It’s a content marketer’s biggest question: what should I write? Do you struggle to identify what topics to write about? Do you toil over what content will have the greatest impact on your company and your audiences?
You’re not alone. Producing engaging content is the top challenge for most content marketers as reported in CMI’s sixth annual Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends-North America report.
This roadmap will help you navigate the path to achieve both engaging and effective content – and more importantly, help you answer the question: “What should I write?” Because we all know it doesn’t feel good to spend a lot of time and effort writing content that nobody reads, or worse, that they do read and think was a waste of time.
Step 1: Start with Business Strategy AND Audience Needs
Cascade business strategy and context
Without a set of defined business goals to achieve, your content marketing strategy is flying blind.
A successful content marketing strategy starts with the set of business goals you’re out to accomplish – brand awareness, lead generation, sales, etc. These goals must cascade down from your overall business and department objectives. OKRs (used by Google and Intel) can give you a simple framework to think about this strategy cascade if your organization doesn’t already have a formal process.
Even if you’ve been doing content marketing for years, go back to this step and really understand what your business goals are for your content marketing strategy. You may find that those goals and your current execution are not in alignment.
Don’t gloss over this step. Before any talk of content creation occurs, write out your business goals and make sure your entire content team is in alignment with them. Everyone needs to know what the finish line looks like.
Understand your audience’s needs and preferences
While you are developing your foundational understanding of business strategy and context, you should also be doing some parallel research to identify your audience’s needs and preferences. Don’t let the organization’s objectives interfere with how you approach this step – as it can influence the results, creating an understanding of your company’s ideal customers, instead of your real customers. Aim to understand your real audience and develop content that addresses their current need, not your company’s “want.”
There are many ways to do this research. Start with the development of buyer personas. Look to answer questions like:
- What is your audience’s goal, what problem is your audience trying to solve?
- What is your audience’s motivation to achieve that goal or solve that problem?
- Where are your audience’s biggest pain points?
Get analytics and competitive intelligence to help you better understand what is engaging your audience both on your website and the websites of your competitors’. Look to answer questions like:
- Where is your audience going for information?
- What behaviors or actions are you looking for your audiences to perform?
- Where and why are they taking an action?
- What topics and terms are your competitors using to address your audience’s needs?
- Where do you currently have topic gaps in comparison to your industry?
Step 2: Identify Key Metrics
After you’ve defined your business goals and have an understanding of your audience, you must determine how you will measure the progress of your strategy. It is vital that you establish these metrics before launching the strategy. All too often, measurement is an afterthought, and marketers simply measure whatever is easily available – which usually takes the form of soft metrics like social shares and page views – things that don’t report well to the C-Suite.
Without establishing metrics that align with the overall goals of the strategy, marketers will have no idea if their strategy is succeeding or failing. The point of measurement is to determine the true trajectory of your strategy. You manifest what you measure.
Identify to whom you will be reporting these metrics. Do they report up to the C-Suite? The Board of Directors? Understanding to whom you’re accountable will help target the metrics that will most effectively measure and communicate your content marketing success. For example, a COO may value sales and revenue metrics over consumption metrics. Adjust your metrics accordingly.
In order to have a true understanding of if your content program is working, Jay Baer suggests that you “create an array of metrics that are selected from four primary buckets: consumption metrics, sharing metrics, lead generation metrics, sales metrics.”
Which goals will show the success or failure of your strategy and give you insights into whether to adjust it? What metrics will give you the best pulse on your strategy?
Also understand how you will get to these metrics. Google Analytics and your company’s CRM are a great place to start. New content intelligence tools are utilizing big data and predictive marketing to give you more insight into individual metrics by diving deep into your existing content and understanding what’s resonating with your current audience. These insights not only help you create great content moving forward, but also help you optimize existing content you’ve already created.
With a solid foundation of business goals, audience understanding, and metrics, we can now begin diving into the creative guts of your content marketing strategy.
Step 3: Develop Content Marketing Editorial Mission Statement
Joe Pulizzi suggests content marketers get clear on this key part of editorial planning, which can then serve as a guidepost for all content creation. The mission statement answers the question, “Why do you exist?”
Pulizzi recommends answering three basic questions to create your initial mission statement:
- Who is your core target audience?
- What will be delivered to the audience?
- What is the desired outcome for the audience?
Because you have your business goals and understanding of your audience already in place, this section should come together rather quickly. When creating your editorial mission statement, keep in mind your own differentiators you discovered from your competitive intelligence gathering. What unique attributes does your company bring to the market when solving your audience’s problems?
Step 4: Create an Editorial Calendar
Go back to your audience preferences and identify the content types/forms that will work best to address their needs. Ask yourself:
- What (if anything) would be more effective than a blog post?
- Does it need to be more visual?
- Would video be more effective than written word?
- Do we need to reach our audience through online, print, broadcast, and other mediums?
- Where is our audience currently getting content for this issue?
- What resources are needed to create content in the forms that will be most effective?
Do a gut check: Check that the types/forms of content you selected lend themselves to the metrics you identified in Step Two. If not, you may need to establish better metrics to show success. This may be an evolution of an existing metric – for example, if you have video content, and one of your goals is sales instead of just “views,” you can use links within the video descriptions to get people back to your site where they can buy your product.
Within your editorial calendar, you will also identify the appropriate promotion channels. Once content types/forms are selected, you’ll have a better idea of what channels will work best to promote them.
Step 5: Adopt a Data Collection and Reporting Schedule
It is important to discuss and agree on when and how you will report the progress of your content marketing efforts – not only to your team but to the relevant organizational leadership.
With the right metrics, you should be able to quickly shift your strategies depending on their initial effectiveness. Keep an eye on the end goal, and if the strategy is veering off, correct it. This is why constant monitoring and reporting is your best friend. It may help to have more frequent meetings with your content marketing team to have these discussions – the most effective teams meet daily or weekly, as reported by CMI.
Step 6: Write, Edit, Publish and Listen
At this point, you should have amazing clarity around how to answer the question, “What should I write?” Not only that, but you should also be able to answer the question, “why did you write that?” So, do what you do best – write, edit and publish content that will engage your audiences and deliver the business results your organization needs to be successful.
Then, be sure to listen. Listen to how your audiences are responding, and nurture the connection you’ve established with them. Feedback what you hear into the understanding of your audience in Step One, and see how that new information trickles down the rest of the roadmap.
Step 7: Establish a Continuous Feedback Loop and Make Adjustments to Your Approach
Anything in your strategy can change. Executive leadership might launch a new strategy or invest in a different market. Your audience’s needs and preferences might evolve overtime, or drastically shift overnight after a major event. Competitors could enter the marketplace or change their own content marketing strategy.
By constantly monitoring your metrics and keeping a pulse on your audience, you’ll be able to pivot as these changes occur and feed the new information back into the top of the strategy. By doing this quickly and effectively, you’ll be able to create the content your new audiences need before your competition and gain a competitive edge. That competitive edge will make you a hero in your organization. Don’t you want to be a hero?
Without the solid foundations of a content marketing strategy, you will struggle to deliver engaging content to your audience in a way that both helps them solve a problem and helps you achieve your business goals. No matter where you are in your company’s content marketing strategy, revisit your goals and understanding of your audience to see if they are still in alignment with where you are currently spending your time and resources. If they are not, it may be a sign that things need to change – for the better.
What will you do to be a better content marketer today?