As a modern marketer, you understand the value of content marketing. You know that the buyer’s journey has changed and that to get the attention of modern buyers you have to address their needs and solve their problems.
But the question remains: how?
Many brands are struggling with content marketing. It requires a lot of planning, careful content analysis, and more than a touch of creativity to make real headway with your buyers. After all, it’s not easy to produce high quality, unique content day after day. And it can be even harder to organize your efforts and keep track of results.
If you want to succeed with content marketing, you have to turn it into a structured system. You need repeatable processes that allow your brand to create consistent content, targeted at your best buyers.
You can think about the steps for creating a structured content marketing strategy in terms of 7 “pillars.” Each pillar focuses on one aspect of your overall plan of action. Taken together, these pillars form the support for your content marketing efforts:
Pillar 1: Strategy
Content marketing without a strategy is like giving a speech to a room without light: you’re talking, but is anyone listening? You need to know who you’re talking to, how they’re reacting, and what they want to hear before you can make a valuable connection.
To get buyers’ attention, you have talk about their interests. That means you need to know what they care about. To do that, you have to create detailed personas for each of your buyers. What do they like to read? What are their pain points? What keeps them up at night?
Next, you need to figure out the typical journey for each of these buyers. What are the major obstacles? What information do they want? What information do they need to make a decision? How long is the typical sales cycle for this type of buyer?
You can only create quality, targeted content for people that you understand. Only after you understand the people behind the persona will you create content that resonates.
Pillar 2: Process
Process is the tactical side of planning for content marketing. By “process” I mean the actual nuts and bolts of how you’re going to accomplish your content marketing.
Content marketing is a big undertaking. To do it well, you need a wide variety of content, distributed across a lot of channels. Before you jump in, you need a plan to get it done. How far in advance should content be scheduled? How will your team contribute ideas? Who will be responsible for creating what content? What approval timelines need to be factored into the production schedule, and how will you manage those deadline? How many pieces of content will you create each week? Each month?
A clear process for scheduling content, tracking workflow and distributing your content will make your life easier and keep your content marketing machine running smoothly. Also, once you map out your timelines for specific content types or campaign types, re-use those timelines to establish repeatable processes and workflows. There’s no need to start from scratch every time.
Pillar 3: Team
Marketing teams are changing and new titles are popping up across organizations and industries. One key role that’s new to the marketing landscape is the managing editor.
Your managing editor is arguably the most critical person for success with content marketing. While many people in your organization need to be content creators, it’s your managing editor who makes sure all your content is compelling. It’s their responsibility to oversee your content creation process, make sure it’s flowing smoothly, and that everything produced conforms to the message, goals, and standards of your brand.
A good managing editor will have professional writing and storytelling experience. Look to journalists, publishers, and writers to fill this role. But this role requires more than creativity. An effective managing editor is also organized and deadline focused. With the right person in this role, your organization will be pumping out consistent, high quality content in no time.
For enterprise-level companies establishing content marketing strategies, organization is especially important. I recommend checking out the recent Altimeter Group report, Organizing for Content: Models to Incorporate Content Strategy and Content Marketing in the Enterprise. It’s a fantastic resource with actionable steps for structuring your team.
Pillar 4: Ideation
Ideas can (and should!) come from everywhere. Which means you need a system in place that allows anyone in your organization to submit ideas for content. A steady stream of content ideas will make creation, scheduling, and process a lot easier.
Your marketing team can be a great source of content ideas, but don’t forget to tap other parts of your organization. Sales often has specific content needs to help them provide thought leadership at the end of the funnel. Folks from IT and customer service are also a great resource for ideas. They understand what clients care about, what their paint points are, and which topics matter most.
But of course, everyone is busy so gathering ideas needs to be efficient. Make sure your managing editor has a way to organize and follow up on ideas as they come in. If you decide to run collaborative planning brainstorms across organizations, Eloqua recently put together four exercises to ensure the time is used effectively.
Don’t forget to look outside the organization, as well. Blog posts, social networks, and client surveys provide wonderful resources for fresh content ideas.
Pillar 5: Planning
Once you have the first 4 pillars in place, it’s time to start planning your actual content. Try to schedule all your content in advance. In fact, Talia Wise of Cengage Leaning recommends planning content at least 90 days in advance. That way you’re never short on content and you’re not rushing low quality content to production to fill holes in your calendar.
The easiest way to plan out content is to start with a few large pieces organized around a theme, such as an ebook or white paper. Once you have these bedrock pieces, you can break them into smaller chunks and repurpose them into blog posts, social media, infographics, videos, and webinars on the same theme.
Re-purposing content not only saves time and resources, it can also make it a whole lot easier to fill up that editorial calendar.
Pillar 6: Production
Now it’s time to put all your pieces in play and actually crank out some content. To do that, you have to clearly define the workflow for each piece of content and campaign.
Often, many different pairs of eyes have to look over content before it’s finally published. Planning out the timelines, tasks and approvals necessary to keep production moving will make your life much easier down the road.
Establish a set timeline and make sure everyone responsible for a task is aware of it. If possible, set up automated alerts to keep production moving. By mapping out every step necessary to complete a piece of content and by keeping communication open between contributors, you’ll be much more likely to stay on task and on schedule.
Pillar 7: Distribution
You’ve made it to the finish line, now it’s time to share your content with the world. But you can’t just start blasting it out willy-nilly. You need to make sure the right content is getting to the right people at the right time.
At the top of the funnel, you want to distribute bite-sized content pieces wherever your best leads tend to hang out. Your goal is to draw new leads to your website and build brand awareness. This content should be focused on educating and entertaining.
Mid-Funnel your leads know who you are and trust your brand. Now it’s time to start pulling them towards the sale. You can start mixing educational content with information about how your solution can solve your buyers’ problems. But the majority of your content should still focus on addressing your buyers’ interests.
Late funnel content is designed to get conversions. Your sales team is one of the best distribution channels for this content. With the right pieces, you can empower sales to be thought leaders, which helps them build the rapport they need with your prospects to close the deal.
By carefully thinking through each of these pillars, you can build an organized, reliable support structure for your content marketing efforts. To explore this topic further, check out Kapost’s Keith Burrows’ recent presentation at DemandCon “How to Build a Content Marketing Machine.” You can download his slides along with those of his co-presenters Marina Antestenis of inContect and Jason Steward of Demandbase.
Content marketing is no easy task. But if you break it down into manageable pieces, you can make sure all your efforts are running smoothly and your brand is that much closer to achieving its content marketing goals.