Content Marketing Strategy: A Step-by-Step Approach
Sheeba Manish / September 1, 2022
12 min read • 2353 words
Content is a powerful tool in a company’s marketing arsenal. In building content, you are creating permanent assets that speak to potential and current customers. It helps attract new customers, and engage with them meaningfully. It helps build authority, and inform and inspire customers. It increases the chances of their returning to your brand time and again. It also increases the visibility of the brand.
Content marketing involves the creation and distribution of relevant content to leads and current customers. The most common types of content that are used in content marketing include blogs, e-mails, newsletters, case studies, whitepapers, videos, podcasts, and social media posts.
HubSpot is one of the leading brands in CRM and marketing automation. They have used content marketing as a powerful inbound tool. As a part of Brandwagon, Wistia’s original series, Chris Savage, CEO of Wistia, spoke with Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot. Halligan noted the following about the power of content marketing.
If you can create remarkable, interesting content on the Internet and people link to it, that content will spread. It will spread in social. It will spread on Google. It will become a permanent asset kind of in your marketing balance sheet.
And the more pieces of content you create, the more questions to answers you have, that becomes, over time, an incredibly valuable asset. So we've created, at this point, probably hundreds of thousands of pieces of content to answer almost every question you could come up with associated with marketing or sales or service. And because we've been at it so long, boy, the amount of leverage we get from that is really insane. We get north of 10 million visitors a month to our site, almost all of which is organic from Google.
If you want to implement a content marketing strategy in your company there is a step-by-step format you can institute and initiate to keep publishing fresh and useful content that customers will keep coming back to read.
Step 1: Ideate
Content marketing is business storytelling. It both informs and engages customers. These stories help prospective customers make decisions, engage and teach audiences and explain why your business does what it does. They help in creating an emotional resonance with customers.
The first step in content marketing is to be clear on your messaging. Why do you run this business and what customer needs are you trying to solve? Answering this informs customers of the purpose of the brand. Simon Sinek’s powerful golden circle model helps businesses answer the what, how and why of their brand. In the model, the why appeals to the emotional part of the brain and forms a hook with the user.
In explaining the circle, Sinek uses Apple as an example. The What of Apple is that they make great computers. The How is that they design beautiful products that are easy to use. The Why is that they challenge the status quo. So, Apple reimagines computers and constantly upgrades expectations.
This is why Apple continues to be a design masterpiece rather than just a fast performing logic and task-based machine by customers. Apple products are coveted and are considered top of the line. Apple has connected with customers as a premium brand through its brand messaging and content marketing strategy.
Step 2: Create Content Pillars
Content can be built around pillars. Each pillar will have a cluster of related topics around which content can be generated. The pillar and cluster approach helps create real breadth and depth of content.
The pillar page has external and internal resources within it. It could also be a product/service pillar page. Alternatively, a business could choose to build a purely company-owned content resources pillar page.
The clusters are based on relevant keywords. Blogs or videos present sub-topics under these keywords. These sub-topics are then linked to the pillar page through hyperlinks.
There are some things to keep in mind while developing pillars and content clusters to optimize it better.
**Auditing: **take an audit of existing content across departments and various formats. Previous content efforts, some offline may yield some great content that can be made available to users. It may also provide pointers and resources to build new content.
**Repurposing: **some types of content may be worth repurposing. They can be converted into new formats (like a video, a downloadable or a podcast) or content can be added to make it current and relevant.
**Content Optimization: **keep the content entertaining and educational. Use heat maps to understand where customers are using the site most. Add video to improve perception and increase the chances of the content being viewed and understood.
Topic selection in content marketing is critical for its success. In selecting topics they can be direct topics like information about a new product or allied topics. A candle-making business could develop content about its new line of candles (direct topic), or it could also write about creating an ambience at home (indirect topic) that could incorporate the use of candles.
Topics that stay relevant for a long time, or evergreen topics make good business sense. Newer developments under these broad topics can be published which will help maintain the freshness of the content.
Content marketing involves content auditing in which existing content is rewritten or repurposed with newer information or in newer formats. This generates enough content for the publishing pipeline and helps keep the content fresh.
Step 3: Create a Content Calendar
Once you have conceptualized and generated content ideas, make an editorial content calendar. The calendar must include the publishing date and the person to whom the content is assigned. Indicate both short-term and long-term content requirements in the calendar.
There are various templates available on the Internet that you can use or you can create one that suits your content requirements and workflow best. The content editorial calendar is a plan in which proposed publishing dates, topics, keywords, expected Call to Action and target personas are listed. The Hubspot editorial calendar is a good example of an editorial content calendar template.
Step 4: Write
Now that the topic is selected, the focus shifts to the writing. The writing of blogs, scripts for videos, case studies, templates, web copy and social media content are all different. A piece of content should ideally have 3 main takeaways and should be written keeping the user persona in mind.
The content and language must not confuse the reader but inform them. Employ business storytelling to persuade and engage users.
Content creators often refer to a style guide while generating content.
If the style guide is already not developed it can be created. You can also use The Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Style manual. They are both great style guides. A style guide helps keep the brand voice, tone, punctuation and grammar consistent.
Great writing helps in creating a clear and differentiated brand identity that helps cut through the noise of the market. User readability can be increased by adopting the following points.
A clear post title increases the chances of the content being read. A summary of the article below the title gives the reader an idea of what to expect. Subheadings are also helpful when moving from one idea to the next.
Incorporate lists in the post for better comprehension of the content. This helps structure the post. Lists help break the monotony of paragraphs and retain points easily.
Keyword usage: Use suggested keywords and long tail keywords for your content. Keyword stuffing will reduce readability and sound repetitive. If you have a keyword, you can use auto-complete or related searches to generate and set the scope of blog ideas.
Use white spaces between paragraphs for better readability. Include optimized images in the post.
Incorporating the brand voice
If the brand were a person it would embody a tone and voice that should stay consistent. Ensure the brand voice and tone are clear in the content strategy. Identify the characteristics of the brand voice; for example, it could be competent, knowledgeable, and informed. Break this down further into how the content will sound this way.
Putting down voice characteristics helps content creators work within a framework. When the content has a consistent brand voice it becomes more authoritative.
Maintaining the brand voice can become a challenge as the number of creators grows. The content marketing team must document the elements of the brand voice and tone and check periodically if the content is consistent with it. It can also update changes to the brand voice and tone if required.
Step 5: Edit
The editing team is critical for the quality of the content. They ensure that the content is factual, grammatically correct and contextually accurate. They are the impassioned eyes that work for the writer and the reader alike.
The editing team is composed of copy editors and strategic content editors.
Copy editors check for grammar usage, typos and punctuation. They ensure that the copy is clean and readable.
Strategic content editors look at what is written, why it is written, the flow of ideas into each other and the readability of the content. They help writers fix gaps they have missed and help make the content taut. They focus on whether the content adds value to readers and if it fits into the company’s content marketing strategy. They are more big-picture than copy editors.
The editing process ensures consistency and readability and, is an important link in content marketing.
Step 6: Review
After content editing, it is sent to a review group which may include marketing, branding, production, customer service and sales. The review comments are incorporated where necessary and the content is reviewed again.
Step 7: Approval
Different review teams sign off after one or more rounds of review. This means the content has gone through a rigorous check from different points of views. Softwares like filestage help aggregate the reviews and move towards approval.
Step 8: Publishing
The edited and reviewed content is now ready for publishing. This process requires a content roll-out plan. The content needs to be scheduled and packaged for different channels. E-mail behaves differently from social media and YouTube. The packaging and format should be targeted at each channel differently because they speak to different audiences with different preferences for receiving and understanding the content.
In doing so the content engages customers effectively and better Call to Action (CTA) rates can be expected.
Include meta description tags and HTML tags that describe the content during organic searches. This provides a short description of the content; customers seeking this content will click on it, thus improving the content’s rank and it will attract more inbound traffic.
Step 9: Performance Measurement
The published content must be analyzed and scrutinized for its performance. Doing this exercise can help build customer insights and provide direction on what kind of content is engaging customers. The type of content, its reach and the opening rates of the content are worth measuring too.
This information will propel a targeted approach to future content. It will help in optimizing your resources and generating better brand awareness and sales.
Some of the key performance indicators or KPIs that can be used are the three stages of the buying process for which the content is written. These are brand awareness, engagement and conversion.
KPIs of brand awareness are:
- Social shares
KPIs of engagement are:
- Page views
- Bounce rates
- Time spent on each session
- Social shares
KPIs of conversion are:
- Lead conversion
- Landing page conversion rate
Keyword ranking, comments and influencer mentions are also good indicators of content success.
In the backdrop of all these steps is workflow management, a continuous process in which the content marketing team has a snapshot of at what stage the content asset is at the moment.
It helps answer questions like, is the content being reviewed by a subject matter expert? Has it gone back to the content writer for additions to fill gaps in content? Is the content asset reviewed for subject and grammar and is awaiting approval for publication? Are the optimized images for the content asset ready?
Project management softwares like Trello, Paymo, Nuclino, Teamwork and Podio help manage the content workflow. Some companies used shared documents to update the team on the current status of the content process.
Content marketing workflow management helps break down plans into implementable units. It helps manage the different teams working on different types of content and content channels. It helps in the allocation of tasks and requests updates from them.
In case there are delays or bottlenecks, a workflow management system helps the project manager(s) clear them.
A robust and flowing content marketing strategy helps build customer trust and increases business growth. Instead of shouting over the competition, it helps to draw an interested audience and engage with them.
It does not interrupt the customer but has conversations with them when they want to. Content marketing is a conversation starter that creates brand awareness and builds trust in the brand. It also helps in generating brand authority and is a partner in the buying process rather than an aggressive pusher.
The customer expectation about the process of choosing brands and having a relationship with them is a collaborative one. A brand that offers relevant product information and resources through its content assets is bound to succeed and become a customer favourite.
A clear content marketing strategy is integral to a company’s business strategy and is well worth the time spent on it. Adopting a systematic approach to creating and distributing content helps a company’s content marketing strategy come alive strongly.