How to Create a Documented Content Marketing Strategy
Written by by Shreya Kumar – November 16, 2016
If you’re new to content marketing, get ready to hear the phrase: “Marketers with a documented strategy are 5x more likely to succeed.”
And if you’re a content marketing veteran, you might be saying: “I’ve heard this a million times, but what does this actually mean? I know what I want to accomplish, but how will writing this down help me?”
The short answer: Having a documented content strategy will help you work smarter, more efficiently, and more effectively.
Consider these statistics from Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 B2B Content Marketing Trend Report: Only 30% of B2B marketers said they were effective with content marketing.
However, effectiveness levels increase with:
- Experience (64% of sophisticated/mature marketers say they are effective)
- A documented content marketing strategy (48%)
- A documented editorial mission statement (49%)
- Organizational clarity on what content marketing success looks like (55%)
- Daily or weekly content marketing meetings (41%)
A good strategy addresses your current business challenges and defines how you’ll leverage content to solve those problems. If you create a comprehensive strategic document, you can ensure all your efforts tackle these elements.
As Neil Patel puts it: “Smart marketers don’t reinvent the wheel every day. Instead, they replicate what already delivered results for them. They know what works because they documented their strategy and measured each detail as it happened. Documented strategies can be measured and evaluated, which leads to better and smarter decisions.”
As a NewsCred brand strategist, I’ve helped enterprise brands like Verizon, Twitter, United Airlines, GSK, First Republic Bank, and Blue Cross Blue Shield create, implement, and optimize their content marketing programs. My goal is to help them become incredible content marketers.
In this post, I will share my knowledge to make it easy for you to gather the right information for your documented content marketing strategy. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of factors to consider when creating or refining a content marketing program, so this guide will take you through some of the most basic elements to create a comprehensive strategic document. You’ll learn how to organize your ideas on what your content marketing program should be, and how to package those items into a neat and precise document around which you can rally and align your team.
In this guide, I will cover:
- How to define your content marketing purpose and reach a consensus for common definitions.
- How to digest the various pieces of data available to you and turn them into valuable insights around which you can build your strategy.
- How to define what conversations to own, how to structure those ideas, and how to create a team that will execute them.
- What key elements to include in your editorial calendar.
- Templates for distributing content across paid, owned, and earned channels.
- Considerations for measuring content at a regular cadence, and optimizing your program.
What Your Content Strategy Should Look Like
Before you start documenting your content strategy, you may be wondering: What format works best?
That is completely up to you. How do you and your team work best?
Here are some pros and cons for various formats, based on my experience preparing strategy documents for clients. It’s important to remember that this is a living document that you’ll need to update and iterate upon, based on your learnings. This document will evolve with your content marketing strategy.
|Google Doc||Many teams can access Fluid document that’s easy to update||Not highly visual Information can get lost in very wordy proseNot all companies allow Google AppsNot secure|
|Google Sheet||Many teams can access Fluid document that’s easy to updateConcise cell organizationVery detailed||Not highly visual Not all companies allow Google AppsNot secureHard to present to stakeholders|
|PowerPoint||Highly visual Easy to present to stakeholdersForces concise language||Lacks details for project planning Tedious to update|
|Highly visual Easy to present to stakeholdersMost secure for sharing outside your organization||Static document|
|Excel Project Plan||Very detailed Concise cell organization||Often too detailed to present to key stakeholders Tedious to updateWith many versions, changes could get lost/left out of the master document|
Key Elements of a Documented Content Strategy
Use this framework to develop and define the key elements of your content marketing strategy. In doing so, you’ll create a document that’s robust enough to guide your actions and help you respond to challenges.
Define Your Content Marketing Objectives
Why are you doing content marketing? What are you hoping to achieve?
People will be asking these questions before they even open your document – so it’s key to have your first few pages dedicated to answering those questions.
In this section, determine exactly on what you need your team to be aligned. This could include everything from specific definitions (for ambiguous terms like “content” or “thought leadership”), as well as common understandings on what problems you’re looking to solve through content marketing, and why now is the right time. It’s imperative to define success and why content marketing is the best method to achieve your goals. Rally anyone involved with this strategy to agree on common definitions and points of view. You need to align on the relative strengths and weaknesses of your business before you can embark on fixing them.
Some key questions you answer in your document might be:
- What is the purpose of doing content marketing for your brand? (If you want some inspiration, check out this video by Simon Sinek.)
- How effective are you currently at driving value through content?
- How will you determine content marketing success?
- What are the metrics and KPIs you’ll measure?
It’s important to begin your documented strategy with a level-set on what you are trying to achieve; this should be meaningful to anyone reading your strategy.
(Click here to download the content marketing strategy templates and slides below, for use in your own strategy document.)
Identify Key Insights that Will Inform Your Strategy
Next question: How do you know content marketing will help your customers? What information do you have to back up that this is going to work?
In this section of your strategy, compile everything you know – but in a way that will resonate with your content and leadership teams. Unlike the definitions section, this isn’t about giving clear answers to ambiguous questions, but rather gathering all the hard facts you have and turning them into insights. Research on your audience, the market opportunity, and the customer journey are essential to compile here. This section will provide the facts and figures you need to prove there has been research and knowledge placed against the grand goals from the first section.
Beyond compiling data, it’s important to analyze it. Every statistic or data point needs to relate back to the goals you set out for your content marketing.
For example, to define your audience, take keyword, demographic, and customer data into consideration as you determine insights that will help you create content that drives action. Use these insights to treat your audience segments like humans, not personas. These are people with unique challenges and goals, so how will knowing more about them help you create content that answers questions and solves their problems?
(Download this template here.)
Plan How You’ll Create Content
By now, you’ve defined “Why content?” and how content marketing will help your business move forward. You have gone through all the research and analyzed pertinent data to define who your audience is and how content will help them achieve their goals (while simultaneously helping your brand).
Now it’s time to plan for actually creating high-quality content at a regular cadence.
Don’t worry! There are ways to simplify this process. The easiest is to answer two questions: Namely, What are we going to talk about? and Who is actually going to create the content?
What are we going to talk about?
As a brand, you have to carefully select the conversations you’ll have with your readers.
At NewsCred, for example, we choose to own the conversation about content marketing. We think it’s fair to have an opinion on the topic. Conversely, we do not want to own telling marketers the best outfits for their first interview. This conversation, while it may be important to our audience, goes outside of the value we can provide; it puts NewsCred in the same category as fashion publishers, retail brands, and career coaches, rather than marketing leaders.
In this vein, it’s important to consider the topics your brand wants to engage in, where you have the right to an opinion that adds value to the discourse.
Once you’ve defined topics you think your brand can and should provide a POV on, then you can start to create an organizational hierarchy of topics that can be grouped together.
From this, you can create content pillars and sub pillars. This hierarchy may serve as the navigation for your content hub or your method of internal tagging that allows you to easily find and index content.
Now you have topics ranked on importance, and grouped based on their relevancy and relation to each other. So what will the content you create look like?
Consider the formats you are going to publish. Curating 10 pieces of licensed content, producing four videos, and writing two original articles, for example, will take considerable resources. So in your document, be sure to communicate the value of each format, as well as relative goals for how and when you will utilize each format. Your content strategy should show the way each format will fit into a cascading strategy that tackles a “big rock” challenge (i.e. a topic that’s very important to your audience and core to your brand).
See the chart below for taking ad hoc content creation and formats into a structure that will allow you to scale content and provide a ripple effect of value:
Who is actually going to create the content?
Your editorial ideas are only as strong as the resources allocated to executing them. It’s imperative to walk through roles and responsibilities, as well the process your team needs to follow to ensure everything is thought through before you publish content. Here are some roles and responsibilities to consider:
(Download this template here.)
Some common issues we often see when brands are looking to develop the right roles and responsibilities to enforce workflows are:
- Not having a software solution to ensure accountability and rigor.
- Not having stakeholder buy-in with the process or agreement around the timeframe and process for delivery/approval/amends.
- Lack of beta testing the workflow to ensure the process works and will allow for feedback to ensure it’s sustainable.
- Not considering whether local markets are comfortable with the global priorities and processes for localization and publication.
Address key concerns with your process and workflows in this section, and be sure to provide potential mitigation plans as issues arise.
Create Exceptional Content
How do you create incredible content?
You have the general topics and conversations you want to own, and you know who needs to be involved – but how do you translate that into real articles and headlines, or videos and SlideShares?
The best way to start is with a brainstorm – operate like a great publisher and gather your most creative folks who understand the customers, and start to come up with headline ideas. When you have a list of potential headlines and formats, slot them into your organized content hierarchy: Can this idea be a “big rock” that you break down into smaller chunks?
When you are creating ideas to tie to topics and formats, think of the guidelines to which you want your creators to adhere. This means following or creating editorial guidelines for style, tone, brand voice, citations, and other key elements that relate to your brand and business. If there are compliance or legal issues you want them to stay away from, be sure to highlight them. Think of your editorial guidelines as the ingredients in a cookbook – you want to trust your writers to create your recipe for on-brand content again and again – so give them the tools to do so with comprehensive guidelines.
When you have all of the above, start to piece them into an editorial calendar which will provide you a timeline for when content will go out to your audience. In your calendar, some elements you might want to consider for each piece of content could be:
- Article headline
- Content pillar
- Internal tags you will associate with the piece
- Source (licensed, original)
- Evergreen or seasonal
- KPI to measure success
(Download this template here.)
Distribute Your Content
At NewsCred, we believe it’s essential for our clients to create a content distribution strategy that considers the relative strengths and weaknesses of paid, owned, and earned channels – because even if you have the best content in the world, no one will find it if you don’t have a strong distribution plan in place.
Use the charts below to plan your distribution approach:
(Download these templates here.)
Create initial plans for the best channels for your content and the objectives against each.
If you are using paid media, be sure to provide an explanation of where this budget will come from, and why you will use it to effectively distribute content. If you’re running a media test, document the metrics you will provide at the end; in doing so, you will justify the spend to those reading your strategy.
Even though this is almost the final chapter of your strategy, it’s the most important one.
You want to make sure measurement is not an afterthought. This is the only way you will know that your content marketing efforts are actually getting your brand closer to the goals you set in your defined objectives.
So what are you going to measure?
You need to look for three things:
- Who is coming to your site?
- What are they doing while they are there?
- Are they taking the actions you want them to (i.e. converting)?
With this information, make optimizations that get more of your target audience to engage with the right content that will eventually drive them towards profitable business action. You need all the things we established earlier for this process to work: Traffic coming to your site via your distribution channels, a decent-sized library of high-quality content that will provide value to your readers. You also need to have a site that is optimized for driving action – this means calls-to-action and newsletter subscription buttons. Your UX is highly tied to the performance of your site, so make sure that actions are available throughout the readers’ journey – there should be no dead ends. It’s already hard to get people to come to your site and read content; if they get that far, and you lose them because your site is not directing them to your next action, you are losing the attention of a potential client.
At the very least, document how each metric ladders up to your end goal, and find a regular cadence when you will look at these analytics to inform your content planning and distribution efforts. See this post on Google Analytics to learn more about how to set up your Google Analytics instance to effectively measure conversions.
Creating a document with an in-depth view of how you are going to build and execute an incredible content marketing program is no small feat, so give yourself a pat on the back!
Now that you have done this, you need to close the deal: Create a phased approach and timeline or project plan for outstanding items, and include necessary stakeholders. This is the last step to presenting your plan – if you don’t attach a real timeline and real people to this project, all your hard work will be lost. Bring your document to life by creating accountability.
(If you have questions, or if any of this was overwhelming, NewsCred can help! Our strategy team specializes in making this simple for your brand, so please reach out.)