by Scott Meis
May 26th, 2015

We’ve hit a bit of a danger zone.

In the last couple years, we’ve witnessed an increasing interest and dialogue around both content strategy and content marketing. On the surface, this is a good thing. Brands have realized that they can’t always go straight in for a kiss (marketing) when first meeting a target audience. Too quick. Too bold. Be normal. Instead, it’s imperative that they first take some time to smartly build trust (strategy) and an actual relationship (gasp!).

Seems simple, right? Here’s the problem.

Marketers love doing marketing. The fun anthem video, the dynamic social campaign, the grand interactive story, the epic infographic, etc. We love hands-on production and prompting people to react. That’s the fun stuff.

The not-so-fun stuff? Strategy. Why? Because it’s hard. In a good way, of course. It takes time and it requires a heck of a lot of thinking.

Now there are hundreds of definitions floating around that attempt to differentiate content strategy from content marketing. I happen to be a big fan of simplicity, and in that vein, I like to think about content strategy as the blueprint or plan, and content marketing as the tools or execution. In this context, its easy to see that you can’t do content marketing without content strategy. It’s imperative — and yet, there is a disconnect between brands actually putting proper content strategies in place.

Earlier this year, the Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 B2B trends report revealed that only 35 percent of B2B marketers surveyed have a documented content strategy. Without a documented strategy, marketers run the risk of firing blindly or making broad assumptions that stray from a clear vision and organizational consensus.

CMI_ContentStrategyB2B

So, how does one go about creating a content strategy to ensure effective content marketing efforts? Here are 5 key components to consider.

1. Start With Business Strategy, Marketing Goals and Objectives

No surprise here, but what is surprising is how often this part is gleaned over or completely overlooked. What’s important to differentiate is that business strategy is the decision on the source of volume to achieve the business objective.

For example, “sell more widgets to raise awareness of our widgets” is not a business strategy.

Instead, “sell more widgets by convincing XYZ existing widget holders to upgrade to our new widget” is a business strategy, because there is a clear source of volume.

Subsequently, marketing goals and objectives detail how the function of marketing will support the overall business strategy.The fine folks over at HubSpot have created a great planning template for creating SMART goals.

2. Define Your Target Audience

This is key. Challenge yourself to refine your target audience down to a primary and secondary audience that clearly maps back to your marketing goals and objectives. For a B2B brand, this may mean honing in specifically around content for the C-Suite as opposed to trying to go after the C-Suite plus product-level decision-makers. Hold true to your focus.

Who is this audience? Age, sex, location, all the good demographic data. How, when and where do they consume relevant content that pertains to your efforts? What pain points and challenges do they have? What do they value? How do they frame and evaluate experiences, and what actions do they take to meet their needs? Who do they rely on to be informed about their decisions and what factors ultimately trigger their end decision-making?

There is a lot to consider, and likely multiple ways to derive the information you need. While initial persona planning is a good exercise, I strongly encourage you to look across the following to get an in-depth perspective:

    • Existing data and insights (existing survey data and personas)
    • Third-party information (industry segmentation)
    • Subject-matter experts (those dealing directly with customers, third-party experts)
    • Quantitative research (web analytics, surveys, syndicated data)
    • Qualitative research (customer interviews, focus groups)

 

3. Develop Your Strategy

This is where you’re going to dump some massive brain power. You need a clear strategic tie to how you will approach reaching your defined audience, in order to achieve your established marketing goals and objectives laddering up to the overarching business strategy. Start with a simple 1 or 2 sentence statement that summarizes your strategy based on the following considerations:

    • What dynamic elements or trends are shaping the future of your industry or category?
    • How are you going to differentiate from your competition?
    • How is our brand currently being perceived that may need to shift or be accelerated?
    • What’s going on from a broader cultural standpoint that we need to be cognizant of and possibly leverage?

 

Next, you’ll want to consider your content topic themes and messaging framework to support your content strategy.

4. Craft Your Tactical Framework

This is the nuts and bolts. The space where most marketers tend to jump first. This is the guts of how you will put your plan into action. The governance, staffing, process, workflow, activation and engagement ideas, assets that will be created, all of it. This of course varies greatly from brand to brand. I happen to be a big fan of this framework for a content solar system when thinking through content assets.

5. Structure Measurement, Timeline and Budget

While timeline and budget may ultimately impact what you can and can’t do, I encourage you to never allow it to hinder your strategic thinking and vision. Timelines shift, budgets change, but a sound strategy will always be the crux that provides internal decision-makers with the confidence to invest in content marketing. Similarly, having proper KPIs in place and focusing on real-time analytics and insights can be crucial to informing data-driven strategy.

 

This article first appeared on Weber Shandwick’s Seattle website 

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