Here are some words of wisdom from Content Rules author, Ann Handley.
Content will “position your company not just as a seller of stuff, but as a reliable source of information.”
But it can be tricky. Especially if you target more than one audience.
Throw in the different tactics you can use, social media platforms, paid advertising methods, as well as a limited budget and resources, and it becomes clear that a defined content strategy is necessary if you want to have any hope of remaining focused.
Certainly having a content strategy is better than not having one. But a documented one is superior.
As Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach write in Content Strategy for the Web:
“Your content strategy defines how an organization (or project) will use content to achieve its objectives and meet its users’ needs.
Your content strategy helps you see clearly, avoid excuses, and remove distractions. It’s there to keep you accountable.
But creating a content strategy doesn’t have to be a frighteningly massive affair. You can create your first draft in less than a day, just by answering a few questions.
1. Who are your users?
Identify and specifically describe the members of your audience.
- She is a working mother who would like to feed her family a healthy meal three times a day.
- He is an African American who wants to become a lawyer so he can give back to his community.
- She is retired, without any concerns for money, but simply wants to be productive and not bored.
As mentioned above, you may be speaking to more than one target audience. Define all of them. This may require you to delve pretty deeply into their heads.
2. Who are your competitors?
And I’m not just talking about your direct competitors. Who or what can take prospects away from you?
For example, a web designer is not only competing against other web designers, but also against tools that allow non-designers to design.
3. What do you bring to the table?
There is a reason I discussed your customers and competitors first. They give you an idea of the shape of the market and how you can fit into that market.
I say this all the time to people who are trying to build a business and a brand: Your mission and strategy will change over time. It will evolve as you learn about your customers and competitors.
With that research in your belt, you now can ask: How do you fit into the market? What do you bring to the table that no one else can? What makes you unique?
4. What do you hear?
Hopefully voices. But not the ones in your head.
I mean the voices from your customers and ideal target audience. What are they saying? What are the recurring themes, in regard to their dreams and challenges?
If you don’t know where to hear these voices, find where your prospects like to hang out online. They could be on social media sites like Reddit, Facebook, or Twitter. Also consider LinkedIn discussion groups and forums like Quora.
5. What content do you already have?
You need to assess the content you already have on your website, blog, and social media platforms — and how far along you are into the content marketing game will determine how painful this will be. But it’s important it gets done.
Yes, this is a content audit.
Ultimately, you want to determine the type of content that would be the most beneficial to produce going forward.
6. What is the purpose of your content?
This is perhaps the most important question.
Is your content intended to drive sales? Generate leads? Build authority? Increase organic search traffic? Please your mother? All of the above? More than likely “all of the above” is the case, but each individual piece of content will accomplish a different task.
For instance, the purpose of an article you wrote on another blog may simply be to drive more traffic to your website. But not to just any page on your website — a landing page specifically designed for that guest article—such as a landing page designed to convert those visitors into email newsletter subscribers.
And that email newsletter is designed to strengthen your relationships with your readers and educate them on your products or services. For instance, one email you send may be crafted to drive those subscribers to another landing page designed to sell them your product or service.
It’s important to understand the purpose of your content. And the purpose of each piece of content can be determined during your content audit.
7. How often should you publish content?
Once a week? Daily? Answers to these questions boil down to your resources. How much time do you have? Who is going to create all of this content? Is the content converting?
8. How will you distribute your content?
Content that isn’t shared is content that is ignored. No matter how great you think it is.
So, which social media platform(s) will you focus on? Where is your ideal audience? Who is going to share your content? Are you going to use scheduling tools?
9. Who is in charge of your content?
Is it you? Should it be you?
Like Michael Gerber said in his classic book, The E-Myth, a business owner should be in a position to work on his business — not in it. Otherwise, you may find it difficult to grow. You may need to hire someone to write new content and manage existing content.
10. Who will produce your content?
You may have a lot of wishes and desires. And no shortage of ambition. But allow human nature to teach you a lesson: We are all limited in what we can do.
If you want to create 12 infographics this year, who’s going to do the research? Write the content? Design it? Will these people always be available when you need them?
11. Who is going to maintain the content?
The content on your website is like a garden. It needs to be cultivated.
For every new blog post you publish, there are five rotting away with broken links, outdated facts, and topics that are now irrelevant.
Who is going to clean up this mess? Name that person, and create a schedule.
12. Who is responsible for the results?
If you’re the only content creator, easy enough. You are responsible for everything.
But if you have a small team, make each person responsible for some area of the content. As Patrick Lencioni explains in his book, 3 Signs of a Miserable Job, you will provide motivation to your team by measuring their performances.
Make sure these goals are measurable, achievable, and specific — and not ultimatums. In other words, don’t say, “You’re gone if you don’t meet this.” Allow room for mistakes, corrections, and growth.
In addition, you should be held responsible for an area of the content as well. Your people will respect that.
13. What’s your destination (core strategy)?
All the preceding questions build to this final one.
This is about stating what you need to accomplish, determining the type of content that will help you achieve this goal, and creating a plan to help you accomplish it.
Use these guidelines to create a core strategy:
- Aspirational: Create a goal that gives you room to stretch, fail, get back up, and grow.
- Flexible: Your core strategy should allow you to adjust as your environment changes around you, without having to make a drastic pivot.
- Meaningful: Does your core strategy align with your values, and will you be able to sustain it and endure challenges over the long haul?
Here’s an example of a core strategy from Content Strategy for the Web:
“Curate an entertaining, online reference guide that helps stressed-out law students become successful practicing lawyers.
This is similar to five things every good marketing story needs: it’s clear who the hero is, what her goal is, what the moral is, what the conflict is — and, of course, you are the mentor.
Your turn …
Once your draft is complete, your next job is to download (221 KB) and print this nine-page content strategy worksheet.