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  • Writer's pictureKeith O'Brien

What is content marketing?



Content marketing has become one of the most powerful tools in a modern organization’s arsenal. Most organizations understand how important content creation is to people on the buyer’s journey and how it ties into their business goals. So much so, that it has created a high-demand marketplace for content marketing strategy specialists and agencies.


But where do you begin when you need to produce a content strategy? To demonstrate my own thinking and as a gesture to those who are otherwise contemplating content marketing efforts, I am drafting a content philosophy that can help both brands and publications alike. I break it down into separate sections, all of which I am likely to expand upon at a later date.


CONTENT GOALS

Before you do anything else, you need to identify what you want to achieve with your content strategy. It will likely be a mix of thought leadership and product-oriented copy, which will address your customers’ pain points. Some content goals include:


  • Demonstrating your unique perspective

  • Educating the marketplace about your industry

  • Building strong partnerships with key participants in your industry

  • Celebrating your clients as experts in their fields

  • Elevating your employees as leading experts in their specific fields

  • Attracting new recruits and retaining existing employees

UNDERSTANDING


In a word: what? In a few more words: what is this grand experiment about? Imaging the standard elevator pitch helps. How would you describe what you are looking to create in under 10 seconds? What is your content North Star? You likely will want to bring together several internal and external people to brainstorm around this topic.

Some examples of how you might approach your content strategy North Star:


  • What is our unique viewpoint that separates us from others in the industry?

  • What types of content are we prepared to create and either have the skills or budget to execute?

  • What does success look like?

  • What level of co-operation and sponsorship will we get from executives in our organization?

AUDIENCES


Reaching target audiences is the most important part of any content strategy. Most organizations will want content that speaks to existing and potential customers. Questions to ask: who are your target audiences? What are your buyer personas, demographics and/or psychographics are and how do you reach them? Think about the user experience and customer journey.

Who are your target audiences and where do you rank them in priority? Among the usual suspects are:

• Customers

• Partners

• Investors

• Media

• Employees

CONTENT AUDIT AND DISCOVERY


Start with building blocks. What types of content will create an effective content strategy for your organization? What content ideas would your audience be interested in? You should probably aim for a mix of in-depth and short-form content, both textual and audio/visual. What existing content do you have on hand and is it usable in either its existing form or can it be transformed into something more meaningful?


Keep detailed notes from this session, but don’t expect to figure it all out. Make a goal of having three universal themes answered.


Think about the pieces of content you want to create. Think about the topics you want to explore and how you want to approach them. Shallow? Deep? There is no wrong answer but try to align it to what you think your audience will want.

The work above will help you understand which direction you are looking to take this. A simple calculus is whether or not the list of subject matter you could cover – the topics that fall under your umbrellas – is long or short. Let that guide you.


BRAND VOICE


How do you want your content to sound and feel? Is it playful? A good thought experiment is imaging a reader of yours discussing your publication with a friend. This friend may say something akin to: “Oh yeah, what’s so good about it?”

While you may assume they will discuss the subject matter, think about any time you’ve answered such a question. You’re more than likely to respond by saying – “It’s really interesting… or informative… or funny… or introspective.” The content is easy enough to understand; the tone is what sets you apart from everyone else discussing those subjects.


TAXONOMY


While web design is important, what keeps most people actively engaged on your site is a clean taxonomy. Simply put, you should have well-thought-out tagging and categorization strategy so it’s easy for people to find your great content. Try to organize the content into buckets and create a tagging guide. This will help you build out sections and archives.


DOCUMENTATION


Everything discussed above should be documented somewhere accessible, in an easy-to-read format. Why don’t people document? They tell themselves it will either make people inefficient in their jobs or that no one will read it.

But documentation is not just about printing out reams of paper or setting up a wiki. It’s a living functionality that details workflows, best practices, and step-by-step instructions to create and publish content.


Documentation has versions. It requires discussions. It involves reminders. Documentation is the engineering of any successful content operation.

It can help your colleagues, you, and/or your employees to structure their days and weeks, and also put into place expectations and responsibilities. This can be immensely helpful if you are worried about people skipping vital behind-the-scenes functions, such as, as you will see below, analytics.


PERSONNEL


To create the right content marketing team, you need the right personnel and skillsets. It can be a mix of in-house employees and consultants, but you need to match resources with your desired outcomes.

Ideally, you have an editor-in-chief or head of content to run the content team. In an ideal world, this person would dedicate most - if not all - of their hours to the project, but small teams can give that executive other responsibilities. Of course, you then need a team of content creators, such as writers, editors, graphic designers, on-camera personnel and video editors. You also will want project managers and content strategists who ensure content is created and on time. You likely will also have to include other stakeholders like subject matter experts (SMEs) who will either help guide certain pieces or serve as co-authors of them.

CONTENT CALENDAR

A content calendar, or editorial calendar, creates the foundation for your content strategy. Lack of organization is the enemy of good content. Without a good content plan, an organization will struggle to produce quality content.

Here is where you should identify both your content formats and try to create actual subjects so it’s a breeze to create new content. For example, if you plan to include case studies in your content calendar, you should identify the first three to six customers you plan to highlight.

If you have eloquent speakers in your executive team or stories that otherwise would play well as audio, you may prioritize podcasts or video content. Organizations that have a lot of data may want to focus efforts on interactive elements and infographics. You should include social media in the content calendar. While you’ll obviously want to syndicate every longer form piece with a post on social media, you should also consider doing exclusive content on social media sites like LinkedIn if you focus on B2B markets or Instagram or TikTok if you’re predominantly a B2C vendor.

If you think you will wake up every morning bursting with inspiration, well, you would be the first person in history to accomplish that. Content is a slog and ideas can wane, so you should prepare as much as possible. Always have a bank of completed articles and story ideas for when the well has run dry.

BUDGET

Content production requires a fair amount of resources, whether you are mostly staffing up internally or using external resources. Besides human resources, you need to consider the technology and tools you will want to use to run your content strategy. Many existing websites have a content management system (CMS) baked in, but you may want to publish your content in other mediums (YouTube, Medium, Substack, to name a few of very many options). You also need to budget for advertising/distribution, email marketing, and posting on social media platforms.

MATCH TO CAMPAIGNS

While a major goal of high-quality content is to inform and educate audiences, it will ideally align to overall marketing goals. In other words, organizations should align relevant content to their overall goals, whether they be brand awareness, consideration, lead generation, or conversions. And, every step of the way, the organization should think about how they get an audience to take a future step.


Here’s an example of how a good content strategy plays out. For instance, a social media post should like to a blog that should link to a landing page of a white paper on the same topic, where people exchange their email addresses for access.


METRICS


And, ultimately, what’s the point of creating content if you have no idea whether it’s doing its job or not? Build into the documentation responsibilities for analytics to ensure someone can speak credibly at any time. There is a host of tools you can use to track how many people are coming to your website.

Google Analytics can help you track organic traffic. Key website traffic metrics you should track include visits, unique visitors, and page views. Those are top of the funnel metrics. Further down the funnel, you will want to track conversions. Set key performance indicators (KPIs) against these metrics so you can accurately track success.


CONTENT CREATION


While you should empower your writers to write in a way that feels organic to them, you also need to incorporate search engine optimization (SEO) best practices such as keyword research to ensure people will be able to find the content you write more easily. Do not use generative AI tools like ChatGPT to write your content. It will undoubtedly produce incorrect information, it could potentially lead to legal issues down the line, and it won’t differentiate you from your competitors. But you can use generative AI to create ideas that you should interrogate. Just know that the ideas they generate are built from existing copy. In other words, if you just take and run with story ideas they give you, you won’t be any different than anyone else.


You should utilize templates where it makes sense. If you’re doing a Q&A series with people from the same industry, you can use the same foundational questions for each interview, saving some questions for their unique situations.


SUMMARY


A successful content strategy is well-thought-out, data-driven and full of interesting articles, videos, podcasts, and visuals. It should inform and educate your audiences, provide a strong point of view, and reflect positively on your organization and your executives. Of course, it’s tough to do, which is why organizations like Total Emphasis exist. If you’re interested in chatting with me about how you can either start on your journey today or identify ways to improve, reach out!


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