Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Strategy before marketing

Published in Mar-Apr 2014

How to put together an effective content strategy.

When asked the reason why brands fail at content marketing, Joe Pulizzi, CEO of the Content Marketing Institute said, “The biggest one (is that) most brands have no documented content marketing strategy. How do we know where the ship is going without a plan?”

Which begs the question: Just what is a content marketing strategy and why is it so important?

Content strategy defined

Content strategy is: “Planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.” This definition is offered by Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy For The Web.

I also really like this more in-depth perspective by Michael Brenner in a Forbes article: “A content strategy flips the tables on traditional, linear marketing by defining the process and then securing the right resources for producing a consistent stream of content mapped to buyer needs across all phases of the buying cycle.”

And finally we can sum up content strategy as simply “delivering the right content to the right person at the right time.”

What is consistent across all these definitions is the emphasis on the user; the customer. Indeed a content strategy has to be built for each of the company’s customers, through a process called ‘buyer persona development’.

If I had to choose one aspect, I would say that buyer persona development was at the crux of a good content strategy.

Why is a content strategy important?

Most companies, when they want to start with content marketing, jump straight into the flashy social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

But here is the thing, without a strategy to guide you, you are playing blind. You don’t really know what your goals are, you don’t know how to measure your activities and you certainly don’t have content that is mapped to each of your buyer personas.

The most critical reason to have a content strategy is so that you can be so niche about your value that you can accurately define a subset of the population likely to purchase from you. And by accurately define, I mean you can profile your buyer persona down to their demographics and more importantly, to their pain points. What would drive them to buy from you? And once you know that, you can then figure out where they are, how you can reach out to them, and how you will measure the success of your activities. These activities are then called ‘content marketing’. So the strategy drives the marketing.

Content strategy development

Do a search on the web and you will find many tools and templates to help you build a content strategy. Here is the process I like to work with.

Step 1. Define your goals and outcomes

In this section we typically identify SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals. Examples include: Increasing newsletter subscribers from 220 to 500 by (date/time frame) or increasing web traffic from 1,000 to 2,000 monthly visitors by (date/timeframe).

So now we have goals to work towards. The next step is identifying the outcomes that we would like the goals to achieve. Examples include: To be perceived as an industry thought-leader, or to book x number of speaking engagements in a year.

Step 2. Build your buyer personas

Imagine that you are a higher education institute building a website. When you get to the buyer persona stage of your content strategy, you will realise that three types of people will visit your website: students, faculty and parents. These then, are your three buyer personas. Each persona will have different needs and will be looking for different kinds of information from your site. Students will be looking at curricula, assignments, schedules, etc. Faculty will be looking at uploading class lectures, organising events, etc. Parents will be looking at admissions criteria, school fees, etc.

It would make sense then to map out your content according to each buyer persona, right? Instead of having all three personas follow the same funnel on your site, it would make for a better experience to have distinct sections on your site for each person to navigate so that each persona derives maximum value in the shortest amount of time.

The same concept is true for B2B organisations.

It doesn’t matter what you are selling, you must develop and chart out as many personas as are relevant to your audience. Only then will you be able to develop content that they crave.

My favourite tool for developing buyer personas is LinkedIn. It’s free and it has masses of data. Do a keyword search for what your persona will likely have in his/her profile and start from there. Answer the following questions about each of your personas and use the answers to put together a profile.

1. Who are you trying to attract with your content marketing? You may list more than one type of ‘customer’.

2. Answer the following for all the customer types listed:

a. What is their demographic information?

b. What is their job and level of seniority?

c. Briefly describe a day in your audience’s life.

d. List the top three pain points of your target audience.

e. What are their values and goals?

f. Where do they go for information – (both online and offline sources)?

g. What experience are they looking for when shopping for your products and services?

3. Which areas constitute frequent hurdles in your process to convert leads? At what point do they need the most convincing? List someof the objections they come up with.

4. What makes you sure, when talking to a lead, that they are the right fit for your services?

5. What are your customers’ preferences when it comes to content discovery, consumption and sharing?

6. What keywords do they associate with your products or services?

7. Who are they influenced by?

8. In what communities do they spend their time on the social web?

Step 3. Content audit and research

Once you have mapped out your buyer personas, then and only then can you start to think about the kinds of content you will need to create for them. And by content I don’t mean posts on Facebook. By content I mean the stories that will hook them. The content that will directly appeal to their pain points. The content that will help them get better at what they need to do.

At this point you might need some inspiration. You will want to look at what your competitors are doing. You will want to scan examples from other industries. You will be looking at what content you already have within your organisation. What resources do you already employ and have access to. Do you have a stock pile of presentations and training material? Do you have people in your company who would make excellent brand ambassadors? At this point in the content strategy, you will want to make a list of all the content resources you possess to help you create relevant content.

Step 4. Content creation

The simplest way to chart out your content strategy is to lay it all out in an editorial calendar. One of the key categories in such a calendar is, ‘What problem does this solve?’ This relates directly to solving the pain point identified earlier in your buyer persona development. In the editorial calendar you can brainstorm topics around the keywords your buyer personas use to identify solutions.

Step 5. Social media strategy

Again, using the answers from your buyer persona identify what social channels your buyer personas like to use and build strategies for using them too. Be where your customers are. If your audience is on LinkedIn, that is where you should go. If they are on a specific forum or community, that is where you will go. It makes so much sense to market on social networks where your audience already is, rather than jump straight into social media marketing without knowing if your audience is there or even if they are likely to respond.

Step 6. Measurement and analytics

In this section of your strategy development, you will go back to your goals and outcomes and identify how you will measure whether you have reached them. There are primarily four types of metrics you will want to focus on:

1. Consumption metrics: How many people consumed your content? This may be measured by page views, newsletter subscribers, e-book downloads, presentation embeds, etc.

2. Sharing metrics: How many people liked your content enough to share it? This can be measured using social signals such as number of likes, retweets, shares, follows on LinkedIn, +1s, etc.

3. Lead generation metrics: How often does your content result in the acquisition of a lead? This can be measured by number of email subscriptions, comments, downloads, etc.

4. Influencer metrics: Is your content viewed as an authoritative source? This can be measured via inbound links linking to your content, Twitter mentions, your content curated/mentioned on others’ blogs, media mentions, etc.

Use these steps and this guide to build your content strategy before you start content marketing or social media marketing. Knowing where you are going and why will help you get there faster and in a way that provides real benefits to your customers.

Salma Jafri is founder and CEO,