Sales have slipped, revenue has declined, or growth has stalled. If you’re publicly traded, your stock price continues to drop. Now your CEO is after someone’s head. Times are tough, and the marketing tactics you’ve been using for years have become increasingly less effective.
The pressure is on--you.
What changed? Your prospective customers. No longer are they waiting to be enticed by your beautifully designed print ads, for your salespeople to call, or for direct mail to grab their attention. They’ve become proactive. They query search engines, download white papers, and follow subject-matter experts on social media. They do their homework before reaching out. They are empowered and control the buying process.
How does your brand join that conversation? And, more importantly, how do you define your brand story? Unfortunately, you don’t. Your real brand story is the one your customers share, and it’s about what they’ve experienced directly. It’s also the experiences that others have shared with them.
Attempting to control your brand story, therefore, is near-impossible. However, you can influence, guide, participate, and even lead your brand’s conversation through content marketing.
Here are the steps--and steps within them--to do so.
1. Build Your Content Marketing Strategy
Content marketing is the current evolution of digital marketing, involving a multichannel strategy centered around content and user experience. While most digital channels have been treated as direct marketing, content marketing offers the opportunity to layer in digital branding. This can increase the value of your digital and offline brand.
To build your strategy, factor in the following:
• Define your business objectives: Are you looking to create brand awareness and/or engagement, or drive leads, sales, and/or profit? All of the above?
• Identify your constraints: Resources are always finite. Successful strategies are dependent on realistic plans that identify and address constraints. Whether it’s budget, your legal department, timing, regulators, competitors, market conditions, interest rates, consumer confidence, something else, or all of the above, be conscious of what can slow or derail your strategy.
• Establish SMART goals: Translate your objectives into specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals for each marketing channel. Increase brand engagement? For which channels? Search and social? Over what period of time? What are the metrics? Increase in traffic, time on site, followers, likes, or influencers? Yes? By how much?
• Prioritize what’s most important: For one reason or another, you’ll fall short of some goals. Accept that now and start with what’s most impactful. This is going to be critical in the planning and execution stages. Committing to decisions now will save a lot pain, suffering, and confusion later on. Organize objectives and goals according to what will most meaningfully impact your company.
• Segment your audience: If you’re trying to speak to everybody, you’ll get through to nobody. Group your audience. Know who you are talking to, which groups to target, and which ones to avoid. You can use deep market research in this exercise to segment based on demographic, psychographic, or firmographic data. Or you can just use common sense--and then validate with as much data as is appropriate and reasonable within your budget.
• Create your target personas: Get personal by taking your segments a level deeper. Again, you can back your personas with extensive market research, but common sense is often sufficient. If you haven’t done this before, start with one. Over time, you can expand to an array of personas. The more directly you can speak to each persona, the more powerfully the message will resonate with your audience. Go beyond the data to understand what your audience values.
• Make it personal: Big data will enable deep personalization of very precise marketing messaging to individuals at just the right time and place and through the right medium. Eventually, this personalization will drive your content marketing strategy. This is about much more than just incorporating names into an email template. It’s about synthesizing who your customers are and what they need and demonstrating the alignment of your brand story with their lives.
2. Create Your Content Strategy And Plan
Using the decisions made while building your content marketing strategy, you can now plan your campaigns.
• Take inventory: Identify any existing content assets that might be usable or reusable. Some content gets better with age, while some just gets old. Just because you have it doesn’t always mean you should use it. Think outside of the box; some of your greatest content assets may be people, some of whom might even work within your company.
• Map your content architecture: Organize information so that it is easily accessible by humans, optimized for interaction within machines, and flows efficiently throughout your marketing ecosystem. This includes campaign structures, technology platforms, workflow management, and user experience.
• Define your content mix: With a seemingly infinite array of content types to incorporate into your content strategy, designing your mix can be a daunting task. The cost to produce or acquire content can vary greatly; your budget may dictate the types incorporated into your strategy. Some content types will be more appropriate than others for your audience and objective. Some content types are timely, some are timeless, and many are somewhere in between. Composing the appropriate mix is equal parts art and science.
• Plan out your content with an editorial calendar: Planning is equally as important as the publishing of content; that’s why editorial calendars are essential. Map out your content across social, PR, and your internal content. Identify themes that create consistency across the board. Creating themes that fit underneath your narratives will ensure that you stay on track to meet your business objectives as you move toward creating engaging user experiences.
• Find contributors: Successful publications and brands harness the power of an army of content contributors. But how do you identify contributors if you don’t have the brand or manpower of larger entities, such as an SAP or Coca-Cola, for which the contributor model has proved extremely successful? First, look from within your company for authors. Then look for subject matter experts using tools that identify authors on the Web. If you’re SAP, for example, you could search for “customer experience’” or “business software” and find a list of content creators who are experts in those verticals.
• Turn your brand story into narratives: Content strategies come in all shapes and sizes. The bigger the strategy, the more challenging it can be to create content that is meaningful to your audience and your business. Don’t let this concern you. The answer is likely already in your brand story and is often the key value proposition for your customers. Effective narratives are broad topics that span a large quantity of content over long periods of time and connect with your entire market, or at least the market for a specific product.
3. Start Over
That’s right. Go back to square one. Discoveries and insights will be gained during the tactical planning process that will, and should, cause you to go back and adjust your strategy. Go with it. It’s easier to adjust before you move into the next step: execution.