We’ve talked on the blog for years about how to create a content marketing strategy before jumping into writing.
Still, when I bring this up in conversations, I notice that the immediate follow-up question is nearly always:
“Er, what does an in-depth, documented content marketing strategy actually look like?”
Let’s answer that exact question.
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Develop a content marketing strategy with these 10 vital elements
Here are my recommendations for 10 vital elements when you’re studying how to create a content marketing strategy.
You may have additional thoughts while you’re on your journey to become a freelance writer, and I’d love to hear them in the comments!
#1: Document the Who
All good content, sales, and marketing depends on one factor above all others:
Humans are complicated, and you could spend months or even years researching this. You’ll want to look for the middle ground between a deep understanding and six months in a rabbit hole.
Different organizations have different strategies for developing this deep understanding for their storyselling. I’m partial to interviews and social media listening (Facebook groups can be particularly rich).
I’ve also gotten good results from review mining. (I picked up that technique from our smart friends at Copyhackers.)
You’re looking for the beliefs (both helpful and not-so-helpful) held by your audience, their desires and fears, and their habits and obsessions. Perhaps most importantly, you’re looking for the specific language they use to talk about their problems and opportunities.
Brian Clark and I are both fans of taking a novelistic approach to this work — creating an “avatar” that’s as real-seeming and three-dimensional as a character from a novel you love.
When you understand your Who as well as you understand Hermione Granger or Jon Snow, you’re off to the right start.
#2: Explore a big idea
The “Big Idea” — a powerful, surprising idea that grabs customer attention and endures for a generation or more — is a bit of a unicorn hunt.
David Ogilvy, one of the kings of Mad Men-era advertising, held that they were indispensable. They’re still a wonderful asset when you can find one, but finding one isn’t common.
But just because an enduring David Ogilvy-style Big Idea is hard to find doesn’t mean you give up the hunt.
In a content strategy session, I like to think about a “big enough idea” — lowercase, no caps. I look for an idea about the company that’s fresh, possibly counterintuitive, and above all, beneficial to the Who we’re serving.
Helpful always beats clever. So if a brilliant “Big Idea” doesn’t emerge for your marketing story, a solid statement of the most compelling benefit of the product or service can get the job done.
Mark Morgan Ford on the Early to Rise blog came up with an Ogilvy-informed definition that I think is useful:
“A big idea is an idea that is instantly comprehended as important, exciting, and beneficial. It also leads to an inevitable conclusion, a conclusion that makes it easy to sell your product.”
Because content marketing sustains audience attention over time, you don’t necessarily need to come up with the next “Think Different.” Important, exciting, and beneficial will do nicely.
#3: Identify 3–5 key supporting ideas to help you create a content marketing strategy
A unifying idea is important to a cohesive content marketing strategy, but you also want to identify the most important supporting cornerstone ideas as well.
These will become the most common themes of your blog post ideas, and they usually evolve over time.
Ideally, every cornerstone topic on your site will lead naturally back to your products or services. Landing pages that create authoritative and useful introductions to the topics will support your cornerstone topics.
Your cornerstone topics help you establish authority with customers, clients, the media, and even search engines, by focusing your expertise into powerfully useful channels.
#4: Find the paths to purchase
Content marketing tends not to have rigidly defined customer journeys. Instead, our content forms what I think of as stepping stones on a path to purchase.
A blog post, boosted with advertising, might be one common example of a path to purchase. That post would lead to an opt-in for a nurturing email sequence that brings the subscriber to a sales page.
Understanding how buyers find you is just the beginning of your relationship building. You need a solid understanding of steps along the way that help those buyers see how you can benefit them.
#5: Design cornerstone content
A good content marketing strategy makes specific recommendations for turning your cornerstone ideas into strategic content.
Should you turn your big idea into a manifesto? Would your most important cornerstone make for a good email nurturing sequence? Or maybe you could turn your 10 most useful posts on a secondary cornerstone topic into a great ebook.
I see a lot of sites that have key themes running through, but those themes aren’t expressed in specific, easy-to-consume content.
If that’s your site, consider spending some quality time studying call to action examples. When you create your most evergreen and useful content around your cornerstones, you’ll naturally guide your prospects to the next action you’d like them to take.
#6: Recommend different content for different purposes
At Copyblogger, we use Brian Clark’s “Four A” content framework to understand the role each piece of content will play.
Some content exists to stand out and capture audience attention.
Some content exists to educate those who have tuned in, so they’re in a great position to move forward with their goals.
And some content exists to get the audience to take a particular action, like opt in for an email sequence or make a purchase.
It’s rare that a single piece of content will take someone from stranger to happy customer.
Professional writers who are also content marketing strategists understand the different roles content can play, and can make recommendations for each type based on your audience and cornerstone themes.
#7: Sketch out sequences and funnels
The word “funnel” might be going somewhat out of fashion among sophisticated content marketers, mainly because it’s often handled clumsily.
But there’s still a place for defined content sequences that lead to opportunities for conversion.
A good content strategist will make recommendations for persuasive sequences that respect marketing ethics and your audience’s intelligence. Then they’ll make a solid case to move forward without being pushy.
#8: Uncover opportunities for repurposing in your content marketing strategy
Creating content takes plenty of time and work.
Once you have a solid piece of writing, audio, or video, there are countless ways it can be repurposed into other high-quality pieces.
A good strategist can make recommendations about how to take strong work you’ve already created and use it to craft additional valuable pieces, often in other media.
#9: Craft smooth transitions
A lot of beginning marketers have a hard time making a smooth transition between the content on their site and the conversion copy that makes the sale.
What I’ve observed is that the more congruent these are, the better results you’ll see. (And the better relationship you’ll keep with your audience.)
A wise content strategist can include advice on how to make those transitions flow, so the audience is never jarred with an awkward moment when it comes time to sell.
That’s one reason we suggest that content marketers learn to own the entire persuasion path, rather than leaving elements like sales pages and email sequences to another writer. (Our free copywriting 101 ebook shows you how.)
Strong content creates a cohesive persuasion environment, rather than letting a single email or page try to do all the work.
#10: Give advice that’s unique to you
Finally, every combination of topic, business model, business owner, and audience is unique.
Ten different businesses in the same topic could take 10 different content approaches, and they’d all have the potential to be successful.
Strong content marketing strategy looks at the specific business context, and makes recommendations based on that.
Let’s hear how you’d create a content marketing strategy
Advice you read on blogs and hear on podcasts (including ours!) only goes so far. Beware of anyone dispensing “you must do this” advice who hasn’t taken a close look at your specific situation.
That’s why we always try to give you a variety of strategies and tactics that you can implement in ways that make them your own.
So, now I’d like to hear your must-include elements. Let us know in the comments!