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Why Strategy Is Not an Option in Content Marketing

17 minute read
Tom Regan avatar
Brands that don’t see desired results from content marketing often don’t have a documented strategy. Learn how to design an effective one.

As we move further into the second decade of the 21st century, marketing experts say you can't build a successful business without content marketing. According to recent research from Semrush, 97% of businesses surveyed include content marketing in their overall marketing strategy.

However, there's a catch. Of the 1,500 companies surveyed, 78% that said content marketing helped their business had a documented content marketing strategy in place. On the other hand, 81% of companies dissatisfied with contentmarketing did not have a strategy.

Good content marketing is like storytelling. Not having a strategy in place is like telling a story out of order and not knowing who’s listening.

Buying a Hole

A content marketing strategy will ensure your content reaches and supports your target audience. Content should tell a story — but it should also bring your customers’ needs to the forefront of your marketing efforts.

As the late Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt put it, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole."

Your job is to use content marketing to convince your audience that you’re the best option to help them make that quarter-inch hole. Your content strategy lays out how you will use content during the buyer's journey — from establishingwhat the problem is to deciding the best way to solve it.

Content Marketing Strategy vs. Content Strategy

Although these two terms sound very similar, they're different. You create a content strategy to determine what content you’ll use to engage your ideal buyer and the channels you’ll place that on content during that buyer's journey.

Meanwhile, a content marketing strategy is a 30,000-foot plan where you document what you want your content marketing to achieve, how it fits into your company's mission statement and business goals and how you allocate your availableresources.

Although the Semrush survey illustrates how many businesses want to use content marketing, it also found that 40% of companies moving into content marketing haven't created a documented content marketing strategy. And unless they changesomething fast, they’ll likely join that 81% of businesses who feel their content marketing has been unsuccessful.

What Is Content Marketing?

Before designing a content marketing strategy, let's look at content marketing itself.

Content marketing guru Neil Patel defined it as “a long-term strategy that focuses on building a strong relationship with your target audience by giving them high-quality content that is very relevant to them on a consistent basis."

Content marketing foreshadows the end of the hard sell. The goal of marketing is no longer to aggressively push your product in a potential customer's face. To paraphrase the Levitt quote above, it is to realize that they need helpmaking a quarter-inch hole.

Companies use content marketing to guide potential customers through what is known as the buyer's journey — their path from the moment they realize they have a problem until they decide on which solution to purchase. You accomplish thisby creating relevant and valuable material that speaks to the buyer during each phase of their journey.

The Gardening Example

Take another example. When a person buys seeds, pots and mulch, what are they planning? They want to build a beautiful garden.

Your content should help them fulfill that need. You can present them with information on the best time to plant, the best tomato varieties for a container garden and how often to water. By providing them with this information invarious formats, you'll be the company that comes to mind when they need to purchase these goods.

Different Content Formats

You have a variety of content formats to use depending upon where the individual is in the buyer's journey.

When people use Google or other search engines to research their topic of interest, a blog post will usually be the first type of content available. Blogs are a great way to introduce potential customers to your brand and help them.

As they continue their research, you can use email newsletters or videos to explain more complex topics or give how-to demonstrations. As they move closer to deciding, you can offer a free trial or discounts to encourage them to buy.

Different Available Channels

You have a broad choice of channels to place the content you've created. Remember, always keep the buyer's journey in mind. Digital channels include websites, email and social media. Traditional channels include print, radio andtelevision — think product placement in films and TV shows.

You can also use a hybrid strategy — a mixture of both digital and traditional channels.

Regardless of the channels you choose, your goal is to build relationships with your existing and potential customers, help them solve their problems and lead them to your product. In 21st-century marketing, it's not about you. It'sabout the customer and their wants, needs and feelings. The content you create should work to that end.

Related Article: How to Find Content Marketing Success Through Any Budget

The Secret Sauce of Content Marketing Strategy

Before your company decides to dive into content marketing, you need first to design your content marketing strategy. To do that properly, you need to undertake the following tasks:

Design Your Ideal Customer Profile

If your company creates top-quality mountain climbing gear, you want to use your content marketing to reach that audience. You don't want to speak to people looking for pet toys.

People who climb mountains are probably interested in other extreme outdoor activities such as base jumping, paragliding or kayaking rapids. You want to create an ideal customer profile (ICP) that helps you understand who you want totarget with your content and where you can reach them.

Ask your sales team for data on people who’ve bought your products. You can also take a look at who your competitors are targeting.

When creating your ICP, here are some factors to consider:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Household income
  • Location
  • Education level
  • Job title and responsibilities
  • Goals and values
  • What are their goals and values?
  • Cultural influences
  • Media consumed
  • Obstacles to overcome before a purchase

Get to Know Your Brand

Knowing your brand dovetails with knowing your audience. If you don't know how to position your brand, it won't be easy to create content to promote it.

If you have difficulty describing your brand, think about how to answer the following questions:

  • What do I know about my current and potential customers?
  • How do my competitors market their brands?
  • What is the unique value of my product or service?
  • How does my product solve my ICP's problems?
  • Why should my ICP select my product over my competitors?

Develop a Business Case

You should treat content marketing like you would any other marketing strategy. A business case allows you to outline the benefits, budget and risks of a content marketing strategy. If you’re a company new to content marketing, abusiness case offers a way to convince doubters (and there will be doubters) that it's a good idea to buy from you.

The pushback you may receive is, "Well, we've already done that." Use the business case to show the need for a content strategy. As we saw above, companies that don't have a content strategy are typically unhappy with their contentmarketing outcomes.

A business case can also reassure executives who are doubtful about content marketing that you're not using content marketing to replace paid advertisements — instead, it’s part of the overall marketing mix.

Write a Mission Statement

Consider the unique value of your product or service. Borrowing an example from above, how does it help an individual start a garden? Does your content provide that unique value to your potential customer? How do you make your contentmore valuable than your competitors?

Designing a content marketing mission statement will help you answer many of these questions. Your mission statement outlines why you're creating content and how your potential customers can benefit. Again, think about your ICP. Youwant to give them valuable and informative content to help them along every step of that buyer's journey.

Related Article: Content Marketing: Develop Your Omnichannel Strategy in 9 Easy Steps

How To Create a Content Marketing Strategy

The planning and preparation put into creating a content strategy help prepare your business for any bumps in the road. Knowing how to allocate your content and where you want to distribute it turns a guessing game into a smoothoperation.

Share your content strategy with the appropriate individuals. Executives and other managers may only need bullet point presentations as they’re not involved in creating content. However, your department heads should receive a completecopy so that you're all singing from the same hymnal. Sharing your content strategy means fewer mix-ups and less confusion.

Know Your Audience

We mentioned this briefly above, but it's worth repeating. You need to know and understand your audience before creating content for it. That also means knowing who you don’t want to target.

Keep in mind that your audience may not consist 100% of potential buyers. In the mountain climbing gear example, the information and research you share may also attract people interested in other extreme sports. They may not want to buyclimbing equipment but might be interested in the story you're telling.

And, maybe one day they will want to go climbing. Or perhaps they can refer your site to extreme sports friends interested in the sport.

Tell a Story

Patagonia is an excellent example of a company that knows its audience and what kind of story they want to hear. It uses social media, long-form blog post pieces and videos to talk about social activism. The company donates 1% of itsrevenue to social causes such as environmentalism, COVID-19 relief measures and social justice.

By telling a story about how they engage in these activities, they help the brand and make the world a better place. Research from Jungle Scout revealed that 43% of American consumers view brands more positively when they take an activerole in social change. And 58% said brand activism has an impact on their purchasing decisions.

Patagonia doesn't sell social activism. It sells upscale outdoor clothing. However, it recognized that many people who want to buy their products are interested in social activism — so activism became part of the story.

Think Like a Buyer

You need to think like a buyer if you want to create content for them. Many companies use an empathy map to help them understand their audience. This map encourages brands to look at their product from their customers’ perspectives.That includes thinking about how they feel and what they believe.

Consider who they listen to — their friends or family. How do they find success? Do they enjoy challenges? What significant obstacles do they face? What fear and frustrations can set them back?

Consider what your ideal customer might be doing during the day that leads them to interact with your company. Think about the devices they use to engage with you — smartphone, tablet, radio, newspaper, computer, etc. Think about thequestions they ask themselves and what might be preventing them from moving to the next stage. Finally, examine their motivations and what they care about. For Patagonia, it was social activism. Look for the motivations that will leadthem to the next stage.

An empathy map will help you identify what your customer is trying to do. Remember, they want to drill a hole, not buy a drill. What is your buyer trying to accomplish? Answering that question will go a long way toward helping youunderstand how to market your content.

Look at Past Performance and Current Goals

Now that you understand your audience better, you need to consider your goals. How will content marketing help your company's overall business and marketing objectives?

Learning Opportunities

Your business case can help here, but it's also essential to identify what constitutes success. Define the metrics you will use to be successful. Is it the number of visitors, time spent on a page, referrals or new likes and follows? Asyou continue to use content marketing, regularly check these key performance indicators (KPIs) to see how they hold up.

To establish your starting point, look at how your content performed in the past. If you’re pleased with your content marketing efforts, you may only need to tweak and refine them as you move forward. If you're unhappy, you may have toblow up the whole thing and develop a new content marketing strategy that better suits your business.

Perform a Content Audit

Content audits boost your chances of content marketing success. Before you move into new content formats, run an audit to identify your top-performing and lowest-performing content. This step will help you determine content and formatsto use in the future.

According to Semrush’s 2022 Global Survey, two-thirds of companies that consider their content marketing strategies to have been very successful in 2021 performed content audits at least twice a year.

Content audits allow you to adjust your strategy to better suit your audience and help shape the direction your content marketing will take in the future. An audit will pinpoint holes in your current strategy, determine topics andkeywords that offer the highest levels of engagement and identify the best channels to place your content.

Create an Editorial Plan

There is no such thing as too much planning and preparation. The reverse is true; companies that don't plan and prepare will be overwhelmed by the first crisis that comes their way.

Think about where you are now and where you want to be in a year. Look at your content strategy. Look for holes that you can plug or weaknesses that might cause problems in the future. This will bolster you against possible failures andopen your eyes to opportunities you may have overlooked.

Part of this plan should include an editorial calendar, which will outline how and where you plan to deploy content and the type of content you will use. Companies that use content marketing most successfully use it consistently. Theydon't release their content all at once and then go silent for weeks or months at a time.

Remember to consider the buyer's journey when designing your editorial calendar. The buyer's journey includes three stages: awareness, consideration and decision. You'll need content — and the appropriate channels — for every step ofthe journey. Be sure to share your editorial calendar with everyone in your company.

Determine Your Budget

One mistake a company can make in designing a content marketing strategy is forgetting to set a budget. This budget will help you determine how money to allocate toward organic, pay-per-click (PPC) and traditional content marketingchannels.

Be flexible. You might find that you need more — or less — money to make the impact you desire. Your content audit and past content performance should help inform this number.

Start Creating Original Content

Now comes the fun part. You and your team get to create content. If you're new to the content marketing game, you may be working with freelance writers or creators who will make your content according to your content strategy.

Quality comes first. Proofread all written material at least three times. If you're going to use video, explore the quality guidelines of each channel. What works on TikTok you may need to redo for YouTube.

A diverse mix of content works best. You'll want to use different formats at different stages of the buyer's journey. After you've created the content, think about how to repurpose it. Cut a long video into shorter snippets, which areeasier to share in various formats. Podcast transcriptions can be posted on your website’s blog page.

Encourage User-Generated Content

Let your audience generate content for you too. Photographs, videos and reviews from users contribute valuable information and entertainment to your content marketing efforts.

Depending on the kind of product offered and how you engage with your audience, you may need to moderate user-generated content. However, most offerings will be appropriate and contribute to your overall content marketing effort.

Analyze Performance and Communicate

A content marketing strategist's work is never done. Since much of content marketing takes place in the digital space, you can tweak and reformat your content marketing on the go.

Use tools to receive real-time reports of your content marketing campaigns. You should also keep an eye on the key performance indicators you picked out above — click-through rates, organic traffic, likes and shares, etc. You'll knowwhat's working and what's not, and can reallocate resources at a moment's notice. Again, be flexible.

Don’t forget to share your progress with the company, too — including stakeholders. The more people in your company who are aware of your efforts and successes, the more likely you will see support.

Related Article: 5 Ways to Repurpose Outdated Content to Your Advantage

Content Marketing Strategy Tips

A content marketing strategy can mean the difference between success and failure. To give your content the best chance at engaging customers, consider the tips below.

Prioritize Your Audience

It's not about the hard sell anymore. Instead, concentrate on what your customers want. All the content you create should provide something of value to your audience. You can offer a solution to a problem, clear explanations of complexissues or a simple laugh. Think about what your audience wants to consume and put your customers first.

Use Search Engine Optimization

There’s little sense in creating great content if no one sees it. Since most channels are search-oriented, it’s important o use search engine optimization (SEO) tactics.

Do some keyword research to see what terms your target audience is looking up on search engines. Include the appropriate tags with your content. Learn how to use headers to your advantage. As you begin to develop your content marketingplans, one of your first hires should be an SEO specialist.

Look for Your Customers’ Problems

One of Albert Einstein's best-known quotes was, "In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity." Not that you want to look for crises, but you want to be aware of your audience's problems.

When you position your service or product as a solution to a problem, people notice. Once you've identified the problem, focus your strategy around positioning your brand as the solution.

Don't Go Birdwatching in a Closet

Birdwatching doesn't have anything to do with content marketing strategy, but the analogy applies. A birdwatcher wouldn't go looking for birds indoors. They would go to a wildlife sanctuary or forest.

Take time to determine where your audience resides. Maybe they prefer Twitter over Instagram. Perhaps they flock to blogs. Every platform has its weaknesses and strengths.

For instance, if your product is hearing aids, social media may not be the best place for content marketing. Blogs, videos and email newsletters will provide you with better results. Focus your efforts on the right audience and theright platform.

Get the Most From Your Content Marketing Efforts

Despite the many articles written on the benefits of content marketing, it can be a tough sell. Executives often want to know why they should focus on helping customers and nurturing relationships instead of selling them a product.

"We've spilled gallons of digital ink over the years talking about how content marketing isn't a new thing for businesses," Robert Rose wrote for the Content Marketing Institute. "It's been around for hundreds of years.” Still, manybrands are fighting to get it included in their budgets.

Designing your own content marketing strategy may be the silver bullet that helps you demonstrate that content marketing is the future. Plus, a well-planned and documented strategy can make all the difference when it comes to contentmarketing success.