How to develop a content marketing strategy—and why it will set you up for success
July 10, 2015
When it comes to producing content for your business, you have two basic choices:
This second, wherever, whenever, whatever tactic is basically me in a billiards hall. Let me explain.
When I first started playing pool, I drove my dad crazy. Not because I was good, but because I was lucky.
I’d pull back my cue, whack the ball, and somehow, I’d send the right ball into a pocket (just don’t ask me to call it).
Not having a content strategy can put your business in my position at the pool table.
A thoughtless game of pool will leave you relying on luck to win. If you want to compete, you need to think through your strategy, shot by shot.
Will you win the game in a single turn? Maybe not. But your chances are far greater than if you crossed your fingers and put your success in the hands of Lady Luck.
Ready to get a jump on the old girl? Here's how to develop a content strategy.
What is content strategy?
Content strategy sounds fancy, but it isn’t. It’s kind of like a business plan—again, an intimidating document, but it doesn’t have to be.
Where a business plan offers a roadmap for a business, a content strategy offers a roadmap for your content. It’s more niche, but many of the essential questions you need to ask yourself when formulating a business plan come into play with content strategy.
Get started! Develop a content strategy for your business
This document can be informal. It could be an MS Word doc, an email, even a napkin you snagged at happy hour.
In fact, your first thoughts on content strategy should be informal. Don’t sit down and hammer is out in one go. Spend a few days, a week, even longer musing about what you want your content to be, and how it should play into your larger marketing plan. The two walk hand-in-hand, remember, so make sure their efforts aren’t overlapping or divorced. Cohesion—that’s the goal.
Ready to get the process rolling? Here are the top three questions you need to ask yourself:
#1: Who is your target client?
There are two parts to this question. First, there is the client you intend to sell to. Second, there is the client you didn’t intend, the one who stumbles upon your product and says, “ah, genius!”
Consider Duck Tape. The sticky stuff that fixes pretty much everything came about during World War II, when it was used to seal and repair on the run. Post-1945, consumers bought it to seal cracks in air ducts, thus the generic name “duct tape.” Did the creators ever think girls would be making prom dresses out of the stuff? Safe to say, probably not. And yet, Duck Tape has a huge crafting customer base—so much so that a lot of their consumer marketing focuses on DIY.
As you consider your clientele, keep both sectors in mind—who is the main consumer, and then, who else might be peripherally interested in your product or service? What sort of lifestyle does this customer lead? Where does she live, what does he do for a living, and what do they spend their discretionary money on? How old is she? At what stage of life will he be in when he turns to you to help him solve a problem?
Think of your customer as a character in a story, and go crazy with it. The more specific you are, the more unique your marketing message will become.
#2: What are you selling?
Speaking of product or service, now it’s time to consider what it is that makes you money. Tangible or not, you’ve got something to sell, right? Think about words and phrases that define your product. These descriptors will later color your content strategy, so give it some thought and get creative. Consider both what your product is, now, and what you want it to be in the future. How do you want people to view it? How do you want your customers to describe you?
I know this question seems obvious, and it is. But just because it’s an easy bullet point doesn’t make it any less important. Think of it this way: The content you’re getting ready to create or commission will be joining your sales force. That sales force sells you and the awesome things you make or do, right? So it makes sense to build your content to perfectly suit what it is you’re selling. When it comes to words, even if it’s just a few lines of copy or a call to action, the tone and voice and feelings those words capture need to mirror your offerings and exude the personality and lifestyle you’ve prescribed them.
#3: What are your short-term and long-term goals?
A year ago, there were 75.8 million blogs on WordPress and 172 million on Tumblr. There are 1.35 billion active Facebook members and 284 million Twitter users.
Many of these—probably most of these, actually—were created by people who just…wanted a blog, or wanted a Facebook account or a Twitter handle. While some plan to monetize or want to turn their web activity into a book, many of them are just shooting the breeze where the entire World Wide Web can see them.
But that’s not you.
You and your product are part of a business, and so is this content strategy. While “because I want to” is a perfectly sound reason in your personal life, if you are like most business owners, you need something more. So think about it: What do you want your content to do for you?
Your answers to that question are the goals your content strategy is created to reach.
For you to actually reach those goals, though, you need to make them actionable. What does that mean? An actionable goal is one that can be measured. It's not a mirage; it's a corner pocket that's 15 inches and 60 degrees to the left.
3 actionable content strategy goals to get you started:
Goal: Play teacher
I want to increase my customers' knowledge so they can improve their lives—and better understand my products' value.
Track it: Ask leads to take a baseline survey periodically. Pick a % of "yes, I know a lot about X" as your goal.
Goal: Play the long game
I want to build a loyal audience for when I launch new service packages next year.
Track it: Keep a spreadsheet charting your blog post comments, referrals, replies to your email newsletter, and repeat visitors to your website.
Goal: Get found
I want to boost my search and social shares so new clients can find me more easily (and I can win over big brand sponsors).
Track it: Find out your target competitors' stats and as them where they were when they started seeing an uptick in business.
Why it's essential to wait and develop a content strategy before you start creating content
You’ve brainstormed your answers to the three questions above, and now you’ve got one for me: What about the content?
The content is coming. As a writer and a new platform junkie, I get that you want it now.
But trust me, as a writer and a new platform junkie, when I tell you that the more you think about the content before you create blogs and erase that “Hello, World!” WordPress post and start tweeting like the quirky social media addict you totally could be, the better that content will be.
And it won’t just be good content—it’ll be content that serves a purpose. Your purpose.Your business. Your bottom line.
Want to see more posts like this? Share it!
My goal is to create good stuff that helps you run your business better. If this post is something you're taking note of for yourself, do me a favor and pay it forward. Tweet it out to your followers and save it to your Pinterest boards. That way, bosses like you can find it, read it, and learn from it, too. - B.
Your business shouldn't rely on Lady Luck to succeed. Here's how to stack the deck in your favor.
Answer one question for me: What do you want your content to do for you?
Put the same amount of strategy into your content as you would a game of pool. Line up every shot.