Content marketing seems set as yet another key focus area for 2015, and rightly so. The idea of producing relevant, timely and useful information in varying formats should not be a trend, it should be an imperative for every marketer. It’s just common sense, to produce and send out information that will be relevant and valuable to your audience.
So as more and more focus is put onto content marketing, it’s important to ensure that you don’t fall into the too-easy traps that many other marketers follow with something that seems on the surface a fairly straight forward discipline. Chief amongst these is ploughing headlong into the creation of content with no semblance of a plan or strategy.
Without a structured and considered approach it is far more likely that you will produce off the mark content that costs you too much and produces too little return.
That’s why we always use a simple “Three Ps” approach to our content marketing work – be that for ourselves or for the clients we work with:
Let’s look at a few of the key headings for each stage, so that you can adopt a similar common-sense-led approach to your content marketing in 2015 and beyond. The below is by no means exhaustive but gives you a place to start and if you are already happily content marketing,you have the opportunity to review your approach.
Stage 1: Planning
As with any other marketing discipline, it’s important to take the time to form the plan first. Avoid the temptation to just get writing and step back to think about a few key areas:
- Audience – Make sure you understand the key facts about your desired audience. Consider their geo location (country vs regional) their age (or stage of life) their preferred communication channels, if known, otherwise the most likely areas of the web you will find them and others like them.
- Objectives/key measures of success – What’s the point? Here is where you set out your objectives for success. Ideally some SMART objectives, but this is vital for helping you track progress and show success back to the business.
- Audit – Content creation isn’t cheap, so make sure you audit what you already have. Then map each piece to the audience and to key stages of the sales funnel/waterfall.
- Formats – This becomes easy with the sales funnel mapping – bite-sized, light pieces are key for initial engagement (who has time to read pages and pages from a business they have never heard of?) Focus on depth/length of content. Formats should be steered by your audience work – what are they most likely to consume and relate to?
Stage 2: Production
The stage we rush to and often spend too little time thinking about what we want to produce and why. Once the planning is done this should be a quicker and more cost-effective process, especially if due consideration is given to the equally vital final stage, of Promotion.
- Skills – Do you have writers? Should you outsource or in-house? But also consider tapping into your subject-matter experts for their knowledge (and you do the write up for them) as a source of lots of unrefined content ideas.
- Recycle and reuse what you have – It’s too easy to forget what you have which is why the audit process above is key. Think about how you can edit/rewrite or update existing content – breaking big reports or presentations into bite-sized chunks.
- Resources – As well as the copywriter, you will need a good creative resource at your disposal – to bring to life the words in varying formats such as infographics and video or animation. We always advocate that you become the editor-in-chief for content and run the program as if producing a newspaper or magazine – build schedules and deadlines and people will understand and respond on time.
- Timing – No doubt your key messages and areas of focus will be determined by the wider business imperatives, in terms of key products, markets etc., but be nimble enough to react to current affairs. Adopt a newsjacking approach for some of your content, so you can stay current and be first to respond.
- Tone – Do you have a tone of voice document? If not, you must. The temptation is often to be too technical or speak in jargon but plain language always wins out. Work hard to make your content inclusive.
Stage 3: Promotion
Arguably content marketing owes its roots to the publishing industry and today’s publishers know that promotion is as key as production – consider publishers such as BuzzFeed who neatly balance the two (and are reaping the benefits) compared to the beleaguered traditional publisher who is still has cracked this vital stage.
- The 50/50 rule – Don’t spend all the time and budget on creating the content, get it out there too. What’s the use of a great house party if you don’t invite any guests?
- Channels – Social is the default for many, for good reason, but don’t neglect the wide array of outlets you have – traditional print may be right for some content for example. This should map back to your audience work in the Planning stage.
- Timing – Is everything. Again based on the audience work you should understand not just days of the week but hours of the day for content promotion – if you are a UK business but have a large USA audience then think about their day not yours.
- Reporting/Analysis – We spent time setting the objectives in the planning stage, this is where we measure progress. Split this in to two – metrics and KPIs. The former help you tweak ongoing elements at a tactical level, the latter (which will be a much smaller subset) is for your boss and stakeholders – concise regular reporting.
- Tracking actual vs. targets – If all the analysis and reporting are set up, the targets should be set around clear business gains and easily reported. Follows, reads and shares are all great, but what about leads, sales and inbound enquiries. Most decent email and marketing automation systems allow you to track from individual post/share right through to sales-outcome so work hard to show the ROI – with clear evidence of success you have the greatest chance of increasing and growing what you are doing.
- Influencers vs. direct – one of the most-often neglected ready-made set of influencers are your co-workers. Employees must be involved to help you get groundswell and buy-in. Arm them with a simple policy on what they can/can’t say and you have them ready to work for you.
Some, if not all of the above should be pretty straightforward for you to add into your content marketing work, or allow you to revisit if you already have an ongoing programme. Whatever the market and your business, use the above as is a menu. If resource is really tight and it all seems daunting, then at least set some basic measures of success and also ensure you have given as much time to promotion as you do production – sweat the assets you already have to help build the case to do more.