By Josh Baez, Client Engagement Manager at Heinz Marketing

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is the lifeblood of your entire organization. And despite its name, it’s not only a tool for marketing or a second-thought hand-me-down for sales. In fact, content marketing isn’t really any one thing at all.

It’s best to think about content marketing as an entire process of identifying, creating, and delivering relevant content to the people in your customer journey. It’s the core of your demand generation engine and it’s an approach that can (and should) be used throughout your entire customer lifecycle—at every stage—from open to close to renewal.

Content marketing, at its best, facilitates consideration, drives decision, and creates positive, thoughtful experiences for your prospects and customers alike.

Having personalized, relevant content that’s readily available for marketing, sales, and customer success to utilize throughout your customer journey gives your company a significant advantage over your competition. It enables your teams to work smarter, act faster, and provide more useful resources to your audiences. And in doing so, helps grow your market share as well as your thought leadership in your industry.

Without content marketing, the job of building predictability into your pipeline becomes much harder. Because while demos, sales presentations, and new product pitches may yield some results in the latter stages of your funnel, those materials won’t do much in moving the needle on the rest of your pipeline. That’s why it’s imperative your content marketing campaigns support the true needs of your prospects and customers—rather than hoping one size fits all. 

Content must also be personalized, timely, and relevant. After all, today’s customers are savvier than ever. And in a world where Netflix, Amazon, and Google offer nothing but personalized results and time-sensitive content, your own content marketing efforts must do (or at the very least, attempt to do) the same.

Ultimately, your content marketing efforts must be focused on providing value, education, and unique perspectives to your prospects and customers. And in turn, those attributes will drive profitable, predictable action.

Undoubtedly, content marketing has a lot of moving parts. So how do you create content that truly resonates with your audience? How do you build a content marketing engine that drives your desired outcomes? It all starts with a content strategy.

Creating a content marketing strategy

To create a predictable, competitive content marketing strategy, there are 5 stages you should first take into consideration. These steps ask you to:

  1. Define your goals
  2. Assess your competition and the market
  3. Identify core themes
  4. Define relevant topics and formats for each buying committee member, at each customer stage
  5. Develop a content-driven campaign

 

1. Define your goals

Before barreling down the content marketing road, kick-off on the right foot by defining the goals of your content marketing strategy.

Are you driving awareness through inbound channels? Facilitating consideration with prospects already in your pipeline through emails and nurtures? Helping sales and customer success have more content in their stables? Or maybe you’re pursuing a hybrid approach.

Regardless of what your goals are, the important part is to clearly define so you can, in turn, gain necessary buy-in from your company’s leadership team and other stakeholders. It’s at this point, you can also align these goals with those of the organization at-large.

Tip: When defining your goals, also think about what sales, marketing, and CX channels you’ll need to utilize to achieve them once the content has been created and is ready for deployment.

 

2. Assess your competition

To ensure your content isn’t redundant, repetitive, or a rehash of what’s already in-market, conduct a competitive content assessment of your top 3-5 competitors so you can answer these questions:

How does our competition organize their content? In a blog? In a content library? How do users find and interact with their content? Is the experience they offer a good one?

The lesson: Identify how you should build and refine your own content experiences based on what’s good and bad about your competitors’.

What is our competition’s content composed of? Blogs? Videos? Downloadable assets? Do they have a mix of content types? Are there gaps in what they’re producing that we can address?

The lesson: Identify what content types your competitors prioritize so you can create content that looks and feels different to what’s already in-market.

What topics does our competition’s content cover? What subject matter do they focus on? Is there missing information we can fill? Are there additional perspectives we can offer?

The lesson: Determine what low-hanging content topics are available to you based on what’s already been said and what’s not been said. Determine where you can add additional color, detail, and perspectives to topics your competition may have already covered or not covered at all. The goal is to add to the conversation.

 

…and the market

As you research what your competitors have created, it’s also a good idea to conduct some research on your market to ensure the content you create isn’t being created in a vacuum. Consider these focus areas to start your research:

  • What trends are emerging in our market we can get ahead of?
  • What kinds of resources and information does our market need most?
  • What challenges does our market most frequently up against?
  • What are the most important goals for businesses in our market?
  • What benefits is our market most interested in?

 

3. Identify core themes

This next step should be easy, especially after doing your competitor and market research.

Based on what you find, condense your research into 3-4 primary themes. These themes will be the foundations for the next few months of content development, so it’s important they’re not only relevant to your target audience, but that they also fit within your overall company vision of the future.

It’s also important these themes not be too broad that anything you create can coincidentally fit within them, but also not too narrow only very specific subject matter can be explored.

Striking the right balance between breadth and depth will enable your content marketing program to provide real value, unique perspectives, and thoughtful insights for your audiences.

 

4. Define relevant topics and formats for each buying committee member, at each customer stage

You’ve come to the penultimate stage of creating your content marketing strategy.

After you’ve identified your themes, it’s time to start defining what related topics and formats you want your content marketing efforts to consist of. But not every topic is relevant for every persona. And not every persona consumes content the same way. If these factors aren’t taken into consideration, it’s very easy for your content to fall on deaf ears.

To address these very important differences amongst your targets’ buying committees, not only should you be identifying topics and formats for your content marketing program at-large, but you should also be mapping those ideas to each buying committee member at each stage of your customer lifecycle.

If you’re not familiar with the buying committee, read this blog to refresh your memory.

Below is a sample table (that’s incredibly hard to read) that demonstrates one way to organize your work, so you can more accurately define and map what content topics and formats are best suited for what buying committee member. Click on the image to enlarge it or view/download it here.

A content marketing persona-topic matrix.

 

5. Develop a content-driven campaign

Finally, you’ve arrived. And you’re ready to start building your campaign plan that will showcase your content to the world! (After you’ve created the content, of course.)

Every great campaign starts with a theme. And luckily for you, you’ve just identified some! To start developing your content-driven campaign, take one of your content themes—whichever you think will be most pertinent for your audience or whichever you have the most content for—and use that theme to build out the rest of your campaign.

Define your campaign goals, identify your target audience, and determine how long your campaign will last. Based on that information, determine what channels you’ll need, what audiences apply to each channel, and what content you want to fill those channels.

Are you using email to drive mid-stage performance for business decision makers? LinkedIn ads to drive lead generation amongst technical influencers? Remarketing to improve conversion rates for executive sponsors? Whatever your channels and audiences are, you should have the content you need to get the job done.

If you find you need additional content to fill the gaps or new content to address changes in the market, be sure these new needs are documented in your content marketing strategy. Once documented, take the time to go through the steps outlined above so when the time does come for you to deploy this content to the market, your job becomes that much easier and you can launch your campaign that much faster.

Next steps

Creating a content marketing strategy is no small task, nor is it one that’s meant to be easy, quick, or immediate. But it is an approach that enables your pipeline—and organization at-large—to grow with predictability, reliability, and confidence. And it ensures your audience stays front of mind through that growth.

While these 5 steps to create a content marketing strategy certainly don’t account for an exhaustive, foolproof list, they should give you the foundations and principles so you can start your own content marketing engine. And hopefully one that has the power to propel your organization forward well into the future.

Content is the lifeblood of your organization. Where will your content take you?