How to Get Started with a Content Marketing Plan
A content marketing plan has now become an integral component of any digital or traditional marketing strategy. Without a content plan, your firm can lose focus on its messaging objectives, its outreach tactics, its social media strategies, and more. Since the Internet is the number one source for product and service information, valuable content has become the reason buyers purchase from vendors. Buyers utilize the Internet to become as informed as possible on their solutions before engaging with sales people.
Content Marketing is really the message approach to inform, educate, and communicate to customers without blatant advertising or selling. The strategy behind content marketing is to educate your potential buyer with your own content, thus building a relationship with that prospect. Content must be valuable and relevant, and make an impression with prospects because of the potential business solutions you offer. When you provide consistent, engaging content, prospects are more likely to engage with you, feel good about your solutions, and eventually buy from you.
OK, how do you get started?
Not surprisingly, first make a list of your customer’s problems and business concerns. What needs are you solving? What solutions are they looking for? Make a list of all of their issues, whether it is operational or financial. Once you have that list on the left side, make a list of how your firm contributes to solving those needs on the right side. By the way, you may have multiple target audiences or influencers; each with different responsibilities and needs. You’ll need to have a separate list for each persona. For example, you may have a needs list for a CFO, or a CIO, or a Purchasing Manager. Your content strategy will need to reach each audience focused on their own needs. It’s like placing unique ads into trade publications that target different audiences. Same thing with content.
Next, take a look at your competitors. What are they saying, and how are they saying it? Are there any needs you can fill that your competitors aren’t? Tweak or validate your value proposition. Your unique solutions should be integrated into your content strategy.
Next, understand the length of your prospect’s buying cycles. There’s always an early phase, where your message focus is education. During the middle phase, your prospect needs demonstrations of your expertise, a la a compelling case study. Lastly, it’s the later phase, where prospects are looking for validation with your solutions, and how you differentiate from competition. I know it sounds overwhelming, but you need content assets that reach all of your buyer personas with their own relevant messages, and throughout their own buying cycles. The lesson- content is effective when it is focused to each of your prospect’s needs, and delivered in a timely manner. You’re telling a story.
Next, once you map out all of your buyer personas and phases, it’s time to match these phases with topics, and determine what format to deliver those topics. Some of the popular vehicles are of course white papers, informational articles, podcasts, blogs, ebooks, and newsletters. A determination of your vehicle will depend on the topic. If your topic requires high level statistics and graphs; perhaps a white paper or ebook . If the topic requires demonstration or comparisons, a webinar may be best. Some content can be produced daily or weekly; others perhaps quarterly. This is where you need to create a comprehensive content calendar that covers not just the mapping and the vehicles but also the distribution channels.
Next, is the determination of those channels. A content marketing plan covers how people find your content in the first place, how they engage with your content once they find you, and how that content can be utilized in a nurturing program so that your prospects or leads become sales. It’s best to plan this 3-step process:
- Pre-website visit activity: promote content via pay-per-click, trade publications (print, website or enewsletter), digital display, email, or social media
- Website/landing page visit activity: promote via specific landing pages or resource sections of your website. Keep lead generation web forms to a minimum
- Post web form activity: prospects have submitted an email address to download or view your initial content, now the process is to create lead nurturing content, or repurpose existing content. This content, as described above, needs to target each of your personas throughout their buying stages. Marketing automation platforms assist in this execution.
Next, content needs to be created. The audience research is done; the map is done; the topics are defined; the vehicles are decided; and the distribution plan is done. Whether the content assets need to be started from scratch or repurposed, the content creators need to be assigned, whether those people are internal, outsourced, or a combination. Remember, the content you create must be informative, relevant, and engaging, but also designed professionally. The content reflects your brand, and your corporate voice. It also helps to have an existing SEO program occurring, so that content is produced utilizing the keywords your prospects use to find you and your solutions. It’s buyer language that also affects how your website is written. It’s not about you; it’s about them.
Finally, content should be measured. There are a variety of methods to measure content which I’ve touched on previously, including website visits, social media shares, downloads, time spent with content, comments, and RSS feeds. Going further, as you promote more content and blog posts, content will affect the impact of your brand. Many social media tools can track your brand mentions and sentiment. Eventually, the results of your content plan will mirror increased website visits, which in turn will lead to more sales and revenue. Marketing automation systems have tools that measure the content as well. By calculating the costs of producing and promoting content and the incremental revenue of your business, you can measure your marketing ROI and the overall affects of a sound content strategy.
There’s a lot to cover here, and the above is designed to explain how a content marketing plan is organized. Content takes work, but in the age of the Internet and given how buyers research solutions, proper content marketing is essential, and will reap benefits to your firm throughout the entire lead generation process.