This article originally appeared in the January 2014 edition of the Marketing GPS Newsletter. This article was contributed by guest author Jeanne Davant.
Last month in this newsletter, we discussed how to find great content. This month, we’ll show you how to develop a content strategy to ensure the great content you find gets properly developed and posted in the places where it does you the most good.
How do you view your online content — is it a critical, valuable business asset? An afterthought? Or a random response to some pressing issue?
Your content—your website pages, blog and social media posts, as well as your print collateral—shapes the public perception of your business or organization. Content provides clients and prospects with the information they’re seeking about your product or service. In addition, it supports your own key objectives.
Great content informs, teaches and persuades; it establishes and reinforces your brand, and it’s the key to converting interested prospects to buyers. Ideally, all your content should be great content. So, let’s look at marketing content as an essential, significant asset.
Develop a Content Strategy
Like all vital business assets, content deserves to be developed and maintained in accordance with a well-planned strategy and a systematic, repeatable process. Creating a content strategy assures that every piece of content you write and post adds value, builds loyalty, supports your goals, is timely and user-friendly, and helps you to avoid inconsistencies and budget problems.
As we discussed last month, ideas for great content are all around you and can come from your customers, your employees and your own experiences each day, both within and outside your business.
Creating and implementing a content-strategy plan ensures that your content:
will get developed and posted in a timely manner
is consistent with, and supportive of, your business goals
addresses the needs of your audience—your clients, customers and prospects.
Further, a well-thought-out content strategy plan has several components:
a guiding document that defines your business goals, ideal customer and main message points
an inventory of current content
an editorial style guide and policy document
an actionable plan for content creation and delivery, including a content matrix and editorial calendar.
Components of a Content Strategy Plan
Let’s look at each of these components.
1. Guiding Document
It’s important to determine your main message points from the outset, based on your business goals and ideal customer. (Many businesses haven’t articulated these key marketing foundations. If yours is one, this is the very first step in developing great marketing content.) It’s helpful to have this information in written form so everyone in your organization can refer to it. Keeping this document before you at all times assures that your content is on point, customer-friendly and consistent.
First, consider the following:
What is your mission?
What are your goals?
What does your organization offer the client/customer, that no one else does? (Marketers call this the Unique Selling Proposition or USP.)
Write the answers to these questions in as many ways as possible. Note the key words and phrases you generate as you write. Then, distill each one into a main message point. As you create content, ask whether a particular website page or blog post supports one or, preferably all, of your message points.
The next step is to define your audience. Create a specific profile of the kind of customer or client you’re seeking to reach. Make it as detailed as possible: Age, gender, income, family size, personality type, where s/he spends time or hangs out, what s/he reads, what s/he looks for online, or stays awake at night pondering. The more you flesh-out this profile, the better you can create content that resonates with your ideal customer.
Finally, take another look at your message points. Rewrite them as if you were addressing your customer’s needs, problems or concerns. Address your customer directly, using “you,” not “we,” and employing language your customer would use.
2. Content Inventory
Start where you are now. Audit the content of your website and print materials, and create a spreadsheet that lists current content and evaluates it in terms of its continued suitability.
Your spreadsheet should list each major piece of content and blog post. For each, provide as much detail as you wish, including its purpose, when it was created, how well it communicates your message points, whether it needs revising or rewriting, and how you could repurpose it for other uses.
Here’s an example of a simple content inventory form:
3. Style and Policy Document
This document includes an editorial style guide and your policies for creating and posting content. These are living documents that should be revised and expanded when circumstances change.
Basic editorial style guidelines include rules that help your content writers develop quality content. Many businesses use existing sources such as the Associated Press Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style. Others create their own, or add guidelines that cover style questions not addressed in these global references.
Your style guidelines should clearly communicate the “voice” of your company—for example, friendly, inviting and informal; or, authoritative, informative and sophisticated. Guidelines can also cover matters such as the format for inline links, when bylines are to be given and how they’re formatted.
The policy portion of the document should define content development goals such as:
How often do you want to create new content for each channel you use?
What new channels might be needed?
What is the review process for new content?
In general, how often should content be reviewed and/or updated?
4. Content Development Plan
Having completed the three important steps above, you’re ready to create an actionable content-development plan. This plan will outline what content you need to create or revise, when it will be created, and who will create and maintain it. Key documents in your content development plan are a content matrix and an editorial calendar.
The content matrix contains essential information about all content you’ve identified that needs to be created or revised: What type of content is needed? What goals and message points should it address? Where will it be placed on your website? Who will create it and when? Will you use internal sources, such as employees, or external sources such as agencies or freelance authors? What other materials, such as graphics, are needed, and how will they be created? Who will manage the process, and how will you track content performance? The matrix can resemble your content inventory spreadsheet, but likely will include more information and be more complex.
Finally, you need to set up an editorial calendar to schedule content development. Editorial calendars set the publishing schedule for a period of time, such as a month, a quarter or year; specify events or holidays that will trigger content generation; set objectives for publication, such as two blog posts and four Facebook posts per week; and, assign specific pieces of content to a particular internal or external writer or source.
Below is a sample editorial calendar spreadsheet. You can download a copy of this calendar template from Hubspot.
When specific pieces of content are assigned (such as a web-page rewrite or newsletter article), it may be helpful to prepare a content brief for the writer that specifies who the post is for, the most important idea or ideas you want to communicate, helpful background information and source ideas, and what you want the reader to do.
To make the most of your marketing investment, every online message should lead your reader to take some action: click a link, register for an event, or contact you for more information. And don’t neglect tracking reader actions in Google Analytics or another statistics package — this will, over time, help you see which platforms, topics and posts are most (and least) popular with readers. In this way, your content will help drive your marketing plan, not just reflect it.
Spend some time developing a content strategy plan, and you’ll not only smooth the vital process of content development, but you’ll also create better, more relevant content that helps you meet your business goals without wasted words and time.