Marketers are creating more content than ever. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 77% of B2C companies and 70% of B2B companies surveyed say that they are creating more content than they did just a year ago. However, producing more content is only productive when you have a solid plan in place. The same study revealed that only 37% of B2C marketing organizations (and 32% of B2B marketers) have a documented content marketing strategy, even though those with a documented strategy are more effective across the board.

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A solid plan ensures that you’re producing relevant content consistently, keeps your team aligned along the same goals, and helps you reliably measure success. So why not get started on the right foot and nail down a solid plan? Sometimes it’s easier said than done. Below we’ve outlined a few challenges that arise during the planning process, and discuss actionable ways to overcome them so you can get started on putting together a documented strategy.

1. Define your vision for success

Though it seems obvious, the first step is to define why you’re even creating content in the first place. Start by outlining the reasons why you need to create content and define what success will look like. Once you understand why you’re spending time and resources on producing content it will be much easier to align your team, define realistic goals, and implement a strategy for success. Many teams skip this initial step, overlooking the foundation of their entire plan.

When defining your vision for success, be sure to think about how your content will fit into your larger brand story, and how content will help you tell that story to your audience.

A case study on McGladrey shows that stepping back and re-defining the purpose of your content can have a significant impact on your content marketing success. In addition to a website redesign and repurposing old content, the tax and consulting firm created a content marketing plan with a new vision focused on developing their reputation as subject matter experts. Once they understood the purpose of the content and realigned their objectives they experienced a 300% increase in content production and a 60% increase in content promotion.

2. Understand your audience

One of the most important components of a solid content marketing plan is audience profiling. How will you know what type of content to produce, where to publish it, and where to promote it if you don’t understand your target audience?

It’s critical that you study your audience to find out what they like to read and what makes them click. Conduct in-depth analysis of your marketing targets to create a set of demographic profiles and buyer personas.

Step 1: Create Demographic Profiles. These should include important data like age, race, religion, gender, income level, profession, family size, education level, and marital status. If you’re targeting businesses look for information like industry, geographic location, customer size, number of employees, number of branches, type of produce, annual revenue, and the age of the company.

Step 2: Develop Buyer Personas. These fictional personas are a “qualitative deep dive” that goes beyond the demographic information and looks at their needs, goals, desires, challenges, values, and attitudes. Put yourself in their shoes and explore different versions of your target audience. Brainstorm and imagine how you might cater to their problems or meet their needs.

Step 3: Cater to them with content. Now that you know who your audience is it’s time to think about what social channels they live on, what keywords catch their attention, and what content they’re searching for. You can conduct thorough trends research through online tools like Google Trends.

Buzzfeed is a great example of a news organization that uses thousands of custom segments to determine what post will engage a specific audience segment. They managed to grow their audience by more than 500% in just two years. Buzzfeed is now among the top 10 sites in the United States.

3. Create a calendar

Another key component of a solid content marketing plan is the editorial calendar. Whether it’s in terms of quality or quantity, many content marketers find it difficult to maintain a consistent content schedule.

A case study on Shoretel Sky has shown that content consistency can bring about positive long-term results. The company started posting short articles ranging between 200 and 400 words every day. In addition to this, they also published longer articles of about 600 words on a monthly basis. They now experience a 50.8% increase in organic traffic as a result of this strategy.

Besides increasing organic traffic, there are a ton of benefits to implementing a content calendar:

  • Keep your content organized. Planning what type of content will go out on which day will ensure that you stick to a consistent publishing schedule. It will also help you space out your content types (For example; an ebook every 3 weeks, a webinar every other week, a blog post every Tuesday and Thursday).
  • Keep your writers organized and hold them to a deadline. A content calendar will help your writers produce content on a timely schedule. Clear deadlines and a good understanding of what is coming down the pipeline will help them stay on track.
  • Keep your content aligned with your goals. When you have a broad view of the entire month, or even the entire quarter, it’s much easier to ensure your content is aligned with your goals, all of your audience personas, specific themes, larger campaigns and product releases.

This might mean upgrading to something a little more robust than a simple Excel sheet.

4. Defining your brand voice

Defining your brand voice is another way to maintain consistency throughout your content. Putting together a voice and tone guide will differentiate your brand, create a standard that you can measure quality content against, and help you create content that resonates with your audience.

It’s easy to lose your brand voice, especially when your team grows or you begin to outsource the writing to freelancers. So establishing a guide early on will help keep things consistent as you scale and help put the right foundation in place for later growth.

Mail Chimp’s voice and tone guide is widely recognized as one of the best guides available online. It clearly outlines the difference between voice and tone, defines the writing goals and principles, and even provides examples for different types of content (including everything from a short social media post to a press release).

5. Create engaging content

Every 60 seconds 277,000 tweets are produced, 216,000 new photos are posted on Instagram, Pinterest users pin 3,472 images, and 72 hours of new video is uploaded to YouTube. If your content isn’t engaging it will never get noticed amidst this avalanche of information.

It’s tough to come up with content that will resonate with your target audience. In fact, the
CMI report revealed that this was the primary challenge for 56% of B2C marketers and 60% of B2B marketers.

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Fortunately, there are a ton of great ways to increase engagement:

  • Use visuals. Kissmetrics found that content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant visuals.
  • Leverage user-generated content. Ask your followers to submit images and stories or use a hashtag campaign to generate a discussion. According to Forbes, 62% of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. Don’t just throw content at your audience, ask for their participation.
  • Be useful. Offer something useful to your audience for free. Entrepreneur suggests providing your audience with a white paper, ebook, slide presentation or video that gives your audience actionable tips, insights from industry experts, or templates to help them do their job better. (Bonus – if it’s gated content you can collect some information from your audience)
  • Reach out to influencers. Connecting with people who have established themselves as thought leaders in your space will lend your brand credibility. Reach out to influencers in your field for guest posts or interviews. You can also ask them to share these posts on social media to help generate traffic and brand awareness. These relationships must be cultivated over time, so bank this as a long-term strategy.

At the end of the day, the best way to ensure that your content is engaging is by creating high-quality content. Make sure it’s well-researched, well-written, entertaining, informative, and accessible.

6. Stay on budget

While 51% of B2B marketers intend to increase their content marketing budget this year, not everyone can afford to allocate more finances to content. Fortunately, it’s possible to plan content for a shoestring budget.

Start a blog and self-publish your content. You can host this on the same root domain as your website or use a platform like WordPress to get started. You can also start publishing on sites like Medium and LinkedIn Plus for free. If you’re producing quality content, these sites can help expose your content to new networks and generate discussion.

The case of DB Squared shows that content marketing on a tight budget isn’t impossible. With a marketing team of just one and a limited budget, the company started publishing regularly, revamping old content, and sharing their content across social media. They received a 415% increase in page views and a 310% increase in unique users.

7. Measure and optimize your content

Marketers are obsessed with measuring the “effectiveness” of their content. But what does “effective content” actually mean?

Your definition of “effectiveness” might vary depending on the overall objective of your content marketing strategy. Return to the first step and recall your team’s reason for creating content. What is the goal of your content and how did you define “success”? Use this to create benchmarks that will guide your metrics. If you’re having trouble determining which metrics are the right fit for you, check out Jay Baer’s “A Field Guide to the 4 Types of Content Marketing Metrics” for guidance on how to measure content marketing.

Google Analytics can be a useful (and free!) tool for marketers looking to measure the impact of their content marketing efforts. The tool makes it easy to track your content performance with the “Engagement” tab. You can analyze bounce rate, time on site, average pages per visit, percentage of returning visitors, frequency of visits, and audience engagement rates to better understand what’s working and what isn’t.

Another great way to determine whether you’re engaging your audience is through A/B tests. See which email subject line generates more opens or which blog title gets more click throughs to better understand what your audience is looking for.

Measurement is the foundational principle of a content strategy, and without metrics it’s impossible for you to know if you’re achieving your goals. Spend some time defining your benchmarks and putting the right tools in place to ensure you’re not throwing resources away on the wrong content

Content marketing is tough. Keeping your team synched and on the same page is even harder when you don’t have a plan in place. Now that you have the tools to build a solid foundation, it’s time to start planning!