In the first part of this series, we talked about understanding who our audience is and what information they need to make a purchase. Today, we’re going to talk about the next step in the content strategy process. What do we need to say, how do we say it, and who is involved in the process? It’s a lot, but this is where it starts to get interesting. We’re laying the foundation for our content marketing success now.
We know what questions our customers have from the earlier sales funnel content mapping exercise. The next step is to determine what the competition is doing and saying to identify our content gaps. Here we’ll also look for competitive opportunities. Are there things they’re doing that could be done better? If so, be the one to do them better.
An essential element in any strategy is to understand what the competition is doing; we want to learn from them. Some of what competitiors are doing we’ll likely want to emulate. Other parts we might want to change or avoid. It’s an opportunity to find both areas we need to play catch-up and competitive opportunities.
How do you complete competitive content research? It starts by visiting their web properties and looking at everything objectively. If you go in with the assumption that you’re doing everything better than them, you may miss opportunities. I find it’s easiest to work with an Excel file. You can access mine here if you’d like. It’s an easy to follow format. Walk through the site and take note of everything you see. Then check out their blog and social channels. You want to determine what’s good and what you should avoid. For a more in-depth look at this process, here’s an article I wrote about it on Marketing Land.
From your competitive research, you should have a list of opportunities. Things they’re doing that you can do better. If they have testimonials on their site that’s great but could you add video testimonials instead? Video brings the testimonial to life. If they have an image gallery, is it SEO friendly? Are their case studies PDF documents? Would HTML text that’s search-friendly do more good for you? If you’re not sure, it’s OK. You can partner with someone who knows the right answers. You don’t have to go it alone here.
This is a critical step that a lot of companies miss. How you speak about your brand is essential. Your marketing messages need to be consistent. A customer who visits your blog, website, or social media channels should be able to identify that they’re all inter-related. The messaging should be clear and concise. Having a brand guide is vital for your content marketing program. It’s especially important if you’re partnering with a freelancer or agency to help create your content or manage your social media. It’s a guide that says, “This is who we are as a brand and how we speak.” If the brand came to life, this is how you’d expect the conversation to sound.
Start creating basic guidelines that help the writers and marketing team. Some specifics that I’ve seen in brand guides in the past include:
The more detailed information you share in your brand guide, the better tailored the messaging can be.
As you’re looking at your content gaps and developing your content strategy, it’s a good idea to think about who you might want to interview. Stakeholder interviews can be very helpful because they allow you to speak with an expert on the topic. Stakeholders can be internal or external. Internal stakeholders could be other team members, departments, customer service, or service technicians. They’re people who know more about the content you’re going to create. They’ve done the work or completed the process you want to detail.
If you’re going to need to partner with internal stakeholders, it’s a good idea to ask them ahead of time. Let them know you’re in the process of crafting a content strategy and calendar and you believe you’ll need their input. Find out what their schedule is like and understand the lead time or turnaround time you’ll need to get their input. I’ve found video conference or in-person stakeholder interviews to be the most useful. Sometimes people will only be able to provide insights via email. If that’s your only option, go for it, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. When you’re in-person or on video, you can adjust, and question-based upon what you’re learning and that often helps provide additional clarity.
Your customers are external stakeholders. They’re probably the most important stakeholder you want to partner with. Your customers can be broken into multiple categories and what you learn from each group can provide a ton of insights.
What you want to learn from customers could vary. You may want to know why they visited your site and chose not to purchase. You also want to know what motivates your most loyal customers to keep coming back. We love those who shop with us on a regular basis; they help pay the bills from month-to-month.
Understanding the motivation to both buy from you and go to a competitor helps you better clarify what message needs to be on your website. How you go about gathering this data can vary depending on your situation. I’d highly encourage you partnering with a research professional for this. They’ll know how to phrase the questions, so you get honest feedback. They’ll be trained in research best practices and can either design a survey or host your focus group. You don’t want to risk using flawed research in your strategy.
To determine whether your program is working, you need to have goals established in advance. It’s also imperative to agree on which metrics will be measured and who will oversee the reporting. Determining these items in advance will help your program run smoothly.
Goal setting is important because it helps keep your business on track. It’s easier to determine if a project should be started or not. If it doesn’t help achieve a business goal, then it’s probably not the best use of time. As a business owner, you have a set number of resources whether it be staff, your man hours, or even freelancer/vendor/agency hours to work with. Staying focused on your goals is the key to success.
At the end of each period (monthly, quarter, year) it’s important to review the goals that were set for that timeframe and see if they were achieved. If they were, great. If they were not, assess why they were missed. Was there an issue with the goal itself or was it more challenging than expected? Adjust as necessary and carry-over if the goal still makes sense for the business strategy.
This is a critical reflection step, and you need to use the data from both the goals that were achieved and those that were not to determine where you go next in your business. Your content strategy may need to be adjusted based on your findings. For example, if you achieved a 10% traffic increase year over year for Q1 and you want to go for 20% for Q2, you will most likely need to add additional content development and distribution to your current plan. To achieve more, you often need to do more. You don’t necessarily have to create more content – learn how to make your content work harder here – do more with less new material. Maybe you need to secure more budget for content creation or distribution, or perhaps it’s time to look for new places to distribute your content.
In part 3 of how to build your content strategy series, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of your production workflow. We’ll show you how to identify who’s doing what and when and get everyone in alignment and on schedule even if you don’t have a dedicated Project Manager to work with.