With content marketing being the best tool in a company's capture and conversion toolbox today, developing a great content marketing strategy is a must. The best content strategy is always centered on audience and platform and tells a compelling story. To get started with developing a content marketing strategy, it's important to first understand what content marketing is and why it works.
Creating a Content Marketing Strategy
The Content Marketing Institute provides one popular definition of content marketing: "a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action."
To break that down a bit, content marketing is creating things like blog posts, tutorials, eBooks, videos, infographics, webinars and other types of content that provide value to your audience as a way that builds a strong relationship with target consumers. Once a consumer has a relationship with a brand -- once they see the brand as a trustworthy source of information or a consistent source of entertainment -- they are much more likely to buy from that brand.
Consumers find good storytelling endlessly compelling, and will regard brands that engage with them on this level more positively, eventually influencing their purchasing decisions or even turning them into promoters of your brand.
However, simply starting to publish content is not sufficient to garner marketing success. To reap all the benefits of content marketing, it is vital to have a content marketing strategy.
Getting Started with Content Marketing Strategy
When content marketing is done well, it works because it is part of an overall strategy that takes into account the target audience, what platforms they use, and how they use them. In addition, it serves up content that the audience finds interesting, entertaining, helpful, engaging, or informative. In order to do this successfully, you need to follow certain steps in setting up your content marketing strategy.
First, identify your audience. Who would benefit from using your product, and why? What is important to these people? Where do they spend their time, online and offline? What are their social media usage habits?
Conduct research to get a solid understanding of your target audience. The key to content marketing is to make an emotional connection with your audience, so understanding them as individual people with needs and wants is essential.
Personas and Customer Journey Maps
Two tools researchers and marketers find useful in establishing a good understanding of their audience are personas and customer journey maps.
A persona lays out a hypothetical customer or user that represents a specific need or approach to your product, with enough detail to make it feel like this could be a real person. When creating content, it can be targeted at one such persona to directly address their wants and needs.
Likewise, customer journey maps lay out the emotional states of a customer as they encounter a problem, look for information, consume your content, and make purchasing decisions. The key is to use these tools to prioritize an emotional connection with a target audience.
Using personas or similar tools also helps avoid the common mistake of trying to do too much with one piece of content. If you try to make a single piece of content that appeals to both working mothers and college-aged young women, you risk losing that emotional connection with both audiences because the content is less relevant to them.
Likewise, if you post a long thread on Twitter, you're less likely to appeal to the sort of customers that spend a lot of time on that platform. The best content marketing strategy lays out target audiences and pairs them with content published over time. This is where the next stage of content marketing strategy comes in.
Developing A Content Marketing Plan
Once you've done your research, it's time to develop a plan for reaching your audience. It's important to understand that you must craft different content for every stage in attracting, capturing, and converting your audience. Consumers respond differently to the same content depending on where they are in their relationship with a brand.
For example, a customer that's already familiar with your brand and has positive feelings towards you will be more open to content that's actively promoting your products and working to sell them. Meanwhile, that same content may turn off a customer who isn't familiar with your brand, as consumers have grown increasingly sensitive to and negative towards hard sells.
It's also vital to understand the process a consumer goes through before buying a product from a specific brand. First, the customer becomes aware of the product. Then the customer considers alternatives and compares across brands and products.
Finally, the customer makes a decision on what to buy. The best content marketing strategies target each stage of this process, with content designed to raise awareness being the most freely available while content targeted towards the consideration and decision phases being more opt-in, such as through newsletters.
Make a plan for publishing several months’ worth of content targeted to specific audiences, platforms, and stages in the consumer cycle. Then, it's time to evaluate and refine your strategy.
Review and Refine to Get the Best Content Marketing Strategy
Once you've started publishing your content, you need to evaluate how well it's working. Popular tools like Google Analytics can help you track engagement with your content, while social media sites give you a direct measurement of how much your content has been shared or liked. Regularly review your content to see which pieces are getting the most -- or least -- engagement. Analyze this data for trends to refine your content marketing strategy into the future.
One very powerful tool for refining your strategy is A/B testing. In A/B testing you serve two versions of your content that are identical except for one factor. This could be different copy, different images, a different call to action, or any other distinct quantifiable factor. You can then use Google Analytics to see which version of your content is more successful, and with whom.
Once you've been publishing content for several months and have started the cycle of analyzing the results and refining your approach, you will have a content marketing strategy firmly in place. Remember to be both flexible and consistent as you move forward, and always return to building that emotional connection with your audience: that is the core of content marketing and what makes the entire approach work.