How to create a content strategy that works

A serious content strategy starts with your company’s product marketing goals and uses them as the basis for engaging work that delivers the results you want

Content marketing means putting the audience’s needs first, with the sales pitch coming later. Following this mindset, every business can create a content programme to connect with its desired audience by telling its own story on its own channels. Here’s how:

Step 1 – Set goals

To establish a solid foundation for your content marketing campaign, the first question to answer is: why are you doing this? What do you want to achieve, or what expertise do you want to get across? Understanding the marketing goals that underpin your work helps you ensure that anything you create will be entertaining, useful and relevant as well as tick your sales boxes.

There are very good reasons to set down in black and white the exact goals of your campaign. According to research from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 60 per cent of marketers with a documented strategy consider their content marketing is effective, compared to 32 per cent of those with only a verbal agreement or 7 per cent with no defined strategy at all. So pencils at the ready.

Step 2 – Inform, educate and entertain

Once you know what you want to achieve, the next step is to turn these marketing goals into editorial content. The crucial difference between a content marketing programme and a classic marketing programme is that the focus is on what the audience is interested in rather than what you’re trying to sell it. To work out what your content should be covering, ask the same questions as editors in newsrooms around the world – what’s new? What are people talking about?

Luckily your business is full of people who can answer these questions; by talking to them, you can gain an understanding of the trends and challenges affecting your business and the broader sector. From there, you can work out the best ways of starting a conversation with the people you want to speak to – whether that’s an authoritative blog, a thoughtful report, a TED talk or an article on your own website.

If that sounds daunting, consider hiring a content partner such as FirstWord. We specialise in creating editorial content around ‘difficult’ topics – such as fintech and battery chemistry – for mainly B2B companies that have previously struggled to engage peers, clients and potential customers.

Step 3 – Build an editorial calendar: quality, frequency and volume

Content marketing is about brands and companies becoming publishers – and that requires organisation. After establishing why you want to produce content and who you want to speak to, the next step is to create a long list of subjects and events your content will address (this will, of course, evolve over time, as you work out what readers really like and what is less successful) and use it to populate a calendar.

A regularly reviewed calendar acts as a central source of information on what’s happening and what’s coming next, instilling discipline. Then put in place a rigorous process for publishing the content.

The first element of that process is quality – with so much content out there, only the most interesting and informative work has a chance of getting readers’ attention. Thoroughly researched reports, which have been beautifully illustrated and checked and rechecked for factual errors and typos, enhance your brand’s standing. Work that does not meet this standard has the opposite effect.

The second is frequency – how often you publish will come down to what you want to achieve with your content marketing campaign and how much money you want to spend producing the work. However there is no doubt that a regular flow of new content is essential. And research suggests that the more frequently you publish, the greater the results: companies that published 16 or more blogs per month got 3.5 times more traffic than those publishing four or fewer.

Volume does not mean publishing War and Peace every week. Great content is made up of a variety of formats – blogs, long-form articles, infographics, picture galleries and social media posts – catering for different appetites and attention spans at different times of day. Building up a body of high-quality content will also give you a back catalogue of evergreen pieces you can repurpose or repackage in the future, for example to tie in with particular events.

Step 4 – Distribution

If content is king, then distribution is queen – and without the established audience of a newspaper or broadcast brand, many companies worry about how their intended audience will ever find this shiny content. This is a valid concern, but there are many ways to get your content in front of the right eyeballs. These include social media (paid and non-paid posts), newsletters, emails, native advertising and third-party vendors such as Outbrain or Taboola.

Using these for maximum impact requires a clear distribution strategy as well as time and money, so this is another area where expert help can be invaluable. The content strategy that FirstWord has developed with Pirelli, for example, has delivered more than 13 million visitors per year to its digital platforms.

Step 5 – Measure results

The joy and pain of publishing online is that everything is measurable and you can easily find out how many people have viewed your work and how long they spent doing it. This definitely doesn’t mean your content strategy should be chasing hits via clickbait headlines and trending hashtags because not all eyeballs are of equal value to your business. But it does mean you have access to granular data that you can review and use to tweak your content strategy on a regular basis.

Four basic categories every company should consider are: consumption, sharing, lead generation and sales metrics, according to the CMI. The Digital Marketing Institute also offers this guide to the tools available (hint: it’s not just Google Analytics).

Review progress regularly

Regular reviews to look at what is working, as well as what is not, are important. At the start of a content marketing campaign, we advise fortnightly editorial meetings or calls to review progress against the goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) set in Step 1. Use each to consider what worked, what’s new and what you have planned, refine as needed – and then do it all over again!

As the above steps show, creating the right words and images are only one part of an effective content marketing strategy. Publishing new content regularly, fine-tuning the content and distribution strategy as you go, and doing more of what works are the best recipes for success.

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