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We love to hear clients talking about social media, SEO, blogging and email marketing, but too often the conversations we hear center on “doing” social media, for example. “Pinterest is hot, we’ve got to get our presence in place there. No, wait. This Vine this is all the rage. Let’s focus there.” As you can imagine, a scattershot approach is a great way to waste resources, but you’re not going to accomplish much beyond that unless you’re very, very lucky. What’s needed is an underlying strategy. If you’re thinking about the what where and when, you’ve put the cart before the horse. You first have to determine the who, why, and how.

Who Is Your Audience
Knowing who your audience is has to be the first question you tackle. (Think back for a moment to the basic truth of what content marketing is: attracting an audience and gaining their trust by publishing information that informs and/or entertains them.) You can’t very well inform your audience if you don’t know who they are and what interests them. So Vine may be the latest and greatest thing, but there’s no use being there if that’s not where your audience gathers.

Why Will Your Audience Pay Attention? Why Do I Want Their Attention?
What’s in it for me? You’d better be able to answer that question on your audience’s behalf or you’ll never get their attention. More importantly, you need to have a very clear picture of why you want their attention. How does the content you’re presenting – and what that content says about your firm’s experience and expertise – align with the services or products you offer?

How Will I Reach Them
No we’re starting to get back to the questions most inexperienced content marketers are eager to answer at the outset. But it’s not just the classic LinkedIn vs. Facebook decision. (Which is pretty obvious in most cases.) It’s really a question of how you will attract an audience to this fantastic content you’re creating. Do you know the key influencers for your target audience? Can you establish relationships with them? Are there colleagues offering complementary services to the same audience you seek? Can you establish relationships with them? Have you done basic keyword research to determine how your audience talks about (and searches for) information related to your content? Forget build it and they will come. It ain’t gonna happen. You have to hav a plan for attracting your audience.

As you answer these questions, you’ll be on your way to building a solid content marketing strategy. Add in an editorial calendar, a plan for monitoring the effectiveness of various elements, and perhaps ideas on getting your organization beyond the marketing department involved, and you can begin to look at the what, where and when questions that make up the execution portion of your efforts.

And when you do move into execution, you’ll find you have much more success with a solid foundation helping to keep you moving in the right direction.