But Really, What Is Content Marketing Strategy? Part 1

“In strategy, it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.”
– Miyamoto Musashi, Famous Japanese Swordsman & Author

If you work in marketing, you’ve probably noticed that content, social media, technology, and customer behavior are changing at light speed. It’s changing so fast that trying to keep up can feel like battling a seasoned Samurai. No matter how many reports, channels, and tactics you master – you simply cannot match this warrior’s speed!

Gaining, and keeping the attention of your customers has never been more challenging due to new technologies and media trends that create near-constant distraction among would-be customers.

Social media apps like Snapchat have popped up to challenge, and deliver debilitating karate chops to established platforms like Facebook, and Instagram. At the same time, novel technologies like virtual reality are dealing harsh blows to “traditional” interactive online content.

In the face of tough odds, how does one achieve shogun status in content marketing strategy? Fret not Daniel-san, the answers lay ahead.  

The Good News

The good news is you’re not the only one facing these challenges. In our recent report, Content Planning Challenges, Trends & Opportunities, a full 64% of respondents reported their top challenge was “coming up with a comprehensive content strategy.” Whether brand, agency, freelancer or entrepreneur, the vast majority of respondents cited strategy as a top challenge.

But this challenge is well worth your time. Content Marketing Institute research demonstrates that documenting a content marketing strategy is exactly what the most successful marketers do to ensure success. In their 2017 study, a full 61% of the most successful B2B marketers, and 63% of the most successful B2C marketers report having a documented content marketing strategy. The other good piece of news is we have an established battle plan you can follow to ensure your training gets off on the right foot.

But really, what is content marketing strategy?

Content marketing strategy is one of the most poorly defined topics in business today. While there are thousands of how-to articles, courses, and events dedicated to content marketing, the strategy portion continues to elude many practitioners. In the following paragraphs, we will provide a comprehensive definition, and advice for how to get started in developing your very own content marketing strategy.

Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing Strategy

These two terms are often used interchangeably. In truth, they are distinct and separate practices far too many professionals mix up.

Content Strategy Defined:

Kristina Halvorson became the de facto leader in content strategy after publishing the seminal work on the topic, “Content Strategy for the Web.” In this book, she defined content strategy as, “planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.”

In the practice of content strategy, the emphasis is on usability and content utility, as opposed to marketing. It’s about delivering the right content, in the right channel, to the right audience. Content strategy is a function of website development that often goes hand-in-hand with user research, wireframes, user experience, and user flows.

Content Marketing Strategy Defined:

Content marketing strategy deals specifically with the practice of attracting a target audience to an owned channel through content. Marketing is the core component.

Content Marketing Institute defines it in the following manner,  “It deals specifically with content marketing, and determines what content will build the customer base by helping people make decisions or solve problems at various points in their experience with the brand.”

The content industry writ large includes product content, sales content, customer service content, event content, employee-generated content, marketing, and advertising content. Content marketing, on the other hand, deals only with content and channels being leveraged to attract an audience to an owned destination (like a blog, or website), as opposed to interrupting or purchasing an audience’s attention via media someone else owns (e.g. TV ads, or social media content).

Now that you know the difference between content strategy and content marketing strategy, let’s get to the nitty gritty of how to build a documented strategy.

The 4 Key Components of Content Marketing Strategy

In an article on the CMI blog, Joe Pulizzi laid out some dirt simple tactics for documenting a content marketing strategy. Below, we will summarize and expand on Joe’s thoughts.

In all, there are 4 key components of a content marketing strategy: Planning, execution, distribution, and measurement. Without further deliberation, let us commence your content marketing strategy Samurai training.

Part 1: Planning

Content planning often gets overlooked, or under-prioritized for the sake of creating more content, faster. Sadly, some leaders avoid documenting their strategy, or refuse collaborative planning in order to control the agenda. Often without realizing what they are doing, they create content that reflects the enterprise priorities, instead of customers. This is a one way ticket to failure. If you’re not creating audience-centric content, don’t bother with content marketing at all.

In building your content planning portion of the strategy, begin by asking yourself some big picture questions:  

  1. What is your desired outcome for creating content?
  2. What specific topics will you cover, and why?
  3. Who will be involved, from both implementation and leadership teams?
  4. Where will the content live? On a blog, website, magazine?
  5. Who is your audience and how will you reach them?
  6. How much can you spend on developing content?
  7. What business challenge (specifically) are you trying to solve?
  8. How long do you have to prove success?
  9. What will happen if you fail to meet your goals?
  10. What is a sustainable amount of content you can produce on a weekly basis?
  11. What hurdles will you need to overcome internally to ensure this cadence is possible?

Part 2: Execution

Documenting the who, what, when, where and why of execution will ensure the ball doesn’t get dropped, and your team doesn’t get burned out during content production. Many professionals find that even when they plan meticulously, the realities of content production can prove more challenging than anticipated. After all, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

Your content marketing strategy should include everything the team needs to efficiently execute on the goals laid out before them. That includes assigning internal responsibilities and accounting for the politics of your business.

You’ll need to map out specifics around audience targeting, style of content to be produced, cadence, and more. The content must speak directly to the problems your audience is facing, or inspire a sense of purpose that other content currently can not inspire.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What resources will you need, from a technical and HR perspective?
  2. What is your medium of choice, and how will you tell your story (audio, video, text)?
  3. Which audience questions can you answer in a fashion that no one else can?
  4. Who are your competitors and what are they publishing?  
  5. How often will you meet to plan your content topics, and fill your content calendar?
  6. Who is creating the content, who is reviewing and approving, who is publishing?
  7. How will you keep pace if someone is sick, quits, or the content your audience is yearning for shifts?
  8. How many rounds of revisions do you anticipate on all content?
  9. Can you accommodate fast turnarounds on proofing, in addition to content creation?
  10. Do you have creative style guidelines, brand voice, tone, or other internal guidelines you must consider?
  11. How will you ensure your content will meet audience needs as well as stay within brand guidelines?

Part 3: Distribution

Content pros and marketers with creative backgrounds tend to focus most of their attention on the production aspects of content. But in today’s media landscape, getting content in front of your audience is harder than ever – and arguably as important as creating the content in the first place. Producing the content without thinking about how it will get to your audience means it simply won’t get seen.

The most successful marketers strike a healthy balance of paid, earned, and owned promotion in order to succeed. But, there’s no silver bullet. You need to know where your audience finds content, what social networks they use, and what style of content is going to resonate from an advertising perspective. Don’t miss an opportunity to reach a bigger audience by ignoring the importance of distribution.

Also, don’t get caught up thinking that you need to copycat competitors. You’ll save time and money by looking for opportunities to zig where others zag.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. How will your content reach your target audience?
  2. Who will own distribution, promotion, and advertising?
  3. Which channels does your audience use, which don’t they use?
  4. How much budget do you have to promote your content across paid channels?
  5. What tools do you have to gain subscribers as a part of your distribution strategy?
  6. What other departments will you bring into the mix, to maximize impact?
  7. How can you test distribution strategies, and how will you know whether they are working?
  8. Are there gaps in your competitor’s strategy? Channels they aren’t leveraging?

Part 4: Measurement

Life in the information age can be stressful. There are literally hundreds of data points to track, customer behaviors to follow, and dashboards to try. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight summarized the need for being able to distinguish fact from fiction perfectly his book:

“Distinguishing the signal from the noise requires both scientific knowledge and self-knowledge: the serenity to accept the things we cannot predict, the courage to predict the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Distinguishing which content marketing customer signals to hone in on is a key component in your content marketing strategy. Start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. How do you know if your content was a success?
  2. Which specific metrics will you track?
  3. Should you compare those metrics to a specific time period to understand the difference?
  4. How will those metrics sync up with a broader business objective?
  5. How do those metrics demonstrate specific user intent?
  6. What technology do you need for enabling collaboration and measurement?
  7. What are your short, medium, and long-term measurement key performance indicators?
  8. Which audience actions indicate an early stage engagement versus late stage engagement? How do you know if you are moving prospects closer to becoming customers?
  9. Who internally needs to understand the value of the program and what’s the strategy for regularly getting results to that person?

Create a One-page Strategy Document

The next step is to take all of your answers from above, and distill them down to a single page strategy document to be distributed to your team. In addition, you’ll need to pitch it to, and gain approval from leadership. Without gaining buy-in at every level, your strategy document is likely to collect dust.

Here’s what your one-page strategy document should include:

1. Business Problem

A description of the business problem your content marketing strategy plans to solve. This could include some of the following.

  • Solves for lack of awareness

You are struggling to gain awareness among new customers. Your strategy could include improving awareness among new target customers online through long-term educational engagement in their preferred channel.

  • Solves for sales burnout

Your sales professionals are spending too much time educating prospects. Your strategy could be to alleviate this burden on sales teams through enablement pieces that educate the audience prior to contact with sales, thereby speeding the sales cycle when they make contact

  • Solves for lack of differentiation among competition

Some organizations struggle to demonstrate how their product, service, software, or solution is truly differentiated. Creating compelling content that demonstrates your organization’s unique perspective, knowledge, capabilities, history, or value in a channel your competition doesn’t own will solve this problem long-term.

2. The Solution

Describe exactly how you’ll build out your content program, how it will fuel customer acquisition, and who will be involved. Ensure you differentiate your program against other advertising and marketing levers.

This is about gaining a loyal base of qualified subscribers who you have made a commitment to helping, and delivering content to on the regular. Building your own tribe, instead of going out and buying ads to get in front of someone else’s are two very distinct missions.

Going the content marketing route takes longer, but it can pay off much bigger in the end if you do it well.

Ready for Black Belt Status?

Are you ready to put your battle plan into action? To ride out into the sunset with Samurai sword in one hand, and content marketing strategy in the other? To cut through the media clutter with the sharpest of daggers, leaving your audience in absolute awe of your problem-solving prowess?

Or maybe this whole strategy thing will take some time, and that’s fine too. Tune in later this week when thinkers from top dojos will weigh in on further on what content marketing strategy truly means.

For even more insights and content planning best practices, grab a copy of our 2017 Research Report: Content Planning Challenges, Trends & Opportunities.