Being primarily a creative at heart, content strategies have always been my favorite strategies to write. Before paid social media existed (I know, I’m old), a brand’s content had to be stellar or it was not going anywhere. I feel blessed that I started out my social media career right when brands were allowed to have Facebook pages because I learned social media through the eyes of impactful, effective content. Within minutes I knew whether a post was going to succeed or not and I could adjust the strategy to reflect poorly performing posts and not make the same mistake twice. I knew my audience—I became my audience. I searched for anything bodybuilders were interested in, I interviewed bodybuilders, I looked at what other popular bodybuilding brands were doing. All so I could create content that didn’t miss a beat with our audience. Granted, brands are still doing all of this today, but when your performance is dependent on your content and SOLELY your content (remember—no paying for it to go to the target audience, no suffocation by the pay-to-play model—completely organic content that went on every newsfeed of your fans), it is what you live and breathe for.
So it irks me today when I see brands settle for any type of content just as long as they have content going 24/7 on their social and digital channels. Why on earth are some brands putting millions of ad spend behind creative that a kindergartener could do? If the content is not on point, it doesn’t matter how much money you put behind it, it won’t perform.
Here is my starting guide for a content marketing strategy:
Duh. All strategies should begin with goals and end with how those goals will be measured. Do you want more clicks to other pages from your homepage? Do you want to attract a different audience than you’ve been attracting? Do you want to gain more leads, more conversions? I’ve worked with clients who want th conversion at the end of the day—nothing else matters. I have also worked with clients who have more work than they can handle but they want to use the digital space to enhance their reputation in their industry. There are many different ways to use content marketing to achieve your business goals, so spend some time thinking about what goals might be best for your brand. What can content marketing do for you?
What are other brands doing well in terms of content? What statistics can you find that support content marketing? What types of content are other brands finding success with? Research will give you a huge advantage as you dive deeper into your strategy.
You also should research your target audience in a way you never have before. Live and breathe your audience. What are they talking about? What content does it look like they are engaging most with? What platforms are they most likely to be on? If your goal is conversions—what can you find about which type of content drives the most conversions?
SO IMPORTANT. I once read a content marketing strategy that did not reference what channels the content would be published on. Like, what?! A content strategy should always show exactly where the content is going to go and why it’s going there. There should also be examples of what the same piece of content would look like on your website versus display ads versus social media networks.
Your initial research will largely influence your content mix. I always use a pie chart for this and show how many videos versus still images versus GIFs versus text-only versus image+text, etc. will be a part of that pie. With how things have been trending over the past couple of years, I usually give most of the pie to video. This is the hardest part of the pie to fulfill, though, because creating a video is the hardest and most expensive type of content to create.
Or, a brand strategy! Brand guides are something I always include in branding and content marketing strategies. They are so useful and help to push back on reviewers. You can simply open the brand guide and show that the green color is part of the approved colors. Things to think about here— Where does the logo appear on images? On videos? How many different logos can be used on creative? What will the opening and ending cards look like on videos? What filters, if any, can be used? What type of images should be used? What font? What colors?
I am obsessed with the free mock-up tool that AdParlor offers and I use it for every single strategy I write across the board. It helps clients see exactly what their content would look like, instead of relying on their imagination. I’ve sold many strategies by having examples. Remember, the people you have to sell this strategy to are most likely not as much of an expert as you are in the marketing space. But once you can show them what something would look like, they are able to understand better what you are trying to do.
Split Test Schedule
This is A MUST when it comes to a content strategy. You will need to test Copy A against Copy B, then you will need to test Image A against Image B. Doing this over and over again will help you refine your content strategy and provide you with your own set of research showing what your target audience does and does not respond to.
Oh, yes. It’s wonderful to plan a comprehensive content marketing strategy, but who is going to create all of this content? Who’s going to design the content? Who owns the content editorial calendar for the brand? If you already have a creative team, get them on board very early on as you are crafting your strategy. You want them to feel involved and like they have a seat at the table. If you work with a creative agency, same thing— get them on board early because they might have some helpful tips for you. If you don’t have either, start selling to your executive team that you will need support to execute the strategy. Also, learn Canva. It is a lifesaver for under-resourced teams.
One other very important thing to think about when it comes to creating content is who needs to review the content. Is it your boss? Is it your boss and your CEO? Does the legal team need to review it? What about compliance? Whoever is reviewing the content needs to be brought in the minute you start writing your strategy because you want them to feel like they have a voice and they might see something in your strategy that legally you would never be able to do on digital or social. You also want to get a grasp on how far in advance you will have to get approvals and be prepared to push back and follow-up with people who are reviewers. They have other jobs to do and reviewing content can often get lost in the shuffle.
Where will the content be housed? Think about this one A LOT and be sure to consult with in-house counsel in case your content needs to be on a very secure database. The dream is that the content will be in a place where all digital, social, print teams can access the content easily. Just make sure that you are able to turn on editing settings because you do not want everyone to have the capability to change content.
I studied communications research in college and my first job was in the research space, so I am all about measurement. I would have not gotten this far in my career without being able to prove the success of digital and social media via measurements. Many times my role was to sell social and digital internally, and I always had a great report by my side when I went into meetings with executives. Measurement is important for content marketing because it helps identify what imagery and copy your target audience is responding to. You can quickly tweak creative based on nearly immediate feedback. Things to think about here include what type of content is performing best? Which imagery gets you closest to your goal? What goal are you short of reaching with your strategy? How can you tweak your strategy to get closer to achieving that goal?
I would also tag all content with content type, the theme of content, and the goal you think the content will most align with from the strategy. It sounds tedious, but it is a great exercise to ensure you are staying on-strategy with the content and aligning with your content mix.
Content costs A TON of money and requires even more resources, but it is WORTH it. You will see for yourself once you start testing images and copy and placement. There will undoubtedly be a winner and it’s not always the one that you guessed! Content is important now more than ever as people become more and more flooded with it everywhere. You need content that is going to grab your audience’s attention and keep it. Having a solid content strategy is a good start for that!
– Marji J. Sherman