‘Content Marketing Strategy’ is a phrase I’m seeing everywhere. Why? Because it represents a shift in collective thinking and marketing planning around social and digital environments.
Essentially, the concept is not new, but the setting is increasingly online. The worldwide web has given birth to concepts such as ‘keyword strategy’, search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM; usually meaning ‘paid search’).
‘Content’ tends to refer to things like blogs, infographics, videos, articles, games, photos, and so on, that are shared from a website through social networks and to email lists. The point is to drive people through the sales funnel and decision-making process towards a conversion of some kind.
Here, I will take a more holistic approach and include offline as well as online communications under the umbrella term ‘content’.
Content is King
Now there’s a phrase that’s been bandied around to near death. But it’s true. Content is king because search engines like Google like fresh content and they like it to be original (no ‘curated’ content scraped from other places). That means you have to produce new material regularly and it should be packed (but not stuffed) with keywords relating to your business or industry.
We usually start with text (as in a blog or article) because this is the opportunity to explain a point using words, which are searchable and indexable by search engine robots, as opposed to images and artwork, which generally are not indexable (except the metadata e.g. alt text for images). A base, say 500-word, blog post or article can and should be repurposed and reinvented into an infographic, a media release, video, photos, etc, in order to communicate the single message in multiple ways. All of these seemingly random and disparate pieces of creative can be orchestrated into a strategic and effective drive to a pre-determined outcome.
But first things first.
What is a Content Marketing?
Content can be anything that helps you inform, entertain, engage, remind, alleviate confusion, solve a problem, redress myths, educate, and otherwise enhance trust, credibility and salience of your offering in the mind of your target audiences.
It sounds like it applies to consumer goods, but in fact, the same concept also applies to services and nonprofit organisations.
The whole idea of Content Marketing Strategy is simply a different way of formulating an Integrated Marketing Communications plan that addresses each of your target markets (or stakeholders in the case of a charity or nonprofit) and each of their predictable stages of awareness, understanding, interest, trial, post-trial evaluation and loyalty.
If our aim is to get a group up the ladder to loyalty, we need to step them up through awareness, understanding, interest, before we can encourage them to try our offering and entreat their loyalty.
Like any good Integrated Marketing Communications campaign, we need to start with the end in mind. Here is a roadmap for creating a Content Marketing Strategy.
1. What are your Corporate Objectives?
Here you can’t be vague. We are not talking lofty, unmeasurable vision statements. We need clear hard SMART objectives.
Think Dollars. Units. Numbers. Percentages. With Deadlines. Achieve or Fail measurable black and white stuff. What’s the use of having a goal if you don’t know whether or not you’ve achieved it. Keep in mind that we are not only talking about customer and profitability goals but that of the organisation as a whole. I subscribe to the philosophy that your organisation actually has six markets.
In the examples above, you will notice that the corporate objectives related to more than just Customers.
It is useful to keep in mind that an organisation never has just one market, they have around six. There are six important stakeholders that need to be serviced at any time.
This is not exactly the same as the original ‘six markets’ model created by Christopher, Payne and Ballantyne (1991), but I think my version is simpler and easier to use. (Referrers and Influencers get subsumed into Partners and Suppliers).
- Existing customers
- New customers
- Internal (Staff and Boards)
- Partners & Suppliers
- “To sell 1,000 Harley Davidson motorcycles by June 30, 2014.”
- “To achieve dealer satisfaction of 80% or greater by December 31, 2013.”
- “To achieve staff satisfaction levels of 90% by 31 December 2013.”
- “To buy two new parts suppliers for cost reduction before June 30 2014.”
These objectives Specific, Measurable, Aligned (with the corporate objective), Realistic, Targeted, Time-bound.It looks easy, but it’s not and it’s surprising how many organisations don’t have SMART goals.
“To become an opinion leader in our industry” (How do you know when you’ve become an opinion leader? Instead: “To write one article about the industry for our website every week” (SMART)
I say again, Visions Statements can and should be lofty, emotive and inspiring. Objectives need to be SMART. It’s best not to have too many. Ideally, you won’t have more than five.
That said, Content Marketing Strategy starts with our SMART Goals.
2. Communication Objectives
Next, we need to attach Communication Objectives to each of our Corporate Objectives.
- Corporate Objective: “To sell 1,000 Harley Davidson motorcycles to riders aged 22-35 by June 30, 2014.”
In order to reach this goal, we need to accomplish a few things.
- We need to create AWARENESS. We need to communicate that the motorcycles exist to our target market.
- We need to position the motorcycle brand so that it is INTERESTING to the market. The communications need to appeal and engage the sub-cultural sensibilities and drives of our market and be coded to activate recognition as ‘one of them’. We need to communicate the safety, stylishness, fuel-efficiency, or self-image appeal to our target – whichever is the key discriminating feature for our market.
- We need to encourage the market to TRY (e.g. test ride) the motorcycle. We need to communicate where, how and why they will love the experience.
- We then need to be given incentives to PURCHASE the motorcycle. We also need to remind them they have made an excellent decision and to enhance LOYALTY. Ideally, this loyalty will be expressed through REPEAT PURCHASE and RECOMMENDATION.
Each of these communications objectives needs to be expressed in SMART terms.
You can probably think of a number of techniques to achieve these communication objectives. Posters in urban areas? Postcards in selected cool venues? Stylish, counter-cultural imagery? The Harley Davidson Club? The Harley tattoo peeking out from the corporate woman’s chest? Yuck, but you get the picture. These ideas should now be brainstormed.
3. Brainstorm your Strategies
For each of your Communication Objectives, we now need to brainstorm our tactics. We won’t be able to do all of them, we just want to start with a healthy list. Then we select just the ones that will be the most effective and efficient.
- Facebook Advertising
- Motorcycle shops
- Motorcycle mechanics
- Media Release
2. SELF-IMAGE APPEAL
- Hot images
3. TEST RIDE
- Direct Mail offer
- Extended guarantees and warranties
- Testimonial from users
- Sales incentive (10% discount)
- Fuel vouchers
- Harley Club ‘The Subversives’ Online community forum
- Free servicing for a year
- Magazine subscription
4. Selecting Channels and Tools
When we talk about Communications, we are talking about the promotional mix. Remember, that communications can be two-way and many of your tools can be used to get input from your markets and their feedback. Talk to them, not at them. These days, there are so many tools and channels you can use for every element of the promotional mix, many of them online. Choose which tools you think will most effectively and efficiently engage your target audience.This mix consists of ADSPP:
- Advertising (e.g. Google AdWords, AdRoll, social media ads like Facebook, LinkedIn sponsored Inmail, Twitter Ads, other social network ads, newspaper ads, magazine ads, journal ads)
- Direct mail (e.g. email, postcards, letters to past customers)
- Sales promotion (e.g. discounts, incentives and offers)
- Public Relations (e.g. media releases, articles, blogs, fact sheets, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube)
- Publicity (e.g. stunts, public contests, fundraising rides, Pinterest, influencer marketing)
- Personal Selling (e.g. salespeople, field staff, testimonials, peer-to-peer endorsements)
A social network can traverse the gamut of the promotional mix. You just need to marry a network with an objective. For example, creating a YouTube video will create awareness as a quasi-form of advertising, but it also can be a form of publicity.
We may need to be working on concurrent communication objectives. For example, we’ll be monitoring and supporting our Loyals at the same time we groom our prospects into their first Harley purchase.
Mapping out the Schedule
When we have decided our shortlist, we have our strategy that fulfils our communications objectives.
We have used a very simple example. For an Organisation’s Content Marketing Strategy, this would include not just sales but other markets and the communication objectives of each.
If the plan gets overambitious and out-of-control
With six markets and all these different customer segments and different stages of the awareness, understanding and buying cycle, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. A couple of tricks to help you pull it back together are these:
A. You must make trade-offs.
It’s about effectiveness and efficiency, so less is more. You can’t be everything to everyone, so pick your mark. What are the priorities? Every organisation must make decisions and trade-offs. If you’re trying to target three segments and three stages, just focus on one segment and get the recipe right. Or delegate to different segment managers if you have them. If you don’t, consider the benefits of aligning the organisation with its objectives and restructure work roles and teams if necessary.
B. Set up for Self-service
Your website is the font of all corporate knowledge, so pack as much info here as you can. Just make it engaging and easy to find.
For example, the Media market could be satisfied by putting a Media Kit on your website with Staff Profiles and photos, Fact Sheets about services and values, your organisation’s story, a contact list, and an archive of Media Releases. Then, as part of your ongoing communications, you could @directmessage journalists by Twitter with relevant messages and links.
C. Seed the Vanguard
Even though I compressed these in my own Six Markets model, don’t get me wrong. Your ‘Influencers’ and ‘Referral markets’ are key. An analogy is an infantry to the SAS. The infantry is on-the-ground soldiers who seek out the enemy on foot to kill and capture them. The SAS (Commandos) are also on foot, but they will seek to do maximum disastrous impact with the greatest efficiency. Instead of picking off individual soldiers in a firefight, they’ll ambush and blow-up the truck that is providing food, water and munitions to those soldiers.
Your influencers are the early adopters of your technology or the key groups that your market listens to. If you want to convince GPs to do something, convince the right person at the AMA. If you want to sell millions of custom-designed jewellery, get Cate Blanchette to wear some. This way we don’t need to convince one million, just one.
5. Use a Simple Calendar or Template
The last thing we need to do is use a calendar or template to schedule our activities. It should be clear to understand and accessible to everyone. I like to keep a simple Excel spreadsheet that’s colour-coded. Each activity should be delegated to a person or team. Here is a basic example of a SMART Marketing Calendar
Added 25 April 2018: Another excellent article about how to create a documented content marketing strategy is available at NewsCred.
Remember, the basis of most of your content will always be an article, blog or web page, even if it’s in the form of the FAQ. From here we can repurpose that content into multiple items that will inform, interest, appeal to, engage, build trust and entice trial and purchase of our offering.