But do you have a way to track known and unknown visitors to your website (via your marketing automation)? Can you convert unknown visitors into known leads (via gated content and forms)? Can you send that lead information to your sales teams (via your CRM)?
You could say, “Our competitor doesn’t have a podcast, so we will start a podcast.” But do you have the skillset, time capacity, and other resources to launch a podcast?
Will you have the cash and people to adopt a strategy of force and attend all the big events in your industry, or out bid your competitors on PPC and other paid ads?
Listen to our Rethink Marketing podcast interview with Kristina Halvorson, who wrote the book on creating a content strategy:
Find the gaps
More than likely, you’re not going to be able to simply out spend your competition. Even if you are, it is not sustainable. So where can you zig when your competitors zag?
Gather all the research you’ve collected, bring together your team (even if it’s just you and an intern) and start looking for any opportunity gaps you may be able to pursue in the coming year to reach your audience.
An opportunity gap could be in messaging. It could be in tactics or channels. It could be a fun use of data you’re already collecting from your current customers (see Spotify). It could be in pursuing a different audience altogether.
Looking for and pursuing a new opportunity doesn’t mean you skip doing all the other usual marketing and content marketing tactics. It just means you may be better off publishing fewer blog posts, for example, than your competition but making sure those posts are 10X meatier and more value-added for your audience.
Dial it in (themes, campaigns, ed calendar)
Now that you have the makings of a strategy, it is time to start outlining the plan and how you’ll implement your strategy over the next year. Reach out to everyone on the team (both in marketing and across the org), asking them if you’ve overlooked anything or your assumptions are a little too wobbly. Also ask them for key events and dates that need to be rolled into your content strategy. That could be a big conference you’re exhibiting at, or it could be the release of a new product feature.
Map it all out using stickies on a wall (or whatever works best for you). Now get a few folks together and start identifying themes and campaigns you can roll out over the coming year. Does your strategy include original research? Create a work back schedule from when you want to release those results.
If you’re an agile team, you can map out these and other projects and make sure they are aligned to your available resources and business objectives. Then you can schedule them into your editorial calendar. And an editorial calendar doesn’t prevent you from taking advantage of new opportunities (as long as they remain align to your overall content strategy). Frankly, saying no to shiny new things will be the hardest to do. That is another reason what creating a documented strategy is so important, it gives you something to point to when your head of sales or someone else comes up to your desk suggesting a new campaign, conference, or target audience.
Measuring your content strategy’s success
You’ve already established the overarching business goals for the coming year, and what you need in leads, MQLs, and so forth to realize them. You have also established your campaigns and editorial calendar.
Now it’s time for creating the schedule on when you’ll check how you are doing, and what are the result milestones you’ll need to see along the way to ensure success.