Google shows us that content marketing strategy has been gaining interest steadily for the past five years.
And this should come as no surprise given that content marketers are always looking for ways to improve and optimize their content. Especially during times when budgets get tight and resources are limited.
And what better way to do improve your content marketing than to have a strategy that tells everyone who creates content for your brand what type of content they’re creating, who they’re creating it for, and when they’re creating it?
Am I right, or am I right?
Well, some people seem to think I’m not right given that 63 percent of businesses still don’t have a documented content strategy.
Probably because it takes time to do the research and nitty-gritty work that goes into developing a comprehensive content marketing strategy. While many content marketers have a lot of pressure on them to create more and better content consistently, they may not have the time to dedicate to documenting their strategy.
But creating a content marketing strategy can really be a game-changer for your business. And if you want to create amazing content, you’ve gotta start with a plan.
What is a Content Marketing Strategy?
A content marketing strategy is a plan that businesses use to identify how they will build their audience through creating, publishing, maintaining, and promoting content that educates, inspires, and adds value for their ideal customers.
In other words, a content marketing strategy is a plan that you can use to strategically create content that helps you achieve your marketing goals by reaching, engaging, and converting your target audience.
While many small businesses may not think that creating a documented content strategy is a worthwhile endeavor, the truth is that every business – big or small – will benefit from getting their plan down in writing.
Creating a content strategy gives your team the opportunity to really think about and explore your brand’s target audience and what they are looking for when consuming content. Once you’ve documented the strategy, your content team then has something to refer to ask they create content and adjust content marketing campaigns.
Why Creating a Content Marketing Strategy is Important
Content forms the basis of any successful marketing campaign. Quality content builds awareness while also keeping existing customers engaged. It’s crucial for developing both a cohesive brand and a sense of authority.
Despite this myriad of benefits, many brands continue to pursue a haphazard approach to content creation. From a lack of keyword research to an inconsistent tone, their failure to plan prevents these organizations from realizing the full benefits of content marketing. Disappointed by seemingly lackluster results, many give up before they’ve given content marketing a real chance.
This lack of strategic execution is surprisingly common, even among brands with a developed online presence. In fact, Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 B2C survey shows that a mere 33 percent of respondents have a documented content marketing strategy. This means that a full two-thirds of businesses currently fail to capitalize on the true strength of content marketing.
Among those deemed by CMI as having ‘mature’ content, 53 percent claimed to document their content strategy. Meanwhile, 52 percent of ‘mature’ respondents referred to themselves as very or extremely successful with content marketing, versus 29 percent of those in general.
Clearly, a documented content strategy makes a difference. Think of it as the content version of personal goal setting. It’s common knowledge that a goal — such as losing weight or saving money — is easier to reach if documented. The very act of recording the goal increases the likelihood of follow-through. The same holds true for content marketing. No matter the nature of your content strategy, its very presence improves your actual content marketing efforts.
Still not convinced that the effort of developing and executing a content marketing strategy is worthwhile?
Here are some of the greatest benefits your business can enjoy with a more strategic approach to content marketing:
Increases ROI For Web Content
Content, like any marketing endeavor, represents a significant investment. Play your cards right, and this opportunity can pay huge dividends in terms of traffic, conversions, and general brand favorability.
However, without a clear strategy, you risk wasting your budget on unnecessary content that accomplishes little.
Goal-oriented content is crucial, and yet, many businesses fail to determine why they invest in it or what they hope to accomplish on a long-term basis. If these essentials are never made clear, the result could be an unorganized jumble of updates that fail to make an impression. Rather than support long-term growth, content writers could waste their time producing articles, white papers, or social media updates that provide little actual value to the company’s target audience.
Given the significant budgetary limitations that so many companies face, it’s critical that those investing in content marketing make the most of each and every allocated dollar. With the right content strategy, a limited marketing budget can be stretched to a surprising degree.
Streamlines Content Production
Digital content production is a time-intensive process. From keyword research to drafting and publication, every step steals time from other essential elements of running and promoting your business.
Ideally, your content strategy will take this timing into account with an editorial calendar. This helpful tool outlines when content will be produced and published, taking both budget and content marketing goals into consideration.
Followers demand a steady stream of content published at regular intervals. A full editorial calendar that is based on the goals and tactics outlined in your content strategy makes it easier to meet consumers’ high expectations. In the end, the more content you create, the more likely you are to build a stronger connection with your target audience. Eventually, this will benefit your business by increasing customer loyalty and boosting conversions.
Identifies Opportunities to Adapt Content
In addition to outlining goals, a clear content marketing strategy lets you know when and how your business goals and objectives can be reached. This makes it possible to monitor your campaign to ensure that it’s on the right track.
Your strategy should include key performance indicators (KPIs), which highlight your campaign’s success based on specific metrics. If you struggle to hit identified KPIs, you can adjust your strategy as needed to deliver a better return on investment (ROI).
However, without a clear strategy and accompanying metrics, you may waste an outrageous amount of time and money on content that fails to make a discernible difference for your brand.
A variety of metrics referenced in your content strategy can help you assess your brand’s marketing progress. When measuring your content marketing success, consider the following:
- Website Traffic: How many visits does each article receive? Do readers go on to further explore your website? Traffic statistics can help you determine which types of content consistently produce the best results.
- Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs): Marketing Qualified Leads respond to nurturing but aren’t quite ready to buy. MQLs indicate that your marketing efforts are working to an extent, but that additional effort will also be required to get that much-needed conversion.
- Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs): Further in the funnel, Sales Qualified Leads have been extensively nurtured and may be ready to convert.
- Email Subscriptions: Has the number of subscribers to your email list increased since adopting your content strategy? Are those subscribers more engaged? This may indicate that your audience is interested in the content you are producing and finds it valuable.
- Social Media Engagement: Content quality and publication frequency can influence how followers engage with your brand on social media. Metrics such as retweets and comments may indicate how connected these prospective customers feel to your message.
Metrics such as email subscriptions or likes on social media may be easily defined, but MQLs and SQLs are less obvious. Definitions and goals of these metrics should be included in your content strategy to help you determine your progress every step of the way. If you highlight pain points early on, you can address them promptly for best results.
Makes Scaling Easy
Many organizations begin with modest content production to test the waters and determine what, exactly, appeals to consumers. However, eventually, brands will start to notice that they have to scale this content — especially as a company’s digital footprint grows alongside its customer base.
A detailed content strategy can highlight how production and publication will ramp up to meet your brand’s evolving needs. Likewise, your content strategy makes it possible to scale down if necessary. You will know, based on this content marketing plan, when and how to adjust content output.
Helps You Maintain Toward Branding Consistency
Trust is essential in today’s online marketplace. Few consumers take company promises at face value. Hence, the success of social media influencers, who build strong relationships with followers over time and earn their trust. This concept can also successfully be applied to content marketing. The more quality, relevant content you produce that adds value for your audience, the more you can build trust with your prospects.
But building trust is not possible if followers encounter wildly disparate content that varies in tone from one post to the next. On the other hand, if they know what to expect, website visitors will begin to trust your brand, eventually transforming them from follower to customer — and ultimately, to brand advocate.
Brand consistency is best established through a documented content strategy that outlines the key attributes of target consumers — and how they can best be appealed to with carefully crafted content.
Buyer personas play an important role in helping you establish a consistent brand message. According to the Forbes Council’s Stormie Andrews, buyer personas represent the cornerstone of any inbound marketing effort. Representing a semi-fictional version of your brand’s ‘typical’ customer, each persona helps you tailor your message according to what a similar real-world customer might find appealing.
Ideally, you will highlight a few key buyer personas in your content strategy. From there, all those involved in the content creation process will better understand who is expected to read and enjoy the final product. Getting to know the target audience through buyer personas enables content marketers to better understand which content types, topics, and styles appeal to these unique consumers.
In all likelihood, more than one person will be responsible for creating content that promotes your brand. Given the natural differences in writing style among these individuals, you’ll struggle to maintain a consistent tone unless you explicitly outline your expectations within your documented strategy. This is your opportunity to highlight preferred language, as well as words or phrases worth avoiding.
Once your content team is aware of editorial requirements like brand voice, tone, and style, they can deliver content that matches your company’s culture and values. This further helps you build trust among your target consumers as it helps you maintain a consistent voice.
Shows You How to Effectively Integrate Content into Other Campaigns
Website content does not exist within a vacuum. Ideally, it will be integrated into a broader digital marketing strategy that includes not only high-quality written content but also, social media marketing, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), or even pay-per-click (PPC) efforts. These disparate methods can work together to form a targeted strategy in which success with one platform leads to significant gains elsewhere.
Without a clear strategy, it can be difficult to determine how content fits into the bigger picture. A lack of strategy may make it difficult to identify how other marketing techniques can be tweaked to improve content marketing success.
Your content strategy could make or break your digital marketing efforts. A well-crafted and researched content marketing strategy has the power to deliver an impressive ROI and completely transform your entire marketing campaign. The early effort you dedicate towards developing your content strategy could pay huge dividends down the road, so don’t overlook this essential step on the road to digital marketing success.
How a Content Marketing Strategy Works
Now that you know what a content marketing strategy is and why it’s essential that you have one, let’s talk about what goes into creating a strategy.
Most brands know that they need to create content and lots of it. But without a content marketing plan to help them understand their target audience, content creation goals, or how content fits into their overall business goals – they can very well end up creating a bunch of content that fails to generate organic traffic and leads. Or worse! These businesses can end up creating content that no one even reads.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an “if you build it, they will come” type of scenario.
Customers are human. Human beings don’t necessarily take a straight path when they embark on the customer journey. Typically, they bounce around, making several twists and turns before landing on a web page. Then they may leave and revisit that page several times before finally making a purchase.
A good content marketing strategy helps you gently guide potential buyers through the sales cycle by keeping you on track as you create content that works to:
- Position the business as an authority in the industry
- Show that the business has the answers to your audience’s problems
- Increase brand awareness
- Elicit trust and foster a relationship between the customer and the business
- Address customer pain points
- Introduce prospective customers to solutions that your products or services offer
- Show the company’s product or service as the best choice
- Educate prospective customers in the best ways to use the company’s products or services
- Show customers how to increase the value of the products or services they’ve already purchased
- Increase customer satisfaction
- Encourage customer loyalty and turn buyers into brand advocates
Content is used in so many ways for so many purposes, but it only works if you are creating content strategically.
And guess what that means?
You need a content marketing strategy!
This strategic plan will help guide your content creation efforts to make sure you’re developing content that makes sense for your business, your audience, and your goals.
What types of content make up a content marketing strategy?
Different types of content serve different purposes along the marketing funnel. A varied content strategy reaches prospective customers and connects with them at various points along the funnel.
As you build your content marketing strategy, consider which content types will help you accomplish the content goals you have set for your business:
These are probably the most common type of content that brands use to reach their target audience online. Blogs are typically at the core of any content marketing strategy because they have a relatively quick turnaround time and are a great medium for creating SEO-focused content that your audience finds valuable. Blog posts are also incredibly easy to share on social networks, making it a great opportunity to grow your reach.
The key to being successful with blog content is to post regularly and often – 3 to 5 times a week works well. Before you create blog topics for your content calendar, do some keyword research to find out what your customers are searching for and how they talk about your products. Make sure that you optimize your blog for sales or leads, include a call to action, and include several internal links to your own content.
You’ll also want to have a plan for content promotion. How will you promote your blog posts after they are published? You may post links on your social media, share them in your email marketing newsletter, or even promote them in paid ads.
Case studies are a highly specialized type of content that is particularly good for highlighting your product or service as the solution to a single problem. Case studies are essentially customer stories that allow you to show your product or service in action with a real customer.
If you do decide to use case studies for your business, make sure they are written in your brand voice. Too many case studies are dry and boring. Don’t be afraid to spice things up a bit.
If you need help getting started, check out our guide to business case studies for some expert tips.
Checklist and Template Downloads
Gated content downloads are extremely popular lead magnets. They work well for lead generation as you are able to get the potential customer’s name and contact information in exchange for the valuable download you provide.
Checklists and templates make great lead gen downloads because these are simple pieces of content that individuals can use again and again. When creating this type of content, you can make an editable PDF or spreadsheet that your users can access and edit at any time. Many brands prefer to use protected Google docs because these do not require the customer to have any special program to use.
Social Media Content
Social media channels offer you an important opportunity to reach and engage your target audience. Including social media posts as part of your content strategy not only gives you a content promotion tool but also another channel for posting quality content that adds value for your audience.
Consistency is key when it comes to social media. No matter how many or few times you post each week, it’s important to post consistently. Create social content that your potential customers will find valuable and interesting. Don’t just talk about your brand and promote your products. Create content that helps you engage and build stronger relationships with your fans and followers.
A survey of the most popular content on search engines found that the most successful online content is more than 2,000 words long. Creating content that’s between 2,000-4,000 words long helps you improve your chances of showing up on the first page of the search engine results.
Why? Because people like to get a deep-dive into topics that are important to them. Writing long-form content gives you the space to offer a comprehensive look at the things that your audience cares about most.
Not every post you create needs to be over 2,000 words. However, including long-form content as part of your content marketing strategy can help you achieve your marketing goals while improving your online reach.
Infographics are a unique type of content that allows you to visually demonstrate facts, statistics, and other data. The value of the infographic is that it allows the reader to gain a lot of information delivered in small bites. It makes the data easier to digest and retain. The real draw is that it leaves a lot of leeway for creative visual representation, using pictures, charts, icons, and interesting fonts.
Infographics are an exceptional tool for social media because they are often shared and have the potential to go viral. Each time your infographic is shared, you get backlinks that will boost your content marketing strategy.
White papers are another form of content that tends to be very dense. They make exceptionally good lead magnets, but also tend to be research-heavy, focusing on the product or service but failing to create something that engages and entertains. White papers focus on a single challenge or problem within the business, then demonstrates how the business can offer a solution.
Given the nature of the content in white papers, these are typically used to attract and engage potential customers who are further down in the marketing funnel. Including white papers in your content strategy offers you another opportunity to bring in sales qualified leads.
It can be somewhat intimidating to take on the task of writing an ebook, but ebooks can be outstanding lead magnets.
You can go two ways with the content:
- Create an ebook that is relevant to a current event, situation, or issue. Focuses on current issues or trends will shorten the content’s life so to speak, but if the issue is prevalent people will be searching for it and you can ride that SEO wave to generate leads for as long as there’s interest in the topic.
- Develop an ebook around an evergreen content topic. Evergreen content is that which will always be relevant and of value to your target audience. Creating an evergreen ebook will give you an asset that you can use again and again to attract new leads.
Video has been rapidly gaining ground over the past few years. There was a time when it wasn’t considered part of a content strategy, but that is quickly changing. In fact, in 2019, video surpassed other forms of content to become the number one type of media used in content strategy.
While you may not have a high video production budget, there are plenty of content creation tools out there that help you make simple, high-quality videos that you can share with your audience. There’s a good chance that your potential customers aren’t expecting a blockbuster experience. So just make sure that the content in your videos is interesting, relevant, and valuable.
Of course, there are also articles, guides, FAQs, testimonials, product reviews, and press releases – and still the list goes on. Whatever content or mixture of content you choose to use in your content strategy, make sure that it is optimized, high quality, and adds value.
Content Marketing Strategy Templates & Samples
By now, you should understand why content marketing is important, why a strategy improves effectiveness, and how the strategy works. A great strategy will kickstart your efforts, so let’s consider some successful strategies and how they are formed.
7 Examples of Effective Content Marketing Strategies
Excellent content marketing strategies don’t happen by accident. Each successful content strategy is going to be thoughtful and formulated strategically for the brand. Branding and marketing professionals work hard to help brands nail these strategies to improve their place in the market.
Let’s look at some content marketing strategy examples from companies that have done this well.
Here is a company facing an uphill battle in some ways. They are a huge national chain that is considered some of the worst food available for cheap and fast meals.
But McDonald’s Canada addressed this issue head-on and the US chain followed suit. They opened up a Q&A to provide their customers with real transparency about their food.
Want to know exactly what is in a burger patty or where they get their lettuce from? Type in your question and discover answers to thousands of customer queries.
One of the most outspoken Twitter accounts and guru of social listening is Wendy’s. Their poignant remarks, clapbacks, and transparent responses make them a favorite on the platform. With over 193k Tweets and 3.7 million followers, they consistently win the Internet on a weekly basis.
They include plenty of shameless advertising, but their funny quotes, awareness of the times and engaging approach keep their followers around. They frequently include scavenger games, puzzles and virtual games. Their genius campaigns include things like National Ghosted Day where they encouraged followers to tell their ghosting stories and then replied back with a blurb that always included a CTA about getting a free Dave’s Single through their app.
Providing useful and relevant information is a great go-to for your content strategy. Allstate nails this with a blog focused on improving your safety.
The free support brings them new traffic, positions them as an industry authority, and gives their customers all the good vibes that free things bring.
Recent posts cover things like “What’s the Difference Between Premium and Unleaded Gasoline” and “The Latest Data Breach: What if it Happens to You?” Their articles are easy to read and provide actionable solutions.
You might think that food giants like Kraft and Heinz don’t need to worry about wowing their customers, but their marketing strategy shows they don’t agree.
Their blog is focused on food and family topics. They cover things from recipes (featuring their products as some of the ingredients), S.T.E.M. ideas for cooking with kids, party planning tips, and more.
Lots of great content here!
If there is an industry you’d think didn’t need a blog, it would be those rough and tough industries, right?
Well, you’d be mistaken.
Caterpillar is dedicated to providing industry insights with a construction blog for its target audience. The blog covers a wide range of construction topics, including articles like “Maintenance Tips for Attachments,” “Industry Resources for Your Business” and a “Cab Disinfection Guide.” They have a very serious and no-nonsense tone that their professional blue-collar audience will likely identify with.
Lowes is a big hardware store that can seem a little daunting. But they went after the average homeowner with a blog focused on DIY project ideas.
While the blog is very self-serving (featuring their products of course!), it is grounded, trendy, and very helpful. They have no shame in their branding game, but they also offer real tips and instructional guides that go above and beyond for this part of their target audience with content covering How-To, Buying Guides, Inspiration and Calculators.
Want to know how to “Clean and Seal a Concrete Driveway” or find a “Paint Calculator?” Need help deciding what caulk to buy and want an in-depth breakdown of the product differences?
Lowes can help!
It might be hard to find a company better at content marketing and branding than Disney.
The entertainment giant has a blog dedicated just to the Disney theme parks. The dynamic and eye-grabbing content will help you “Learn to Draw Iron Man at Home” and gives all kinds of park updates to help you plan a great trip.
Anyone who has made the trek to the land of magic knows they go all-out to bring their pixie dust to every aspect of the visit. And this is just one of the many blogs the brand runs. They also have separate blogs for Disney Tourists, Disney Wedding Planning, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Institute, Oh My Disney, Disney Meetings and Events, and more!
Creating an Effective Content Marketing Strategy
No matter your brand or industry, content marketing is helpful for drawing in new leads, retaining customers with value, and improving brand awareness. If you are ready to create a content marketing strategy, you can get started today.
Let’s talk about the process of creating that strategy.
Audit Existing Content
It’s difficult to create a solid strategy if you don’t first determine what you have. You will want to make a complete list of your content inventory to clarify your current content needs.
Your content inventory list (think Excel Spreadsheet) should include the following for each piece of content you brand has previously published:
- Product/Service highlighted
- Messaging (who is this for/what stage?)
- Business goals (what strategy does this promote or support?)
- Next Steps (update/review/leave as-is)
- Additional Notes
To complete the audit, analyze the value of each piece and who it appeals to. Make notes on what content types are better covered and what areas are lacking great content to help start your initial content strategy.
Here’s a few tips for making use of your content audit:
- Try to get a good idea of how your content can be broken down into groups of who it targets, what it aims to accomplish and what it covers.
- Create a list of questions that still need answers.
- Separate out the content that needs updating.
- Consider removing all old content that doesn’t match your brand direction or purpose.
Establish Your Content Characteristics
What do you want your content to do? What kind of content is going to define your brand?
Determining the purpose and style of your content marketing will be important in creating an effective strategy. Content marketing can give your brand a voice that helps consumers better understand your company goals, values, and perspective.
Gather your best content, showcasing each kind of content you want to produce. These samples will serve as a guideline moving forward to define what you are aiming for. Examine them to see where they are similar. Define what exactly makes those pieces good representations of your brand and how they are unique.
You can create a brand voice chart or mood board to help ensure consistency with future content. To clarify your content direction:
- Describe your brand character (creative, quirky, passionate, authentic, charming, etc.).
- Give a short description of what each brand characteristic means (for example, Grounded might be described: We care about our neighbors and environment in an authentic way).
- Create a do and don’t list that defines how those characteristics will play out in the content (if you use slang, if things are written in the first/second/third person, if you attempt humor or casual pop-culture references, etc.).
- Establish style guidelines that define specifics (formatting, colors, fonts, boiler plates, CTA buttons).
Pinpoint Your Buyer Personas and Audience
Be very specific here and think about the individual. When you are thinking about your “target audience,” it is easy to make sweeping generalizations and assumptions.
When you pick out just one person to write for, you are better able to really appeal to that part of your target audience. So, as you’re thinking about your ideal customer (in real-life), try the following:
- Give your persona profile a name (Sherry, Kevin, Alice, Amy, Derrick, Tom, etc).
- Identify the age range.
- Give the job title.
- Talk about the problems faced.
- Talk about the challenges/concerns.
- Talk about what will appeal or convert.
- Define why they might choose your brand over the competition.
Do this for every top customer you have that is markedly different (creating 3-5 personas). This will help you see those target audiences as real people.
As you write your content you will need to keep asking:
Will they care?
Will they identify with this approach?
Will they feel compelled/convinced to act?
Create Your Content Marketing Strategy Calendar
Now that you know what’s missing, the direction of your content voice and the person you are writing for, it’s time to fill out your content calendar. For your calendar, here are a few tips to get you started:
- Plan time-sensitive content by noting any holiday, seasonal or company events that you will want to craft content around.
- Take time weekly (or even daily) to look at hot topics you may need to address with your content.
- Schedule content creation for any content gaps, using your content inventory audit as a guide.
- Define content marketing campaign strategies that will align with your company goals.
- Schedule existing content that needs updating or editing.
- Talk to your team about inbound content that would support their work.
- Look at frequently asked questions you can answer from your customers or leads.
- Look at the products or services you want to highlight and consider what kind of content might present that product or service as a solution (possibly not the only solution).
- Determine how content will be promoted and what you will use to maximize visibility.
Watch out for content that gets too self-promotional and stuck on what’s good for you. Your content writers should be creating a variety of items for your calendar and most of it should be helpful or interesting to your target audience (remember the buyer personas!). Don’t forget to use specific metrics to accurately identify if your efforts are successful or need reworking.
If you’re just getting started with your content strategy, all of this can seem like a lot. But remember, if you don’t create a content strategy then you’re not giving your brand the best chance at creating content that’s valuable for your audience and your brand.
There is no time like the present to create or improve your content marketing strategy. And the better you get at defining your direction, the easier it will be to create content that converts.
Special thanks to the WriterAccess freelancers who contributed to this post: Stephanie G., Stephanie M., and Alethea M.
Sarah Jane Burt is Sr. Content Strategist at WriterAccess. For the past decade, she’s helped brands big and small, from tech giant IBM to the local plumber, tell their stories and create strategies for customer-driven content. When she’s not working on developing and implementing our content strategy, she’s writing blog posts that help demystify content marketing and strategy for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and enterprise content teams.