How Most Companies Miss The Mark With Content Marketing

If food is the way to a man’s heart, then content is the way to a potential consumer’s heart.  It makes sense, right?  Feed them what they want and they are yours. Consumers are hungry for information.  The buying process has radically changed since all of this information is now so readily available for consumers.

So I really don’t need to make a case for content marketing – it’s a proven marketing strategy.  Not only is it effective, but it allows you to track results. (Remember, success is in the data and the details!)  Tracking the results of campaigns is vital so you don’t waste time or money — two commodities which many business owners don’t have enough of.

Let’s look at what it takes to be effective at content marketing – and by effective I mean kick ass and fill your pipeline with qualified leads at all stages of the buying cycle.

The average company realizes they need to produce content that is compelling, visually appealing and includes a way to engage the audience.  They work hard on producing content pieces and dressing them up all snazzy.  However, that approach stops short of being an actual strategy.  Churning out content is a start, but imagine the impact the content could have if:

  • It was strategically planned
  • It tied into seasonal, cultural or pop culture events at the time of production
  • It was repurposed into other content, getting more exposure than a single piece
  • It was part of a funnel that kept your audience engaged with you for longer and made them consume more of your content, creating more trust in your brand and increasing the likelihood that you will get that sale

A true content marketing strategy includes all of the above and it produces results that are far superior to anything a single content piece can produce.

Let’s walk through developing a content marketing strategy.

Start with an editorial calendar

I like to use a spreadsheet. On the first tab I show each month and list all holidays, major sporting or pop culture events, and all industry news (for example, if January is a big trade show month and there is likely to be breaking news, I need to factor that in to my editorial calendar). I often google “special days of the year” or “funny days” and see what cute things I can find that I can tie into my marketing to bring some levity to it.  In the digital marketing industry, I want to look for days related to techie things and online things and marketing.  But it’s always fun to acknowledge national waffle day or cherry pie day.  You can find ways to tie it into your marketing messaging and it adds a little unexpected flair.  On national hat day one year, my entire staff posted pics of themselves wearing hats.  It didn’t add any value to the overall content strategy, but it’s those extras that humanize your brand and cause people to pause and notice the unexpected.

editorial-calendar-peek

Once you’ve mapped all that out, you can move to the second tab and start planning your actual content pieces.  If you are anything like me, you keep a running list of content ideas. (If you aren’t doing that, try it – it makes the process so much easier.)  Think of the questions your prospects have at each stage of the buying cycle, think about what concerns and possible objections they may have, think about what proof you can offer to validate the results your product/service will offer.  Then pick a theme that relates to each of those and then start listing the topic ideas.

topics-list

While I like to tell people to plot out 90 days’ worth, the truth is I usually do about 45 days’ worth.  Things change so quickly, I don’t want to plan much beyond that.

sample-ed-cal

Once you’ve got the topics picked out and the date put in, you move into the meat of the strategy

  1. What is the goal of this piece?*
  2. What will be the medium for this content?**
  3. Is this a stand-alone piece that will be repurposed or part of a funnel?***
  4. Define funnel or repurpose strategy****
  5. To which persona are you marketing?*****

*Your goal may be to generate likes/shares and RTs or get opt-ins on your mailing list, or generate sign ups for a demo or consultation, it may be to go right for the sale or just create brand awareness. It could be to educate and inform to boost credibility or it may be to earn quality links.  There are so many goals; you just need to clearly define yours.

**There are many mediums from which to choose from: video, article or Blog post, infographic, podcast, interview, story, sales content, email marketing message, slideshare presentation, webinar etc.

***Stand-alone content may be a Blog post initially and then the content can be repurposed into a slideshare presentation, a webinar, a podcast and also provide snippets to be used on social media.  A funnel could look something like this:  Your meat is a whitepaper revealing some coveted information.  You start with a teaser video and take people to a landing page — which, once they opt-in, takes them to a sales page AND they get an email and ultimately end up on an offer page AND get the whitepaper they opted-in for.

****Oops, jumped the gun and covered this one above. What can I say?  I was excited!

*****It’s time you pull our your persona details – and if you haven’t yet created them, do it now!  Persona-based content requires a strong definition of your customer persona to ensure you hit the key points and use the right tone and style for your audience.

For those who are uncertain what persona-based marketing it or have never used it, here is the Wikipedia definition:

In user-centered design and marketing, personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way.[1] Marketers may use personas together with market segmentation, where the qualitative personas are constructed to be representative of specific segments. The term persona is used widely in online and technology applications as well as in advertising, where other terms such as pen portraits may also be used.

Personas are useful in considering the goals, desires, and limitations of brand buyers and users in order to help to guide decisions about a service, product or interaction space such as features, interactions, and visual design of a website. Personas may also be used as part of a user-centered design process for designing software and are also considered a part of interaction design (IxD), having been used in industrial design and more recently for online marketing purposes.

A user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a hypothesized group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in 1–2-page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and the environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character. For each product, more than one persona is usually created, but one persona should always be the primary focus for the design.

Once you have answered the five questions above for each of the topics on your 45-day plan, you can assign tasks and timelines to ensure on-time production of that content.  If it’s not date-specific due to an event or holiday, you may have to juggle things to accommodate the time-frame any given piece will require.

The complexity of your funnel plan or repurposing plan will dictate what tasks need to be assigned.  To help get you started thinking about all the little details, here are a couple of sample task lists:

Funnel task list:

  • Figure out funnel hook
  • Write hook content
  • Gather graphics
  • Edit hook content
  • Publish hook content
  • Create landing page
  • Load landing page
  • Test landing page
  • Write email series
  • Record video
  • Load video
  • Create call to action/offer page
  • Schedule post production marketing with supporting collateral (social, blog, slideshare etc)
  • Create shortened URLs for social media with tracking
  • Notify influencers so they can support and promote (tip: work in a mention of an influencer and they are more likely to promote it)
  • Place any tracking pixels and test

Repurpose task list:

  • Create core content
  • Create slideshare
  • Load slideshare
  • Create social media graphics
  • Create call to action/offer page
  • Schedule post-production marketing with supporting collateral (social, blog, slideshare etc)
  • Create shortened URLs for social media with tracking
  • Notify influencers so they can support and promote (tip: work in a mention of an influencer and they are more likely to promote it)
  • Place any tracking pixels and test

You’re list will likely vary from this but you get the idea.

If you are working with a team, you can divvy up the tasks and assign due dates to each team member. If you are on your own, be realistic but aggressive with time-frames for each step of the process.

I want to leave you with a few tips:

  1. Don’t forget to review stats and determine what worked and what failed so you can use those insights for future marketing.
  2. While I talk about the four stages of the buying process, please remember that as a marketer you need to concern yourself with the two post-sale phases.  One is Consumption/Implementation – this is where the consumer uses what they purchased.  Producing content to ensure that people actually consume the product/service is vital to your business and it also increases the likelihood that they reorder, endorse and refer.  Don’t skip this phase when you create your content marketing plan. I didn’t list it initially because most companies getting started need to focus on the first four phases initially.  The second post-sale phase is Follow up for renewal/reorder and asking for reviews/endorsements and referrals.  While this is typically done via “back-end marketing” (like phone, sms and email) there is also content that can be produced to ensure the consumer understands when and why and how to reorder/renew and to ensure they feel like you are seeing them through the entire process from start to the very end.
  3. Remember that before anyone will commit to reading your content, they will skim it first. Make sure your content is visually appealing and skim-friendly. Have strong headlines and subheads to draw the eye in.  Leave enough white space to break things up and avoid visual overload.  Use interesting graphics (because they can be pinned and part of your promotional strategy and they draw the user in).

And for those that are wondering what my strategic plan for this piece is – stay tuned!