For the past several years, Content Marketing Institute & MarketingProfs have been providing our industry with amazing research reports to help us benchmark and gain insights into the crazy world of content marketing.
Since the very beginning, these research reports have continually called attention to a rather disparaging stat regarding the large percentage of companies that practice content marketing, but do so without a documented content marketing strategy. And from this, many industry experts have coined this effort of documenting your strategy as “the secret to content marketing success”.
While I completely agree that having a documented strategy is THE CRITICAL FIRST STEP towards success, a documented strategy that isn’t followed (and just sits in a file folder somewhere) is kinda worthless.
Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Advisor for Content Marketing Institute, often uses the analogy of content marketing being a new muscle for organizations. If you’re going to build that new muscle, a documented exercise plan from a personal trainer is obviously going to be a great way to start. But you still have to get your butt out of bed every day and work the plan.
Back in my consulting days, I worked closely with companies to build out their holistic content strategy and channel-specific execution strategies. At the end of these engagements, inevitably, the strategy documentation would be lengthy, and very detailed. Fast forward a year…I check in with customers to see how things are going. “Well…we haven’t been following the plan as well as we should.”
Well that’s discouraging.
Now let me make an important point here… All strategies are not created equal. If done well, organizations should have a clear understanding of several things:
- The goals/objectives of your organization and how content will contribute to those ends – Why are we creating content in the first place?
- The primary audiences (profiles, personas) that need to be targeted and what they need/care about
- Why and how you will leverage different channels to reach those audiences
- The types of content that would be ideal to support those channels
- The voice, tone, style and quality standards of your content
- The ideal content topics/categories/stories that your target audiences will find valuable
- The frequencies to which you will create that content for each channel (a.k.a. your editorial schedule)
- The KPIs/metrics we need to monitor to determine success
If you haven’t documented all this, do you really think you’re going to remember it all? And even if it is documented, but not reviewed frequently, is there anything or anyone to hold you accountable? The answer is probably NO. Without any strategic accountability, anything goes. Old habits of throwing spaghetti against the wall take over and success is likely never realized.
Alignment Starts Here
Your documented strategy is your map. It plots your course with a clear objective at the end. Alignment is simply following the guide posts for all new ideas that are considered and new content that is created. So what are those guide posts? Let’s look at several examples of the types of guide posts that will keep you on your path to content marketing success.
1. Strategic Guide Posts – Audiences, Buyer Stages, Topical Focus
Audiences – Any marketing strategy worth its salt should go deep in defining the audiences that are important to achieving your objective. But in simple terms, a simple list of your target audiences becomes a guide post when evaluating potential content ideas and creating an editorial plan. If a new content idea doesn’t address one of your audiences’ concerns, challenges, needs or questions, punt it. Simple as that.
Buyer Stages – Although this exercise typically falls within the realm of B2B marketing or large consumer purchases, mapping out your buyers’ journey can be a very worthwhile effort. From that exercise, stages emerge and content assets can be developed specifically for moving prospects through to the next stage. Sophisticated content marketers often set goals for the amount of content that should be produced regularly for each stage.
For example: You might set a goal to create 60% of marketing content for the top-of-funnel/awareness stage, 30% for mid-funnel/nurturing and 10% for bottom of funnel/validation. This ratio becomes a guide post for content planning and ongoing analysis.
Topical Focus – You have domain knowledge that your organization wants you to communicate. Your customers have needs and care about certain topics. The cross section of those two should be your topical focus. Again, a simple list of those topics, and the SEO keywords that relate to them, should be defined as part of your content marketing strategy. That list then becomes the backboard off of which you bounce ideas. If ideas are suggested that fall outside of that list, an alignment decision needs to be made to pitch or punt.
BTW – This is Where a Content Marketing Platform Gives You a Competitive Advantage
When you implement a content marketing platform (vs. a general project management system), you are equipped with a framework for embedding these strategic guide posts (audiences, buyer stages, topics, keywords, etc.) into the foundation of your content marketing process. The daily use of the platform becomes a daily reminder of where you are going and what you’re trying to achieve.
Even the simple task of adding a new content project into your content marketing software requires you to make decisions on who this piece of content will be produced for, what stage of their journey it’s serving, and which previously defined topic(s) you’re going to cover.
If you’re looking at bigger alignment trends, some content marketing platforms (DivvyHQ included) can query large amounts of content projects over longer periods to identify gaps and opportunities for realignment in the immediate future.
For example, the report below (from DivvyHQ Analytics) clearly shows that we are targeting the C-Suite at about half the rate of our other targets. If that’s intentional, based on our content marketing strategy, then we’re staying aligned. If that doesn’t track with our content strategy, then a re-alignment is needed in our future editorial planning.
2. Production Guide Posts – Content Quality, Frequency & Consistency
Content Quality – As companies climb the maturity ladder with their content strategy, more emphasis gets put on defining and documenting specific quality standards, along with elements of brand personality, voice, tone and style. While smaller companies will mostly rely on internal staff to set and regularly evaluate quality standards, enterprise companies can leverage platforms like Acrolinx that specialize in content quality assurance and governance at scale.
Frequency & Consistency – These two often go hand in hand and coalesce within your editorial calendar. In practice, your documented content marketing strategy should dictate the frequency of content that should be published in any given day/week/month. Your overall content planning and production operation (people, workflow, tools) should then be set up to support hitting on that frequency consistently.
It’s at this point where your technology decisions can really impact your course. Despite our best efforts, many companies still choose to use spreadsheets to manage their content schedules. Spreadsheets are the equivalent of no guide posts. The major flaws here are that a spreadsheet isn’t going to send you an email reminder that you have a content deadline today. And your spreadsheet isn’t going to visually warn you of resource bandwidth issues because you have too many things planned on the same day. It’s these types of issues that were the main impetus for us building DivvyHQ in the first place.
3. Distribution, Promotion & Performance Guide Posts – Review & Re-align
Distribution & Promotion – Don’t forget that your content process doesn’t end when you hit the PUBLISH button. Your content marketing strategy should include guidance for distribution and paid promotional tactics, which are more important than ever as organic reach within social networks is all but dead. Your primary guide posts here are the visibility and reporting that can be provided through a CMP like DivvyHQ.
Performance – Each content initiative should have clear metrics that determine its success or failure. The metrics themselves act as guide posts to help us understand whether our content is hitting the target, or not. Reviewing your content analytics regularly with your team ensures real-time realignment of your future content plan.
Are you struggling to stay aligned? Or maybe just struggling, period?
Based on the latest CMI/Mprofs data, only 39% of companies actually have a documented content marketing strategy. If you’re part of the 61% who don’t, start there. You need to define a clear path with a destination in mind. Then when you’re ready to start your hike to the top, we’d love to help you stay on course.
Feature image credit: Kalen Emsley on Unsplash