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How to create a content marketing strategy

by Steve Brown on February 7, 2018

As mentioned in one of our previous blog posts (describing some of the major trends to be expected in 2018), eight out of ten marketers believe content marketing is a key constituent of marketing success, yet only three out of ten within the same sample had a content marketing strategy in place. Setting a strategy isn’t hard, but it can be daunting to know where to start when it comes to working out what is needed – by whom, in what format, how often, why, and so on. That is why we recommend the use of the long-established SMART goals methodology (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely).

For a bit of fun, in this article we have adapted this approach to fit in with some famous lines of verse from arguably one of England’s finest content creators, Rudyard Kipling.

‘I keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who’

Answer these six questions in relation to how you require your content marketing efforts to benefit your organisation as a whole, and you will have gone a large way towards setting a strategy. Unlike Kipling, though, it seems logical to address first the question of ‘Why?’ rather than as Rudyard has positioned it towards the end of the ode. Marketers believe content marketing is important, but why is that?

Why do we need content marketing?

The answer to this question of why we need content marketing is linked to how we have seen marketing develop with the rise in the importance of all the digital channels. Instead of aiming for a transactional relationship where one party sells and the other buys, and that’s pretty much it, marketers across the board are now aiming for deeper, lasting relationships. With the advent of social media and automated marketing, the use of which will only become more and more sophisticated as artificial intelligence picks up much of the legwork previously delivered by humans, marketing messages are becoming far more tailored and personal. Instead of using the blunt instrument of traditional mass marketing, customers can be wooed with messages tuned to their specific likes and dislikes. Therefore, rather than a sale being the ultimate goal, a long-term – ideally lifetime – relationship between brand and consumer is the new aim, as per our recent bowtie marketing blog.

These new media channels are already swamped with far too many intrusive sales messages, but savvy marketers know that what people really want is excellent quality information and – most importantly – not to feel sold to. Sometimes, that information will be specific to a product or service, but often it is information relevant to a problem that a customer has and wants to solve or a need or desire that they want to satisfy. Consumers trust people – and brands – which they perceive, to be honest, transparent, reliable and helpful. They also trust independence, which is why consumers typically give more credit to reviews by peers in preference to a brand’s official marketing output and explains why YouTube stars (aka vloggers) have quickly become huge influencers. In such a world, brands that build relationships by listening to and solving their customers’ problems will build the deepest relationships. They will have consistent, coherent narratives that their customers buy into – think Dyson’s championing of British inventiveness, or Aldi’s assertion that the named brands people love are good (cleverly leveraging the building of those brands) but their own brands are just as good, and much cheaper. The ultimate prize is to have such a good relationship with your customers that they do much of your marketing for you. Content marketing helps to deliver and/or amplify brand trust.

So that’s the ‘why’ at a broad level. In terms of a plan of attack, it’s worth asking the question of your own organisation. Why should your business have a content marketing strategy? Establish clear objectives – website hits, positive reposts, click-throughs leading to sales, etc. – for what you want to achieve in terms of engagement with prospects and customers. And once you have set a strategy down and are producing content, make sure you understand how each piece fits in with the strategy and why it will help build relationships with your target audience – this is also why it is important to map out your stakeholder needs and to have a good understanding of segmentation, so you can generate helpful personas and profiles for different customer groups.

HOW will your content marketing contribute to business objectives?

Answering this question is where the meat goes on the bones. Unless you have a clear idea of how you are going to attain them, strategic goals are just so many fine words. It requires a deep understanding of your own business and of your market. If either of these is missing, gaining such understanding should be an essential first step within the strategy. What are the key products or services on offer, and where do they sit in the market? Do all consumers have the same perceptions? A brand is often in reality far more a matter of how others view it than how the organisation would like it to be perceived. How will you build on your brand’s position, or change perceptions if this is one of your aims? An honest assessment is required to identify where strengths and weaknesses exist, in both your own organisation and within competitors. Which are the products/services that sell, and why? Analyse sales figures and other available data to form a picture based on objective information.

Each piece of content produced should advance your progress towards your goals and have a clear purpose – growing your customer database, raising awareness, provoking interest, building relationships, improving SEO benefits, generating sales. Quite possibly, each post will help boost several of these objectives at the same time. Each should carry a consistent tone of voice and add to the story of your brand; decide beforehand how your story will be developed as each additional item is posted, and how you will vary it according to your relationship with an intended recipient. The messages going to customers who have little or no awareness of your brand will be very different from those who are regular buyers or even advocates. They should also be adapted according to the segment (or – in the case of B2B – industry) being targeted, and perhaps also according to their location.

Also, be pragmatic. A successful content marketing strategy does not need to be that sophisticated to be successful. There are some key considerations you need to tick off if you want to have an impact – your content must be relevant, informative and interesting to your primary target audience. The important thing about content is that it hangs around for a long time in the eyes of the search engines if it is hosted in the right way. This is why SEO optimisation is so important. A well-optimised piece of content can appear on the first page of Google almost immediately, driving high quality traffic to your website.

WHERE will you post your content?

Not so long ago, ‘Where?’ would just have been a matter of your desired geographical reach, but now it applies to a host of digital platforms too. Which video platform will you use? YouTube is the obvious, but not only, choice. Facebook is still massive, but maybe Instagram might work better. LinkedIn is of course a big player in the B2B world. Once a piece of content is created, it is easy to modify it for a variety of platforms – the modifications and postings can even be automated using marketing platforms such as Hubspot, Marketo and the like. Of course, it will usually appear on your website too, and well-constructed emails still register great response rates – this year, a strategy should include measures to ensure your mailings are set up to comply with GDPR, which lands in May. We will be writing more about the implications of GDPR in a future blog.

WHAT content will you produce?

Set out what you want to post and when (presupposing, of course, that there is a satisfactory answer to the question ‘Why?’!). ‘Content’ embraces a multiplicity of different formats. All content must, of course, be engaging, so be aware of what your audience tunes into. Video has become one of the most effective mediums and this trend is sure to grow in 2018, so ignore it at your peril. It is of course just a part of a media mix that also includes blogs, whitepapers, webinars, newsletters, and so on.

WHEN will you produce your content?

When you post could be determined by when sales campaigns are planned, or in response to changes in market conditions, such as new laws coming in, a new craze, or even the weather – suppliers of fencing increase their activity in the wake of gales! If your market is affected by specific changes like this, your strategy should include the need to have content ready to roll as soon as opportunities arise.

WHO is involved in the strategy?

‘Who’ is the last of the Kipling questions and, in this context, it applies both to who within an organisation is going to be responsible for producing the content, as well as who the target recipients are.

Regarding the former, the strongest brands spread the production of content as widely as possible. The more employees who are involved in the process, the more authentic the picture consumers build-up of that company. ‘Marketing’ may be the primary responsibility of a specific group, but every employee is a brand representative whenever they interact with a customer. Obviously, guidelines are necessary to ensure the brand’s reputation is safeguarded and that a consistent message is maintained, but the more that individuals can ‘be themselves’ within such parameters, the more interesting their contributions will be. For example, ordinary members of staff don’t need to be great actors to take part in videos – these days viewers are likely to be more impressed by honest and credible amateurs than by slick professionals.

When it comes to audiences, we’ve already said that messages should be tailored to the people they are intended for. As well as identifying the intended recipients for your different messages, ensure content is focused on appealing to real individuals rather than abstract groups by creating realistic buyer personas.

Six honest serving-men

This is just one approach to creating a strategy, but it’s one that works. The six questions can be asked at every level, from the initial forming of the overarching strategic goal, through the subsidiary goals and tactics to use, right through to the creation of each piece of content. If each element of your strategy addresses ‘What, Where, When, How, Why and Who?’ you can be pretty confident you have covered all the bases. The only thing to bear in mind is to try to find ways to measure the effectiveness of your campaign on an ongoing basis against pre-determined goals. As a general rule, “if you cannot measure it, it’s not worth doing” – but of course measurement can be defined in any number of ways. It is not all about instant sales. It could be about building up long term value in your brand and/or protecting your position in the marketplace against aggressively advertising competitors. The good news is that you will tend to have the last laugh in this respect, as long as you create a well-thought out content marketing strategy that includes reference to search engine optimisation and social media marketing.

Steve BrownHow to create a content marketing strategy

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