To stand out and be relevant in the digital world, you need content. Sounds simple, but the reality is very different. According to the Content Management Institute, marketers in businesses both small and large face challenges that range from producing sufficient quantities of engaging content, lack of integration across marketing, budget restraints, insufficient executive buy-in, limited measurement capabilities and skillset shortages.

Marketers need to plan, produce and deliver engaging content across multiple channels throughout the customer lifecycle. This involves being able to read a prospect or customer’s digital body language to align and deliver personalized content based on their persona, preferences and stage of the lifecycle, creating a digital dialogue with customers.

It may sound difficult, but a methodical approach that involves four straightforward steps can get you on your way:

Step 1: Develop Your Strategy

Determine who you are trying to reach and the actions you want them to take as they work through each phase of the customer lifecycle. Put this in writing. Create your list of personas and their characteristics, map them to the phases of the lifecycle, and then identify specific actions that you can track to determine the ROI of your program. Every type of business measures different metrics, but a few of the most common include reach, visit-to-lead ratio, lead or interest-to-customer ratio, average deal size and revenue.

Step 2: Recruit the Players

An effective content marketing program require a leader to ensure all efforts are leveraging and supporting your content strategy. You can call the person a chief content officer, content strategist or content manager. Whatever title you give this person, it should be someone with a solid track record of great story telling, who can extend your brand experience in a multitude of ways.

Leadership skills are equally important. You’ll want someone who is assertive with experience managing teams, collaborating and building consensus within organizations. Your content developers can come from all parts of the organization -- your customers as well as partners and thought leaders in the industry -- so you’ll want someone that can bring these resources together in a structured way.

This is not a position to fill with a junior staff member looking to rise up the ranks of your organization. If you’re serious about content marketing, you need to hire an expert to help lead the way.

Step 3: Create Your Editorial Calendar

With your personas mapped out and metrics defined and your content leader in place, you can build an editorial calendar of topics that are meant to engage with your defined personas. Because you are creating a digital dialogue, knowing your ideal customer is critical to developing the right content. Your topics should include targeted keywords and long-tail terms. Build a six-month calendar based on a mix of keyword-driven topics and purely creative ones you believe customers will like. As you review your analytics, refine your editorial calendar to deliver more of the content that appeals to your customers and less of the stuff that isn’t generating interest.

Step 4: Change Your Content Philosophy

Talk to any marketer and in several minutes they’ll all say the same thing -- there isn’t enough content. The root of this problem is that most marketers view content as a whitepaper, e-book, webinar or long blog post. In actuality, there are many use cases for smaller, more digestible pieces of content. In 2014, our customers and prospects are bombarded with tons of information -- and most of it doesn’t pertain to them. To deliver the right message to the right person at the right time, you need more content.

While a content marketing platform can help facilitate this, there are simple ways to create more relevant content -- even if you only use a whiteboard or spreadsheet to manage your content process.

  • Interview your customers and colleagues for a short video and blog post
  • Brainstorm every question you’ve been asked with your organization and answer each one
  • Have sales BCC marketing on emails answering customer or prospect questions to turn them into content
  • Ask every customer to share their experience after implementation or renewal
  • Assign questions and topics to employees and video each answer

Eliminate the fear of the blinking cursor. Handing someone a blank sheet of paper and asking them to write is much different than having a conversation about their expertise and turning that into content. No matter your business, you have experts. There is content waiting to be uncovered. Start pulling that out and fostering a culture of content creation.

Title image by Peter Nijenhuis (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license