Content Marketing Success Comes Down to One Thing: Strategy

Brands that don’t see desired results from content marketing often don’t have a documented strategy. Learn how to design an effective one.

As we move further into the second decade of the 21st century, marketing experts say you can’t build a successful business without content marketing. According to recent research from Semrush, 97% of businesses surveyed include content marketing in their overall marketing strategy.

However, there’s a catch. Of the 1,500 companies surveyed, 78% that said content marketing helped their business had a documented content marketing strategy in place. On the other hand, 81% of companies dissatisfied with contentmarketing did not have a strategy.

Good content marketing is like storytelling. Not having a strategy in place is like telling a story out of order and not knowing who’s listening.

Buying a Hole

A content marketing strategy will ensure your content reaches and supports your target audience. Content should tell a story — but it should also bring your customers’ needs to the forefront of your marketing efforts.

As the late Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt put it, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

Your job is to use content marketing to convince your audience that you’re the best option to help them make that quarter-inch hole. Your content strategy lays out how you will use content during the buyer’s journey — from establishingwhat the problem is to deciding the best way to solve it.

Content Marketing Strategy vs. Content Strategy

Although these two terms sound very similar, they’re different. You create a content strategy to determine what content you’ll use to engage your ideal buyer and the channels you’ll place that on content during that buyer’s journey.

Meanwhile, a content marketing strategy is a 30,000-foot plan where you document what you want your content marketing to achieve, how it fits into your company’s mission statement and business goals and how you allocate your availableresources.

Although the Semrush survey illustrates how many businesses want to use content marketing, it also found that 40% of companies moving into content marketing haven’t created a documented content marketing strategy. And unless they changesomething fast, they’ll likely join that 81% of businesses who feel their content marketing has been unsuccessful.

What Is Content Marketing?

Before designing a content marketing strategy, let’s look at content marketing itself.

Content marketing guru Neil Patel defined it as “a long-term strategy that focuses on building a strong relationship with your target audience by giving them high-quality content that is very relevant to them on a consistent basis.”

Content marketing foreshadows the end of the hard sell. The goal of marketing is no longer to aggressively push your product in a potential customer’s face. To paraphrase the Levitt quote above, it is to realize that they need helpmaking a quarter-inch hole.

Companies use content marketing to guide potential customers through what is known as the buyer’s journey — their path from the moment they realize they have a problem until they decide on which solution to purchase. You accomplish thisby creating relevant and valuable material that speaks to the buyer during each phase of their journey.

The Gardening Example

Take another example. When a person buys seeds, pots and mulch, what are they planning? They want to build a beautiful garden.

Your content should help them fulfill that need. You can present them with information on the best time to plant, the best tomato varieties for a container garden and how often to water. By providing them with this information invarious formats, you’ll be the company that comes to mind when they need to purchase these goods.

Different Content Formats

You have a variety of content formats to use depending upon where the individual is in the buyer’s journey.

When people use Google or other search engines to research their topic of interest, a blog post will usually be the first type of content available. Blogs are a great way to introduce potential customers to your brand and help them.

As they continue their research, you can use email newsletters or videos to explain more complex topics or give how-to demonstrations. As they move closer to deciding, you can offer a free trial or discounts to encourage them to buy.

Different Available Channels

You have a broad choice of channels to place the content you’ve created. Remember, always keep the buyer’s journey in mind. Digital channels include websites, email and social media. Traditional channels include print, radio andtelevision — think product placement in films and TV shows.

You can also use a hybrid strategy — a mixture of both digital and traditional channels.

Regardless of the channels you choose, your goal is to build relationships with your existing and potential customers, help them solve their problems and lead them to your product. In 21st-century marketing, it’s not about you. It’sabout the customer and their wants, needs and feelings. The content you create should work to that end.

Related Article: How to Find Content Marketing Success Through Any Budget

The Secret Sauce of Content Marketing Strategy

Before your company decides to dive into content marketing, you need first to design your content marketing strategy. To do that properly, you need to undertake the following tasks:

Design Your Ideal Customer Profile

If your company creates top-quality mountain climbing gear, you want to use your content marketing to reach that audience. You don’t want to speak to people looking for pet toys.

People who climb mountains are probably interested in other extreme outdoor activities such as base jumping, paragliding or kayaking rapids. You want to create an ideal customer profile (ICP) that helps you understand who you want totarget with your content and where you can reach them.

Ask your sales team for data on people who’ve bought your products. You can also take a look at who your competitors are targeting.

When creating your ICP, here are some factors to consider:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Household income
  • Location
  • Education level
  • Job title and responsibilities
  • Goals and values
  • What are their goals and values?
  • Cultural influences
  • Media consumed
  • Obstacles to overcome before a purchase

Get to Know Your Brand

Knowing your brand dovetails with knowing your audience. If you don’t know how to position your brand, it won’t be easy to create content to promote it.

If you have difficulty describing your brand, think about how to answer the following questions:

  • What do I know about my current and potential customers?
  • How do my competitors market their brands?
  • What is the unique value of my product or service?
  • How does my product solve my ICP’s problems?
  • Why should my ICP select my product over my competitors?

Develop a Business Case

You should treat content marketing like you would any other marketing strategy. A business case allows you to outline the benefits, budget and risks of a content marketing strategy. If you’re a company new to content marketing, abusiness case offers a way to convince doubters (and there will be doubters) that it’s a good idea to buy from you.

The pushback you may receive is, “Well, we’ve already done that.” Use the business case to show the need for a content strategy. As we saw above, companies that don’t have a content strategy are typically unhappy with their contentmarketing outcomes.

A business case can also reassure executives who are doubtful about content marketing that you’re not using content marketing to replace paid advertisements — instead, it’s part of the overall marketing mix.

Write a Mission Statement

Consider the unique value of your product or service. Borrowing an example from above, how does it help an individual start a garden? Does your content provide that unique value to your potential customer? How do you make your contentmore valuable than your competitors?

Designing a content marketing mission statement will help you answer many of these questions. Your mission statement outlines why you’re creating content and how your potential customers can benefit. Again, think about your ICP. Youwant to give them valuable and informative content to help them along every step of that buyer’s journey.

Related Article: Content Marketing: Develop Your Omnichannel Strategy in 9 Easy Steps

How To Create a Content Marketing Strategy

The planning and preparation put into creating a content strategy help prepare your business for any bumps in the road. Knowing how to allocate your content and where you want to distribute it turns a guessing game into a smoothoperation.

Share your content strategy with the appropriate individuals. Executives and other managers may only need bullet point presentations as they’re not involved in creating content. However, your department heads should receive a completecopy so that you’re all singing from the same hymnal. Sharing your content strategy means fewer mix-ups and less confusion.

Know Your Audience

We mentioned this briefly above, but it’s worth repeating. You need to know and understand your audience before creating content for it. That also means knowing who you don’t want to target.

Keep in mind that your audience may not consist 100% of potential buyers. In the mountain climbing gear example, the information and research you share may also attract people interested in other extreme sports. They may not want to buyclimbing equipment but might be interested in the story you’re telling.

And, maybe one day they will want to go climbing. Or perhaps they can refer your site to extreme sports friends interested in the sport.

Tell a Story

Patagonia is an excellent example of a company that knows its audience and what kind of story they want to hear. It uses social media, long-form blog post pieces and videos to talk about social activism. The company donates 1% of itsrevenue to social causes such as environmentalism, COVID-19 relief measures and social justice.

By telling a story about how they engage in these activities, they help the brand and make the world a better place. Research from Jungle Scout revealed that 43% of American consumers view brands more positively when they take an activerole in social change. And 58% said brand activism has an impact on their purchasing decisions.

Patagonia doesn’t sell social activism. It sells upscale outdoor clothing. However, it recognized that many people who want to buy their products are interested in social activism — so activism became part of the story.

Think Like a Buyer

You need to think like a buyer if you want to create content for them. Many companies use an empathy map to help them understand their audience. This map encourages brands to look at their product from their customers’ perspectives.That includes thinking about how they feel and what they believe.

Consider who they listen to — their friends or family. How do they find success? Do they enjoy challenges? What significant obstacles do they face? What fear and frustrations can set them back?

Consider what your ideal customer might be doing during the day that leads them to interact with your company. Think about the devices they use to engage with you — smartphone, tablet, radio, newspaper, computer, etc. Think about thequestions they ask themselves and what might be preventing them from moving to the next stage. Finally, examine their motivations and what they care about. For Patagonia, it was social activism. Look for the motivations that will leadthem to the next stage.

An empathy map will help you identify what your customer is trying to do. Remember, they want to drill a hole, not buy a drill. What is your buyer trying to accomplish? Answering that question will go a long way toward helping youunderstand how to market your content.

Look at Past Performance and Current Goals

Now that you understand your audience better, you need to consider your goals. How will content marketing help your company’s overall business and marketing objectives?

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