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If you think that content is based on a collection of blogs, Tweets and web pages that works in conjunction with a businesses’ goals, you’re right; but only partly. While social outreach, branding, and quality content are important elements of content management, in the grand scheme of things, there’s much more to it.
If you’re involved in any aspect of digital marketing or want to be, you’ll want to develop a clear understanding of what’s involved in developing a successful content marketing strategy. Here, we’ll outline some of the key areas that any content manager or strategist need a solid understanding of in order to run a successful digital marketing campaign.
1. Understand the Content Marketing (Sales) Funnel
The sales funnel is essentially a broad-based term that describes the buyer’s decision-making journey, with the three key phases being awareness, evaluation, and purchase. Anyone involved in sales and marketing needs to pay close attention to this process in order to gain a better understanding of what makes buyers move through the funnel.
To some extent, content marketing is considered outreach, which means it’s something that sits at the “top” of the sales funnel. To an outsider, it may seem as though this aspect of digital marketing is “far” away from the actual money-making (sales) part of the funnel.
This article via Single Grain suggests that, with content marketing, there is a fourth stage of the sales funnel that comes after the conversion “delight,” which essentially translates to establishing brand loyalty. Thus, content strategists should always be thinking about four critical stages of the funnel:
- Outreach: attracting new customers
- Conversion: convincing customers to buy
- Closing: making the sale
- Retention: establishing brand loyalty and returning customers
The “top” of the funnel is where brand awareness and lead generation happens. It’s where you have the opportunity to cast a net over the broadest possible customer base and not only build your audience, but also engage with them to understand more about your entire strategy. But a great content strategist or manager will understand how to engage customers through every part of the funnel and ideally keep them cycling through the funnel.
2. View Your Content as Data
A content strategy is not about the number of blogs written per month, how much time should be spent doing Facebook Live, or whether or not a company should be writing a whitepaper. It absolutely is about quality, but all of these things are not exactly what strategy is about - they are components, but they aren’t really what will guide your strategic approach.
A great content marketing strategy can engage audiences at every turn, and in order to do this, a good strategist needs to know how their content is working. When you know exactly how to spin your content so that it’s effective in one phase, they then you can use that information as you move into the next phase in the funnel.
Your strategy will be guided by analytics. The job of the strategist is to meticulously monitor, track, watch and report on the numbers in order to continuously refine and adjust towards better conversions. You will need to track where your customers are “coming from,” and where they are “going.” In other words, you need to be continually assessing traffic patterns.
Continually testing what you’re doing is how you’ll get a solid idea about your audience’s preferences, interests, and purchasing behavior. You need to know how well material is performing in order to make it to the next step of the process.
Basic questions you’ll want to be asking continuously include:
- What can be refined and improved?
- What tools, apps, and platforms are performing the best and least well?
- What is the best use of time and resources in relation to conversion (sales)?
- How are all the pieces blending together?
3. Make a Plan
Creating a calendar is vital to a successful strategy. Just like an editorial calendar for a traditional publication, a content calendar can help to guide your strategy throughout a given timeframe. Of course, you’ll want to add special dates in here, like major holidays and events that are relevant to your industry. You’ll probably also want to leave some “blank” spots to incorporate, for instance, unpredictable but relevant events or trending topics that you need to create content for last-minute.
You can also use this calendar not only to plan what you’re posting, but where. Having a multimedia strategy and even including outreach like guest posting and PR is crucial these days. Consider where different distribution channels will fit well into your sales strategy along the timeline of the following months.
As you consider distribution, you’ll want to bear in mind the different purposes that different types of content have and how this can affect your marketing and how you can use various combinations of content to save time and resources. You may want to consider, for example, establishing authority via guest blogging, composing blogs in tandem with email series, and using social media to build tribes and groups.
It’s completely reasonable and efficient to develop a strategy based on chunks of content that can easily be repurposed through different channels and for different purposes. So, as you develop all of your content (think multimedia), consider the ways that it can be easily converted into the future.
Here are some ideas, just to name a few:
- Develop a webinar into a series of email courses to sell
- Create PDF guides out of old blogs
- Develop blogs so that they can later be used to easily create a case study or whitepaper
- Create an infographic out of a slide show (or vice versa)
You can also build each piece of content with the intention of a mixed-use strategy. Tweet buttons are a great example of this. Anything that provides an easy way for you and your audience to broaden the distribution of a given post is gold.
5. Establish Specific Direction for Your Content
Let’s say you are a content strategist or manager, and you have a solid framework of content and writers at the ready. You’ve developed a strategy, you know the funnel, you have a calendar. You’ve established, in a general sense, what you want to say.
Many businesses already have a bunch of content and a team of writers on hand to create it; these are essentials, as are a set of tools for analytics. But it’s important that strategists understand which piece of the marketing framework different types of content falls into.
The list below is not a concrete example; it will definitely vary with context. But it’s a good idea to break down content types into different phases of the funnel just so that everyone on the team is clear about the purpose of each.
- Outreach: Facebook ads, landing page, explainer videos, infographics
- Conversion: Social media, informational blog posts, case studies, quizzes
- Closing: Email series, reviews, questionnaires
- Retention: Exclusive offers, whitepapers, e-mails, contests, surveys
It’s essential that you have this content prepared and ready to go well ahead of the timeline. In addition, you’ll need to know which type of content performs well in different contexts, that is, with different audiences and also across platforms. Coming into 2018, trends that you can bank on in most instances are video (especially ephemeral content), infographics, and AI-based applications such as voice search.
Always Keep a Fresh Mindset
One of the key traits of a great content marketing strategist is having an ability to continually problem-solve and learn new things. Content marketing isn’t rocket science, but it does take some patience, creativity and an analytical outlook. Though an effective strategy does require analytical thinking, it’s by no means cut and dry, this leaves room for plenty of creativity and, to some extent at least, experimentation.
You’ll need a clear vision of your goals, and you’ll need to have at least a loose business plan in place. It also takes a good knowledge of the most effective and up-to-date tools that you have access to in the context of the business and industry you’re working with.
So, as you go through the above points, you’ll want always to be thinking ahead to new solutions and tools that you can use to continually refine your strategy to meet new goals over time.