The modern road trip is simple. You thumb in your destination, and a soothing voice in your phone or GPS device guides you through every turn.
This virtual guide warns you of looming traffic or speed traps. If you make a wrong turn, she updates and reroutes you. If you find yourself out of range, you still have a map right there on your device and—if you’re smart—a backup in the glove compartment.
The same premise applies to content marketing. You have objectives. You have creative ideas. But you still need a strategic guide to get you there. Backtracking at wrong turns is not an option, and there’s a lot more at stake than a late arrival.
For the most part, marketers are moving in the right direction. According to the 2016 B2B Content Marketing study by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, nearly 90 percent of the 1,100 marketers surveyed employ content marketing. That’s encouraging.
Less encouraging: 41 percent of them depend on an undocumented strategy, and 21 percent don’t currently have a strategy at all. They’re driving aimlessly.
A smart content marketing program starts with strategy for a reason. You can create all the beautiful features, immersive infographics and quippy social posts you want, but they won’t make a dent unless you know they’re the right tools for you.
Strategy starts by understanding your objectives. They may include top- and bottom-line growth, but content marketing also tends to focus on building awareness, trust and loyalty at the other end of the sales funnel.
"You have objectives. You have creative ideas. But you still need a strategic guide to get you there."
You have to understand your targeted audiences, too. This goes much deeper than demographics. Beyond age groups, income and location, what motivates them? Whom do they follow on Twitter? Do they even use Twitter? Where do they get their news? Do they subscribe to any particular magazines?
When you ask the right questions and do the right research, you get a sense for what content will hit the mark. Then you know how to build a program, including which channels to use—from magazines to videos, social exclusives to podcasts. You also know what tone and art styles work best and even how frequently to communicate. In other words, you have a map for your content marketing.
But the work doesn’t stop once you hit the road. Just as Siri or GPS update as you change routes, you have to be willing to shift based on what metrics and feedback tell you. Create a plan to assess numbers and trends, then act on it through your content planning. Ultimately, you need to tie those content metrics into your overall return on investment, too. Is your content engaging your audience? Is it encouraging a buy or a join downstream?
Define what you want to measure up front, then never stop measuring it. And think of your strategy as a living, breathing document that you update when evidence shows you need to change direction.
Too many organizations plod along with a bare bones, undocumented content marketing strategy (if they have one at all). They think, “This is what we’ve always done” without asking whether what they’ve always done is working.
The ultimate price is content that is mundane, off-target or poorly executed. Content that fails to delight and engage. Content that feels like brand messaging instead of valuable information.
Strategy sparks the creativity that characterizes successful content marketing programs. Without it, you’re driving a long, unknown route with no GPS or map.