Content strategy is a documented plan to use content to attract customers. It is different to traditional marketing strategies. A content strategy plans to attract customers. It’s a plan to make something appealing, useful and rewarding for everyone involved.
The traditional way to find customers is to buy advertising space. You interrupt people with your ad while they’re doing something else. You can still do that. But the more you scale it up, the more expensive it becomes.
That’s because your ad is only renting access to that audience. To reach that audience again, you need to rent access again. To reach a larger audience, you need to pay more.
So you could look at content strategy as a plan for finding, attracting, growing and keeping your own audience.
What does a content strategy look like?
A content strategy is a description of someone’s path to becoming your ideal customer. It starts when they realise they have a problem. It ends at the point where they are a loyal customer and advocate for your products and services.
It spells out your business goal for each part of a customer’s sales journey. It also shows your process for achieving that goal. So it requires knowledge about your customers and empathy with their problems.
Click on the following links to learn what content strategy is, and why it’s an important part of the process of content marketing.
This article explains what a content strategy looks like in more detail. It covers the process of planning content for both SEO, and your sales funnel.
This article explains how you measure the ROI of your content, which is an important way of understanding if your content strategy works.
This article walks through nurturing a lead into becoming a customer. It explains how you use content at different stages of a buying process.
The four steps to building a content strategy
There are four steps involved in creating your content strategy. You have to follow the four steps no matter how simple or complex your content marketing will be. They form the framework of any content marketing strategy.
The four steps are:
1. Building your target audience and personas
2. Using free tools to work out keywords people use to find you
3. Working out how you will communicate with people
4. Creating an editorial statement
Step 1: Identifying who your audience is, and what they want
Without an idea of who your target audience is, all the content you produce is just noise. Before you identify what you are going to say and how you are going to say it, you need to know who you are going to talk to. These people will be represented by your marketing personas.
Marketing personas are fictional representations of your ideal customers for a particular product or service. As a starting point, you can look at what your current customers have in common. Then use those commonalities to build a fictional representation of your ideal customer.
Some people like to give their marketing personas names and images. That isn’t really necessary, except as a shorthand way of describing them. That shorthand becomes more useful when you develop more than one marketing persona.
As part of the process of building these buyer personas, you should think about the bigger picture of why they want to buy your products at all.
This is the most important part of the persona. Their motivation is rarely about your product or service. It is actually to solve a larger problem they have.
People don’t just buy a car. They buy a comfortable and stylish way to get to work, or to get away. Business owners don’t just buy capital equipment. They buy equipment to make their business more profitable. People don’t just book a holiday. They are looking for effective ways to escape the everyday, or discover themselves, or bond with their loved ones.
These motivations, or ‘pain points’, define who the customer is in relation to your products and services. By knowing why people are motivated to look for you, you can begin the process of creating content that helps them find you.
Step 2: Use free tools for keywords
At the earliest stages of creating your content strategy, you may still have no idea what kind of content you will eventually create. It may be online, or in print. It may be video, or a podcast. Your decision may eventually be shaped by your budget.
No matter the form your content takes, you should still do keyword research using free tools available to you. People often misunderstand what keywords are and why they matter.
Keywords are the words and phrases people use when they are searching for information online. So you can look at keywords as the words people use when they’re looking for you.
Many people use keywords in their AdWords campaign and in online advertising. But the way you use keywords in online advertising is different to the way you use them in content marketing.
While you may only target variations on a one-or-two word phrase in an ad, you want to create different articles around a wide number of variations on that phrase for content marketing. Typing the pain points of your target persona into a free keyword tool will give you a lot of possible subjects to write about.
Some of the free keyword tools you can use include:
When you type a word or phrase into Google, it automatically suggests variations on that phrase that are popular with other searchers. Click here to find out more about autosuggest.
Google's ‘related search’ results
Often on the bottom of a Google results page, you will see a number of ‘related searches’, which are phrases people often used next when doing their Google searches. Click here to learn more about related searches.
Answer the public
A free online tool that finds long-tail search terms related to a term you give it. This link takes you to the Answer The Public home page.
Similar to the previous listing, but lets you tailor your search to popular search engines. This link will take you to the Keyword Tool.
Your keyword research doesn’t only have to be for online use. Those phrases are phrases everyday people are using to search for information. If you can produce information which answers the questions they seem to be asking, you will be helping potential customers find you.
Click on the following links to read some more articles about keyword research and how it can help you content strategy.
- This article explains the truth about long-tail keywords, including what they are and how they work with your strategy.
- This article offers a general explanation of how keywords work as part of a content development process
- This article offers some other really useful online marketing tools, including keyword tools, and explains how all the tools described work together.
Step 3: Plan distribution and amplification
Just writing a blog post, or making a video, or even creating a book or magazine, is not enough. You have to distribute, promote and amplify that content if you want to build an audience.
The details of exactly how and when you do the distribution and promotion can be worked out later in the content marketing process. But it’s a good idea to work out some tactics as part of your content strategy process.
The combination of tactics you use should be determined by you budget and where your audience is. You can work out your audience’s location quite quickly if you have done the work of developing your marketing personas.
You may already have email addresses for your intended audience. If that’s the case, a regular email newsletter alerting your audience should be one tactic you use.
You should also use appropriate social media to get your content in front of potential customers. If you are selling to a business audience, for example, you would want to look at LinkedIn. If you are selling the younger consumers, you might look at Instagram or Snapchat.
Many marketers use Facebook because the platform covers a large part of the population. Although it’s primarily a personal medium, many people identify their work as part of who they are. So don’t rule out Facebook just because you are a business to business company. It is becoming more and more popular as a business-to-business channel.
You should also seek out individuals or other companies that can potentially amplify your content through social media. Sometimes this may be thought leaders in your own industry. You can also use online tools like BuzzSumo to identify people with a large social media following who share content similar to yours.
Click on the following links to read more in depth articles on how you can think about distributing and amplifying your content.
Step 4: Create an editorial statement to guide your content
The last step in developing your content strategy involves creating an editorial statement. An editorial statement is like a company mission statement. The difference is it explicitly states the goal you have for your content.
For example, if your company manufactures swimming pools, your company mission statement may be something like, “we aim to be the leading manufacturer of swimming pools”.
But your editorial mission statement might be something like, “We aim to be the leading source of information about the creation and installation of swimming pools for families”.
It’s a small difference, but a very important one.
A company mission statement is about you and your products. An editorial mission statement is about what your content will give your audience
You can’t begin to think of an editorial mission statement if you haven’t first thought of your personas, what they want to know, and how you’re going to get them to find you.
The Content Marketing Institute gives a good, detailed overview of how you can write an editorial mission statement.
Once you have worked out your editorial statement, you will have the four necessary elements of a content strategy. You’ll have a goal (in the form of an ideal customer); a vehicle to get to that goal (the content topics suggested by your keyword research); a path to reach the goal (in the form of your plan for amplifying and distributing content); and a map for negotiating that path (your editorial mission statement).
In summary: starting a content strategy
To produce a content strategy, you need four things:
- You need to identify a target audience and represent that audience with personas
- You need to use free online tools to work out keywords people use to find you
- You need to work out the mix of email, digital environments and social media you need to promote your content (not just deliver it)
- You need to make a promise of what you want to deliver to that audience in the form of an editorial statement
You can learn a bit more about the ins and outs of content strategy by clicking on the following links: