10 steps to a strong content program

network-gray-dots-960Is a documented content marketing strategy REALLY necessary? Yes!

Why?

A content marketing strategy is the basic building block of an effective and solid marketing program. By planning and then creating good quality, branded content with a consistent message and then posting that content on media outlets that reach your audience, you deliver content that gives your current and potential customers ongoing, consistent, engaging material and value added information.

So what?

The advantages are numerous—a positive brand image, the opportunity to build trust, increases in sales and the ability to save money and time creating marketing materials.

How do I start?

1. Investigation

Take a step back and look at your program with a critical eye. This is a good time to either hire or enlist an individual(s), who represent your target audience and are not associated with your company, to candidly give feedback on your communication materials and program.

After collecting their responses extrapolate the information and review what you learned.
Is the graphic identity and message consistent?
What does the design and message say to your audience?
Is that what you want to or intend to portray?
Does it communicate your unique selling proposition?
Is the message directed to your target audience? Do they understand what you wanted to communicate?

When you have identified and evaluated your current program then you can start to look at what is working and what areas need strengthening, omitting and changing.

2. Decide and focus on your primary objectives

Now that you know what you are doing and how it looks to those people you want to define your content strategy goals.

If your goal is sales, what specifically do you want or need to do to move your audience from lookers to buyers?
Then identity each media outlet you are using or want to start using and define specific content goals for each medium.
As you are defining these goals keep in mind your competitors and where they are and what content strategies they are using.

3. Defining specific audiences.

There could be multiple audiences involved. Define each audience.

What does your audience need or want from your company?
What do they expect from your company/products?
What content would benefit your audience as well as your company?
How you are going to measure the success of each program? How and where does your audience get information about the group that you represent in?
Research what other communications your customers receive from you and your competitors.

Targeting different types of customers through segmented content makes the this process more efficient and cost-effective. Depending on what you find, consider producing different versions of your publication and digital content for each audience. If you want to segment, you will need a database or list that offers that segmented information. If you don’t have one, consider what you need and start building the database that allows for segmentation. This is as simple as a spreadsheet to begin this process. Once you have finalized what data and criteria you need then you can look for a more advanced, productive method of handling your customer database.

4. Develop your media strategy

What specific media outlets (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) reach your current and potential customers? What combination of media channels best fit your target audience? From print to online, digital to video, there is a huge range of channels to choose from. With the large amount of online resources/channels available, this process can be overwhelming. Consider adding one media channel at a time. unless you have more resources available.
this will help to manage the process of your online strategy and implementation.

5. Plan measurement

Developing regular, high-quality content is an investment of time and money for your company and developing measurement criteria for a successful program is important. What results do you want and what will you use as a measurement tool to track those results? What will define a successful program? How will what you are doing benefit the bottom line, brand image or awareness of your company? This work will need a budget and an internal commitment from applicable departments and/or your team.

6. Consider using an outside consultant for content development

It is difficult to have either the resources or ability to effectively develop creative, high quality content in-house consistently. When hiring an agency or consultant be very specific about what you need, what is important to you, project limits and a target budget. Not every agency or consultant will fit your needs or work best with you and your company. Look around, ask colleagues for referrals network and then have those select few meet with you and present their services and what they offer.

7. Implement development of content.

Use a planning calendar. Start by adding important events such as product launches, public relations announcements etc. Then look at what content and channels you will use to build up to those events or build on those events.
Do you have a launch date in mind? Are you going to include any research or user feedback from a sample group of your trusted, loyal customers and get their opinion? Also be sure to include introducing the content program to your internal company audience first.

8. Start slowly

Take the time to launch systematically in case there is something that you did not expect. With limited resources and time, starting slowly allows you to access what is working, give you and your team time to learn how to use various media channels and learn what is most effective for you and your organization.

9. Implement organization tools

One of the most effective ways for a business to gather more organic traffic to their website is through effective management of a social media campaign.

Hoot suite does this by allowing a user to manage several different profiles, schedule posts, and track brand recognition through one easy-to-use platform. Other resources include Buffer, Social Oomph, SocialFlow, SproutSocial and CrowdBooster. All of these resources have their own features and benefits. Determine what would be of help to you and your team and research the various options. Many are free or offer free trials. The best way to know what works for you is to research, try and test.

10. Ongoing Planning, Analyzing and Debriefing

With implementation the content strategy plan becomes real and measurable. With a regular review of the analytics collected you can make necessary course corrections.
There is no need to have “paralysis by analysis.” This is a time to see where there were spikes in your readership, where and with what content the audience positively connected. Based on your goals, was the strategy effective at moving you towards or meeting those goals?

Evaluating your current program, defining content goals, incorporating measurable goals, verifying that the planning and implementation is on track and meeting your goals gives you the tools you need to make intelligent changes, if needed.

No strategy or plan should ever be set in stone. There is too much that changes. Business climates change, technology changes, competition changes and with changes come the need to reevaluate your strategy and plan to make sure it is still effectively working for you and your organization.

Why is a content strategy really necessary?

network-star-crop-527Because it is the foundation of your marketing program and by creating quality branded content and posting that across your applicable media outlets you can deliver a consistent message which provides your customers and potential customers with engaging material and value added information. This is not only valuable for your target but also for your company. Advantages are many including a positive brand image, the opportunity to build trust, increases sales and the ability to save money and time in the creation of marketing materials.

How do I build a content strategy?

Here is a step by step approach.

1. Outline objectives
First, conduct an audit of your current content strategy program. Is the graphic identity as well as message consistent? Is it the image you want to portray? Does it communicate your unique selling proposition? Is is geared to your target audience? When you have a clear picture of what you are currently doing you can start to evaluate weak areas and needs. Start by defining the over reaching content strategy objectives and then take each media outlet you are using and define the specific objective for each medium.

2. Define your audience(s)
Do you have a good idea of who your target audience is? What do they want to hear? What does this audience need or want from your company? What content would benefit the target as well as your company? This is a time to set objectives that will provide a focus as well as positive results. Include how you are going to measure the success of each program. Research what other communications your customers receive from you and your competitors. Where does your target audience get information about the category that you are involved in?

3. Consider targeting opportunities
Targeting different types of customer through segmented content can make the process much more efficient and cost-effective, so consider producing different versions of your publication and digital content. But if you want to segment, you will need a database or list that offers that segmented information. If you don’t have one, consider what you need and start building the database that allows for segmentation. This can be as simple as utilizing a spreadsheet to begin this process. Once you have finalized what data and criteria you need then you can look for a more sophisticated, productive method of handling your customer database.

4. Establish your distribution strategy
How will your content reach your customers? What combination of media channels best fit your target audience? From print to online, digital to video, there are a huge range of channels to choose from. If you don’t trust the accuracy of your customer database (or you don’t have one), consider buying a list that matches the profile of your customers.

5. Establish measurements
Having regular, high-quality content can be a significant investment of time and money for your company, so establish benchmarks for success based on your objectives. Your objective should include measurable results. If you can plan or estimate how this approach will benefit the bottom line or the brand image of your company. You then need establish a workable budget. Next, get internal buy-in from all relevant departments, especially if you are expecting them to contribute to the budget.

6. Consider contracting with a content marketing agency
Very few client companies have the resources or expertise to create effective content in-house, so you may need to hire an outside agency. Be specific with the agency on what you are looking for and include the items that are important to you and your company including project criteria and potential working budget. Choose wisely not every consulting content marketing agency will fit your needs. Invite several to meet with and learn about all their services and what they can offer your company. For more information on selecting and working with an outside agency read blog post.

7. Create content
Once an agency has been selected, as them to provide a full content plan for your approval before they start creating any content. At these initial meetings you should agree to a communication plan between you and the agency including working arrangements, deciding such issues as how you want the content to be presented and who will approve the content within your organization.

8. Agree to a launch strategy
Do you have a launch date in mind. Are you going to include any research or user feedback from a sample group of your trusted, loyal customers and get their opinion. Also be sure to include introducing the content program to your internal company audience.

9. Launch systematically
Take the time to launch systematically-just in case there is something that you did not anticipate.

10. Debrief/Evaluate
With the introduction of the launch and initial results gathered, you and your agency should now have a debrief meeting in which you go over all aspects of the content. With any new information and feedback, your agency can then start on the next phase of the campaign. Meanwhile, review your targeting strategy and ensure any internal results or opinions are communicated to your agency.

11. Move forward!!

 

10 tips for free exposure

stock-illustration-20941241-social-network960Once you have pinpointed your audience and understand their motivation, wants and needs, defined content and developed a media strategy then you are ready to use that information to get not only free but effective exposure for your business and your products.

1. Share your knowledge-Offer free workshops and classes.

While this option may seem challenging, it doesn’t have to be nor does it have to be a big or elaborate production.  Invite people for a class or workshop incorporating the services or products you sell. For example, if you are an auto shop offer a class in car maintenance or handling emergency road situations.  Or if you have a thrift or hobby shop use classes as a way to incorporate your product as well as offering new and fun information to your audience.  Tax preparers or accountants can offer seminars on tax tips or how to avoid an audit.

Offer classes or workshops that let customers incorporate your product, educate your target audience and/or learn how to use your services.

For inventive thinkers, the possibilities are endless.

2. Sponsor, donate or volunteer for a charitable event that you are passionate about.  If there is not an event that you feel passionate about —create one.

There are numerous benefits both for you, your business, and your community in supporting a good cause that you are passionate about. This action provides networking and marketing opportunities while also increasing your business’s presence in the community. If you want you can also encourage employees to participate, you will see workplace morale improve as each person feels as though they are making a difference in your community and people will remember your organization for giving back to the community.

3. Offer advice or tips.

Write about how your services or products can help everyday life and post them on your website and on social media. Become the expert your audience is looking for when they have a question pertaining to your products and/or services.

Add a blog to your website.  Keep blog posts short and include visuals (either photos or videos) when applicable.  Provide valuable content for your target audience, write consistently and provide the opportunity for your audience to add comments.  Do this only if you have the manpower to monitor those comments and address them if necessary.  Due to spam and perhaps inappropriate comments, be sure to enable your sites filtering devices so that you see the comment first and have the ability to post it if helpful or delete if not.

Repurpose blog posts by editing them for the use in social media outlets.  With Facebook and Twitter, you can link to the blog post on your site.  If Pinterest works for you that is another resource to add a company page and link the Pinterest pin to your site.  Using the photos, Instagram is another option.

4. Periodically update your website.

It is a great business practice to keep your website fresh and updated.  This is a good reason to incorporate blogging because it does keep your website fresh with new information and you can add your ideas, photos, videos, product updates, event notices, and company news.

5. Offer current loyal customers incentives and rewards.

I was at a seminar recently where a retail establishment I use and have been a loyal customer for years offered a 20% off on a one time purchase specifically for new customers.  I understand the logic wanting new customers but it is a good idea to make offers also available to your ongoing, loyal customers.  Remember that old saying “ a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.”

Consider giving your VIP customers access to a private membership page on your website that gives them even further advice or suggestions or form a users group.  Ask for their feedback.

6. Speak at applicable events.

Where does your target audience meet either online or in a physical location?  Does your target audience attend events that dovetail nicely with the product and services that you offer?  Use this opportunity to establish your organization as the expert offering valuable advice and educating the audience.  Leave the sales pitch and product demonstrations for another time unless that is what your audience came to hear.

7. Plan and implement a public relations program.

Develop a PR strategy that serves as a foundation for your PR activities. Get to know the editor and publisher of the local newspapers.  Explore the online versions of those media outlets for “free” event listing areas.  In many cases, you can post your events to the sites yourself.  Target your news releases by providing newsworthy events or information that are important to your community.

Even with all the online resources, personal relationships are still key and need to be built continuously. In the changing media environment, the best way to build a relationship is through relevant content and the submission of interesting, educational content.

8. Social media offers a cost cost-effective way of interacting with current and potential customers and promoting your brand.  

There are many ways to use social media and online resources to provide“free” exposure.

Combining an appealing, user friendly website, a social media presence and great content develops your brand positively in your customers’ minds.

Consider embedding your Twitter or Facebook feed on your website for more exposure to your postings.  Use Twitter and Facebook to link back to your business website, promote your blog, educate, mention products or promotions and increase traffic to your site.

9. Host an educational webinar.

Hosting webinar establishes credibility and gives people the opportunity to feel like they personally know you and your company. And since people do business with people they know and trust—it can be a plus for your business.  Once you’ve created your webinar, you can repurpose the material as a series of You Tube videos and post to other social media outlets.

The advantages of creating a webinar includes offering a cost-effective way of communicating to your target audience. – either live or on demand – quickly and efficiently. A webinar can be viewed on a PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone.  User-friendly for participants: no travel or accommodation costs involved, and webinars can be searched and referred to for specific content afterwards.

10. Offer free samples.

If your business can make samples of your product for consumers to try, this is helpful “free” exposure. Two rules apply—be sure your samples are well made since people will assume that the samples reflect your best work and make sure they align with the work you want to do. For example, if you want to attract more branding work it would make sense to publish an ebook on branding. It wouldn’t make sense to release a photo retouching kit.

Free exposure is a powerful way to boost your business.  And, there are many interesting and fun ways to get your business organization and potential and existing customers to learn from it.

What is being said about you online?

heads-speak-bubble-960Do you know?

Whether you actively participate in social media, are an observer or if you don’t pay any attention to it,  it is important to manage and keep track of your business’s online reputation.

Why? Because your customers are talking about you and people are listening.

Local review sites are playing an important role in how customers are connecting and learning about your small business. These sites offer easy access for customers to locate your business as well as read independent reviews of your business’s performance.

So how do you manage your reputation when anybody and everybody has the opportunity to provide their opinion?

Negative reviews can hurt your business particularly if they appear prominently in search results.  The good news is that referrals from happy customers are traditionally the best source of new business and these online forums are powerful.  According to a survey completed by Opinion Research Corporation, 84 percent surveyed indicated that online reviews influence their buying decisions.

So what should you do?

Monitor

Listen and monitor online customer reviews.

Do a search of your business name and see what is generated.  Conduct this same search with different search engines because you might get different results.

Study what reviews come up and what sites those reviews reside on.

Then evaluate. What kinds of reviews are you getting?  Are they positive or negative? Is there a consistent problem that comes up in the negative reviews?  Can it be fixed?  What can you learn from these reviews?

Look at your online business presence from your current and prospective customers’ view. Ask others to do the search and observe and then ask what they think.  Preferably this group does not know your business and is not associated with your business.

Look at local search sites like Yelp, Citysearch, Yahoo Local, insider pages, goggle, Yellow Pages and Amazon to name a few.

Put together systems to stay on top of your online presence.  A Google Alert will automatically alert you when your business is mentioned in a review, blog or online platform.  Sign up to get reviews sent directly to your email.

Twitter is a very popular microblogging platform and you can keep track of what is being said by searching Twitter or using TweetDeck.

Manage

Once you have completed the initial monitoring of your online presence then develop a plan to manage that presence.

On local search sites make sure you have a detailed profile.  This profile will give your customers more information about your business as well as allow your business to appear in more search results.

Respond to reviews graciously while maintaining the best customer relations face in your responses.  Remember you don’t have to respond to every review particularly if the reviews are positive.  If the review is negative begin by trying to learn from that review and respond with what changes will be made.  Do a little research before you respond to see if you find the reviewer to offer legitimate criticism.  Some reviewers complain about everything and are destined to be negative.  Think carefully if you need to respond to those comments.  Don’t argue with your customer.  The important thing is to listen to your customer and let the customer know you are listening.

Depending on the review and contact information provided,  consider contacting the customer directly first.  See what you can do that way.  You probably should post some reply but talk to the customer first and see how that works.

Don’t post fake reviews to enhance your business and trash your competition.  This has come back to haunt some businesses because you can be caught.

Summary

  • Set up automatic alerts to contact you when your business is mentioned online.
  • Periodically conduct your own online search of your reviews as well as reviews of your competitors.
  • Make sure you are listed and have a complete listing and profile on local search sites.
  • Respond to reviews to show readers you are listening and that you care.
  • Use discretion with how you respond to negative reviews if you respond at all.
  • Monitor online reviews as a way to learn more about your business and your competitions.
  • Don’t write false reviews.  You can damage your reputation by writing or having your employees write misleading and false reviews.