News Flash: marketers are progressively getting worse at effective content marketing.
There, we said it.
There’s a certain confusion as to what content strategy is, and therefore, how to implement good strategies; and you know what? It’s OK. Really, it is – because the first step in fixing any problem is admitting there’s an issue in the first place. Without admitting there’s something fishy going on, nothing is ever going to get better and no one is ever going to be able to correct the behaviors that contribute to a problem.
The Content Marketing Institute (they’re kind of experts on this stuff) tells us that since 2015, effectiveness of content marketing has been on the decrease. In 2015, only 30% of content marketers agreed their organizations were doing an effective job at the task – down 8% from the year prior. Only 37% of surveyed content marketers said they had a documented content strategy in place, and further, over half of content marketers say they don’t even know what content marketing success even looks or feels like!
We believe that part of this issue is a profound miscommunication over what makes up a good content strategy. Let’s face it: problems with ineffectiveness translate rather directly to not having laid the groundwork for a great website content strategy. With no documented strategic plan, and widespread lack of authentic understanding – it makes sense that a good content strategy would be something of a rarity.
As our favorite legendary ancient Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, puts it: “the general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”
There you have it: good website strategy stems from ample time assessing, digesting, reading, watching, experimenting, and then creating – well before content ever sees the light of day. Without this crucial step of truly understanding what you’re up against, why even release a single blog? In this post, we’ll get to the bottom of what makes for a strong website content strategy, and how to prepare yourself for wa— err, umm, content marketing prowess.
What is Content Strategy?
Content Strategy is a dynamic plan for producing and publishing innovative information that helps to build authority, expertise, and solid relationships with your ideal customer. C’est la vie. Content strategy is about asking yourself as a marketer how you can build customer loyalty, community, and how you can help yourself become a recognized thought leader in your field.
It’s a documented beacon of hope – a proverbial lighthouse – guiding your ailing ship in from the gales and swells of an inhospitable sea. It’s your plan B, and your plan A.
What’s Involved in Good Content Strategy?
Research is arguably the most important step to any content strategy worth its salt – making sure all the proper research is completed will help exponentially in aligning your future content. Research will help dial in your efforts, and may even inspire your content creators.
The first step of beginning to understand anything is to research and read about its origins, strengths, and weaknesses. When it comes to a good documented website content strategy, you really can’t go too far without taking a good hard look in the mirror. As marketers, it’s epically important to thoroughly investigate our current state of mind. How have we done things in the past? What’s worked? What’s failed miserably?
Second, ask who you’re working with/for.
- Who is your ideal customer?
- What have they not enjoyed?
- What’s not brought them success?
- How are they best reached?
- Where do they spend most of their time online?
Third, turn your gaze upon the product, or service at hand. Ask yourself who uses it – who benefits from its existence? Why do they enjoy the product? How can you help more people to see that they too – shown the right content – can benefit from it as well?
In the research stage, it’s very important to first set some goals before you start typing, filming, recording, or rolling out some combination of content. Every piece of content you create should adhere to these goals – business and content marketing goals. You may be interested in doing one or more of the following:
- Driving traffic to your website and attracting new viewers.
- Increasing brand awareness in your ideal targeted audience
- Boosting your number of signups to help build a database of buyer persona info
- Usher readers down the sales funnel to a lead-generation call-to-action or landing page.
What do these goals have in common? They have absolutely nothing to do with metrics that DO NOT matter to your business – likes and retweets, for example. These goals are equally geared towards increasing quality marketing metrics to assess content effectiveness, or increasing revenue via a successful content marketing campaign. They’re all measurable! Along with your goal setting initiative, strategize how you will monitor and keep tabs on your incoming results. These analytics will help you to refine and tailor your strategy down the line by tweaking and/or removing aspects of your strategy to help generate the results you really want.
Now that you’ve found your groove and you’ve established some goals and the perfect target audience, it’s time to begin picking through your bag of tricks to see what types of content are going to work best for your qualified market. Ask yourself what kinds of content they’ve responded favorably to? (This is where the research stage come in handy).
Maybe you’ve found that videos and blog posts are the perfect content form for a buyer persona that primarily uses a home computer or tablet – meanwhile your ideal mobile users engage with zesty and powerful social media content like photography and info-graphics.
Remember, the role of content is always to boost traffic back to your website. Content is the bread and butter of any professional content marketing plan, and therefore, it rarely a simple open and shut ordeal – you’ll need to encompass a couple different types of content to keep your efforts looking fresh. They’ll also need to be capable of building authority and trust. In short, content near the top of the sales funnel needs to wow your audience; this content is responsible for educating and engaging prospects, encouraging them to dig deeper. Towards the bottom of the sales funnel, your content needs to answer very specific questions that your sales qualified leads may have, and should alleviate any hesitations they could have in dealing with your company.
Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. Without some editorial or content backbone helping you to release and deliver your content and nurture your prospects interest, you run the risk of losing them to information and content creators that are more diligent and reliable in their approach. Part and parcel to consistency is a feeling of resourcefulness – when you fail to consistently release content, your readers will simply look elsewhere to get their fix.
An editorial calendar is key to making sure you’re on top of your release dates, and your creation schedule as well. It’s an incredible resource to have in your corner because it helps to streamline and normalize a prescribed workflow. As a sound content strategy, editorial calendars help your published work to engage and interest your readers – and keep them interested until they are in a position to make a purchase.
Further, an automated distribution plan can be pivotally important for putting the right content in front of the right people at the right time. A good content distribution strategy may include:
- Authoring content in publications that a target audience reads already
- Using paid distribution via social media to connect whitepapers or eBooks to qualified personas
- Including blog posts in email marketing newsletters.
This delivery and distribution of content should also be a big part of your initial research wherein you lay out a framework for connecting your content to targeted prospects and readers.
Recall when we discussed your goals for a great content strategy? This is your chance to interpret and gauge how well your content strategy is faring on the web – and specifically – how well your targeted audience is responding to your content. Key to this process is matching your metrics to your goals, and one of the largest problems that many marketers have these days is messing up this puzzle. Social shares and likes are not important enough to waste your time with – they just aren’t worthy of being measured in this metric.
Let’s imagine that your primary goal is to increase lead generation. A great way to measure and govern the success of your strategy would be to measure click-throughs. Maybe you’re getting a lot of great feedback that says your readers are staying on page and consuming a post in its entirety – but they’re not clicking through, or downloading your offered whitepaper. This info can tell you that considering adding a clear and compelling call-to-action or clickable download should be your next move at improving the successfulness of your strategy.
Now, we’ve chirped shares and social likes a couple of times during this post – but the truth is, of course they have their purpose. Measuring social shares and follows helps you to benchmark your brand awareness. You can use shares and likes as a conduit for accurately measuring more beneficial key performance indicators (KPI’s) like:
- Types of engaging content
- Times of day
- Days of the week
These factors can be pulled from a bunch of Facebook likes and shares to provide valuable insight for your content delivery stage.
So why Don’t Companies Have Content Strategies?
In a joint survey with Marketing Profs, the Content Marketing Institute found that 11% of unsuccessful marketers had a documented content strategy. In the B2C world, 27% of all marketers had a documented strategy – 50% had one, but it wasn’t physically documented anywhere – they just let it float about on the breeze and pluck tidbits of info from the sky when they need to.
In short – we don’t know why more marketers don’t have documented content strategies – but what we do know, is that even a bad strategy is better than having no strategy. Without one, marketers run the risk of repeating problematic behaviors that don’t get them anywhere and don’t generate the results their clients need. It’s a waste of money and resources, a waste of talent, and ruins good brands.
There’s also a stigma about content strategies that says they’re expensive and time-consuming… Yeah… So? Of course, strategic planning and implementation is expensive – but liken it to winning a drag race: the teams that shows up with a car they’ve poured love, sweat, tears and dollars into is going to beat the dragster that’s been cobbled together with whatever’s available. Effort is rewarded in this world, and effort is certainly rewarded in marketing.
Keep your Friends Close, and Competitors Closer
Our good friend Sun Tzu would agree with this next segment as well. As part of the research stage, knowing yourself, and knowing your competitors is paramount to ensuring the success of your marketing content. When you neglect to know your enemy (competitor) you run the risk of entering battle (market) unprepared for a worthy adversary who has done their research.
Sun Tzu says: “if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
This doesn’t mean that you’re at war with your competitors, quite the opposite. Birds of a feather flock together, as they say. There’s always a way to take inspiration from what your competitors are doing and adapt a new perspective to cater to your unique audience and voice. In this sense, always look to your competitors for inspiration – as well as opportunities to learn from their mistakes.
The Importance of Voice/Tone
It’s so, so important to remember that while you’re writing and preparing your content, you should be enjoying yourself. When you sit down to begin producing content, your reader should be able to pick up with certainty that the writer and/or brand responsible for releasing the content is passionate and motivated about what they’re saying. A dry and boring blog post is going to put people to sleep, not convince them to become a loyal customer.
A big part of this communication is all about voice and tone. Consider your least favorite teacher in high school: let’s imagine its law class. The ins and outs of corporate law are dull when the person teaching it has no more personality than a goldfish; but if your teacher is lively, bubbly, and invigorates the class with a passion for the topic – you’re going to inevitably listen more. Content is no different. Energy matters, and is easily translated through bad content that lacks voice.
Having a strong voice also gives a two-dimensional blog post or whitepaper some character, helping to develop a human relationship with your readers. This means using words and language that’s readily accessible to a large group of people. Don’t insult their intelligence, but in general terms, using language that you’d use in casual conversation is much more appealing to read than a blog post about a t-shirt company that’s been written by a pseudo quantum physicist.
When you write with fire, you heat things up.
When the majority of marketers don’t employ use of a documented and well-researched website content strategy, the entire industry loses out – because it usually only takes a select few to build and fester a negative, unmotivated reputation for all. The kicker is, there are no benefits to having no documented content strategy – and everything to gain from getting to work and making one happen.
Sitting down with your team to begin crafting a comprehensive website content strategy is an energizing opportunity that creates predictable growth, success, interest in your brand, and hand-delivers measurable and valuable data and metrics to your business so you can further investigate and correct your current practices.
Like we said, there’s no shame in admitting that the vast majority of marketers don’t use content strategy and that’s hurting the credibility of the industry; but the measurable metric we can take from that piece of analysis is that there’s nowhere to go but up. Remember, admitting there’s a problem is the first step to correcting unwanted behaviors. Researching your company, your competitors, your products, and your ideal target market are easy, enjoyable, and rewarding aspects of content strategy that bring success and understanding. What’s not to like?