Content marketing is as powerful a tool as ever, with nearly 70% of marketers saying they plan to increase their content budget in the year ahead. At the same time, your customers’ content preferences are constantly evolving, and exciting new technologies are quickly reshaping the way many marketers work. This means it’s more important than ever to have a strong strategy when it comes to your content marketing efforts.
Having a solid content marketing strategy in place lets you get the most out of your content marketing investment. In this complete guide, we explore some best practices for how to develop a content strategy that achieves results. You’ll also find our handy 14-step plan to create a smart, future-proof content marketing strategy.
What is a content strategy?
We all know that content is the ideal way to reach many common marketing goals, whether it’s boosting conversion, generating leads, building loyalty, raising brand awareness or more. Yet there’s more to content marketing than simply churning out loads of content and seeing what happens.
Successful content campaigns require a strategic approach. This includes research, planning, execution and monitoring. By working out a clear content marketing strategy, you increase the likelihood that your content is meaningful, consistent and aligned with your brand’s tone of voice and overall business strategy.
Think of a content strategy as a roadmap that guides you and your team on how you can create, distribute and manage your content in alignment with your marketing goals. The right strategy also ensures that your content is aligned with your target audience’s needs, so you provide the right content to the right target audience at the right time.
As you know, content marketing involves many different tasks and processes. Having a content strategy in place helps you keep everyone in your team on the same page. It also makes it easier to maintain a clear view of all the various elements, such as your content calendar, content formats, distribution channels, messaging and performance tracking.
Why do you need a content strategy?
If you’re like most marketers, you’re a creative professional who is always interested in trying new techniques. So, you might think that having a strategy in place imposes strict rules that might stifle your team’s creativity. You might prefer to have the freedom to experiment and see what works. Don’t worry: a realistic content marketing strategy still leaves plenty of room for creativity and experimenting.
The point of having a strategy is simply to make your work more impactful and efficient. Here are some of the benefits of having a content marketing strategy:
Establishing your brand’s voice and identity: A content strategy ensures that your brand’s messaging, tone and style are consistent across all your content campaigns. That makes your brand more recognisable, so you build trust with your target audiences.
Adding more value for your target audiences: A strategic understanding of your audience’s needs, pain points and preferences helps you develop content that addresses their specific challenges and adds value. This helps you establish thought leadership in your industry and become an authoritative source of knowledge.
Increasing brand awareness and visibility: A strong content strategy raises your brand’s visibility. Strategically distributing and optimising your content helps you attract a wider audience and grow your brand.
Driving organic traffic and improving search engine rankings: Developing high-quality, optimised content improves your website’s search engine rankings, leading to increased organic traffic. By incorporating relevant keywords, optimising meta tags and creating high-quality content that matches your audiences’ search intent, you help your content earn a higher position on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Nurturing and engaging your existing customer base: A content strategy allows you to nurture your existing customers by delivering relevant, valuable content at every stage of the customer journey. Providing lasting value deepens the customer relationship, encourages repeat business and turns your customers into fans and ambassadors for your brand.
Generating leads and boosting conversion: Strategic content creation helps you attract new customers and guide them through the sales funnel. By offering valuable content at each stage of the buyer journey, you educate potential customers, address their concerns and ultimately make them more likely to convert.
Staying ahead of your competitors: A content strategy helps you keep on top of market trends, customer preferences and your competitors’ marketing activities. As a result, you can continually improve your content approach, so you stay relevant and competitive.
What makes a good content strategy?
Content marketing strategies come in all shapes and sizes, but there are some fundamental elements you’ll always want to include:
Clear goals: The content of a marketing strategy must always align with your overall business objectives. Your content creations should all be focused on contributing to your company’s success. Strategic content marketing planning provides focus and direction, so you can measure your performance and make data-driven decisions.
Your target audience (personas): Creating content that really resonates starts with a clear understanding of your audience’s needs, preferences, emotional triggers and pain points. Your strategy should include audience research, which enables you to create detailed buyer personas. Each persona represents a different segment of your target audience. These personas help guide your content creating to make sure you’re hitting on the right messaging, tone, channels and content formats.
Style guidelines: An important part of marketing content strategy is consistency. You want your content to represent your brand in a coherent, recognisable tone and style. That’s why it’s important to have a documented content marketing strategy in place, including clearly formulated style guidelines (like your brand’s unique tone of voice document).
Optimisation: Search engine optimization (SEO) is another important pillar of any content strategy plan. Your SEO strategy sets the standards for how your content creators optimise your content by strategically incorporating keywords, meta tags and other SEO elements.
Performance: Tracking and analysing key performance indicators (KPIs) helps you refine your online marketing content strategy, so you continually increase your content’s impact. It starts with choosing metrics that match your goals, whether it is website traffic, social media engagement, conversion or customer lifetime value. You’ll also need to select analytics tools that provide insights into your content’s performance, so you can make data-driven decisions and optimise for strategic content creation.
Agility: Website content strategies should never be set in stone. A future-proof content strategy is adaptable and responsive to changing market trends and audience preferences. That means regularly reviewing and updating your content marketing planning to include new topics, technologies and customer insights. Stay agile and keep exploring new content marketing tactics, formats, channels and messaging strategies.
Customer journey mapping: When creating a content strategy, you’ll always want to map out your customer journey, from the initial awareness stage to consideration, decision-making and after-sale engagement. Integrating the customer journey into your marketing content planning enables you to create a content marketing plan that addresses your audiences’ needs and questions at each stage. That way, your content guides them step by step towards conversion and beyond.
Channel selection: To reach your audiences, you’ll need to spend time finding out which channels they like using to access online content. It’s usually best to select a mix of channels, including social media platforms, email marketing, blogging, research reports, whitepapers, customer cases, podcasts, webinars and industry publications. Each channel has its own pros and cons. A good strategy helps you leverage the channels that offer the best return on investment for your content creations.
How to create a content strategy
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s turn to the actual process of how to create a content marketing strategy. In our experience, the content of a marketing strategy is different for each company, as no two brands are alike. As a general rule though, you’ll always go through 3 main stages when developing a content marketing strategy: Discovery > Planning > Creative.
In the sections below, we break down these phases even further into a 14-step plan to help guide you in formulating your own online marketing content strategy.
Phase 1: Research
Before you’re ready to start creating content marketing, you’ll always want to start with the Discovery stage. This is where you ask the big questions like what do you want your content-based marketing to achieve? What is strategic content and how does it fit into your company’s success?
Follow the steps below to work through the Discovery phase of developing a content marketing strategy.
Step 1: Review your business goals
Start by understanding your overall business goals and how content marketing aligns with them. This insight will guide your content strategy and ensure it contributes to your organisation’s success. Determine which goals you want to achieve through your content. Some common goals that marketing content can help you achieve include: increasing brand awareness, driving website traffic, generating leads and strengthening customer relationships.
Step 2: Do a content audit
Take inventory of your existing content and rank it according to how well it has performed so far. By ranking your existing content, you can identify trends and see what’s worked and what hasn’t. This also helps you determine what can be repurposed or updated. And it helps you identify any areas where you are missing relevant content.
To conduct a content audit, review your website, blog, social media channels, email campaigns and any other content assets you have. Evaluate their engagement levels, conversion rates and any feedback you’ve received on them (both internally and externally).
Step 3: Review your tech stack
Next, evaluate the technology tools and resources you’re currently using, such as your content management systems (CMS), analytics platforms, social media management tools and email marketing software.
Assess whether your current tech stack supports your content strategy goals, or whether newer, better options might be available. Some factors to consider include: ease of content creation and publishing, analytics capabilities, SEO features and integrations with other marketing tools.
Step 4: Conduct keyword research
Part of understanding your target audience means knowing which words they use. Which topics are on their minds and how are they searching for information online? This is what keyword research is all about.
Use keyword research tools to identify high-volume, low-competition keywords related to your industry, product and target audience. This is a fundamental preparation step in building your content strategy for website text, but also for social media posts and other information that’s searchable online.
Phase 2: Planning
Once you’ve made it through the Discovery phase, you’re ready to start getting more specific. The Planning phase of creating your content marketing strategy is all about taking the knowledge you gained during Discovery and translating it into a concrete action plan.
Below, we walk you through 8 steps of the Planning stage of an example content strategy.
Step 5: Document your content strategy goals
Remember those business goals you thought about during step 1 of the Discover phase above? Now, it’s time to translate them into SMART goals for your content creating. That means goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
For each goal, define specific key performance indicators (KPIs). This enables you to track progress and success. For example, if your goal is to increase website traffic, a relevant KPI could be a certain percentage increase in organic search traffic over a specific timeframe.
Step 6: Identify your personas
Now, it’s time to truly visualise who your target reader is, what makes them tick and what they are interested in. This is what a detailed buyer persona is.
Your personas should always include details about your target readers’ demographics, psychographics, motivations, pain points and content preferences. To gain that insight, you can conduct qualitative and quantitative research in the form of surveys, interviews, social media listening and data analysis. When your personas are so clear that you feel like they are real people, you know you’ve got the right level of detail.
Step 7: Map your customer journey
Closely related to the buyer persona is the customer journey. Successful content-based marketing is always aligned with the specific steps that a person takes on the path towards becoming a customer.
Clearly write out the questions, concerns and information needs your audience members might have at every touch point. Then write down the types of content that will work best to address those needs.
Step 8: Determine your measurement approach
Based on the goals and KPIs you listed in step 5 above, decide the best methods for measuring your progress. This will depend entirely on what you’re trying to achieve. For example, if your marketing goal is to get customers to use your company’s app at least once a month, then tracking monthly active users will be a more relevant metric than tracking daily active users.
Whatever your goal is, there’s always a relevant metric and a way of tracking it. Make sure the technology you’re using enables you to monitor and analyse performance data, so you can tell how well your content is doing, and what its long-term return on investment is.
Step 9: Choose your channel mix
After defining your personas and customer journey (steps 6 and 7) above, it should be clear which channels will be most effective in reaching your target audience.
Choose between social media platforms, email marketing, blogging, video marketing, podcasts, webinars, industry forums and other relevant channels. In addition to considering your customers’ preferences, you’ll also need to think about what’s feasible within your marketing budget and technological limitations. For example, if you lack the budget, expertise and equipment to create professional video content, choose other channels that are more within your reach.
Step 10: Create your content pipeline
Now it’s time to start laying out a timeline for how often you want to create and publish your content. What is realistic and achievable for you and your team? If you’re new to creating content, it’s a good idea to plan additional time for each project at first. This will allow you to get accustomed to the content creation process and tackle any unexpected issues that inevitably occur.
Step 11: Assign workflows and roles
Who’s going to be in charge of creating your content? During this step, you’ll define your exact content creation workflow and determine who does what. This is important no matter if you’re doing all your content creation in-house, or if you’re working with external talent.
By establishing clear workflows, guidelines and approval processes from the beginning, you maintain the quality and consistency of your content. You also ensure a more efficient way of working, because everyone knows what’s expected of them. Just be sure to clearly communicate the roles and expectations, and put them in writing, so everyone is always on the same page.
Step 12: Know your tools
The last step of the Planning phase is to make sure you’ve got all your tools in place. Whichever tools you’ll be using, make sure you and your team are all up to speed on how to use them. Also be sure you’ve got the relevant subscriptions and licences you’ll need.
The most important content marketing tools you’ll need to think of are your content management system (CMS), analytics platforms, social media schedulers, keyword research tools, project management software and collaboration tools.
Phase 3: Creative
You’ve made it through the Discovery and Planning phases. Now, you’re ready to start putting your content plan into action. This is what phase 3, the Creative phase is all about.
Below, you’ll learn the 2 steps of the Creative phase in our example content strategy.
Step 13: Brainstorm campaigns
To set a creative mood for creating content, start by brainstorming with your team and subject-matter experts within your company to come up with great new ideas for content. To get the most out of brainstorming, allow participants to introduce any ideas they have on their minds. After all, they are the subject-matter experts, and you are the content marketing strategist. It’s up to them to decide which topics are really interesting, and your role is to decide how those ideas can fit into your content marketing planning.
Step 14: Build your editorial calendar
You’ve now reached the final step of creating a content marketing strategy. Now, it’s time to start setting real deadlines and planning your first content projects. Refer back to your content creation pipeline, workflow and governance structure (steps 10 and 11 above) and decide what is realistic and achievable for you and your team. Then brief the right content creator to get your first project moving.
What is a content strategy framework?
The 14 steps above walk you through how to create a content marketing strategy. But there are plenty of other approaches you can choose from. Many content marketing teams work with a specific content strategy framework that guides their approach.
A content strategy framework is a structured way of creating and executing your content activities. It helps you streamline your efforts, maintain consistency and reach your goals.
Some popular content strategy frameworks include:
- The HHH framework (also known as the Pow Push Pull), which was first described by Google alumnus Lazar Dzamic.
- The 6A Model (Audit, Analysis, Architecture, Application, Amplification, and Assessment) developed by the Content Marketing Institute.
- The RACE framework (Reach, Act, Convert, Engage) developed by Smart Insights.
To explore some of the most important content strategy frameworks, check out our blog post Strategy with structure: All about content marketing frameworks.
Although there are many frameworks to choose from, most marketers use them primarily for inspiration or set a general direction for creating their own customised strategy. Remember, the strongest strategies always leave room for experimentation and quick course corrections.
How often should you update your content strategy?
A content strategy should not be set in stone. It’s essential to review and update your content strategy regularly to keep it relevant and overcome any challenges you run into.
It’s a good idea to review your content strategy at least annually. Try to remain as flexible as you can, so you can also make adjustments whenever you need. Just remember that content is often a long-term investment, so you want to give your campaigns a realistic amount of time before deciding whether they are successful or not.
How to put your content strategy to work
With a strong content marketing strategy in place, you’re all set to start getting things done. Here are some final tips to help you get the most out of your content marketing plan:
Make content quality your top priority: Develop content that aligns with your brand’s values and truly adds value for your audiences. Focus on relevance and originality to make your content stand out from the competition.
Take a multi-channel approach: Use a mix of channels to maximise the reach of your content. This enables you to reach more people using the same messaging. For example, if you take the time and effort to create a whitepaper, be sure to also promote it through other channels, like social media platforms, email marketing, guest blogging, video marketing, influencer collaborations and offline events.
Repurpose your existing content: Repurposing your existing content is an effective way to add more value without having to start from scratch. Consider using the same content in modified forms on different channels. For example, if you have a high-performing blog post, create a mini version of it to post on your social media channels too.
Collaborate with experienced content creators: Most marketers outsource at least part of their content creation to experienced external writers. This is a cost-effective way to create content at scale without having to hire new full-time employees. Having extra support on demand will enable you to quickly scale up your content output as needed.
Conclusion: Excellent content starts with a strong content strategy
Creating a successful content strategy requires careful planning, a deep understanding of your target audience and a focus on continuous improvement. The step-by-step approach we described above will help you develop a content strategy that fits with your business and its goals.
Remember to set clear goals, understand your audience, create valuable, original content, track your performance and fine-tune your approach as needed. With a strong content strategy in place, you’re in a better position to offer your audiences a consistent content experience that will enrich their relationship with your brand and turn them into loyal customers.