27 Oct How to Create A Content Marketing Strategy in 2023
When I first wrote this article, it was 2014! Can you believe that?
Content marketing is what I had been doing for a few years. It didn’t have a name back then (as far as I knew). How I started was in writing informational marketing articles that didn’t sound like a textbook.
Content writing involves educating the market rather than flogging them blindly and hoping we crush all objections. It was a paradigm shift. It’s easy to step from ‘content writing’ into ‘content marketing’. Not much is required. An infographic or slidedeck, a video.
What is Content Marketing?
In 2022, ‘Content Marketing Strategy’ is a phrase you see everywhere. There is even a Content Marketing Institute.
Why is it everywhere? Because it represents a shift in collective thinking and marketing planning around social and digital environments. And that’s a good thing.
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 assets like blogs, infographics, videos, articles, games, photos, and so on, that are shared from a website through social networks and email lists. The point is to drive people through the sales funnel and decision-making process toward a conversion of some kind.
Content can be anything that helps you inform, entertain, engage, remind, alleviate confusion, solve a problem, redress myths, educate, and otherwise enhance trust, and the credibility 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. It even works for solopreneurs or first-timers.
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 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.
You have six Markets
In the examples above, you will notice that the objectives relate to more than just Customers. Every business or organisation never has just one market, they have 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 SMARTT 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.
Remember, the objectives don’t change. Like Churchill, clarity and simplicity is so important so that everyone understands where you are going. The tactics and strategies, can and will change. Try something and when you find something better, replace it.
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 on our shortlist, we have our strategy that fulfils our communications objectives.
We have used a very simple example.
An Organisation’s Content Marketing Strategy would include not just sales but other markets and the communication objectives for each.
If the plan gets overly ambitious 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. 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 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 Blanchett o wear some. This way we don’t need to convince one million, just one.
5. Use a Simple Calendar or Template
The hardest part of the strategy is in the execution. Often the best-laid plans don’t work, simply because they don’t get done.
The last thing we need to do is use a calendar or template to schedule our activities and keep ourselves on track.
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. I use Google Sheets in my Google Drive these days because it is a free service.
An excellent article and content marketing strategy template is also available from backlinko.
One last thing to note: objectives shouldn’t change. Like Churchill, clear objectives are so important to win the war. Everyone needs to understand where they are going and why they are important.
The tactics and strategies, on the other hand, can and will change. Try something and when you find something better, replace it.