The content beast must be fed regularly and fed well; otherwise he'll grind to a halt, and so will all your team's content marketing goals. It's Content Marketing Strategy 101: Develop an idea, create content, publish content, build an audience, measure that audience, and start again.
But in our search for topics to stick in those empty spaces that taunt us in the content calendar, sometimes we can forget about the purpose of the content in the first place: to drive leads to your business. And how does it drive leads? By being timely, informative, engaging, and relevant to business goals. It must be aligned with what we do, even if it's not trying to put the hard sell on audiences.
Keeping focus in our content creation efforts is tough. I've been there, and when you're sitting in-house with a hundred people shouting at you for more, it's so easy to succumb to the temptation to just make something, anything, that will make the stakeholders happy.
That topical thing that's been trending on Twitter for hours? Let's jump in on the action. The impending "National Day of X" would make a great listicle, right? That niche service that hardly anyone ever buys totally needs a white paper. And everybody loves unicorns. We should write about unicorns. Or mermaids.
The thing is, your company probably doesn't build unicorns or mermaids. It probably makes soda, or manages accounts, or manufactures that new mobile gadget that everyone needs. By jumping into content creation willy-nilly, you can easily lose sight of what will deliver you the results you need to keep creating content. You need leads, hot ones, and lots of them-not just social shares or posts that go viral because they feature a cute bunny typing on a keyboard kind of like the ones your company makes.
Image attribution: Boudewijn Huysman
So how do you get your content back on track?
Simple: keep your content purpose at the heart of all you do to ensure your efforts have a single focus. Write it down, and keep it readily accessible. Your purpose can make sure your work ladders up to the same goals across the whole enterprise-growing the business, selling your services, building a returning customer base, and hooking new prospects.
That doesn't mean your art has to suffer. You can still write compelling content and tell amazing stories; you just need to focus efforts on the ones that fit with what your company is trying to achieve.
It's all about learning to keep your purpose in focus without succumbing to the demands for random acts of content.
Building a Content Marketing Strategy
It sounds obvious, but a documented content strategy-something tangible that you can publicize internally-will help keep your content marketing purpose in check. Your content marketing strategy serves as your lighthouse, your "why." It's the reason you're creating content in the first place. It will detail things like your audience personas, your channel distribution plans, and your goals and objectives. Utilizing a management system dedicated to your strategy will remove the haphazard guess-and-check process of knowing what content to create and relieve your marketing team from uncertainty by keeping the customer experience at the center of each asset your brand creates.
More importantly, your content strategy will hold up the major pillars of your organization's content. Here's where you'll detail your content themes, the topics you want to own, and your brand values. A truly developed strategy will go a step further by mapping content themes to the sales funnel, detailing the goals for each stage and the metrics you'll use to determine success.
This is the document that will guide your content creation-quite simply, if the idea doesn't fit what's in the document, it doesn't get turned into an assignment.
Setting Your Content Purpose
Its easy for me to say "put your purpose in your strategy," but how do you pick the right purpose to build your plans around?
In the words of Simon Sinek, start with why. Your why is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do.
In the case of your brand strategy, your content purpose-your content "why"-must fit your business goals. If the strategy set by your CEO is to enter five new territories this year to push profit growth up 25 percent, then your marketing strategy must communicate with customers and prospects to enable that growth, your brand strategy must be set to attract those customers and prospects in a way that fits the culture of the new territories, and your content marketing purpose must be to inform and engage prospects in those new territories by conveying the benefits of your brand.
This purpose then translates into content themes or pillars for your organization. If the strategy is your lighthouse, then the themes are the panels of glass through which it shines. It's best if these themes come from the business rather than your imagination; that way you can ensure, again, that the business goal is leading the content, rather than the content being created in isolation.
Image attribution: Etienne Boulanger
Try gathering a host of people-sales leads, customer service, marketing, product-and start by asking them about the conversations they have with customers and prospects. By conducting even a little bit of research into your brand's positioning in the marketplace and how your target audience is interacting with your brand, you will learn a whole lot about what sort of content you should be creating and what format works best. This helps you set a purpose, a focus for your efforts.
Developing a Purpose-Packed Content Calendar
Any strategy without tactics will fail, which is where your content plan comes in. Translating that content strategy into an actionable plan that is realistic for your team to stick to? That's the real art here.
Jodi Harris of the Content Marketing Institute warns we shouldn't confuse a content plan with a content calendar. She argues the content plan will include the policy, process, team resources, and task-related decisions that will best position your content program for long-term success.
The content calendar, then, is the blueprint for your content. It helps you share your content in an organized manner-detailing the content themes, the measurement and objectives, the deadlines and owners. Once a piece of content is committed to that calendar, it's considered to be in line with the content marketing purpose and the content strategy. Therefore, it should be in line with the goals of the marketing team and the business as a whole.
Your content calendar should do three primary things: organize and capture content ideas; assign authors and keep track of status; and track the success and ongoing promotion of published pieces.
Staying Focused Going Forward
You could do all of this with a mass of spreadsheets and workflow tools, or you could take your production to the next level with content management technology, such as Skyword360, that allows you to map out an entire content strategy to keep all of the content you make focused and representative of your brand's larger vision. The beauty of having everything in one place means that you can share your strategy across the organization, combat potential duplication, ensure everyone is on the same page, and help share ideas for future quarters, so you never again have to panic to fill in gaps and end up content marketing on autopilot.
So before you jump into a content piece always ask yourself these questions:
- How does this idea relate to what the business does?
- How does this idea fit in with your content pillars/themes?
- How will this idea drive action in your audience?
You can no longer just write something and keep fingers crossed it will deliver. Only when business, brand strategy, content purpose, and the right audience action collide can you know you have a killer content idea.
Feature imaged image attribution: David Straight