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Developing a Content Strategy

Content marketing is one of those things that can be a game changer if done well. It can morph a marketing department from one that talks at their customers to one that speaks with them. Content marketing, if done well, can help increase the top of the funnel, make the middle of the funnel more effective, and shorten the sales cycle. In short, content marketing is something everyone is either trying to do or something they want to do.

The problem is that pesky “if done well” problem.

The reality is that few marketing teams are doing this well and it all comes down to the way they researched and implemented their strategy. Success or failure in content marketing, just like everything in life, comes down to preparation. Winning in content marketing requires the right pieces being in place before content creation even starts. It also requires a business willing to buy into doing things differently. It is a tall order, and that is the reason why many marketing departments are failing.

Business Alignment

Many content marketing teams fail to do this, and thus fail because of it. Aligning your content’s goals with your business’ goals isn’t just a neat thing to do, it is a requirement.  This alignment brings together the various parts of your business into the discussion, making the process of developing your strategy possible.

Only by aligning your content strategy, traditional marketing, sales, and client services are you able to get the 35,000 foot view of your customer. Then you can focus on creating targeted and relevant content for all phases of your buying cycle. As painful as it is to admit, your marketing department does not know your customers as well as your sales department, and not even close to as well as your client managers. As you develop your strategy, all stakeholders must be part of the discussion or you will fail.

Marketing/Sales Cycle Alignment

Knowing what content your customers need throughout their buyer journey requires alignment. Content marketing, in a perfect world, should be the bridge that connects your marketing efforts to your sales process. With alignment in place and buy-in from all stake holders, there will never be confusion over which content to serve at which phase in the buying process. The pitfall here is believing that a cookie cutter approach will work for you. Every business is different and should take the time to do this well.

Below is an example of this type of alignment that spans the buying stages, marketing automation, and sales. It figures out what the phases are and helps you come up with agreed upon requirements for each of those phases.

Buyer Personas

There is nothing new that I can add to the necessity of building out a persona for each of your customer segments, so I won’t even try. Additionally, there are hundreds of resources out there that will help you develop your personas, but in case you still need help, here are several links to get you started:

  1. The Science of Building Better Buyer Personas [Infographic]
  2. How to Create a Buyer Persona and Journey
  3. How to Avoid 4 Buyer Persona Mistakes
  4. 3 Tips for Keeping Your Buyer Personas Fresh and Alive

The reality is that buyer personas are one of those things everyone knows they should work on or perhaps have already completed. The problem is few people are leveraging this information. It is amazing how many marketing leaders have spent tens of thousands of dollars on a persona study but haven’t used the results for content creation. To create targeted and relevant content that hits the right people at the right time requires researching the buyer and then using what you find out.

Where this gets interesting is when you are able to combine the results of your persona study and connect it to your buying stages. This exercise will allow you to find your gaps and see where there are opportunities for content creation. It is possible that you have a ton of content in the mid or late evaluation phase for a specific segment, but nothing in the awareness/top funnel phase. You are only able to see these gaps when you have everything defined and aligned.

Content Creation Strategy

Developing content without a centralize creation strategy is putting the horse before the cart. Without a unified voice and a unified content strategy, you and your team will be creating a ton of content without purpose and most likely without success. It is almost impossible to be successful in content marketing without first figuring out where your company’s sweet spot is and how you can leverage it to help your customers and solve their pain points.

In short, a huge percentage of marketing teams (especially on the enterprise side) are developing content without an idea of what it’s purpose is and how it aligns with the overall content strategy.

Content Marketing Mission Statement

If done well, this mission statement will tell everyone on your team exactly what they should focus on.  A good mission statement will answer the following questions:

  1. Who do we want to target?
  2. What do we aim to deliver with our content?
  3. What will we gain from creating our content?

In short, nothing your content team does should ever deviate from this mission statement. Ever. Oftentimes, there is such a desire to come up with cool content ideas that we don’t realize how those pieces of content have nothing to do with achieving a business goal. This leads to wasted efforts and disconnected content development.

Content Parent and Child Themes

Focus, focus, and focus again. Creating content without focusing on your core competencies is an easy trap to fall into. When developing your content strategy, you need to pick 5 or 6 content themes that lay in your sweet spot and show your expertise in the market. They are broad enough to allow for wiggle room in your content development but don’t allow your content creators to go off the deep end.

Let’s say you market for a financial advising company. A good example of a content theme would be something like “Financial Independence.” It is a broad topic that will always be important to your customers and will allow for a ton of child themes that can be more topical and evolve with new regulatory changes. An example of a good child theme of “financial independence” would be “social security changes”. It is topical and it is relevant today.

These parent themes need to be as evergreen as possible and should help you set yourself up as an expert in a specific topic. This means focusing on these specific topics, but also being creative within those parameters.

Subject Matter Expert Pool

Good content that meets the needs of your customers and prospects requires having writers who know your business or who are able to interview subject matter experts who know your business. This necessitates having a pool of experts that you can leverage to speak intelligently about a specific parent or child theme. The benefits of using experts are they make your prospects more receptive to your messaging and allows your SME’s to become your company’s influencers.

People like Rand Fishkin, Larry Kim, and Danny Sullivan were able to take their expertise and inject themselves and their brands into their customers’ daily lives. They are experts in their field and their brands are stronger because of it. Though it is rare to have industry leaders who are able to gain a following like the three listed, it is doable on a smaller scale.

There are plenty of businesses out there that have been able to activate their SME pool and build a content strategy around them. Doing this requires an investment in those experts and letting them build their own brand (especially within enterprise companies).

In Conclusion

Content marketing requires a strategic approach and a unified effort. It requires an understanding of your customer and an understanding of the buyer journey. It requires creating every single piece of content with a specific purpose in mind.

Creating content for any other purpose other than driving revenue growth and building your brand is not content marketing.

by Michael Davis