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Conference season has begun. And with it, the inevitable “content marketing isn’t a thing” blog posts sprouting up all over the place. They’re like crabgrass in the sidewalks. Also like the crabgrass, they just won’t go away! These bloggers apparently don’t understand content strategy.
Not only is content marketing a thing, it’s an incredibly useful way to build your customer relationships and sales funnel. But if you only engage in random acts of content—publishing content on whatever topic strikes a chord on any given day—you won’t reap all the benefits you could. (See seven other Content Marketing Mistakes to Fix in 2017 here.)
Take an integrated approach to your content marketing. Bring together the paid, earned, shared, and owned media created within your company. You’ll see vastly improved results, and avoid some common pitfalls that impede many content marketing programs.
It all starts with a documented content strategy.
Not convinced? Let’s walk through four all-too-common content marketing pitfalls, and I’ll show you how a documented content strategy can save you from them.
Pitfall #1: Not Enough Time to Create Content
If you don’t defend your calendar, you end up putting off content creation until you have (perceived) time. As though some intergalactic traveling Time Lord is going to scoop you up and give you a few extra days.
Sorry, but that’s never going to happen!
(Oh, but I wish it would.)
You can take back some of your time however, by using a documented content strategy. It helps you prioritize the need to immediately execute against the random, last-minute requests that derail your to-do list. It helps you say, “No.”
Whenever an unplanned task comes your way, evaluate it by asking, “Does this help us advance our progress against our goals?” If not, negotiate with the person requesting your help. It may be that the goal they are trying to meet with their request is one you already have on your content map, possibly with a different approach.
Many of us are too programmed to reply with “yes” when presented with others’ requests. It means we don’t get through the things we need to do to meet our own goals and objectives. With a documented plan in hand you can’t turn down all of them, but you do have a good place from which to negotiate.
Pitfall #2: Not Enough Budget to Create Content
In a perfect world, we all have enough money to create an endless amount of beautifully designed, engaging content, with a boundless distribution budget. Alas, that world is not the one we live in.
Having a small budget is a poor excuse for not creating content though. It can become easy to get overly focused on what you can’t do. But having a content strategy and a supporting editorial calendar helps you actively manage your limited resources, and keep ahead of recurring content opportunities.
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, take stock of the resources you DO have at your disposal.
Resources All Content Marketers Can Tap
- Employee subject matter experts. Chances are several of your employees are industry influencers in their own right. Or at least, subject matter experts in an area closely aligned with your customers’ challenges. Tap them to help you generate content ideas, and to provide bullets or even an article draft under their bylines. Include employee advocacy as a key piece of your content strategy, and assign your experts regular slots in your editorial calendar. (Read the Ultimate List of Content Marketing Editorial Calendar Templates to find the right calendar for your organization.)
- Data. Do you have proprietary data that can be analyzed and used to provide prospects with insights that help them do their jobs? Better yet, is this data you can access and refresh on a quarterly basis? Make sharing these insights part of your content strategy. Schedule the data pulls—and a slew of resulting content based on that data—in your editorial calendar.
- Existing content. Most of us have a lot of one-and-done content sitting in our shared drives, gathering dust. But when creating new content, we can use it as a base for derivative content. Add that derivative content to your editorial calendar.
- Recurring events. Do you host an annual conference? Does your organization sponsor or speak at an annual industry event? (Click here for The Ultimate List of Content Marketing Conferences.) Leverage the content created for and at those events as an ongoing content creation resource.
- Other people’s content. The content marketing team aren’t the only ones creating content in your organization. Find out what slides, return-on-investment calculators, or one-sheets your sales team has cobbled together and consider repurposing them. Similarly, ask your client success team what templates or frequently asked questions they’re using in their day-to-day customer conversations. Make your editorial calendar the key discussion point of recurring editorial meetings and invite these teams to participate.
Pitfall #3: Our Industry Is Boring, and so Is Our Content
Every industry—no matter how “boring” it may seem to you at the time—has topics that get industry experts or customers revved up and excited. It’s your job to identify these topics and document them in your content strategy. Then work with those influencers to co-create or quote them in your content. Don’t settle for creating mediocre content!
One of the big reasons many people create “boring” content that doesn’t drive leads, move them towards their revenue goals, or help build their domain authority, is they try to play above their league.
If a high-authority website already has page one of Google results locked down on a specific keyword, you won’t knock them from that spot.
Your top-level keywords provide the base for an editorial calendar with topics you can rank for in search. Check our proven process for creating a keyword research-based content plan in my upcoming webinar.
Pitfall #4: We’re Targeting Too Many People With Our Content
One-size-fits-all is a lie when it comes to clothing—and content. Defining your audience is an important part of documenting your content strategy. And the more you learn about your ideal customer, the easier it is to tailor your content to resonate on topics that matter to them.
If you are given a list of a half dozen or more brand personas and asked to address them with your content strategy, use it as an opportunity to work with your leadership to prioritize. If you do have vastly different audiences to reach, it’s better to draft individual content plans for each audience—and attach budget to it accordingly. Don’t try to come up with a plan that’s watered-down enough to serve as an umbrella.
Further, the content you create to meet the needs of the initial person conducting purchase research is different from the content needed to convince the budget owner. And the post-sale content that helps keep the day-to-day customer engaged with your brand is also different. Each different audience—and their different needs—have different business objectives that align to their role in the purchase process.
Document these differences in needs, objectives, and metrics in your content strategy. You’ll gain clarity into business priorities, so you know where to best spend your time. If you’re lucky, you may even gain budget.
Documenting a Content Strategy That Drives Business Results
After seeing everything a content strategy can do for your content marketing program, you’re probably thinking your ideal content strategy needs to be a 50-page tome, accompanied by a professionally designed animated PowerPoint deck, including three-year revenue projections.
That may be what some organizations expect, but it’s not effective. Can you really expect your whole content team—including contractors, freelancers, and agency team members—to digest and internalize all that? Probably not. And a content strategy that sits in a drawer isn’t much help.
Take a tighter approach to documenting content strategy: the content marketing strategy plan-on-a-page approach.
For those of you thinking, “There’s no way I can cram everything we need to do into one page!”—that’s right. You can’t. And you shouldn’t try. Instead, create an overarching content strategy document combined with individual channel plans as needed. Then you can link them to project management tools such as an editorial calendar, process maps, and templates.
Your content strategy plan-on-a-page should include these six elements:
- Business goals
- Business objectives
- High-level content schedule
This is the format we used at the start of this year to define the content strategy for Spin Sucks. It guides our decision-making and planning for the year, especially when I come up with some hair-brained idea that doesn’t fit what we want to accomplish. (Even though it’s a really, really good idea.)
I’ll be walking through all of this, plus what to include in your editorial calendar, and how to go from plan to measurable return-on-investment in my upcoming webinar on Tuesday, April 11 at 12pm EDT. If you’ve been putting off documenting your content strategy, take the time to invest in yourself and see my proven framework for creating and executing against a content strategy that drives real business results. See you there!