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We’ve hit a bit of a danger zone.

In the last couple years, we’ve witnessed an increasing interest and dialogue around both content strategy and content marketing. On the surface, this is a good thing. Brands have realized that they can’t always go straight in for a kiss (marketing) when first meeting a target audience. Too quick. Too bold. Be nor

Brands have realized that they can’t always go straight in for a kiss when first meeting a target audience. Before they make their move with marketing, they have to take some time to build trust and an actual relationship.

This is for the best, and it seems pretty simple. But there’s a problem.

Marketers love doing marketing. The fun anthem video, the dynamic social campaign, the grand interactive story, the epic infographic, etc. We love hands-on production and prompting people to react. That’s the fun stuff.

The not-so-fun stuff? Strategy.

Strategy is hard. It takes time and requires a heck of a lot of thinking. And instead of an award-worthy campaign or shareable piece of content at the end your hard work, you have a plan.

Not as fun. But every bit as important.

I’ve seen hundreds of definitions for content strategy and content marketing. I happen to be a big fan of simplicity, so I think of it this way: Content strategy is the blueprint or plan, and content marketing is the tools or execution.

A tool is a lot more useful when you have a plan for using it,  yet brands often choose to just go out there and wing it. The Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 B2B trends report revealed that only 35 percent of B2B marketers surveyed have a documented content strategy. To me, that means they run the risk of firing blindly or making broad assumptions that stray from a clear vision and organizational consensus.

CMI_ContentStrategyB2B

So how does one go about creating a content strategy to ensure effective content marketing efforts? Here are 5 key components to consider

1. Start With Business Strategy, Marketing Goals and Objectives

This is the obvious place to start, so it’s surprising how often this part is glossed over or completely overlooked. It’s also important to define what we mean by “business strategy.”

A true business strategy should identify the source of volume to achieve the business objective. For example, “sell more widgets to raise awareness of our widgets” is not a business strategy. “Sell more widgets by convincing X number of existing widget holders to upgrade to our new widget” is a business strategy, because there is a clear source of volume.

Subsequently, marketing goals and objectives detail how the function of marketing will support the overall business strategy. There is kind of an art to writing these goals, and if you’re looking for help, the fine folks over at HubSpot have created a great planning template.

2. Define Your Target Audience

This is key. Challenge yourself to refine your target audience down to a primary and secondary group, both of which clearly map back to your marketing goals and objectives. For a B2B brand, this may mean honing in specifically around content for the C-Suite, as opposed to trying to go after them plus product-level decision-makers. Hold true to your focus.

Of your two groups, you should ask a number of questions. Who is this audience? (Age, sex, location, all the good demographic data.) How, when and where do they consume content relevant to your efforts? What pain points and challenges do they have? What do they value? How do they frame and evaluate experiences, and what actions do they take to meet their needs? Who do they rely on to be informed about their decisions, and what factors ultimately trigger their end decision-making?

There is a lot to consider, and more than one way to derive the information you need. While initial persona planning is a good exercise, I strongly encourage you to look across the following to get an in-depth perspective:

    • Existing data and insights (existing survey data and personas)
    • Third-party information (industry segmentation)
    • Subject-matter experts (those dealing directly with customers, third-party experts)
    • Quantitative research (web analytics, surveys, syndicated data)
    • Qualitative research (customer interviews, focus groups)

3. Develop Your Strategy

This is where you’re going to dump some massive brain power. You need a clear strategic tie to how you will approach reaching your defined audience, in order to achieve your established marketing goals and objectives laddering up to the overarching business strategy. Start with a simple one- or two-sentence statement that summarizes your strategy based on the following considerations:

      • What dynamic elements or trends are shaping the future of your industry or category?
      • How are you going to differentiate from your competition?
      • How is our brand currently being perceived that may need to shift or be accelerated?
      • What’s going on from a broader cultural standpoint that we need to be cognizant of and possibly leverage?

 

Next, you’ll want to consider your content topic themes and messaging framework to support your content strategy.

4. Craft Your Tactical Framework

This is the nuts and bolts of how you will put your plan into action. AKA the fun stuff, where most marketers tend to jump first: the  staffing, process, workflow, activation and engagement ideas, assets that will be created, all of it. Methods of laying all this out vary greatly from brand to brand. I happen to be a big fan of this framework for a content solar system when thinking through content assets.

5. Structure Measurement, Timeline and Budget

While timeline and budget may ultimately impact what you can and can’t do, I encourage you to put them aside when thinking about strategy. Timelines shift, budgets change, but a sound strategy will always be the crux that provides internal decision makers with the confidence to invest in content marketing. Similarly, having proper KPIs in place and focusing on real-time analytics and insights can be crucial to informing data-driven strategy.

BONUS: 

The beauty of it all? This path has been paved. Below are a few great templates and resources to inspire your own thinking and approach to great content strategy. Let us know how we can help!

MOZ – Content Strategy Template
Velocity Partners – Content Marketing Strategy Checklist
Contently Ultimate Content Strategist Playbook – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

 

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