And to my surprise, what I really felt called to do was work with clients again, sharing what I’ve learned over the last decade as Co-Founder and Chief Content Officer for Copyblogger Media.
One great thing about client work is you immediately see themes and recurring motifs come up in conversations.
We’ve talked on the blog for years about the benefits of taking the time to create an in-depth, documented content marketing strategy before jumping into writing.
And 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?”
Here are my recommendations for 10 elements that make sense in a solid content marketing strategy. You may have additional thoughts, 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:
Who are we talking with?
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. 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, their habits and obsessions, as well as 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, 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
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 themes and recurring topics of your content, and they usually evolve over time.
Ideally, every cornerstone topic on your site will lead naturally back to your products or services, and will be supported by a landing page that creates an authoritative and useful introduction to the topic.
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.
One common example of a path to purchase might be a blog post, boosted with advertising, leading to an opt-in for a nurturing email sequence, then on to a sales page.
Understanding how buyers find you is just the beginning. 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 strategy document makes specific recommendations for turning your cornerstone ideas into strategic content.
Should your big idea be turned into a manifesto? Would your most important cornerstone make for a good email nurturing sequence? Or maybe your 10 most useful posts on a secondary cornerstone topic could be turned 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 creating your most evergreen and useful content around those cornerstones.
#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 — potentially including working with your company.
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.
A good content strategist understands 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” is 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 your audience’s intelligence, and make a solid case to move forward without being pushy.
#8: Uncover opportunities for repurposing
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.
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.
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 even though the headline says you “must include” these elements, I want to know your must-includes. Let us know in the comments!