15 steps to developing a winning content strategy
So you’ve decided it’s time to finally invest in content marketing.
Congratulations!! Content marketing is a must for generating brand awareness, boosting your credibility, driving traffic to your site, and increasing leads and sales. Need more convincing? Find out why content marketing is so important.
When you’re just starting out, though, the prospect of content marketing can seem daunting. There are so many factors to consider. What content should you produce? How do you promote it? What are the right content formats to focus on? Those questions are just the tip of the content strategy iceberg.
In my experience, it’s important to have a well-crafted content strategy before you begin. If you don’t, you could waste a lot of time, effort and money producing content that doesn’t deliver the results you are looking for.
In this post, I’ll present 15 questions that I always discuss with new content marketing clients before we get to work on their content. Ask yourself these questions and you’ll be more likely to develop an effective content marketing strategy that gets you the results you want.
1. Map out your content marketing objectives
The first thing you need to decide is what your content marketing objectives are. For example:
- Are you trying to emerge as a thought leader in your space?
- Is your main priority to boost sales?
- Is your goal to grow your organic traffic?
- Is your intention to fuel your social media marketing efforts?
The right content strategy can achieve these benefits and more. But, especially you have a small team and limited resources, I encourage you to identify your top priority or two.
That will help you decide which tactics to prioritize in order to achieve your desired results. For example:
- If your priority is to increase sales, then you’ll want to create the right content to helps you turn visitors into customers. You’ll also need to use calls to action strategically.
- If your goal is to increase your social media followers, then you’ll need to select the right content formats to appeal to your audience on each network. You’ll also need an effective social media promotion strategy and an influencer outreach plan.
- If organic traffic is your primary goal, then you’ll need to conduct keyword research in order to optimize each piece of content for the right key phrases.
2. Define your ideal customer
Before you start creating content, you need to have a very clear picture of who your ideal customer is. Only then will you be able to craft a content strategy that draws in the right people, engages them, and helps turn them into customers.
I suggest creating buyer personas to support your content marketing strategy. For some helpful tips on how to do that, check out my article, infographic and downloadable template on how to use buyer personas to optimize your marketing.
3. Identify your ideal customers’ objectives
Make sure you clearly understand which objectives your ideal customers are trying to meet. For example, is it to save time? To increase sales? To improve their productivity?
Whatever it is, figuring it out at the outset will help you come up with ideas for content around those benefits.
For example, if you produce software to help property developers easily update their websites, you could produce blog posts about how having an up-to-date website can help them sell more properties and reduce expenses.
4. Itemize the problems you solve for your customers
Before your customers begin to seek out a solution like yours, they need to be aware that they have a problem that needs solving. Your strategy should include content that focuses on the problem and presents its solutions in a general sense, without hard selling your product or service.
For example, if your company produces software to design offices, you could create content about the most costly office design errors. Or about the problems that occur when an office redesign takes too long.
The goal is to provoke the reader into becoming more acutely aware of the problem and to move them to the next stage, of seeking a solution.
And for the buyers who are already solution seeking, you should plan solution articles. So in keeping with our example of office design software, you would create content like “10 ways to accelerate your office design” or “how to avoid 5 common office design mistakes”.
5. Identify how your solution different
After your prospects have acknowledged that they have a problem and that solutions to the problem exist, their next step will be to become aware of specific solutions and to compare them to one another.
Before you start creating content, spend time analyzing your strengths relative to your competitors’ and devise ideas for content that highlights those features.
Again, you can do that without hard selling your product. Instead, focus on the important benefits that your unique functionality delivers. For example, if you manufacture an energy bar that includes a healthy ingredient that other bars don’t, you could produce a post on the health benefits of that ingredient.
6. Figure out what questions your prospects have on their way to becoming customers
As you’re devising your content strategy, it’s worth enlisting the help of your customer-facing teams to uncover the questions that are frequently asked by prospects before they buy.
Come up with ideas for content that answers those questions in order to help you shorten the sales cycle and attract buyers who are searching for the answers to their questions.
7. Name and prepare answers to your prospects’ most common sales objections
On a related subject, as you map out your content strategy, spend some time talking to your sales team about common objections they face during the sales cycle. If your content can provide answers to those objections, you’ll be helping your sales team as well as your customers, who have to make a case within their organizations.
For example, if you’re often being told that your product is too expensive, could you create an ROI calculator that shows how adopting a solution like yours can improve ROI?
If your prospects are concerned that they won’t have time to implement your solution, could you create content that shows how your solution will save them tons of time once you implement it?
8. Review how you onboard new customers
When you first sign on new customers, is there a specific process you take them through? Are there questions you routinely ask? Examine your onboarding process and see if you can’t produce blog posts or lead magnets from it that will help your customers and smooth out your onboarding.
For example, I’ve produced a post on 7 things to know before you build your own website with a companion download. It’s a fillable questionnaire that I ask new customers to fill out before we create their new website. Similarly, in this post, I’ve shared important questions to answer before you create an explainer video.
Even if my readers don’t hire Exaltus to produce their website or their whiteboard video, these posts will have value for them. And if they do hire us, the content will also help us save time and make sure we have the information we need to get the job done.
9. Take inventory of the content you already have
Even if you’re just starting out in content marketing, chances are you already have solid content that you can repurpose.
Scour your presentations, support documents, sales materials, onboarding documents, white papers, and case studies.
Think about how they can be repurposed into blog posts and other types of content that can attract, engage and convert site visitors.
10. Identify the gaps in your content
To the extent that you already have some content, your content strategy should take into account where your gaps are. Audit your existing content, and determine:
- What content needs to be updated
- What new content would be helpful in order to achieve your objectives
11. Figure out what new content you need to produce
Armed with all the insights from asking yourself the questions above, it’s time to brainstorm a long list of content ideas. Generating an exhaustive bank of ideas now, before you start, will make it much easier for you when you sit down to write.
Still need some help coming up with content ideas? Check out my post and companion cheat sheet about 57 new ways to generate countless new content ideas.
12. Plan your brand’s voice?
The content you produce should be consistent with your brand’s personality, or voice. How do you want to be perceived by your readers?
To ensure consistency, consider drafting brand guidelines, if you haven’t already.
13. Decide when you will publish your posts
Finally, once you have generated a bank of great content ideas, it’s time to create your content calendar. A content calendar will eliminate indecision about what to work on next because you’ll know exactly what comes next.
There are so many ways to construct your calendar. There are specialized tools for that purpose, but you can easily make your own.
I use Smartsheet for the Exaltus content calendar, which I can easily access from any location and all my devices. Others use Google docs or Excel. Choose the tool that works for you.
When you do create your editorial calendar, here is information you may want to capture about each piece:
- Who will produce it (if there are contributors to your blog)
- Publication date
- The content format (e.g. blog post, infographic, video)
- Targeted keywords
- The content status (e.g. first draft, being edited, visual being added, SEO, etc.)
- Target audience
- The buying stage it’s meant to support
- Promotion plans
- Other comments
14. Decide which social media channels you will focus on
Assuming you don’t have the time and means to consistently engage on all social channels – and very few of us do – you’ll need to be selective. Be strategic in deciding where to focus your efforts.
And make that decision early, so that you can plan your content promotion strategy and also choose the content formats that work best on the social networks you choose. And speaking of content formats…
15. Decide on which content formats are right for you
Blog posts are just one of the many content formats you can choose from. Your exhaustive list of options includes these and many more:
As you decide which content formats to focus on, consider these questions:
- Which formats does your ideal customer prefer?
- Which formats perform best on the social networks you have selected?
- Which types of formats do you have the skills and budget to produce?
- For each piece of content, what is your goal? (Check out the content marketing matrix below for suggestions of the right formats to use baed on your objectives)
Carole Alalouf is the President and founder of Exaltus, and primary contributor to the Exaltus blog. In her Content Marketing role, she focuses on turning her clients’ complex information into a compelling story. Carole particularly enjoys visual storytelling in the form of presentations, whiteboard videos, websites, and infographics. Sign up to her email list and get powerful marketing tips in your inbox, 2-3 times per month.