You can't leave great content marketing to chance−you need a clear strategy. The tricky part is not getting bogged down in planning so you can produce a useful document that truly guides day-to-day decisions.

The difficulty with developing strategies often lies in where to start, and then effectively prioritising. Because you can't do everything. A practical content marketing strategy sets a framework for why and how you are dedicating energy to certain content. To make this priority-setting easier, I like to start at the end.

How will you know if it works?

Think about the results you ideally want to see when your content marketing is wildly successful. Be as specific as possible about the kind of actions you want people to take or outcomes you desire. This step alone may result in lots of ideas, so you need to prioritise immediately – choose five of the most desirable outcomes.

Then examine each of these separately, and work backwards by asking:

  • What do I need my audience to do to achieve this outcome?
  • Is it easy and convenient for them to do this?
  • Have I made it clear how it's worth their while?
  • What factors might be stopping them?

And crucially, in terms of content marketing:

  • Who are the people I'm targeting and what do they care about?
  • What can I give them in exchange for their action?
  • What is the best way to get their attention and keep them engaged?
  • What are the existing trusted sources or channels for my target audience?

Hopefully you will have ideas and answers that overlap so you can see what activities might give you the best bang for your buck when fully fleshed out. But before you delve too deeply into tactics, the next step is...

What works now?

If you have the data: look at how your existing content is performing. Emphasise engagement and action when considering the success of content. Are people reading this? Are people buying or interacting as a result of this? Which channels generate the best leads? Are there common threads to the types of content that keeps people interested for longer, that compels people to convert to being a client? Look at the visual style of the content, the writing quality, the headlines, where and when it was shared: all are vital clues. Analyse and include your key findings in your strategy so you can remember it later.

However, knowing what will work and why is not an exact science so don't worry if you're starting from scratch and making it up as you go. Making your content work will rely heavily on the quality of what you produce. If you've got a hunch that videos are the way to go, you can still benefit from research into what your competitors are doing and best practice tips from marketing blogs. Make considered choices about the length, style, formality and subject areas you want to cover in your videos and write this into your strategy. But before you get into production, you also need to consider...

What are you already committed to?

Being pragmatic, it's important to recognise that your strategy does not exist in isolation. So put the ideas you've got so far into context by compiling the following information:

  • your company vision, values statements, branding guidelines, etc.
  • events, publications, advertising and other promotional activities you have booked.
  • significant business, product or service developments you're committed to.
  • major industry events, holidays, anniversaries, or periods of high activity.

Now be shrewd. Does your brand personality or company values align better to certain types of content or channels, and rule out others? How can you leverage the inevitable research, insights and communication or relationships that will be generated by other members of your team? Can you boost and expand on existing activity? For example, you might develop an in-depth case study, video or series of posts around a big contract that can be used to attract similar clients.

When presented as a calendar this list of activity also gives you a great starting point for understanding when content will be needed and have the greatest impact, so you can establish timeframes for planning, creation and maintenance. Which leads us, finally, to...

What resources do you have?

You need to understand the budget you have for content production and distribution, because this may limit the amount or type of content you can make. Your time is also a resource so you need to be realistic about what you can manage while maintaining high standards.

If you create most content in-house, your strategy should lay some ground rules for workflow and how different people contribute. You may want to draw on internal experts with terrific knowledge but find they have poor writing or presentation skills. Conversely, you might discover people with a flair for storytelling. Determine your resources first, and then create clear roles and responsibilities to include in your strategy. Crucially, make sure you clarify who determines when content is appropriate (aligned to your strategy) and who decides if it has approval to be published.

What next?

Answer these questions, make choices about what is most important and achievable, and present all of your insights in a straightforward way−then you'll have a practical strategy that ensures your content marketing is more purposeful.You may need other documents to guide how you will implement your strategy, such as buyer personas, style guides, editorial calendars and so on. Luckily, your well thought-out strategy makes that job easier.

Your content marketing strategy will give you a reference point when you can't decide whether a piece of content or a new channel is worthwhile, or when you're talking to your boss about how you're prioritising time and budgets, as well as when you're asking for help to create content or briefing external writers and producers. This clarity will no doubt save you time and allow your content marketing efforts to be a greater success.

Originally published on the Newsmodo blog:

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