A Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Content Marketing Strategy: 7 Actionable Steps

In a recent survey by SEMrush conducted across 39 countries covering all major sectors in business, 91% of respondents said they employ some kind of content marketing strategy. However, only 9% of them are pleased with it. Let’s dive into the factors associated with this contradiction.

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How to do Content Marketing that Works

Though an effective content marketing strategy is on the top of every business’s priority list, it requires some professional touch to make it effective.

This mainly happens due to business owners jumping right into short-term tactical content marketing without taking the time to develop a sound content marketing strategy that will serve them well in the long run. It’s important to remember that content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.

Before we deal with the strategies of content marketing, let’s take a moment to understand what is content marketing and its need in today’s world. Hubspot, one of the pioneers of building an effective content marketing strategy defines content marketing as – “Content marketing is a strategic marketing and business process focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience, and ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

In other words, effective content marketing strategies are born from an in-depth understanding of why you’re doing it in the first place. The objective of content marketing is to build a relationship with your audience. You need to understand what matters to them the most, what problems they face in their business or their lives, and creating content that will help them overcome these challenges.

Read: Organic Content Marketing

The stronger your relationship is with your audience, the more they will trust you. The larger the trust factor is, the higher your brand’s name will be on the list when they find themselves in the market for your products or services. 

With that context in mind, let’s jump into the basic building blocks of building an effective content marketing strategy.

Step 1: Clearly Defined Goals and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

An often overlooked first step, it is imperative that you align the goals of your content marketing strategy to those of your overall business. 

For example, if you are a startup with a relatively unknown brand, your business objective would be to create brand awareness. With that objective in mind, if your content marketing team starts by churning out a brochure that highlights the discounts you offer, that may end up confusing your audience who doesn’t even know who you are. 

It thus becomes essential to take a close look at the stage of your business and accordingly set your goals. 

These are called KPI’s or Key Performance Indicators; here’s an excellent example:

Goal #1

Generate traffic to the website – Create content that is relevant to your target audience. Invite them to visit your website and discover the value you bring to the table.

KPI#1

3% increase in traffic – At the end of every month, you should see a rise of 3% in traffic to the website as compared to the previous month. 

Step 2: Understand Your Audience

Once you’ve defined and aligned your goals, the next important step in this guide that explains how to do content marketing well is knowing your audience in and out. In this step, it becomes imperative to understand the profile of the audience you want to target. 

By this, we don’t just mean a geographical and demographic data based understanding, but a more in-depth understanding at a psychographic level to carve out actionable insights. It is a deeper understanding of your potential customer by focusing on their beliefs and values.

What makes them tick? What makes them happy? What are their ambitions and goals? What are their habits, behaviors, and interests? Answering these questions will help you develop what is known as buyer personas. 

When you’ve been able to clearly outline your buyer personas every time you create a piece of content, you will know whether it is relevant to them or not, instantly. 

Check out this article by QuickSprout get a glimpse into how to build buyer personas

Step 3: Define the Buyer’s Journey

Armed with an understanding of who you would like to talk to, your next step is to gain an understanding of where your potential customers are on the buyer’s journey. 

Here’s a snapshot of the typical buyer’s journey as defined by Hubspot:

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Understanding where your audience is on the journey is essential. It helps to create content that will help move them to the next stage to decide to buy from you. As illustrated in the image above, at each stage, the prospect is facing a particular problem that can be solved by the content you create. 

Stage 1: Here, they are simply being made aware of your existence at a point when their problems may not be too pressing. However, educational or entertaining content at this time may pique their curiosity into delving deeper. 

Stage 2: Now, you’ve made them curious, and they want to know more about how you may solve a problem they didn’t even realize they had. That’s when they move into consideration and are greeted with expert advice and relevant analysis. Accurately delivering this content to them will help the potential customer move forward and look to purchase your product or service. 

Stage 3: Now comes the final stage, where you give them enough reasons to believe why you are the right choice for them. Too often, brands fail to understand the importance of this step in how to do content marketing that resonates, resulting in a spray and pray approach that can be time-consuming and frustrating.

Read more: 5 Different Types of Digital Content Proven To Boost Your Revenue

Step 4: Identify your Content Buckets

At this stage, you are aware of the reason behind the creation of the content. You also have a firm grasp over who you’d like your content to resonate with and where they are on their journey. With this initial research done, you can now apply the insights you have gained to identify the topics that would interest your preferred audience. 

Here are a few ideas for how you can get started

Think like them 

One of the most meaningful ways to discover what is essential to your customer is to put yourself in their shoes. What are the problems they face? Where do they currently find their solutions? Do they read a lot or mostly watch videos? Are they on Facebook or are you more likely to find them on Twitter?

Check out the competition 

Sometimes, your competition has already applied their tricks on how to do content marketing and are ahead in the game. There’s no harm in finding inspiration or learning from their mistakes, so don’t forget to scour the landscape and identify gaps.

Use the tools 

Buzzsuomo’s question analyzer is an incredibly nifty tool. Simply type in your question, like one of your potential customers would do, and the tool spits out hundreds of potential content topics for you to explore.

Quora is another excellent place to dig deep and mine the real questions people are asking, about the topics your audience cares about. Last but not least is the ever-reliable Google search bar. Simply type in a few of the keywords you want to focus on and the Autocomplete feature will light up the way.

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Step 5: Create a Content Calendar

Having completed your brainstorming sessions, you’ll find yourself left with a whole lot of ideas and unsure what to do next. Now, it’s time to organize. At this stage, it’s essential to revisit the goals you set, the buyer personas you created, and their respective stage in the journey. With this context in mind, you can layout your ideas and start to piece the puzzle together. 

For example, if your goal was to create awareness, an idea for a blog post that compares you to your competition would probably not be your first publication. Instead, you’d prefer to begin with an engaging video that tells your story and introduces you to the world in a manner your audience can relate to. 

There’s a lot of useful tools out there to ease you into the process. Loomly, Trello, Hootsuite, Evernote are some of the more powerful tools that will help you get the best out of your content calendar. However, if these seem too intimidating, there’s always the trusty Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets where you can keep things a lot simpler. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 72% of B2B marketers attribute the success of their content marketing strategy to effective calendarization, so don’t skip this step!

Check out: How to Increase Sales with Content Marketing?

Step 6: Create the Content

With a proper calendar in place, topics identified and approved by the key stakeholders in your business, it’s time to let the creative juices flow. Whether you’ve chosen videos as the only format of focus for your business, or you’d like to follow a more comprehensive approach towards creating multimedia content, this part is arguably the most fun.

The most meaningful content is one that tells a story, and like all good storytelling, there’s an art and a science to it. The same rules that apply to good storytelling apply to good content creation. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind

Create the characters 

Characters are potent devices that let your audience feel what you want them to feel. These can be your reader. It can be a brand or even satisfied customers.

Identify the conflict

By identifying the conflict, which is just another way of saying the problems your customers face, you’ve made yourself instantly relatable while keeping them hooked.

Unravel the resolution

There’s nothing more rewarding than a satisfying resolution to an annoying conflict, and that’s where you come in. Show your audience how you are the answer they didn’t even know they were looking for.

Step 6: Content Distribution

Now, you’re ready to show the world what you’ve got. At this step, it’s important to choose your distribution platforms wisely. 

A simple way to think about your content distribution is to split your efforts into the following categories

Earned

These are social media platforms were a following is earned as a result of organic growth from relevant content. Bear in mind, there are multiple social media platforms out there, and not all content works well on every platform. Spend some time understanding the value of each platform and tailor your content accordingly. These are usually best put to use at the awareness stage of the journey.

Owned

This consists of platforms that you own such as your website, your blog, your app, or your newsletter/email database. This is to captivate the audience and is frequented at the consideration phase of the buyer journey, so ensure the content here is crafted with that in mind.

For some select pieces of your content, you may choose to put some money behind it to increase reach. Activities such as guest blogging, paid articles, boosted posts, featured columns in third party websites, etc. are some commonly used resources for the paid push. This category of content is the most value for customers who are in the decision phase of their journey, increasing your chances of a return on your investment. 

Step 7: Performance Analysis

It’s now time to close the loop. You’ve spent all this time putting in the hard work and creating content that resonates with your target audience but is it working? 

This is where the KPIs set in the first step comes into play. If your goals were around brand awareness, then your KPIs would be factors like website visits, video views, page views, or downloads of your app. If your goals were engagement-driven, then your KPIs would be several likes, shares, comments, referrals, and so on.

Having set up your preferred KPIs, to begin with, now all you have to do is track the actual performance. Effective and timely tracking is key to helping you understand what works and what doesn’t so you can course-correct as and when you need to. 

Quick tip – Once you’ve set yourself up with a content marketing strategy following these steps, follow your action plan for at least three months before you modify things based on analysis and insights. That’s how long it takes to build up enough data that is reliable and can be acted upon.

Also Read: How to Create Social Media Content Strategy?

Conclusion

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, you now know just a little more about how to do content marketing effectively. By keeping these simple steps in mind, you’re well on your way to developing a valuable content marketing strategy that works not just today, but for years to come.  

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