10 steps to a strong content program

Is 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.
network-gray-dots-960network-gray-dots-960Is 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.

Engaging customers with an effective content strategy.

iStock_000019172466SmallWhat is  “content strategy” versus “content marketing”?
The term “content strategy” has been around since the late 1990’s and refers to the planning, development and management of content in written and/or digital media.

Today, content strategy focuses on how organizations (for-profit, non-profit and government) use stories and smart-data to get important information to specific internal and external target audiences.

Although the “content strategy” is related to “content marketing’ it is different.  “Content Marketing” is designed to drive “profitable customer action”.   “Content Strategy” is primarily designed to help the target audience be better informed.  A content strategy includes credible, believable, trustworthy, transparent content that build’s on your organization’s strategic goals.

Why does there need to be such an emphasize on developing and sticking to a “Content Strategy”?

Today more than any other time in history there is a glut of information hitting your audience from every angle and every media that they participate in or come in contact with.

These 3 key factors apply.
1)  There is increasing mounds of information that your target audience has access to. According to IBM statistics, all of the world’s data from the beginning of history through 2003 has been doubling every two days since 2004.
2) Our time is limited.  We only have 24 hours a day or 1,440 minutes per day and much of that time is already committed to our jobs, eating, sleeping and keeping relationships with family and friends.
3) Add to that, the very complex communications messages that we get everyday from everywhere and our attention is sparse at best.

Why is knowing and understanding your organization’s strategic direction important when developing the “Content Strategy”?

Knowing and focusing on your organization’s strategic direction is important to developing an effective content strategy.  Your company strategy is a road map to the future.  Your content strategy should include and revolve around the direction and goals that the leaders of your organization have outlined.   Those goals are where the organization is going in the next 1-3 years.

What are the tactics?

The tactics are the steps that are needed to fulfill on the overall strategy.  The strategy is important and planning on how to implement that strategy is also important.

What is the first step to developing an effective “Content Strategy”?

The foundation to developing an effective content strategy lies in knowing and understanding your organization’s target audience(s).  The better your understanding of this audience or audiences the better you can develop content that is of value and perceived value to your target audience.

What information should I know about my target?

To really know and understand your audience, you should know what matters to them not only in their work environment but also in their personal lives.

Many companies have a good handle on the demographics (age, gender, life-cycle stage, income and occupation of the population) and geographic (where they live) but they don’t always have a good idea of the psychographics (what they think, feel, what is important to them).  Getting psychographic information is challenging but well worth the time.

How do I gather psychographic information about my targets?

You go where they go.  You spend time with them and you really listen both to what they say and to what they do.  Get really curious about your target. Human beings make decisions based on themselves and their time.

Why is this information important to my “Content Strategy”?

The more content that you give people that they want the more they will spend time on content that matters to you.  In addition, this valuable content must be convenient to your target and easily accessed and shared.

What are the foundational steps I need to take to create an effective “Content Strategy” ?

Start by learning your organization’s strategic goals.  Where does your leadership see your organization in 1-3 years.

Know and understand your target audience. Providing content that your audience deems valuable is key and the way to valuable content creation is  knowing and understanding your audience and what is of value to them.  How do they think and feel?   What is important to them?   What information (that your company can provide) would this audience find interesting? What content needs can your organization fulfill for your target audience?

Analyze where your audience gets their information? What and where is the best place to reach them?

Test your messages to see which resonate with your target.

What is your competition doing?  Complete a competitive analysis to see what and where your competition is providing information.

There are no quick answers.  This stage takes time and effort.

Then, develop a “Content Strategy” based on the information you and/or your company representatives collected.  And test, test and test.

Content should be story driven, useful, findable, current, engaging, flexible and sharable.

Why is gathering this information time well spent?

You can write all the content that you want and distribute it over many channels however if it can’t be found by your target and if they do find it and it isn’t valued by your target they won’t pay attention to your message.  Then, when you do develop valuable content for them they may disregard it because of their past experiences with your organization’s content.