This is the second post in a two-part series on helping digital marketers and website owners develop a framework for an effective content marketing strategy. It will make most sense if you have read part one, which covers the essential stage of preparation in detail.
In part one we covered:
- Understanding what a content strategy is in this context
- Conducting a content audit of your website
- Developing target audience buying personas
- Establishing a communication hierarchy
- Brainstorming and researching content ideas
- Identifying influencers who will love your content
- Further tips for success and additional resources
Part two covers the stages of implementation of your content marketing strategy and evaluation of its performance.
Before we jump in, take a moment to look at this graph to see how content marketing has overtaken link-building as the most important term in the online marketing industry. Content Marketing is here to stay.
understand the buying process for your target personas
During the preparation stage you will have developed your four buying personas and you will also have a standard buying process to reference, but some thought is needed regarding how the standard buying process might need customising for a particular client or target. For instance, if you are selling a high value B2B service then you are likely to have a few prospective stakeholders to win over before a decision is made to buy from you.
Let’s see how this might play out: imagine you are selling a new telephone service to a medium-sized business. The first contact may come from a more junior member of staff who has been tasked with researching which services are on the market.
You can make their job easier by answering all the questions they may have when investigating a new phone system. This will give them a good impression of your brand and will save them time. It’s not good form to be too negative about the competition, as they will still need to check out other options in order to make a balanced and informed decision.
However, you can provide a list of queries they should ask the competition and perhaps help them eliminate some at that early stage because they can’t address these very sensible questions satisfactorily.
If the junior researcher has managed to convince their boss that you are a good potential supplier then their boss may be the next visitor to your site. They will be at the next stage of the buying process and will need different information that is more specific to whether they should buy from you or not.
Content at this stage could mean a demo or a trial, providing clear details about costing, outlining the after sales service, providing details of guarantees and warranties and so on.
There could even be another person in the organisation who makes the actual purchase once it’s been approved, and they may be more interested in delivery and installation details, terms and conditions and payment plans.
B2B is potentially a more protracted buying process that needs more thought when it comes to the content strategy, whereas B2C is often simply a case of selling a product to someone who has already decided they want a certain product. In this case they can whizz through several stages of the buying process in the blink of an eye.
So to summarise, awareness is the key here: be aware of who your most important buyers are and what they need at each stage of the buying process then make sure you have that content in massive amounts of awesomeness.
map the content audit against the buying process
For this next stage, you want a matrix where you can plot the buying personas across the top and the buying process down the side. You can then fill in the boxes with the content you have on your site that matches each intersection. For example, if you have a buying guide on your site, ask yourself which buying persona(s) this ‘speaks to’ and at what stage of the buying process does it add value.
identify the gaps, prioritise improving existing content
There are two questions you want to answer here:
- Is the content you have good enough and working well? (If not, you should be able to see this and make improvements.)
- Where are the gaping holes? Identify these so that your content strategy prioritises filling them.
Don’t worry about having something unique in each box; you may have content that speaks to several buying personas at once, or that simultaneously covers several stages of the buying process. You don’t need to go overboard, but what’s crucial is that you are addressing the needs of your most important buyers and in so doing are advancing them along the buying process and providing the best experience they can have.
create a calendar of events, news, seasonality
Every sector has events and important dates in their calendar. It could be an industry event, a national day or week, or seasonality that affects buying behaviour for that sector or other sectors that can impact on yours. If there is anything at all that you can put into a calendar then do so.
Doing this intelligently will naturally create some ideas for content. For example, if you’re a B2B company you could write previews and reports of trade shows within your sector. If you run a restaurant, you could get involved with local schools and produce content around National Healthy Eating Week, or perhaps recipe ideas to coincide with National Stilton Week.
If you’re thinking there aren’t any opportunities like this for your business, you’re probably wrong. Read this post entitled National Pie Day and a Whole Weird World of Strange Celebrations for inspiration and resources.
create a strategic six-month content plan
This is the actual document that pulls together all the information you have collected so far in the preparation and implementation stages. Gaps need filling and content needs creating.
We find that a matrix document for this is also very helpful and we’d recommend the following headings:
- Type of content
- Short description of what the content is
- What is the purpose of the content (i.e. which buying personas and stage in the buying process is it aimed at, and are you trying to attract links or just improve the user journey)
- Who is responsible for creating it
- How long it will take to create (this helps to determine when content needs to be spread over more than one month)
- Each row should represent a new calendar month and by creating a six-month plan you can clearly see how each individual campaign interlocks
Creating a strategic plan that covers six months will save you spending wasted time revisiting it too frequently. Content cannot – and should not – be developed too quickly, otherwise you skip steps that are important and this will affect results. Trust me, we’ve been there and done that.
This doesn’t infer that you have to take ages over creating a piece of content, rather that creating it in a well-structured manner means you can create great content in a timely manner while keeping priority and focus at the forefront of the mind.
research and prepare briefs for each piece of content
This point ought to be in big flashing lights.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a well prepared briefing document. The brief needs to include the following information in order to keep all contributors focused and to stop the content evolving into something that looks nothing like the original idea:
- outline of what the content is about
- who is it aimed at and why would they care
- how will it be promoted
- what is the intended result
- keyword research for optimisation, and to be sure assumptions haven’t been made about demand
- specifics about design, build and any dynamic elements needed
- any team contributors who need to be involved
Generally speaking, design & build briefs require much more detail and direction than editorial briefs; larger-scale creative projects are likely to go through a lot more hands than an editorial piece. We actually have a separate document template for design briefs, which we use in addition to the main brief.
use blogger feedback to test ideas
Throughout the initial research stage and the content creation stage there is a focus on who our content is aimed at and why they would care. As recommended by Paddy Moogan’s extensive book on Link Building (buy it, read it, do it), make sure you include the blogger feedback step in at the beginning of your implementation stage.
At Strategy, this involves spending 15 minutes identifying 15 bloggers who we believe would potentially care about the content we are creating. We then contact them to see what they think. We have had some fabulous input at this stage that either improves the content significantly or tells us that we are probably on the wrong track (if we’ve been unable to find 15 targets in 15 minutes then we know we’re on the wrong track). Because we conduct this research at the earliest possible stage, there’s plenty of time for tweaks or to rework ideas entirely.
allocate tasks and resources
This is basically project management. Assign tasks and deadlines, allocating sufficient time for each task but ensuring that the whole project moves forward without unnecessary delay. If additional resources are needed, for example to complete additional development work, then ensure that this is scheduled in, too. There is nothing more frustrating or easy to create than a bottleneck.
create and publish content
A project manager should take responsibility for keeping the content on track, ensuring that what is created reflects the brief and the end goal but also allowing for improvements along the way. As several people are likely to be involved in creating one piece of content, without a project manager ensuring sanity and quality checks are happening along the way then the content can all too easily go off at a tangent and end up ‘meh’ instead of WOW!
If you’re an agency, it’s crucial that clients have been involved at all stages of the content creation process. Initially this may be as simple ensuring they understand why a piece of content is being created. Equally important is to check that a client is actually able to publish the piece of content on their site, and can publish it within the time frame you have planned.
Getting the client to approve drafts at various stages of the content’s development will – hopefully – remove any headaches when it comes to the final sign-off and publishing.
Far too many times our content creation process has been held up at the client’s end for one reason or another; they are the client after all and we have to go at their pace. This can have a negative impact on the client’s site, our plans and resource availability, not to mention hot promotion opportunities cooling right off.
Get everyone on the same page in terms of understanding the importance of what the content is setting out to achieve and half the battle is won.
promote, promote, promote
So, you’ve created an outstanding piece of content that rivals Michelangelo for beauty and Da Vinci for inventiveness. Great, but a complete waste of time if no soul ever sets eyes on it. You need to get the content in front of people, and to do that you need a promotion plan.
Those 15 targets we identified and contacted for feedback right at the start of the project now become our primary promotion targets. Hopefully they gave us some helpful and insightful feedback that we incorporated into the final content because bloggers love to share something that they feel they’ve been influential in creating.
In addition, while the content is being created we research other targets so that once it goes live we have a full outreach plan formulated and ready to go.
Where and how we promote each piece of content will vary; no two pieces of content are the same, so each one needs a tailored promotion plan that takes into account the audience it’s aimed at and what we want it to achieve.
However, as a rule of thumb this plan will typically contain a mix of blogger outreach, social media, PR and recommendations for the client to carry out, such as promoting the content in their customer newsletter.
This is where that initial research of where in the buying process the content will fit comes in most helpful. If we want people already on the client’s site to see and engage with the content (and make a purchase then and there), the promotion we do will be very different than for content designed to raise brand awareness among people who’ve never heard of the client or visited their website before.
The beauty of evergreen content is that you can promote it forever more, so with a successful content marketing strategy you can forget about guest blogging and just concentrate on genuinely outreaching great content.
evaluate and measure each piece of content’s effect
You need to know if something actually works, so make sure you measure everything you can. No matter how convinced you are that your content will succeed, it’s entirely possible it could flop. Of course it’s more likely to succeed if you have done your preparation well, including influencer research and blogger feedback.
Measures of success should be decided on at the briefing stage, so you can stay focused on ensuring your content is designed to get the results you are looking for. Be very clear at the start about what you want to achieve as this will affect your promotion plan.
Here are some examples:
A comparison chart
Comparing your product or service to others on the market would be an obvious piece of content to create as it would help push visitors along the conversion process towards making a purchase. It’s unlikely to attract links and it may not even rank well enough to act as a landing page, but it should attract visits from people who are already on your site and need that extra bit of information to help them to know to buy from you and not one of your competitors.
Your measures in this instance would be visits to the page and time spent on page (a measure could also be attribution i.e. how many people who visited this page also bought something). Your promotion plan needs to focus on putting the content in front of current visitors, so look at how they find this content and check that it’s accessible at all the correct stages.
A downloadable eBook
You could publish an eBook in order to educate your target audience and solve a problem that they have and that your product or service helps with. There are likely to be many opportunities to promote this through PPC, organic search and social media as well as via email marketing to an existing database. The ultimate measure here is the number of downloads but you can also measure the number of inbound links, social shares and clicks through from links within the eBook to your website.
If there is an opportunity to translate big data into an infographic that is relevant to your sector then this can be a very popular way to educate and entertain not only your target buyers but also influencers. Infographics are very shareable (actually, the ability to embed and share your infographic is something you need to make sure you include on your page). Measure the performance of your infographic through links, shares and visits.
Infographics can be good for brand awareness, which is tough to measure in hard numbers. However, if you are getting links, shares and traffic then it’s safe to assume that there are eyeballs falling on your brand that are not coming to your site… yet!
Use event tracking in Analytics to measure interaction that you otherwise wouldn’t see. For instance, if you create a dynamic infographic you can track the clicks that make things happen within the content. This will confirm that people are actually interacting with it.
reflect on the implementation stage, revise your plan
- Accept that despite the best planning this is an iterative process – be prepared to fail, learn and improve
- Take some time to reflect on what worked well or badly so you can improve on it next time
- What do you know now that you didn’t know at the beginning of the process?
- Share learning within the team and ask how can everyone work better next time
- Ask if there are any new opportunities from the work we have just done e.g. new relationships we can leverage or content we can repurpose
- Given the result we have from this campaign, how does this feed back into the six-month plan
So that’s Strategy’s current framework for developing a content marketing strategy. I say that it’s current because I know it will change and evolve as we gain ever more experience and results. Personally, I have learned that you have to keep an open mind and not make assumptions, as this allows you to explore opportunities and achieve great results.
Providing clients are also willing to come on this exciting journey then creative content marketing cannot fail to produce a better experience for customers and make the internet a better place.
I very much welcome feedback and discussion on what I have covered here so please do engage in the comments or on social media where I hope this will get some interaction going.