Most companies nowadays know that they want marketing content. But, creating and promoting content successfully is easier said than done.
What should you say? How do you say it? Who are you speaking to? Where do you find them?
A strong content strategy will help you tackle those questions and improve your leads’ buying experience.
“Your readers want to feel empowered before they approach the sales conversation, and your content is what empowers them throughout their entire journey,” says Inbound Journalist Sophia Hadeka. “That’s how I approach my content strategies: this is the work we do beforehand to make sure when buyers do approach you, they have everything they need to make that decision confidently.”
Without a content strategy, it can be easy to de-prioritize content creation, especially if the responsibility for doing so is dispersed among many people. Additionally, without a strong strategy, it can be difficult to keep your content product focused on the needs of your buyers.
“If you’re making content whenever you feel like it, you’re often writing about what you want to hear,” Sophia says. “You would hope that message lines up with what buyers want to hear, but it might not. Making a strategy helps you keep your audience in focus.”
Here are five tips for ensuring you have a strong content strategy:
1. Take Inventory of What You Have
If you’re re-evaluating your content strategy or creating a new one, one of the most valuable things you can do is a content audit.
“Knowing what you have is the best way to know what you need going forward because your content strategy should bridge the gap between what you’ve done and where you want to go,” Sophia says.
Take inventory of all the blogs, premium content offers, videos, case studies, ungated resource pages and sales enablement materials you have. Ask yourself:
- What personas do those assets target?
- What pain points and challenges do they address?
- What stage of the funnel are they created for?
Identifying the gaps in your current content helps you strategize what you need to create in order to guide your prospects through their entire buyer’s journey.
In addition to examining what you have and what you don’t, you can also approach this audit with qualitative goals in mind: Is every piece performing to your expectations? Does every asset have a contextual next step promoted at the end? Is the messaging up to date?
Knowing what’s working best can help you determine where it’s best to invest your time and what needs to be reworked.
2. Maximize the Production Value of What You Make
Creating content requires time and research, and you want to maximize the return you see from that investment. You can do this by ensuring each new piece you create builds upon the rest of your existing assets.
“Instead of making a couple blogs about whatever you want, you can make a four-part series that would then work as an email nurture and be packaged in the end as a PDF for a ToFu guide,” Sophia says. “Getting that lateral value across your content pieces is very impactful instead of making content pieces that live in isolation.”
Additionally, you can repurpose some content formats into other assets. For example, after producing a webinar, you can write a blog post that recaps and expands upon the most important points. You can use shorter clips of that webinar on social media and in email promotions. You could also possibly edit the audio from that webinar into a podcast.
Approaching your content creation in this way will help you create a more cohesive experience for buyers because it gives them a clear path down the funnel.
3. Think Long Term
One major benefit of having a content strategy to guide you is that you can set more lofty goals. Creating pillar pages, building out resource centers, launching a new product or breaking into a new market all require months or years of coordinated work.
“Thinking long-term about your goals lets you be more intentional about what you get out of your content, rather than if you stopped at ‘What are we going to do this month?’” Sophia says.
For example, if you’re launching a new product, you want to start educating your audience about its value well in advance of your actual launch date so when you take your product to market, there’s already a demand for it.
It typically takes three months minimum for a blog to start ranking for a target keyword, which means you’ll need to start publishing your ToFu and MoFu blogs at least three to six months in advance. But on top of that, you need to have next steps ready for your readers, like long-form content offers and case studies from beta users. Then when you do launch, you’ll need to have competitor comparisons and messaging guidelines to assist your sales team. If you wait until your product launches to start producing content, it’s already too late.
4. Stay Consistent with Your Brand
Your brand is the medium through which your audience connects with your company. If some of the content you create isn’t consistent with your brand, it can damage your audience’s perception of your company and put a wedge in your relationship.
“If you have a super stern brand voice and you’re promoting a PCO on your social media, you’ll want the tone of your post to match. If the social media post leading up to it is really goofy, then when the reader clicks into the PCO, they’ll have an inconsistent experience,” Sophia says.
Similarly, if you have landing page copy that’s very technical and data-driven, but the actual offer it’s promoting is more hypothetical and creative, visitors can feel like their trust was misplaced.
Create a brand style guide to establish standards around your voice and tone, mission, vision and visual identity, then utilize that whenever you’re creating content. This will help you create a cohesive experience for prospects.
5. Remain Agile
The world doesn’t stay static, so things like global events, new industry regulations, shifts in your customer base and evolving technology can all impact your content strategy. When that happens, you need to be able to adapt.
“There’s a chance that the strategy you made may need to change, so staying attuned to that is just as important as making the plan,” Sophia says.
While you still want to have a long-term plan in play, it shouldn’t be so structured that everything you’re doing for the next year is set in stone. For example, maybe you have your overarching goals established on an annual basis, but the tactical work to achieve those goals is planned on a quarterly basis.
To stay on top of changes that are occurring, it’s important to maintain communications with experts across your organization. For example, if your sales team is getting a large influx of questions on a topic you haven’t written about, you should probably try to work that into your strategy sooner rather than later. If the conversation industry-wide is changing, you need to decide if you want to be a part of that and create content to address the shift in a timely manner.
Being agile can happen on both a small and large scale. You might need to revise your entire content strategy because new buyer persona research indicates that you were targeting the wrong people. You might need to postpone a campaign because a timely industry trend came up that you need to address first. Or, you might need to adjust the angle of an individual content piece because the subject matter expert says your planned approach no longer reflects how they think about that topic.
“Particularly in the digital world, things change really quickly. Keep in touch with the actual expert, they know the conversation and how to talk about it,” Sophia says. “If the industry person says ‘we don’t talk about digital platforms anymore, we talk about digital products,’ go with that.”
“Content marketing is more important than ever, and the way you do it is more important than just doing it for the sake of doing it,” Sophia says. “When you know what the overall goal that you’re trying to achieve with your content strategy is, you’re going to be set up for success more than if you’re making content ad hoc.”
You should never be creating content for the sake of having it, and an effective content strategy can help you ensure your efforts are centered around the needs of your buyers.
Additionally, a well-thought-out strategy will address the full span of the buyer’s journey, so regardless of what question your prospects have, you have useful, timely and relevant content ready to educate and empower them.
This post was originally published May 8, 2014.
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.