The content game isn't the same as it used to be 10 years ago. Businesses aren't always skeptical of the ROI from content (at least not the ones that get it). But, what they end up doing is assuming that creating content is the end goal.
Many businesses, especially startups, are eager to create content, but in doing so they overlook the strategy. To them, content belongs on a subsection of the website under 'Blog' and that's that.
Content is a lot more intricate than that. It's not about words on a page or a few articles on the Blog section.
There is a common misconception that creating content is the same as having a content strategy, but that's not true. Think about it. If you're producing ad hoc blogs, or worse, blogs that mimic what your competitors are producing, where does that leave you? Well — it leaves you as a follower.
The lack of a strategy means marketing teams can fall behind their competitors, which can impact the content produced by your team. Instead of establishing yourself as a thought leader in the industry, you're following the herd.
What does it mean to have a content strategy?
Being strategic means you'll be more deliberate in how you'll create content that not only resonates with your audience and leaves an impact but also drives qualified leads. Remember, the goal of any marketing program is driving revenue, either directly or indirectly.
So, what exactly does it mean to have a content strategy?
Well, it means you're asking yourself why you're creating a piece of content first.
- Am I creating this content for a topic because my competitors have created something similar, or because there is a demonstrated need for it? Many businesses make the mistake of creating content because their competitors are doing it, but this leaves them in a reactive position.
- How will your content help raise brand awareness, close deals, increase customer retention, and teach your audience more about the product?
- What is my plan (aka distribution strategy) for getting the final product in front of my audience? Thinking about the goal for the program as a whole, and even down to individual campaigns, will help you determine your distribution strategy.
How will having a strategy impact the business objectives?
Creating a strategy around your content program, no matter how broad or detailed it is initially, will allow your team to create campaigns and projects that are deliberate. You'll have direction.
You'll create because you want to achieve a specific goal. Over time, you'll begin to create cornerstone content, instead of blindly taking a page out of your competitors' content playbook.
Too many times, I've had clients or individuals come to me and say, "Well, we have to write about XYZ because our biggest competitor is ranking for this keyword and we need to outrank them."
Here's the problem: your competitor isn't ranking for that keyword because they wrote something specifically for the keyword (that's a possibility, but the smart teams aren't doing this).
They're ranking for that keyword because they noticed an opportunity and had something really good to say about it, either a perspective or roadmap that others weren't sharing yet. Whether it's a podcast episode, a webinar, or a blog, they created the piece with an goal in mind, and clearly it resonated.
Google is just one search engine, and it's constantly changing. Outranking your competitors in Google doesn't guarantee you customer acquisition. It only guarantees traffic, but if that traffic is irrelevant (i.e., these are not the customers your sales team is after), then what good is it that you've outranked a competitor? You've only increased your web traffic.
Keywords should always be a secondary thought, not the primary.
Whether you like it or not, everything you do as a team or an individual has to feed the revenue. Nobody should be doing anything for the heck of it. Even when you think a company is doing something cool "for fun", I can guarantee they're not.
Whatever they're doing impacts either their brand (brand = more awareness = new forms of customer acquisition = revenue growth) or feeds into demand generation (qualified leads = higher likelihood of more deals closed = revenue growth).
Whenever I work with clients, one of the first questions I ask them is what their goals are.
- Maybe their current pain point is that they're getting web traffic, but no conversions. So, what can we do to attract qualified leads?
- Maybe their sales team is getting strong leads but is having a hard time upselling current customers to more services. So, how can we create more content or design campaigns that showcase how every service will work in tandem to create a cohesive solution?
You get the point.
What does a bare minimum content strategy include?
The trick to designing any strategy is to think broadly. Don't get caught up in the minutia that you forget why you're doing whatever it is you're doing.
What I mean by that is — start small, launch, test, and iterate.
When I'm working with my clients on developing that initial content strategy, that means we're covering the basics:
- Determine your target (marketing) audience. See how this audience compares to the leads your sales team cares about.
- What are your content pillars? What do your customers care about, what are they interested in learning, etc.
- Any in-house SMEs and/or external resources you will need to leverage
- How will you validate the ideas?
- What is the goal of the content piece or campaign you're going to run?
- How will you distribute/promote the content?
- Last, but not least, build out a 3-month editorial calendar
Again — this is the bare minimum. There are a lot more steps we can add in here, and mature content programs cover them all. But when you're in the beginning stages, all that is just flash. The most important thing is to start.
Once you've launched, you'll learn to analyze the response, see what's resonating, and what your customers have to say about the quality of the content. Once you've done that post-mortem, time to iterate.
Unless you're in the SaaS industry, it might be tricky for you to get full buy-in for a full, proper content program from the powers that be. Unlike PR, paid advertising, or event marketing, it's hard to demonstrate value beyond just web traffic and tie every effort back to revenue growth.
When you start with revenue in mind, you'll begin to create content that serves the biggest purpose: more sales. Once you can show strong results, the reigns will loosen and you'll be able to take on the cool, fun projects that you really want to do.