How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy from Start to Finish
9 out of 10 B2B buyers claim that online content has a major impact on their purchase decisions. Whether you sell a cold beverage or data encryption software, you can assume without demanding proof that your audience is looking for information about you and your competition online.
A sure-shot way to intercept those buying considerations that lead to eventual purchases is through consistently produced, quality content.
But how easy is it to actually do that?
If you were to ask the countless content marketers serving fresh-off-the-press stuff to the 200 million people who now use ad blockers, easy would be the last word they’d use.
Circumventing ad blockers, engaging people, and making them buy from you rests squarely on the shoulders of a sound content marketing strategy — one that reflects who you are as a business.
This seven-step guide takes you through the whys, hows, and whats of building a strategy that translates to greater brand awareness, better lead generation, and happier bank accounts from scratch to past the finish line.
1. “What’s the point of all this?”
Often enough, through the course of a boring day, I look at one of my more popular pieces and feel wonderful. My fingers tingle to create yet another one of those pieces that feed my ego more than anything else. But before I can start down that slippery slope, there’s a voice that sweetly but sternly coos, “Snap out of it, woman!”
Because content, no matter how niche a space you live in, exists to either directly or indirectly fulfill one singular goal – to drive profitable customer action (thanks, Joe).
That’s the kind of business rationality you must keep in mind when creating content. And any content marketer worth their salt will tell you that your content should cross the T’s and dot the I’s of your overarching goals. That might not always translate to a super-fun post on Burberry’s latest drool-worthy campaign but it would certainly make your CTAs convert.
So be it lead generation, brand awareness, or increased engagement — the top three goals for B2B and B2C marketers per CMI’s latest report on content marketing — a good content strategy helps you guide your creation, curation (if you so wish), and promotion tactics.
For example, this free social media calendar template created by Hubspot in collaboration with Buffer is the perfect example of how content can fill the top of the funnel with leads.
2. “Who’s my horde that will listen to me in rapture?”
You are not your audience. Neither is it the nice friend who liked your page on Facebook. Not even your over enthusiastic neighbour who has feedback on everything from dog food to NASA’s logo. Give it a rest, Shaun!
This is a two-step process. For starters, draw out a detailed sketch of what your ideal buyer is like – pot-bellied dog walker, suave investment banker, nerdy writer. Be detailed (without being creepy) about it.
Done well, your buyer persona constructs and your existing customers shouldn’t be too far off. At the same time, these personas should iteratively evolve through feedback from your existing customers about your product or service.
Which brings us to step two – polling your customers actively and regularly. This is relatively easy to do. There are a cartload of tools to help you do this but before you choose a tool, freeze on the top questions you want to ask your customers.
Sometime last year, we wanted to do an EpicBeat explainer video. Why we haven’t yet done it is a story for another day (Partha now only comes to work when I am not around) but during our research for video shops, we found Allan Branch of Less Everything who was not only kind enough to carve out time for us but also sent us his questionnaire for polling customers.
Sidebar: For anyone looking to get videos done, we highly recommend Less Everything. They are a tad pricy especially if you know you can get Animaker to do your bidding but if you’re looking for someone to oomph-ify your explainer videos, Allan’s your man!
The best advice Allan gave us was to ask our users how they’d describe our tool and what features they found most useful. Based on aggregated answers, we would then have to come up with a content strategy that not only doubled down on the benefits of those features but also educated our users about less-used features.
The trick, of course, is to constantly refine your buyer persona instead of treating it as a one-time exercise. Your content strategy will then automatically evolve to match the evolution of your customer’s needs and wants.
3. “What’re my customers and their friends, colleagues, and dear ones looking for?”
You know now (because you have been paying attention to what we’ve been saying all this while) what your goals are and who your customers and prospects are.
But you still need to know what they want to hear. Or read. Or watch. An explainer video, no matter how slick, won’t get your customers on their way to world domination. No offense, Allan!
Potential customers need some more motivation to sign up plus a lot more to stick around and boring ‘go-here-click-there’ videos won’t help. Trust me. I speak from experience.
Create content mapped to each stage of your customers’ buyer journey.
But what to create? How do you get started? Where do you go from the blank page staring back at you on Monday mornings, daring you to attack it with your keyboard? Or do you just throw up your hands in the air and go down a hole of depression leading to the heat-death of the universe? Specifically, your universe.
There is nothing more exhausting (to me and mine— you cute content minions) than not knowing what to create. And no matter what the mavericks might say today, we’ve all been there at some point. Starting off is tough because you’re still wondering what to say and how to say it.
Fret not, minions in content mines everywhere. There is a secret door to the pot of gold!
That door says, ‘Spy!’ on it. Yes, you heard us right. Spy.
Spy on your industry, your competitors, your audience, your neighbor, their dog…Er, wait. Not your neighbor or their dog. Got carried away, didn’t I? But you get the idea.
The shortest way to know what your audience wants is to see what others in your space with the same interests as yours, targeting the same audiences as you, are doing for content and more importantly – to find out what’s working!
Lucky for you, we are the makers of EpicBeat, a content research tool that makes short work of what would otherwise turn your sunny mornings into cloudy afternoons.
Run a search for your industry or topic (or your competition’s site) on EpicBeat to quickly get a list of popular content that your audience is sharing, liking, commenting on, then switch to Content Insights to get ready answers to all of your questions. Creator’s dilemma goes, ‘Bye, bye, Kansas!’
4. “In what shape or form do my sweet customers take their daily dose of content?”
You have got the what. Now comes the how. As you get cracking on most popular topics on your notepad, should you,
- Create a series of social media posts,
- Make a product demo,
- Drone on in a monotone about how shiny your product is, or
- Write an exhaustive article (like this one)?
Let’s start filling in color on your barebones content plan (different from your strategy which is still three steps away from the finish line, BTW).
The best way to say your story isn’t always via an article on your blog.
Easiest? Maybe. Best? Not always.
Research suggests that infographics are shared 3X more than other content.
Data on EpicBeat concurs. 👇
Point being, you need to (and can) figure out what content types work best for your audience and then get to coloring them into your plan.
Sidebar: The benefit of categorizing content by format and type, like we do on EpicBeat, is you get a sense of which topics work well under each format. Using EpicBeat’s drill-downs, you can select one or many specific content formats that work well in your industry and figure out how you can include them in your strategy.
5. “What watering holes are my customers going to?”
I just can’t seem to find my way around Snapchat. That’d probably be my cue to crawl under a rock and never resurface if I were a B2C brand eyeing the booming millennial population (and their wallets). Considering there are over 160 million users on the platform who are clearly savvier than me, it’d be suicide if a content marketer for such a brand didn’t know the channel. Thankfully, it isn’t something I need to fret about.Yet.
Identifying the right channels to promote your content on is just as important as the promoted content itself. Unless you’re a GE or a Cisco, with a differentiated and nuanced social media strategy and execution that Red Bull can put their hands together for, it makes total sense for you to live where you audiences go.
Finding social engagement for your topic across top channels is a great way of figuring out which channels to focus on. Yes, EpicBeat answers that question straightaway. Yes, I am shameless in following my own advice. 😊
6. “How can I consistently offer valuable content to my audience?”
“Content created and promoted once is lost forever”, said no one ever.
The purpose of repurposing content is to extend the content lifetime value for each piece that you painstakingly create. Because we assume, right from the start, that you are ALWAYS creating something of value. We aren’t talking about the product updates or announcements that are banished to the archives once they become ‘old news’.
Revamping is a tried and tested practice of updating existing content with relevant facts, so your audience never comes back to redundant information.
Repurposing content, on the other hand, ensures that no piece of content goes under-utilised. And in the world of good content (totally subjective, but Google Analytics is a worthy judge for the not-so-faint-hearted) it bodes you well to repurpose content in formats your audience enjoys.
Deciding on whether to take the revamp route or the repurpose one, depends on the kind of leads you are trying to attract.
If you’re interested in widening your lead pipeline by increasing the number of people of a certain persona, revamping content could be the choice to go for. As you regularly update content keeping in mind both context and relevance, it will get discovered by more people looking for similar content and consequently fill your lead pipeline.
On the other hand, if it is a newer target audience or segment you’re after – repurposing is the way to go. You can even repurpose content to reflect the needs of personas in different stages of the buyer journey. For example, a fact-filled infographic or data-rich article makes sense when you are trying to educate your audience about a relevant topic in your industry. However, an in-depth guide or ebook might make more sense for a potential buyer who is at a more mature stage in the journey.
Find ways to use relevant content in multiple ways – turn a series of blog posts into a downloadable or turn a popular piece of written content into a podcast. Or maybe you have a post already that’s not really getting the clicks and converts you were hoping for.
The obvious route to take is to repurpose that supposed rockstar of an article into a rockstar of a slide deck and host it on Slideshare. Or turn the article into an infographic. Or put them all together in a video-maker and do a two-minute lowdown on a 16000-word article. Chill! I am not serious about a 16,000-word article.
But enough about creating, revamping, and repurposing content. Good content isn’t always restricted to your magical fingers. Curation is a tactic employed by over 82% of marketers across the globe. Adding curation to your content marketing strategy can ensure that you cover all relevant topics in your industry without having to entirely create each piece of content on your own.
Curation isn’t always about not having the right resources — time, budget, talent, to create content in-house. It is also important because there is so much great content out there, clawing its way through the tomes of junk, that can help your audience make better decisions.
Curation is especially beneficial when you are just dipping your feet into the icy-cold and supremely crowded waters of the big blogging world. Instead of compromising on quality by creating content in-house, find inspirational content creators in your space and take their learnings to your audience. Still looking for reasons to start?
7. “How do I stay honest to my goals?”
I started this post with a confession – my inner battle with the voices that tell me to choose between what makes business sense and what is more fun to do. While it is important to enjoy the process of content creation— irrespective of what you create— the occasional turmoil is real and I fight it often.
Just as those niggling voices appear, I bring out my weapon of choice – my content calendar. It swiftly puts my priorities as a writer and as a marketer back to the fore.
Bye bye temptation island. 👋👋
The last leg of your lesson in strategy is a simple three-word rule that you should write in big bold letters before setting out on any content plan — write it down.
Here’s an interesting statistic that should shock you into believing — only 37% of B2B and 40% of B2C marketers, have a documented content marketing strategy. Before you nonchalantly shrug, “Oh well, maybe I don’t really need to document my strategy either”, here comes the real deal-breaker.
Over 60% of the most successful content marketing strategies are documented.
That is definitely reason enough to believe that setting down your goals and objectives and measuring them at regular intervals is key to successful content marketing. I’m talking from experience here, so take it from someone who has been-there-done-that.
The minute you get serious about content as an important part of your growth strategy, ensure that you start with a written plan broken down into goals to be achieved, topics, ideas, timelines, metrics for success — the works!
You can either start with a simple template (I started with my trusty notepad and then moved to Microsoft Excel) or you can download one from the generous veterans in the industry. Thankfully, there are many useful editorial templates that you can download. Either use them as is or incorporate best practices used by the ones that appeal the most to you to create a workable content marketing plan that’s not just in your head.
Phew! That took more words than I had originally accounted for. But a good thing worth telling takes time. I hope by the time you reach this point of the post, you’re thinking to yourself — “Ah, that was time well spent!”
As a bite-sized refresher of everything we’ve just gone through, here’s what you need to do to whip up a content marketing strategy that works.
- Zero-in on your objectives as a business and understand how content can help advance those goals
- Really know your audience and find out what keeps them awake at night
- Figure out how, where and when they like to consume content
- Find the right balance of creation and curation that reflects your business goals
- Stay honest and consistent to your content goals by tracking performance