The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing


1. Why Strategy Must Come First

“Channel activity has to flow from the overarching content strategy.”

There is a tendency for content marketers to jump into whatever channel they believe their audience is active on, without giving much thought to what it is they’re trying to achieve or how they’re going to achieve it. Needless to say, that is a brilliant way of expending a huge amount of effort for very little gain. As with anything in business, it needs to form part of a broader strategy.

The single most important principle to grasp is that the channel activity itself – whether that’s Facebook, LinkedIn, a blog or email – should not be treated as separate silos. Instead, it all has to flow from the overarching content strategy, and if you get that content right, then to some extent your channel activity is going to take care of itself. Get it wrong, and no matter how clever your channel tactics are, you’re always going to have an uphill struggle.

The other important point here is efficiency. If you’re like 95% of digital marketers, then you’re probably constantly being set more ambitious goals without the budget or resources to match. Ensuring you’re able to use your time and budget efficiently is everything, and that’s the other reason you need a clear strategy for your content – it is going to give you a tonne of time back each month.

2. Why You Need to Think Bigger

“Being 3% better than the competition is not a strategy. Set your sights at 300%.”

Many marketers seem to think that simply having well constructed content that is of interest to their audience is enough. Well it might be if you’re operating in a niche with little competition, but in most markets, you’re going to have to be more ambitious or you’ll never cut through the noise.

In fact, content marketing is one of those endeavours where the higher you set your sights, the better. That way, even if you only ever get half way there, you’re going to guarantee you’re doing something a hell of a lot more interesting than 95% of other brands in your market.

So what do I mean when I say “be ambitious”? Well, it could be that you want to build a community around a certain topic. It might be that you intend to engage with key influencers, although in most consumer markets, that’s not really much of a competitive advantage anymore. It might be that you intend for the brand to become famous for a particular form of insight or data. It may be that you’re going to hold an annual event each year for your industry, or perhaps publish a book.

Whatever it is, this ambitious goal will give direction to your activity and ensure it’s all aligned, and will also help you to get the buy-in of other stakeholders – whether they’re internal or external – as they will be genuinely excited and intrigued by what you’re trying to achieve.

Finally, this big idea will ensure you are actually developing an asset over time. Something that accumulates value with each month rather than a disjointed series of very nice, but completely different, activities that add up to nothing.

So whatever your goal is, make sure it’s big. Being 3% better than the competition is not a strategy. You’ve got to aim to be 300% better or do something else that they’ve never even thought of.

3. Know Your Market

“The best marketers and business people are always the ones that spend the most time scrutinising the competition.”

As with any form of marketing, there are always lessons to be learnt from the competition’s content, and when I say competition, I don’t just mean your obvious, direct competition, but any brand that is trying to engage your audience with similar messaging. So if, for example, you are a law firm in London seeking to target business owners, you’re not only going to look at other law firms in London, but you’re going to look at other brands selling to business owners, regardless of their products or services.

What you’re trying to find through this research is two things:

You’re trying to get a sense of where these brands are spending their time and money, because it’s probably an indication of where you need to begin.
Secondly, you’re looking for examples of content that seems to be effective in engaging your audience, but that is not being fully exploited by your direct competition. Those gaps represent your opportunity.
As with any market research, this is all front loaded and you’re going to learn 80% of your lessons during the pre-launch phase. However, it is something that of course evolves, so you’re going to want to check in on these brands every few months. In fact, it can be a great source of ongoing inspiration for your content calendars.

So in summary, you need to ensure you are allocating sufficient time to conduct proper market research. It may not sound exciting but it’s no coincidence that the best marketers, and business people for that matter, are always the ones that spend the most time scrutinising the competition. While it may feel like wasted time in the moment, it’s going to make the value of everything you do thereafter so much greater.

4. Why Every Content Strategy Needs a Clear Framework

“Turn nice content into actual business.”

Generating new ideas for content can be hugely challenging. If you start with a blank canvas every day, waiting for inspiration to strike, you may find you end up waiting an awfully long time, and what you end up with is a heavily disjointed range of topics that fail to tell an overarching story. This is why we create content pillars.

Content pillars are recurring themes that provide a framework for our content generation. For example, if you are a law firm trying to sell to business owners, your pillars might include topics such as leadership, strategy and culture – in other words, things that are of interest to business owners. There will of course also need to be a pillar relating to business law, but the point is that you must first start on the terms of your target audience if you are to generate their interest, then eventually find the intersection between their world and your own. This is the point at which we can then introduce the prospect to our products and services without immediately losing their interest. In other words, this is how we turn nice content into actual business.

It’s important with any form of content marketing that you are clear on what the objective is. A common classification would be to segment content into that which is intended to maximise your brand awareness – that will typically be of a more emotive nature and really easy to digest, often very visual. Then we have the content that will nurture the relationship, which is usually more educational and detailed, and then we have the content that will drive an action which is of course more product orientated and promotional.

Before starting your activity, it can be helpful to create a matrix that breaks down your content by these different elements, so content pillar on one axis and objective on the other. You can also include details of the format the content will take – image, video, podcast, blog, status update, etc – and the channels that each item corresponds to. For example, highly visual content may be used on instagram and Facebook, while more educational content might be focused on the blog and email.

By having this framework you will not only ensure you are telling a consistent story that puts the users needs ahead of your own, but also that you are always clear on what it is you are trying to achieve and therefore how exactly success should be measured.

5. Saving Time With Smart Content Calendars

“As marketers time is all we have. An effective process reserves as much of that time as possible for doing amazing work that gets results.”

I can think of nothing more challenging within content marketing than having to generate completely fresh ideas every day. Don’t get me wrong, there will of course be new events that occur within your industry or among your target audience that you wish to jump on, but 90% of your content should be created and scheduled long before the date in question.

By working with a content calendar, whether it’s monthly or quarterly, you can ensure a smooth and efficient workflow, particularly if there are multiple people involved in the creation and distribution of the content.

There are various content platforms you can use to aid this process, but even a simple excel spreadsheet can work fine. Typically it will need to list the details of the content, its objective, which channels it corresponds to, the budget it has allocated to its promotion and whether or not it has been signed off by the necessary parties.

This may not sound like the most exciting of areas, but as marketers time is all we have, and an effective process for your content calendar that minimises admin will ensure you can reserve as much of that time as possible for doing amazing work that gets results.

6. Maximising the Impact and Efficiency of Your Content

“Operational efficiency is often the difference between success and failure. Achieve more with less.”

We have a tendency, as marketers, to become so absorbed in the job of creating great content that we don’t think about it practically. We fail to consider how we can extract the most amount of value from our content, with the smallest investment of time and money.

Operational efficiency, while not glamorous, is often the difference between success and failure, so I want to talk through a few ways that you can achieve more with less.

The first is a principle known as CODE, which stands for create once, distribute everywhere. The notion is simple – while you may wish to tweak your content for each channel, it makes no sense to approach each channel individually. Instead you should approach them collectively, so a video you shoot may go up in its full length on your blog, but then chopped up into smaller sections for social media. You may pull out some powerful snippets from it to create visual assets for instagram or twitter, and use the transcription as the basis of an email. You may even feature quotes from within the video in a white paper download. By chopping up the asset and using it as much as possible, you not only save a tonne of time, but ensure a consistent story is being told across all channels.
The next piece of advice is to focus on evergreen content rathe than topical content. Evergreen content is that which won’t go out of date too soon, which means you can repost it every few months, unlike more topical content which is out of date often within hours of it being posted.
Then there is the importance of website content. Unlike social media content which is typically ephemeral in nature and is being published on a platform that you don’t own, website content is all yours and will bring in search engine traffic month after month. In fact, most websites generate the majority of their traffic in a given month, not from activity in that month, but from old content that already existed from previous months. This compound nature of website content makes it so much more valuable than other forms of content, and is something that most brands underestimate.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you need to ensure you are investing effectively in the promotion of your content.

7. Promoting Your Content Via Intelligent Media Plans

“If you’re not paying for promotion then there’s almost no point posting content at all.”

A staggeringly small proportion of overall marketing content online receives any kind of promotion at all. I want you to think for a moment how crazy that is. Let’s imagine that you value your time at £50 an hour, and you spend 5 hours creating and publishing a really nice blog post. That’s £250 right there that has effectively been invested, and yet as it stands that piece of content will probably be seen by just a handful of people unless you have a large and engaged email list. Simply dropping a link on to facebook may have once upon a time generated lots of organic views and engagement, but organic reach on facebook is now almost negligible. If you’re not paying for promotion then there’s almost no point posting content on there at all.

You may get a bit more success on other social media channels, but probably not much unless you have a particularly strong personal brand. So what happens is that we post that piece of content, stick it on a few different social channels, nobody see’s it, and we move on to the next piece of content that will achieve equally little.

This is madness. We have effectively spent £250 and achieved nothing, when we could have spent just another five or ten pounds – nothing in the grand scheme of things – and the reach of the content would be so much greater. Rather than being seen by a handful of people, it would have been seen by thousands or tens of thousands.

This is why media plans are so important. There is absolutely no point investing in content if we are not also investing in its promotion. Your media plan, which, like your content calendar, can be as simple as a few columns on a spreadsheet, needs to list the piece of content it relates to, the budget that’s being spent, the date the promotion will take place, the channel this applies to, who the target audience is and how success will be measured.

Media planning for the most part is a really very simple process, but it is often the difference between a successful campaign and completely wasting your time. If anything, I would urge you to create much less content, and take some of that leftover budget and stick it into ensuring that the content you do create actually achieves its goals.

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