How to create a content marketing strategy in six steps.

You want to give content marketing a try? Here’s how to build a solid content marketing strategy.

Content marketing is a huge, confusing business. Over the past few years, I’ve spent so much time living and breathing this industry that I sometimes forget how much I didn’t know when I first started. We can spend a lot of time diving into the technical questions about usability, font choice, and SEO strategy, but there are plenty of readers out there who have no idea what any of that means. All they know is that they’ve heard of this thing called “content marketing,” and they want to know how it works.

Content marketing is a form of what we call “inbound marketing,” or marketing designed to attract visitors who want us to market to them rather than forcing advertising on those who are not interested. The goal of content marketing is to build up website traffic, and then convert those visitors to sales leads and customers. It’s less intrusive than traditional marketing, and far more effective.

Sounds appealing, right? No wonder everyone wants to jump onboard. However, getting your content marketing machine running takes some time. It’s not difficult, per say, but you should expect a steep learning curve, a lot of experimentation, and slow (but stead) results. Here’s where to start.

1. Have a website.

This may sound obvious, but to some people it’s not. There can sometimes be an impression that marketing starts on social media, or on distribution channels such as Medium. It’s worth remembering that many business, even in 2018, don’t have websites. And for many of those that do, the website is woefully under-performing.

So, as a friendly reminder to any of our bewildered readers: you need a website. A good one. That is your #1 marketing tool. Given that content marketing is all about driving traffic toward your website, you need to make sure that website can do its job before you worry about optimizing your social media channels.

2. Develop customer personas.

Before you start writing a bunch of blogs about your business, take some time to learn about your customers. You will probably have a few different audiences, and defining them up-front will help you write posts that help address direct needs.

A few questions to help you get started:

  • Is your business B2B or B2C? Business-to-business (B2B) clients typically will write more industry-specific content. Your content writers are going to need a real depth of knowledge on this subject to write convincingly. On the other hand, business-to-consumer (B2C) clients are going to require a more personal touch. You writing should indicate an understanding of their lives and their needs.
  • What are your demographics? Are you writing to young or old audiences? Male or female? Will your clients be of a certain racial, religious, or political background? Are they blue collar or white collar?
  • What industries are you targeting? Do you work primarily in the financial sector? With IT firms? In education? Showing how your products and services apply to each industry—and being able to speak that industry’s language—will help you connect with that audience.
  • Do they know what they need? If you’re selling the newest toaster, chances are your customers know what they’re looking for. You don’t need to educate them about what a toaster is, although you may need to tell them about your features. But what if you’re trying to see them an entirely novel kitchen appliance? Make sure you know how to talk to your client at their knowledge level—not at your own.
  • How are they hurting? Your product should address a specific need—a pain point in your customer’s life that they want to remove. Recent purchases I’ve made based on my own pain points include: a humidifier to address the dry air in my apartment, batteries for my key fob because I was tired of unlocking my door manually, and a book on a subject I found interesting. So, think about your customers: what do their lives look like? How can your product solve a problem for them or make their lives better?

Understanding your customers is the most important aspect of your content marketing strategy. Don’t be afraid to invest extra time into getting this right.

3. Talk to your sales team.

Your sales team is going to have an intimate knowledge of your customer base and can help provide the information you need to establish helpful marketing goals. They will be able to provide the answers to some of the questions we listed above, as well as a few more.

For instance, if you’re trying to grow sales leads, it would be helpful to know how many your current team usually gets in a typical day, week, or month. How long does it take to close that sale? How much contact does the sales team have with the customers over the course of that process?

Let’s say you’re a B2C business. Selling toasters. (Why not?) Maybe your website sees a few thousand hits a day, of whom about a hundred buy toasters on their first visit, and another ten after a subsequent visit. This is mostly a short sales cycle with little or no contact from the sales team.

On the other hand, what if you’re a data analytics consulting firm. Your clients are large corporations with million-dollar budgets. A single sale is worth tens of thousands of dollars for your business. You only see a handful of leads a week, and you need to close two or three a month for your business to succeed. Given the money involved, you know each lead will require several points of contact to establish a meeting, and that it may take weeks if not months to close a sale.

Each of these businesses will have radically different parameters for success. You need to know what those benchmarks are to understand if your marketing is effective.

4. Start a blog.

Blogs are the heart and soul of content marketing. They provide the content that fuels your marketing machine. They’re also incredibly flexible. Blog posts allow you to:

  • Build your SEO. Search engines need text to understand what’s on a website. The more useful, high-quality text on a website the better.
  • Share content. Blogs live on your website. But their purpose is to draw visitors in. If someone follows you on social media, they should see your blogs when they come out. You can also use them in email marketing newsletters or as part of your automated marketing email workflow.
  • Answer FAQs. Your sales team probably spends hours of their time responding to a very similar set of questions. Blogs are a great way to respond to these questions ahead of time, and they provide material for your sales team to forward the next time that question comes up.

That said, there are other kinds of content than just blogs. There are videos, email newsletters, podcasts, social media feeds, and pieces of downloadable content. Each of these serves a specific function that can eventually lead to your business goals. But most of these will support your blog rather than replace it entirely.

5. Publish to social media.

Once you have your blog running, it’s time to publicize to social media. Your blog should generate a certain amount of organic traffic (visitors who find you through Google search), but you’ll go a lot farther if you can draw on social media networks as well. The process of building a social media following (and thereby growing the people who see your posts for free) is its own topic. For now, we’ll try to keep it simple.

First off, your business should have business accounts on whichever platforms you intend to target. For almost all businesses, those social media channels should include Facebook and maybe Twitter. If you’re B2B, then also plan on LinkedIn. If you’re B2C with a very visual product, try Instagram.

Whenever you publish a blog post, share a link to that post on your social media channels, along with a short sentence or two about why readers should read that post. It can be as simple as that. It can also be a lot more complicated, but as we said: we’re keeping this simple.

6. Convert visitors to customers.

It sounds so easy, right? But this is the hardest step in the process, and the most crucial. After going through all the trouble of drawing visitors to your website, you would expect them to do something, right? Preferably, you would expect them to become your customers.

Many will. But most will need some further prompting. Think about your website from the customer’s point of view: when they land on your page, what would they need to do to become your customer? Is there a clear way for them to contact your company? Do you have an online shopping cart? Are products clearly labeled, and is it obvious to the user how to purchase them?

For visitors who aren’t ready to purchase the moment they land on your website, find a way to keep in contact with them. This can be through a piece of downloadable content that encourages them to leave their email address. Or it can be a sign-up form for an email newsletter.

Whichever way you choose to maintain contact, remember to respect your customer. Think of it like dating: if someone gives you their phone number, that’s permission to call them. Maybe you call once or twice and leave a voice message. That’s fine. But a phone number is not permission to call that person every day for the rest of their life.

Similarly, an email address is not permission to spam your customers with unwanted promotions. If someone leaves an email address in exchange for your sales tool, treat it with respect. Don’t abuse their good will.

Building a content marketing strategy takes time.

Content marketing works. It builds customer loyalty and good will, educates the consumer, and is a non-invasive way to build up relationships with your garget client. In the end, a good content marketing strategy is about creating articles that are useful or entertaining to the user. And that’s a positive thing.

But it takes time to grow an audience, and it takes time (often about six months) to rank on Google for any keywords that aren’t branded and specific. Don’t expect a blog you published yesterday to be in the number one position for twelve different key phrases on Google by the afternoon.

Similarly, don’t expect overnight miracles. You can drop thousands of dollars on a TV spot that can bring in a certain number of customers within the week. But once the ads stop running, the customers dry up as well. For the same (or smaller) budget, content marketing can help you grow a sustainable customer base. And because the blog posts don’t go away, your organic search rankings won’t disappear the moment you stop blogging.

Content marketing is about patience and consistency. It’s about hard work that will pay off in the long run. So long as you build your strategy on those principles, you’ll go far.

Published 01/09/18 by Laura Lynch