A content strategy is, at its most basic, an outline that answers the “why” and “how” of your brand’s content. In a sea of possibilities, it serves as your North Star guiding your content priorities and tactics, and helps to navigate the path toward your business goals. Its importance cannot be overstated; however, the crafting of it is not glamorous nor does it provide the high-visibility, immediate gratification of hitting “publish” on a new piece of content and sharing it on social media. But its value to your brand (and your sanity) is astronomically greater. To get you started, here is our step-by-step guide to creating a strong content marketing strategy.
1. Define your mission statement
The most important step in developing a content strategy that will set you up for success is to arrive at a clear understanding of why you want to create content. What business results does your content help you get? What value does your content provide to the reader or viewer? Some examples of answers may be: “Help readers discover X solution to X problem.” “Help customers be successful with my product.” “Start conversations about X important topics to connect with people who have similar experiences.” “Inspire people to take action around an important cause.” Write your answers out, and consider how they work together. Do they overlap? Are they at odds? Which ones take priority? How do they align with or support your brand overall? Now you’ve got the ingredients to begin crafting your content’s mission statement.
Your mission statement will be the cornerstone of your content strategy, and it should follow a loose structure that outlines who your content is helping, how, and for what benefit (to them).
Consider Adobe Spark’s own content mission as an example:
Note that your content’s mission statement should support and relate to your brand’s mission, which we covered in “What’s in a Brand? A Step-by-Step Guide to Defining a Winning Online Identity,” but is more specific to how the articles, videos, and images you’ll create support your brand.
Play around with your mission statement to arrive at a similar structure. Refine it. Make sure it inspires you. Commit it to memory. Create an acronym. Put it on a vision board or on your refrigerator… Whatever helps you feel like you know this mission inside and out.
2. Set goals for your content marketing
Not to be confused with a mission statement, your content goals are items that can and should be measured. A goal is usually a percentage increase on a metric related to your brand or business. “Increase subscriptions x%.” “Increase the number of people finding my brand through organic search by X%.” “Increase my clout in an industry.” These goals will help inform how you design your content hub, what content formats to embrace (video, long-form articles, slideshows, memes or infographics), which distribution channels to lean into (email, Facebook, Instagram), what sort of analytics or automated scheduling tools might be useful for you, and what sort of paid promotions are worthwhile for you. This step should be evaluated with a clear view of your existing budget and resources, and a vision of how you would like to see those areas grow.
3. Decide on broad content themes
Define no more than three areas or topics that you plan to explore through your content. These content topics should be broad enough that you’ll never run out of things to say, angles to explore, or people interested, but specific enough that you find the right audience interested in you and your brand. These areas should be related to your brand in a tangential way and get to the deeper, emotional heart of your organization or point of view. This is where understanding your brand’s mission and visual aesthetic is paramount. Take for example the areas these three companies explore with content:
- Adobe Spark is all about tools that help you stand out with content so we cover visual communication, social media, and creative expression.
- Chubbies, a retailer specializing in shorts, creates content about the weekend: how to enjoy it, what to do, where to go, and what to wear. Everyone loves weekends so this gives them endless opportunities to reach existing and new customers.
- Fashion and lifestyle brand Man Repeller is a media juggernaut today, but it didn’t start that way. It started with one recent grad chronicling “fashion trends women love and men hate” in an effort to land herself reporting jobs in mainstream media. Founder Leandra Medine’s laser-focused point of view set her apart from other style blogs of the time and helped her create a name for herself as a writer. Today, the site hosts many voices and the topics are much broader, but that’s because the brand has evolved with its readership.
The takeaway: Give yourself a domain. Don’t try to cover everything. And if you’re a one-man or one-woman show, don’t be afraid to explore something hyper-niche and let it evolve from there. Feeling inspired by your content themes? Good! But don’t jump ahead to churning out content— the following steps will help ensure you don’t waste any effort.
4. Define how you will relate to your audience
Now that you’ve got your mission statement and your subject areas identified, it’s time to consider your tone, or how you want to relate to your audience. Are you here to teach? Persuade? Inspire? Are you an authority or do you want to strike a more conversational relationship? Is there one person who is the face of your brand or does your brand communicate with universal “you”? What sort of relationship makes sense for your mission and bolsters your brand overall? Your answers to these questions will help you arrive at a style guide that sets up parameters for your communication, including word choice, sentiment, and so on. It can be adapted and refined by format or distribution channel. This is really where you begin to map your mission to your tactics and articulate how to embody and represent your animating values and priorities in a consistent and recognizable way across your content.
5. Decide where you will build your content palace
Oftentimes, brands mistake the existence of a blog for a content marketing strategy. While it’s true that a hub for your brand’s content is what what puts the “marketing” in “content marketing,” it is essential that your hub makes sense for and supports your business goals. Although the process is all-too-frequently reversed, we recommend conceptualizing your hub, the foundation of your content ecosystem, after careful articulation of business goals and content mission.
Most of the time, this hub takes the form of a website or a blog, while some businesses have decided to make a Facebook or Instagram page, a Medium or Tumblr, or even an email newsletter their home base. Wherever you decide, make sure your home turf is set up to deliver on your goals. If thought leadership and brand-building is your goal, your preferred social network or a regular newsletter may be sufficient in gathering and captivating an audience. If you’re dealing with e-commerce or selling physical goods, a website is likely where you’ll want to drive readers so they can discover and possibly buy what you’re selling. If you want people to employ your services or hire you, a blog can be a great way to show up in search results and build trust with potential clients.
6. Choose where you will distribute your content
If your content is bait, your distribution channels are the streams you’ll be casting your net into and should be determined by what kind of fish you want to catch. Remember those personas you created in the first post in this series, Defining a Winning Online Idetity? Refer to them to get a better idea of where the majority of your audience will be receptive to your message. Which social networks do they frequent? Where and how do they get their information? Market research and looking at where your industry peers or competitors distribute content are good places to start in order to determine effective channels. When you’re just starting out, don’t try to fish in every river or ocean. Instead, pick the richest pond and set up camp. You can always expand once you’ve found your footing.
7. Define your content formats
Which formats (videos, articles, infographics, social media posts, guides etc.) you package your message in should be determined by your distribution channels combined with your target audience. For instance, video is the lifeblood of Facebook, so if that is where your desired users live, then it would make sense for you to invest in live video, short video ads, and episodic video content as your go-to format. Quotes, memes, and photos thrive on Instagram and Pinterest, while Twitter, Medium, and LinkedIn are great for sharing long-form content and thought leadership articles.
8. Embrace your constraints to create
Once you’ve gone through the above steps to determine the why, where, how, and to whom, you’re ready to start creating content. It may seem as if it’s a long road to get to the point of creation, but doing this work up front will make the creating and editing process easier. What you’re doing is creating constraints for yourself and your brand and these helpful constraints can actually boost creativity!
Read these articles for help getting started with content:
9. Test, learn, adjust, repeat
Last but not (by any stretch) least, it is important to realize that your content strategy is a living document. That means that it is subject to change (and it should change) as you gather insights and feedback from your users and as you watch their behavior with your content. Solicit feedback with surveys and polls; dive into your comment sections and be responsive to your users queries; monitor your traffic and engagement and experiment with content formats, topics, tone, and distribution. The more you understand your existing and desired users, the more effectively you can refine your strategy.
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