Developing a Winning Content Strategy for 2016
If you’re new to content marketing or just plodding along with a less-than-effective content plan, you’re not alone. Content is still king—88 percent of marketers say they engage in some form of content marketing. Despite that, however, roughly one-third are still in the infancy stage of their content plan, according to the Content Marketing Institute.
That same CMI report showed that even businesses with immature content marketing plans were seeing good results; in fact, some 76 percent of all marketers plan to produce more content this year than they did the year before. With all the emphasis on content marketing this year, 2016 is the perfect time to examine your existing content marketing activities and develop a new strategy designed to achieve your goals.
Here are some tips to help you get started.
Start with the “Who”
Your carefully created content won’t move the needle on your marketing objectives if it isn’t meeting the needs of your intended audience. Content marketing, boiled down to its essence, is delivering the right information to the right person at the right time in the marketing funnel—and it’s impossible to accomplish if you haven’t figured out who you’re writing for.
Your buyer persona is a great place to start; you should have a complete picture of your ideal customer in mind. Your buyer persona should provide insight into demographics, needs, interests, and pain points, and create a framework around which to build your content strategy.
As you focus on your target audience, the “who,” ask yourself these questions:
➤Where do my customers spend the most time online? Are they active on social media, and if so, which platforms? Do they read blogs or participate in online forums? Where do they consume the most digital content?
➤What type of content do they engage with most often? What content do they share?
➤Do you want to expand on your existing target audience or reach out to build a new one?
Social listening tools are useful for drilling down into your ideal customer’s characteristics, interests, and online behavior, and provide insight into their questions and problems.
Set SMART Content Marketing Goals
Every piece of content you publish should be aligned to a particular marketing goal, and those goals should be SMART:
S – Specific (It’s attached to a particular need or objective.)
M – Measurable (You have objective, not subjective, metrics.)
A – Attainable (You can realistically expect to achieve it or at least come pretty close.)
R – Relevant (It furthers an overall business objective.)
T – Time-bound (You have a predetermined deadline or end-date.)
Avoid vanity metrics such as “likes” and retweets; in themselves, they aren’t aligned with your marketing goals. Think in concrete terms like traffic, leads, conversions, sales—objectives shared across multiple teams throughout the organization. Solid content goals might include:
?Increase engagement (time on site, number of pages viewed)
?Reduce churn or bounce rate
?Improve landing page conversion rates
?Increase the number of repeat visitors or return customers
?Reduce average time to close for new customers
?Increase revenue from upsell efforts
A quick tip from the pros: When you’re ready to create content, don’t start with your marketing objectives and work back to content. Start with a great piece of content and look for creative ways to tie it back to your marketing goals.
Identify the Type of Content Best Suited to Your Audience
Image via Hubspot.com
Most businesses are already pushing out a steady stream of content in their company blog and email newsletters, but these just scratch the surface and may not be the most effective way to engage your audience or advance your goals.
Take a look at a few common marketing objectives and the types of content that might help you achieve them:
Increase Brand Awareness
?social content with viral appeal (infographics, funny videos, memes)
?success stories and/or stories of “what not to do”
?expert blog content
Drive Traffic to Your Website
?social media/paid social ads
?guest blog posts
?product reviews, guides
?webinars, podcasts, interviews
Increase Landing Page Conversions
?white papers, case studies
?courses, certification programs
?contests and quizzes
Improve Customer Retention and/or Upsells
?new product demos and expert tutorials
?sneak previews and members-only deals
?spotlights on industry trends
?customer-only webinars, e-books, or other exclusive content
Of course, not every type of content works with every business; B2B marketers may find white papers and case studies are more effective, while e-commerce sites have success with sneak previews, contests, and quizzes, for example.
It’s important to keep your budget in mind, as well as the resources and talent you have in-house, as you begin to plan the types of content you’ll produce. Do you have in-house graphic design or videography capabilities? Is there a talented writer in the organization who can create blog posts, newsletters, and other written content? Does your budget allow for outsourcing high-value assets such as e-books and infographics?
As you think about content types, always look for ways to repurpose content across multiple marketing channels. A great infographic can be embedded in a blog post or newsletter, posted on social media, and even incorporated into an e-book or guide.
Develop a Plan for Content Creation and Execution
Once you know the type of content you want to publish, you need to develop a plan to create it. It’s not enough to jot down a rough outline and some notes; the most effective content marketers report having a documented content plan that is shared across the organization and for which they are accountable. Take the time to complete a step-by-step roadmap that enables you to monitor your efforts and track each piece of content throughout its lifecycle.
Your plan should answer the following questions:
➤How often will you publish content? For some businesses, this may mean daily blog posts, twice daily social media updates, a weekly podcast, and a monthly video tutorial. Others might need a steady stream of lead magnets (e-books, white papers, etc.) and a couple of fairly evergreen product demos.
When you’ve hammered out your content needs, plug them into a content calendar you can share with your marketing team. That way, everyone is on the same page, deadlines don’t get missed, and you avoid duplication of effort.
➤Who is responsible for content ideas? If you’re pushing out a steady stream of content, you’ll need an equally steady stream of content ideas. In most cases, the marketing department does all the brainstorming, but this excludes some excellent sources of content ideas.
Your customer service manager, for example, could give you some useful ideas for a Q&A to address the most common questions the department handles, or a how-to video to solve a persistent challenge. Maybe your tech guru could write a monthly rant or product review. The point is not to limit ideation to a small team of marketers, but to cultivate ideas throughout the organization. Just be sure that someone has final editorial control so that your content ideas align with your marketing goals.
One thing to consider: In many cases, it’s helpful to write a creative brief for each piece of content, especially if you’re using multiple creatives or freelancers along the way. The brief should include an outline of the project and its intended purpose, the target audience, the name and role of each person involved (writer, photographer, editor, etc.), and deadlines for each part of the process.
➤Who is responsible for actually creating the content? Once you have your content ideas and content calendar, you need to assign responsibility for actually creating the content. Each person involved in a particular piece should know where he fits into the overall project and who is ultimately responsible for delivering the finished product.
➤What has ultimate editorial authority? For many, if not most, of your pieces of content, final approval rests with the marketing department itself—blog posts, social media updates, newsletters, and landing pages are usually the province of the marketing staff.
However, once you move into high-value assets such as white papers, case studies, and product demos, input and approval from other departments is essential. For these complex assets, write up a chain of command and get sign-off from relevant department heads. Have a process in place to resolve the inevitable differences of opinion and establish a single person as the final authority for the finished piece.
Promote Your Content
Image via Flickr by Joe the Goat Farmer
For each piece of content you create, from a simple blog post to a slickly produced video, you need to answer the following questions:
➤Where and how will you promote it?
➤How long/how many times will you promote it?
➤How much are you willing to spend to promote it?
Let’s take a closer look at the major methods of content promotion.
There are three pathways to promote content on social media: Paid, owned, and earned. Most content promotion involves some combination of these three.
?Paid social media are social media ads—the sponsored and promoted posts that leverage the precise targeting these platforms offer to expand your social reach and improve the chances you’ll get your content in front of the right eyes at the right time.
?Owned social media means using your social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) to drive traffic to your content. Owned social has the advantage of being free as well as self reinforcing: The more you share useful or interesting content, the more your followers come back for more.
?Earned social media happens when your audience shares, likes, mentions, or otherwise interacts with your content. Earned social media extends your content’s reach and actually improves search rankings.
You will almost always promote your content across your owned social media; the key is figuring out which types of content are best for each social channel, and when and how often you’ll promote them. You may want to consider an online tool to schedule your social media posts; they provide guidance on optimal times and frequency for each platform to help you get the best results from your efforts.
Paid social is a different animal; there is a delicate calculus between the costs of promotion, the costs involved in creating the content, and the effects on your overall business objectives in getting your content in front of more qualified people. If you go this route, be sure to track your metrics to keep an eye on ROI.
Social media is the largest overall driver of web traffic, but organic search is a close second. Pretty much all your online content should be optimized for search to help boost long-term viewership and visibility.
If you have a robust mailing list, it makes good sense to promote your content to your email subscribers. Email is particularly useful because, unlike social, it lends itself to promoting all types of content.
Measure Your Results
We discussed the importance of aligning your content with your marketing goals; now it’s time to measure how effective your content is at achieving them.
First, decide what you’ll measure based on your marketing goals. It might be time on sight, number of unique visitors, conversion rate, page views—whatever gives you concrete and actionable insight on how your content is performing.
Next, decide how often you’ll measure your KPIs. Some metrics are best tracked on a daily basis (social performance, page views, for example) in order to monitor a particular piece of content and spot trends. Others can safely be measured weekly or even monthly (sales figures, lead generation metrics) to give you a big-picture view of your content strategy.
Finally, decide on a plan for adjustment if your KPIs are underwhelming. If downloads are dropping off, for example, you’ll want to re-evaluate your landing page and A/B test the main components. If your bounce rate spikes, you might want to look at your traffic sources. Establish a timeline—one day, one week, one month—for taking action once you identify unfavorable metrics.
Don’t let content marketing intimidate you; no matter where you are on your content journey, there’s always room to grow and improve. This guide will help you develop a strategy designed to help you achieve your goals.