What to consider when planning your content strategy

Solomon Radley28/08/2018

To help you deliver highly successful content initiatives in 2019, here’s how to avoid the three biggest marketing mistakes that stop content marketing from driving business results.

When you started your career, the chances are you didn’t dream of being ‘moderately’ successful. In fact, if you’re reading this even being ‘very’ successful probably wasn’t good enough.

You wanted to be the best. And we’re willing to bet you have the same aspirations for your 2019 content strategy.

But while most businesses say their content strategy is “somewhat more successful” now than it was a year ago, the overwhelming majority are still failing to reach their full potential.

Just 3 per cent of organisations would describe their content marketing as “extremely successful”, according to the CMI’s 2018 benchmarking report. That’s despite the fact that 93 per cent say their organisation is committed to content marketing.

Take a closer look at the data and a pattern starts to emerge. Content strategy, content creation and content distribution are rated as the three factors most likely to increase a brand’s content marketing success. But in all three, many brands are still making the same old mistakes.

True, we’ve seen progress in these areas this year. The CMI reports that 83 per cent of marketers are now creating higher quality content, while 68 per cent have improved their content strategy and 41 per cent have a better understanding of which distribution channels work for them.

But we’re not here today to talk about this kind of gradual improvement. We’re here to look at what you can do today to create a 2019 content plan that puts you in that top 3 per cent of extremely successful content marketers.

That means forgetting for a moment about what most businesses are doing right and instead looking at what virtually all of them still get wrong when developing each year’s inbound marketing plan.

Bearing that in mind, here are the top three things you should consider when creating your 2019 content plan.

Aligning your content with business objectives is just half the battle

Every content marketer worth their salt knows it’s important to align your content strategy with your organisation’s business objectives.

What many don’t realise is that simply knowing what those objectives are isn’t enough to do this successfully. You also need a clear picture of your audience’s interests and drivers.

Forgetting this piece of the puzzle is one of the most common mistakes marketers make when planning their content strategy. It’s why 87 per cent of B2B content marketers say they struggle to produce content that truly engages their buyers.

Imagine you’re the CMO of an advertising software company. Your goal for the year is to increase awareness of your brand to 75 per cent of senior advertising professionals. So, you decide you’re going to deliver a brand awareness campaign to engage that target audience.

At this point, many marketers will jump straight to brainstorming what that campaign will be – and that’s their first mistake.

Before you can make a rational decision about the messages you’ll include in your campaign or the ideas you’ll talk about, you need to know exactly what your audience is interested in. Who are they? What motivates them at work? What challenges are they facing right now?

“You need to know which people among your audience are most likely to help your company grow,” says marketing guru Neil Patel. “Consider what your audience needs help with, the struggles they have and how you can align content with their interests and needs to provide the most value.”

This will mean dividing your overall target audience into primary, secondary and tertiary audiences and analysing what matters to each group.

Your primary audiences are essentially your clients and prospects. Secondary audiences either have the potential to become prospects in the future or to influence the decision‐making of your primary audience. Finally, the tertiary audience contains people who can amplify and help spread your message.

As you do this, be sure to also consider how these groups like to consume their content and how well your existing content meets their needs.

In our ad tech example, your primary audience might be senior B2B marketers. But you would also want to engage secondary audiences including the C‐suite members who will be involved in deciding how their company’s marketing budget should be spent.

While researching how C‐suite members consume their content, you might discover that 46 per cent engage with branded content on mobile devices, while 74 per cent are most receptive to receiving content in the morning before work. You may then go on to uncover specific business challenges they are grappling with this year.

All this information has real‐world implications for which channels and content formats you should use to engage your audience segments. So, gathering and documenting it is a vital step when creating your 2019 content plan.

It’s only when you have a clear picture of who you’re creating content for that you’re ready to think about which messages will resonate with them.

Tailor specific messages for each stage of the marketing funnel

Some will tell you that mediocre content won’t deliver results in 2019. But the truth is, mediocre content has never been a wise investment.

In 1923, Claude Hopkins wrote Scientific Advertising, one of the most important marketing guides ever created. The buzzwords we use to talk about marketing may have changed over the past 100 years, but Hopkins’ fundamental message is as relevant as ever.

“The best ads do not ask one to buy,” he says. “Often, they do not quote a price. They do not say that dealers handle the product. The ads are based entirely on service. They offer wanted information.”

Today, we talk about guiding buyers through the marketing funnel, rather than direct mail sales letters. But, the fundamentals of writing great content haven’t changed. Content for the top of the marketing funnel is about grabbing the audience’s attention and making them want to find out more.

Opening with information about your products or services is a sure‐fire way to put someone off reading your content. Instead, lead with a unique story, make a bold proclamation or outline the solution to a problem that’s been keeping them up at night.

This is where all the extra time you spend profiling your target audiences will come into its own.

Armed with these insights, you’ll be in a far better position to identify the key messages that will resonate with your customers. What’s more, you’ll have a clear idea about which types of content they’ll be looking for. (Formats that work well early in the customer journey include blog posts, social media content and video.)

It’s only after you’ve drawn someone in and won that initial engagement that you can start to think about nurturing them through their buyer journey.

That’s the second mistake most marketers make when designing their content strategies. You need to be clear about what messages buyers will receive at each stage of their journey and ensure they aren’t served product‐centric content too early on.

Content marketing is great for attracting relevant prospects and inspiring them by sharing innovative solutions to the challenges they face. But for it to work, the top‐of‐funnel initiatives you develop must be very different from the tactics you deploy later on in the buyer journey.

Once you’ve planned what topics and ideas you’ll build your 2019 content plan around, the last piece of the puzzle is to think about the specific pieces of content you’ll create and how to distribute them for maximum impact.

Test different channels and formats to get your message heard

The best content marketers don’t just match the content they create to where their audience is in the marketing funnel. They also do the same for their distribution strategy.

A prospect that reads your email newsletter every week might download your new guide right away if you email them to announce its launch. But someone who isn’t already engaging with your content regularly will probably ignore an email of this kind.

So, the third mistake marketers make when planning B2B content initiatives is assuming that everyone they create content for is at the same point in the marketing loop.

Different prospects will progress through their buyer journeys at different speeds. So, you’ll need to create content you can repurpose for distribution in a variety of channels and formats to suit different buyers’ preferences.

Let’s say you decide to commission a piece of original research to form the backbone of your content strategy.

As the report you publish will explore a topic in depth, it’s best to think of it as sitting somewhere between the top and middle of your marketing funnel. To reach less engaged prospects, you might then repurpose some chapters as posts for your blog. Then, you may use its data to create infographics and record videos with industry influencers to post on social media.

You could even look to run educational webinars, generate earned media coverage, secure placement in respected newspaper supplements or print personalised content to mail directly to key prospects.

Remember, the greatest challenge you face at the top of the marketing process is standing out from the crowd. The amount of branded content being created has tripled in recent years, so you need to be doing something unique or innovative to get your content seen.

On the creation side, that means publishing brave and bold ideas that capture your audience’s imagination. But experimenting with unconventional channels and formats can also yield great results.

“Consider integrated campaigns and creative distribution tactics,” advises Forbes’ John Hall. “Focus on ways to engage audience members that [your] industry competitors might not be considering.”

Above all, don’t be afraid to try new things. If you aren’t already enjoying exceptional results, now is the perfect time to change that.

Mastering the art of content strategy, creation and distribution is the key to unlocking the full potential of your content marketing.

Simply follow the three steps we’ve outlined here to identify the weak spots in your current regime and you too could join that top 3 per cent of extremely successful content marketers in 2019.

Key takeaways

  • Aligning your content with business objectives is just half the battle. Arm yourself with the insights you need to publish ideas that resonate with your customers before you even put pen to paper.
  • Mediocre content won’t generate results in 2019.Tailor inspiring messages for prospects at each stage of the marketing funnel and make sure buyers aren’t served product‐centric content too early on.
  • Test different channels and formats to get your message heard. Repurpose your content so it can be distributed in different mediums to suit different buyers’ preferences.