How to build a content marketing strategy in 5 steps
With 25% of companies admitting they don’t have a content strategy of any kind, it’s no wonder a question we often get asked at ESM Inbound is: ‘How do I build a content strategy?’
Perhaps you’re publishing some content – blog posts, social media posts, newsletters – intermittently? If so, this is a good start. Maybe you’ve had some great engagement on LinkedIn, or you’ve had some success with Google Ads.
But these disparate, one-off actions don’t equate to a strategy. Publishing a blog post every four months – no matter how well it’s written – doesn’t mean you’re behaving strategically. And if you can’t allocate any new business to the content you publish, it begs the question: why bother doing it at all?
In this post we look at the five pillars of content strategy creation. It could be that you’re already doing some of it – in which case, you don’t have as far to go! But even if you’re starting from scratch and all of this is brand new to you, starting with a long-term strategy is the only way to see real progress in your content efforts and attribute new business to your marketing activity.
Number 1: The Who
We aren’t discussing the 70s band who sang ‘My Generation’, but we are encouraging you to know who your buyer personas are. This is at the very core of your content marketing strategy and, well… everything else you do at your business.
Too often, we meet businesses who:
- Haven’t got personas at all.
- Have too many personas that they become confusing.
- Believe themselves to work in such a complex market that their personas are impossible to define.
- Have personas but haven’t revisited them for years.
- Don’t consider personas to be relevant to them.
But how can it not be relevant to know who you’re trying to help?
We’ve written a lot about buyer personas and how to create them, but our main advice? Make them everyone at your business’ problem. Ask your sales team to chip in, get insights from marketing, leadership and anyone else who is customer facing. You’ll be surprised by the insights this mix of people can bring to the table when asked to define your personas – someone from marketing might have a completely different understanding to someone from sales.
It could be that your Ideal Buyer Profile is actually different to the people you’re engaging with on the phone. Starting with ‘The Who’ is essential to your content strategy journey.
Number 2: The What
Ebooks, social media, emails? What format of content best engages your customer? There’s no point creating an Instagram account if your audience isn’t using Instagram, right?
We call this Bright Shiny Object Syndrome: wanting to cover all bases just because they’re new or “our competitor started a TikTok account, so we need one, too.”
We understand how tempting it can be to try being all things to all people (we’ve made this mistake ourselves in the past), but when it comes to content, you need to stay in your own lane:
- Once you have your personas defined, The What means identifying: What problem do you solve for someone? What’s the pain point that affects them most in their day-today life and how do you fix that for them?
- What makes you unique compared to others? Sure, your competitor might sell cheesecake in 200 flavours, but you serve 200 flavours AND provide gluten-free, vegan options AND your service is better.
- What are the content varieties that resonate with your audience? You know that blog post from 2019 which got the most engagement of all your marketing efforts – why did that work? How could you do more of that? Why did a previous email marketing campaign get so many click throughs? You need to imitate that again.
- What has worked well in the past and can now be repurposed for a different channel or different persona?
- Where are the gaps in your current content? Maybe you’re great at shouting about your latest products, but what could you do differently to create content for higher up the funnel in the Awareness and Consideration stages? What could you do to engage prospects who are earlier in their buyer’s journey and don’t want to be sold to yet?
The What is the essential follow-up to The Who. This is where you work out the nitty gritty of your next steps: reviewing what you’ve done before; reviewing what works and what doesn’t; define what’s unique about your business; and explore what you need to do better.
Number 3: The Where
Like Scrooge teaches us in A Christmas Carol, there’s no point having piles of gold stacked up if you aren’t going to share it with anyone. There’s no good in having priceless content which no-one can find and enjoy.
So where are you going to post it? For some businesses, this is as simple as sharing on their own blog - either on the main site or a subdomain. The success of this tactic is dependent upon two things: that your personas access content via your website and/or, how well SEO-informed the content is, for those users that don’t go to your site directly.
For other businesses, capturing users' attention means meeting them where they already are, rather than expecting them to come to you. Finding your buyer personas’ watering holes can be tricky, so we’ve written a guide on this here.
Facebook is a great place to share your blog posts, content offers, guides and so on. A social media management tool can be of help here.
The lifespan of a tweet is so short that regular posting on Twitter is vital.
LinkedIn and LinkedIn Publishing Platform
Particularly useful for B2B companies, sharing your content on your company LinkedIn pages can reach your key target personas; sponsored updates on LinkedIn can further your reach.
The LinkedIn Publishing Platform keeps users on LinkedIn, rather than outlinking to your website, but is nonetheless a useful platform as these pages can be indexed by Google and other search engines.
Employee amplification is the promotion of an organisation by its workforce. This encompasses many different activities, including the sharing, retweeting and liking of company content on their own social media channels. Your sales teams will (most likely) have prospects and current clients on their channels, so it’s a great way to get eyes on your content.
Previously owned by LinkedIn, SlideShare is another profitable platform to share your content; upload your article(s) in presentation format and reap in the referral traffic.
Google My Business Posts
If local SEO is an important part of your marketing strategy, ensuring your Google My Business profile is up to date is key, plus sharing your content using GMB posts is another way to scoop up traffic.
A platform for re-sharing and syndicating your content, Medium is another referral source for your business’ blog. The import function of Medium also adds a canonical link for you.
Do you have an engaged email list? If so, sending out a weekly or monthly newsletter with all your latest content can drive traffic. How often you email will depend on how often you create new content - you don’t want to be spamming your contacts with links to old content that they have already read.
It’s easy to become tunnel-visioned about publishing and sharing written content. However, sharing your video content is an important part of any content marketing strategy. Instagram, Instagram TV (IGTV) and YouTube are great platforms for this, especially for improving your mobile content marketing strategy KPIs.
Vertical and industry specific channels and guest posting
Guest posting is where you write and publish content on another party's website or blog in order to secure brand recognition, referral traffic and brand reach. Posting on sites that are relevant and specific to your business sector, or vertical, is vital for this to be an effective tactic of your content marketing strategy.
Number 4: The How
The How of How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy starts with content ideation, which in turn, starts with search term and keyword research.
Additionally, speak to your sales teams and customer service personnel about the types of questions they regularly receive. These queries can become the basis for blog content.
Automate certain tasks of your content strategy by using a social media management tool but it is imperative that you avoid cross posting.
What is cross posting?
Cross posting involves the sharing of the exact same copy across multiple different social media platforms, without adjusting the Tweet or post copy to match the platform. For example, hashtags are far more effective and appropriate for Twitter than Facebook.
How often you publish your content, and subsequently how often you share on social channels, will be dictated by your resources and capacity for regular blog creation. For more on how to improve your social media strategy, read our The Only Social Media Strategy You'll Need in 2021 post where we cover how to review the best times of day and days of the week to post, as well as the types of content to share.
Number 5: The Why
Building a business case for content marketing takes time: not all of your key decision makers and budget holders will understand the impact ‘just a blog’ can have. This is even more true for those who have begun this strategy and have yet to see any return on investment.
Why isn’t your content marketing working?
Frustration with an underperforming campaign is common, so our first port-of-call is to define ‘not working’ - what metrics are underperforming? What were your benchmark figures? Were they realistic?
Additionally, consider where your campaign is performing well: dig into the types of content, and methods of sharing and promoting that are performing well and look for commonalities. A granular analysis is important here; don’t just give up at the first hurdle!
Another reason for a disappointing campaign performance is out of date personas. If you haven’t reviewed the accuracy of the personas you are targeting, where they reside digitally, how they like to consume content, your efforts could well be fruitless. Consider industry and sector seasonality, too.
The next most-important factor to consider when reviewing the efficacy of your strategy is how long you have waited to see results. Content marketing is a long game. It is unrealistic to expect results immediately; 3 months is our minimum wait time for B2B clients.
Lastly, review your entire content hub in light of the buyer’s journey: do you have content covering the entire inbound marketing funnel? Or are users being lost part way through their journey?
Why is content marketing important?
Content marketing is effective because as a brand, you become the go-to source of information for your audience. Content marketing works because you capture users at the brand awareness stage and retain them through to the brand loyalty stage. In fact, content marketing, on average, brings in 3 times as many leads as traditional outbound marketing methods!
In creating useful content that attracts and keeps your audience engaged, you can utilise your website to its full potential.
Content marketing is particularly useful for B2B companies: with oftentimes long sales times, keeping your brand top-of-mind, building trust and sustaining authority is paramount.
So, why develop a content marketing strategy? More like, why wouldn’t you develop a content marketing strategy?